[extropy-chat] Humans--non-rational mode

Keith Henson hkhenson at rogers.com
Sat Mar 11 05:18:20 UTC 2006

At 01:01 PM 3/10/2006 -0800, you wrote:

>On Mar 10, 2006, at 8:52 AM, Keith Henson wrote:
> > At 01:31 AM 3/10/2006 -0800, samantha wrote:
> >
> >> On Mar 9, 2006, at 7:28 AM, Keith Henson wrote:
> >>>
> >>> The unexplained freakin' out of the Libertarians over "Memes,
> >>> MetaMemes and
> >>> Politics" is perhaps due to these paragraphs being seen as an
> >>> attack on the
> >>> fundamental Libertarian belief that people are (or at least
> >>> should be)
> >>> objective and rational
> >>
> >> What freakin' out was that?
> >
> > http://lists.extropy.org/pipermail/extropy-chat/2006-February/
> > 025367.html
>Druids are cool.  :-)  But I can see a neutral explanation as to why
>Reason gave the article a pass.  It just isn't enough about what they
>generally publish.   Perhaps our evolved proclivity to read signs of
>larger group approval or disapproval once quite important to our
>survival leads to a preference for darker explanations.

Possible.  You can tell from the postings on the memetics list in 2002 that 
I was just baffled and didn't have parts of the story before then.

>It is a really good article but I wouldn't expect to read it in Reason 

Glad you liked it, but its's a *really* old article.  The net sure changed 
things.   It is possible that more people have read it on the net than 
Reason's circulation in those days.  The other article my wife and I wrote 
for Reason in the 80s, "Star Laws," didn't have as much impact.  (Sample at 

There is another data point.  The foundation that puts out Reason 
distributed copies of the other meme article I wrote that year, I think it 
might have been the CoEQ version, to half the high schools in the US for 
debate material.  So either there was something specific about that article 
or there was a difference of opinion in the ranks.

>I don't know why you got a hostile blast rather than a simple "not
>interested" from "Liberty".  Perhaps one of your religious examples
>gored that particular person's ox.   But all that doesn't explain why
>it had continued influence and was remembered long afterward.
>Perhaps people simply overreact to any notion that they are not in
>control?   Dunno.  Libertarians as a group aren't unaware of how
>people can become more or less enslaved to various ideas and

It wasn't nearly so widely known  in the mid 80s.  Extropians grew up on 
memetics, it was probably new to Libertarians.

>It is a puzzle to me.

It was a puzzle to me for a long time and I am not sure I have a handle on 
it yet.

> > Hal was the only one to respond directly.
> >
> >> I find such rather irrelevant myself
> >> besides the annoyance of a contrived debunking using dubious
> >> analysis.
> >
> > Whoh!  This is not debunking Libertarians, this is at the meta
> > level trying
> > to understand something about partisan behavior.  We have an
> > observed fact:
> > two groups of Libertarians had what can be considered a memetic
> > "allergic"
> > reaction, one that was still influential at Reason when Aaron
> > Lynch's work
> > came out ten years later.
>My sincere apologies.  I had this confused with another post that I
>don't have an URL for at the moment.

Accepted, no problem.

> >> Libertarians as a group  have no fundamental belief that
> >> people are or should be objective and rational.  That is not a
> >> definitive belief of libertarians.  What made you think that it is?
> >
> > You need to distinguish between upper and lower case libertarians.
> > I was
> > not speculating about lower case libertarians, I am one myself and *I*
> > didn't get an allergic reaction to the article.   Don't know of any
> > who did.
> >
> > As to "objective and rational" being a underpinning world view for
> > upper
> > case Libertarian, that's the result of knowing a bunch of
> > Libertarians and
> > their less social memetic neighbors Objectivists.  It isn't stated,
> > just
> > assumed.
>Well I guess you can count me as a little "o" objectivist.  I believe
>there is objective reality and I believe that rationality is pretty
>axiomatically required to make the best choices leading to more of
>what we value in the context of objective reality.   Thus you could
>fairly say that I believe people should be rational, or at least they
>should if they are going to optimize their happiness.  I also believe
>that rationality is required in choosing and/or  tuning one's values.

I agree with everything you say here.  The problem is that people were not 
shaped by evolution for happiness.  They were shaped by the raw drive of 
the genes to get copies of themselves into the next generation.  If from 
time to time that required suicidal sacrifice to save relatives, then genes 
built mental mechanisms to do it.  I see rational thinking mode and 
optimized happiness as what unstressed humans do.  Ones facing starvation 
or under attack are in a non-rational mode, though this mode *is* rational 
from their gene's viewpoint.

> > I vividly remember (by name) a person who was somewhere toward the
> > Objectivist end of the Libertarian spectrum telling me in 1985 that
> > if it
> > came to a choice between saving his ass and the rest of the world, the
> > rational thing would be for everyone else to die.
>Hmm.  I guess you had to be there.  No comment for now.  There is
>something to be said for having the ability to maximize one's own
>well being regardless for how irrationally and even dangerously the
>rest of the world may be behaving.   But the above seems empty and
>not worth a lot of analysis as it is a pretty unimaginable contrived
>hypothetical situation.

Contrived yes, but also just wrong.  Your genes (on average) have evolved 
to build your brain to evaluate cost an benefits to *genes.*  You really 
must understand Hamilton and Haldene on inclusive fitness to understand 
this point.

In a crunch people take terrible risks, but if you look at such stories, it 
is a fine calculation.  They are far more likely to lay down their lives 
for close relatives or those they have been fooled into regarding as fellow 
tribe members.  (See capture-bonding as it relates to military training.)

That's why "save me" at the expense of everyone else is wrong, it is just 
not the way we are wired.  If the crunch came, chances are these people 
would dump what they call "rational" and die to save members of their 
family and/or tribe.

> >> Do you have any positive tools from your study of EP beyond dark
> >> understanding of the seeming inevitability of it all?
> >
> > Yes.  The situation is analogous to being in a truck hurtling toward a
> > cliff.  Apply the brakes!
> >
> > In my war paper I connect the fading out of the IRA to the *Irish
> > women*
> > who a generation ago cut the population growth to where economic
> > growth got
> > ahead of population growth.  It is my clam based on EP that this
> > damped
> > down the gain on memes supporting the IRA.
>This is interesting as a factor but it is doubtful to me that it was
>the primary determinant.

If you have a better idea, I would love to hear it.  Can send you a copy of 
the paper if you have not read it.

> > Of course this happened long before anyone had a clue about EP.
> >
> > The problem with the situation in much of the Islamic world is like
> > being
> > in a truck doing 70 mph and only 50 feet from the brink.  Even if you
> > understand the problem, can you do anything about it?
> >
>Probably not much more than:
>a) get out the truck and out of its way;
>b) don't add nitro to its fuel;
>c) quickly set up barriers near the brink preferable to all concerned
>to going over the brink;
>d) encourage those in the truck to detour.
>A set of memes like fundamental Islam certainly will grow stronger if
>directily opposed by a foreign memeset  the infected parties
>associate strongly with their own multi-level oppression and
>subjugation.   That adds nitro to the tank and greatly increases
>their adherence to their current memeset.

Not that long ago I would have agreed with you.  Now I have come to see all 
religions, not just Islam, as xenophobic meme seeds for wars.  Come even 
anticipation of bad times, these memes flower into vicious "kill the 
different ones" memes.  Consider the hollowing out of the middle class in 
the US and the concurrent rise of the religious right and rapture fringe.

In that model, there is virtually nothing we can do to make the social 
instability in fundamentalist Islam better *or* worse.  The current 
problems there stem from a population grown too large for the 
economy/resources to support them.

The declining "income per capita" flips a psychological switch for higher 
gain on the more xenophobic variations of the memes and eventually leads to 
war or related social disruptions like the IRA bombing or 9/11.  By this 
model it won't do a bit of good to kill OBL, the situation simply calls for 
such a person and another would take his place.  Same with Pol Pot and Hitler.

> >> How can we
> >> unprogram, reprogram or channel our programming into less disastrous
> >> outcomes?
> >
> > I don't know.
> >
> > I am not even certain that my EP based analysis is accurate.  More
> > critical
> > thought in this area would sure help.  Formal simulation models
> > would also
> > be of great value.  If someone would like to collaborate on a model
> > let me
> > know.
> >
> > If this EP based model is correct, and you want to save the current
> > population from a huge die back, then economic growth faster than
> > population growth is the only way I can see to raise the income per
> > capita
> > and shut off war mode.
>Even if the EP model is not the best explanation I agree strongly
>with this point.  I believe that engineering better memes is very
>important but I also believe we are hurtling toward the brink and
>there is little time for alternative memes to be produced and gain
>sufficient adherents.

It's long range, but the liberation of Islamic women will have to come 
about at some point.  That may be impossible to do from the outside.  I 
don't know enough of the early history of how it happened in the western 
countries to be able to even make a suggestion.  Perhaps Japan would be a 
more instructive model.

>I think that a major economic "correction" is
>inevitable before 2010.   We seem to be on the brink of what I
>believe actually amounts to Energy Wars (imho the "war on terror" is
>a cover for positioning and preliminary moves).  Unless we get a
>large infusion of very cheap energy or a major technological advance
>(such as MNT or SAI) soon I think we are in for a major crisis.

If you go to pebble bed reactors, they can be safe enough and efficient 
enough to supply vast energy at an acceptable cost.  It is a terrible shame 
we got caught in a water reactor dead end.  There would still be still 
*major* problems, but the oil won't run out all at once even if we are at 
peak oil.    Nanotube/skyhook/SPS is another route.

Engineers probably could stretch things out long enough for nanotechnology 
to get going.  The problem is stressed people going into non rational mode 
and starting a war instead of fixing the resource problems.

> > Nanotechnology in the self replicating mode would do that.
> >
> > Can it happen in time?
>Dunno.  It is quite a cliffhanger.
> >
> > Can we do anything to make it happen faster?
> >
>We can do our own technical work that may be germane or help,
>contribute to the work of others, continue to attempt to understand
>and improve ourselves and others including building and fielding
>hopefully more helpful memes.

As you probably expect, I think having a few million people who understand 
this EP/memes/war business would be helpful.  Unfortunately it is hard to 
spread this meme even among people who have most of the background.

Best wishes,




[Editorial comment--It won't be long till people are living and
working in space, but existing space law makes short shrift of human

by H. Keith Henson and Arel Lucas

        With tears in his eyes, the commander of the US moon base spoke
to the woman begging for asylum.

        "Sonya, my personal sympathies are with you.  But I have my
authorities above me.  I have to do what is required.  You will have
to return to your base."

        "Please!" pleaded Sonya.  "They will kill me.  I will not go

        The commander reluctantly left his office and admitted the
Russians.  Dr. Gale Roberts, one of the civilian scientists at the
base, later recounted the incident to the press.

        "We could here the woman's cries for help.  She was on her
knees praying and crying, 'Oh God help me.' The Russians came in.
Sometimes I couldn't see her, but I could hear her screaming.  Then
she ran to the upper deck.  Her face was all bloody.

        "She hid for a while, but three more Russians were let in.
They found her, beat her unconscious.  Then they tied her in a blanket
and carried her out the airlock.

         "We're not even sure they put a suit on her in the airlock,"
said Dr. Roberts.  "Nobody was permitted to look.''

*  *  * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

         Hypothetical overstatement?  Not at all.  Change "Sonya" to
"Simas," and moon base to Coast Guard Cutter *Vigilant*, and you have
an incident that occurred in November 1970.  The US ship and a Russian
ship . . . .


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