responses to never mind the cyberbollocks...

Robert Adrian

It's pretty hard to swallow so much well-intentioned nostalgia in one gulp and even harder to get to grips with it. If Richard Barbrook's favourite target, John Perry Barlow, stands for the flower-toting California Hippies of yesteryear, Richard places himself squarely among their rock-throwing European contemporaries in the streets of Paris in May of '68. Nostalgia for the 60's-- nostalgia for the future which died under the political juggernaught of Reagan and Thatcher (and Mitterrand and Kohl).is something that John Perry and Richard (and many others of a certain generation, including myself) share -- even if the futures we envisioned are not exactly identical.

But the sad fact is that we have inherited the Thatcher/Reagan version of the future and it is intrinsically entwined with the (digital) communications technology which is now THE central theme of all social and political discourse in what used to be called the industrialised world.

What we have seen in the last 25 years (and especially since 1989) is the end of political and cultural pluralism. One dominant ideology prevails -- the ideology of (post-industrial) capitalism. This ideology is so pervasive that it has almost achieved transparency. That is: one hears otherwise intelligent people claiming that "ideology" is a meaningless word which should be struck from the vocabulary. This problem arose in the net-debate with J.P.Barlow who, like most U.S. Americans, cannot grasp the idea that there are people in the world with doubts about the U.S. Constitution, with its confusion of Liberty with Property, as a model for a World Government.

But to get to the point: Evolution is not a one-way street. That is the un-modernist thing about it. Evolution is not "progressive", nor does it have any kind of goal. Species or cultures -- or whatever -- survive, thrive, fail, vanish within the context of their adaptability. Many species have vanished because they were unable to adapt to their own success and expired in an exhausted environment. The question of fitness is not "how strong" but "how flexible". Immensely successful industrial countries like the DDR collapsed in the end because one-dimensional ideological rigidity did not allow them to adjust to their own success. There is no reason to suppose that one-dimensional capitalism will do much better. And here Richard's sermon on the virtues of the socialist ideal and the absurdities of capitalist memology are very pertinent -- be prepared.

A word about cable-lying and manpower: On average, the street in front of my house has been dug up for cable (or water- or gas-mains) laying every couple of years for the past 20 years. 20 years ago a team of 10 to 12 men would show up one morning and begin to break up the street with air hammers -- and the work lasted several weeks. Now a multi-purpose tractor arrives with 2 or 3 men and a little dump truck and they finish in a few days. This is called increased productivity -- less men = less man-hours = increased productivity (the machines don't count). Of course a lot of time is still spent in the manhole under the street by the engineer who sits splicing the cable and checking the electronics -- at least until the satellites replace the cables -- and the tractors, trucks and workers. The engineer will probably be around a bit longer.

Onar Aan

>As Feurbach pointed out, all religion inverts reality. The
>creative powers of the human species are projected onto
>a divine being which we then bow down to worship.

This is not unique to religion. In fact, what you describe here is the central thing which separates us humans from most other species: reflection. Reflection is the ability to move away from a thing, turn around and view it from a distance. This is the mechanism of self-awareness, this is how Freudian blaming/projection works, this is how divine beings outside ourselves are animated. You call it inversion of reality, but it is really a re-flection of reality. We do it even in the most trivial everyday situations like looking into a mirror. When we look into a mirror we see a person on the other side of the mirror surface. By "inverting reality" we realize that person in front of us is in fact ourselves.

However, your claim that memetics appeals to mysticism is correct. It makes use of the "demonic possession-argument, which is classical mysticism. Today we view "possessions" as mental disturbances. That is, behaviour that is structurally determined by the mental organisation. In mysticism, however, such behaviour is often tributed to Beings (demons) 'outside' and 'independent' of the person. These beings "take possession" of that person, i.e. they use the mind of that person as a host to propagate their means. Any fool can see that 'infection' and 'memes' are just modern versions of 'possession' and 'demons'. In fact, this is exactly why memetics has had such appeal in certain communities, and is precisely why memetics will never mature into a proper science. In order for memetics to become a full-grown science it must let go of its virus-fetish. Viruses are curiosities in nature. They are exceptions rather than the rule and have little to do with mainstream biology. To base a cultural evolutionary theory on a peripheral and non-essential biological concept such as the virus is therefore close to madness. But the memetics community won't let go of the virus metaphor because THAT is what is the appeal of memetics. The mystical touch. Too bad, because there is an enormous potential in an evolutionary sociology.

HOWEVER, this does not invalidate the vision of memesis. Integration is NOT a mystical concept. In fact, it has happened several times in the history of evolution, first with the abiogenesis of Prokaryotes. Then, later with the symbiotic integration of Prokaryotic bacterias into the Eukaryotes. Then, later still, with the integration of Eukaryotic cells into the multi-cellular organism. Based on this there are no scientific objections of an integration of humans into a super-organism. In insects super-organisms are common (termites, ants, bees), and several ecosystems display all the major characteristics of a biologically integrated unity. When Homo Sapiens first evolved it was probably as a weak super-organism, namely the group. But as societies grew beyond the size of the group the super-organism structures broke down and human culture became a more fluid, looser structured ecology. Now, with the emergence of the global village the original intimacy of the group is regained. Therefore an integration is definitely "in the air". This does not mean that an integration is inevitable, but the possibility is definitely present.

richard's response to onar

I'm glad that my article inspired your contribution to the Memesis debate. However you seem to be unwilling to let go of biological reductionism. The memes concept is nonsense precisely because it refuses to accept that humans are specifically human! We're NOT like protozoa, ants or any other animal. We possess consciousness and the ability to plan something before we do it. From John Locke onwards, almost all social thought focuses on this human-ness of human society. This is why the Feurbachian critique of memes still stands. Of course, we use abstraction and representation to understand the material world. The stupid thing is not only to confuse the signifier with the signified, but to refuse to understand the dialectic between the individual and the species. Biological reductionism is yet another attempt to deny any element of human subjectivity in our historical development. This is why it needs to be thoroughly dissed!

onar's reply

>I'm glad that my article inspired your contribution to
>the Memesis debaHowever you seem to be unwilling to let
>go of biological reductionism. The memes concept is
>nonsense precisely because it refuses to accept that
>humans are specifically human! We're NOT like
>protozoa, ants or any other animal. We possess
>consciousness and the ability to plan something
>before we do it.

It's true what you say, but this is not in anyway incompatible with our biological nature. I am NOT a biological reductionist. (In fact I am a phenomenologist). I do not think that we are "just genes". Our consciousness is very real and undismissable. But at the same time consciousness is not without limits. It is structured, i.e. lawful, and as such is together with other minds capable of forming emergent structures.

>From John Locke onwards, almost all social thought focuses
>on this humanness of human society. This is why the
>Feurbachian critique of memes still stands. Of course, we
>use abstraction and representation to understand the
>material world. The stupid thing is not only to confuse the
>signifier with the signified, but to refuse to understand
>the dialectic between the individual and the species.
>Biological reductionism is yet another attempt to deny any
>element of human subjectivity in our historical
>development. This is why it needs to be thoroughly dissed!

I think there is room for both. The problem with the popular version of memetics is that it is the precise anti-thesis of free will. As such memetics is equally flawed as the free will dogma, for in a sense they are each others mirror images. Of course there is no such thing as an "absolutely free will". Our actions cannot in any way violate the laws of physics, and they cannot violate our biology. However, it is equally silly to say that we are blind, mechanistic processes. This certainly violates our own phenomenology: we are thinking, perceiving and feeling beings with among other things the ability to willfully choose our actions.