Monday, July 18, 2005

The Memes of War

I've been working my way through Nonzero by Robert Wright. His central premise is that the evolution of culture is the history of mutually beneficial relationships and the structures of society that best facilitate those relationships. He relies on the concept of memes to complete the analogy of ever more complex societies with ever more complex ecosystems.

Memes, like genes, have to compete for resources in the environment, and through that natural selection occurs. Wrtight's criteria for fitness is materialistic utilitarianism, a view very similar to my own.

Looking at the world today, this model is still useful. Hood ideas prosper while less useful memes fall by the wayside. On the individual level, however, it is not to say that those vested in the less fit memes will go quietly into the good night. History is full of attempts at the suppression of ideas, but the spread of ideas can only be slowed, never stopped.

So let's take a look at the war on terror. If one is to look for root causes, then one can not get more basic than people choosing to live by the codes of Wahabbi Islam or by Western secularism. While Western secularsim makes room for the individual practice of Islam, it is in distinct competition with the meme complex of Sharia Law, which includes the meme of pre-eminence over all cultures under its aegis. The overlap of the cultural memes will, as it has, lead to to conflict. One must displace the other, and it is the Wahabbi memes that has first claimed to be agrieved. For years, the West has been flooding the Islamic world with its memes. The most dangerous to radical Islam are that Western secular mores lead reliably to more prosperous lives for those who follow it. Any variety of totalitarian society must combat the meme that good things can occur outside of the preferred belief system. The mere existence of a prosperous non-believing society would be seen as a challenge and refutation of the belief.

Worse than the existence of non-believing prosperity is the seductiveness of that prosperity to the faithful. The tactics the "insurgents" are using in Iraq shows that al-Zarqawi's band is willing to punish those who stray from the path. The targetting of civilians is an attempt to control a meme by making its adoption a more costly matter. Curious that while an argument against the war was that it would create more terrorists, it is the fact that suicide bombings are creating more Iraqi Guards and police.

One could have argued that the corruption of Islamic Extremist meme was only a matter of time for the erosion to be complete. That angle carried a price of allowing those would attack a long time to do so. The war in Iraq, in its goals of spreading freedom and democracy, is based on rapidly injecting competing memes into the lands of the Islamicist meme. The so-called insurgency is an immune response to the infection, even to the extent of sacrificing parts of the "victim".

A work in progress.

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