[extropy-chat] Goring a local ox--MetaMeta

Hal Finney hal at finney.org
Sun Mar 5 01:55:02 UTC 2006

I meant to reply to this but I was travelling last week and wasn't able
to put together the time.  Keith's original post can be found here:


He writes about his essay which got rejected from both Reason and Liberty


and the reportedly hostile response, and wonders why it triggered such
negative feelings.

I can only speculate, but I have a couple of ideas.  Basically the essay
does not say anything bad about libertarianism, and most of the belief
systems that come in for criticisms are ones that libertarians would
strongly oppose: Nazis and Communists including those in Russia, China
and Cambodia.  Nevertheless I can see a couple of ways that libertarians
could respond negatively to it, one a general issue and one more specific
to libertarianism.

The general issue is that the essay could be read as characterizing all
ideological beliefs as memes, which would imply that ideologies amount
to infectious agents.  This is something that ideologues of all stripes
might oppose, because they prefer to believe that they hold their beliefs
for good reasons, and not just because a meme evolved which was able to
spread effectively, and it has now infected them.

The specific issue is that many libertarians have a strong model of man as
a purpose-driven, independent entity, man as the measure of all things.
Memetic analysis tends to push people into the background, seeing them
as a mere passive substrate in which memes compete with one another.
This view would be diametrically opposite to that preferred by such
libertarians, and they might see it as casting doubt on the primacy of
the individual as an entity who takes charge and control of his own life.

I remember reading Liberty magazine occasionally back in those days.
As I recall, it seemed to be involved in some of the fractious in-fighting
which often occupies political ideologies far from the centers of power.
Libertarians then (and I presume now) were divided into competing
camps, often organized around the views of some influential figure,
and they directed as much or more of their energies at discrediting
their libertarian rivals as at trying to spread their beliefs among the
larger society.

Liberty seemed to be hotly involved in such battles, and perhaps they saw
your essay as a sneaky attack on their own position.  Maybe they thought
you were a representative of one of their rivals, and were trying to trap
or trick them into running an ostensibly scientific article which could
then be used to discredit their whole ideological structure.  If so,
that might explain some of the vehement negativity which your article
apparently inspired.


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