Germs Make Us Proselytize

“Man is a form of expression who is traditionally expected to repeat himself…” ___Marshall McLuhan, “Understanding Media”

“Man” is actually a form of expression of muh smaller life forms, that use him to express themselves. Each person is a collective expression, and therefore a collective.

Richard Dawkins made the simple connection between germs and behavior by pointing out that when we have a cold germ, we sneeze. We sneeze because sneezing is the best process by which to spread airborne pathogens to other persons. A cold germ invokes behavior from us, and therefore we are the collective form of expression of our “creator” the germ and the genes.

If we are the behavioral expression of germs, then what we call mechanization, as McLuhan points out, is, “a translation of nature, and of our own natures, into amplified and specialized forms”.

We are, in fact, amplified and specialized forms of the germs and the genes, the tiny mocrorganisms that inhabot(I inadvertently created an interesting word there by my mispelling; “inhabot”, a robot that inhabits us, composed of “in” and “habit”) our bodies. That makes us, in essence, machines. But machines in amplified and specialized forms are not alive. What seems to separate life from non-life is the urge to reproduce at all levels, and to invoke behavior that ensures such reproduction is maximized if possible. Life not only reproduces, but it reproduces by strategy, and the strategy, from amoeba to civliizations, is not all that different.

Certainly genes influence behavior, and the limited number of genes in a cold germ can hi-jack our own bodies to invoke behavor of its own for reproduction. As long as a reproductive strategy works, there is no reason to alter it.

It’s not a grand stretch from that to propose that proselytizing, and the strong zeal we feel for conversion of others, comes from those microorganisms, or rather algorithms bred into us from our evolutionary past, causing us to seek not only those that are like us, but to create a larger pool of selection by making others more like us. The more people of the opposite sex who share our worldview and opinions, the more we can reproduce ourselves. “Ourselves” in this case is not an actual description of “me” specifically, but of a pool of similar “me’s” to maintain the same gene expression.

What the germ does to our bodies by invoking behaviors, the proselytizing meme does to our mind by invoking a similar strategy. For example, the religious person is not so much convinced by truth, but by the idea that “all those people can’t be wrong”. It becomes a statistical process by which we can eliminate enough differences within ourselves that we can sacrifice our individual self for the ‘greater good”. Anything that reproduces random individuality, therefore, is selected against, and behaviors that invoke cohesion and unity for reproductive purposes is selected for.

Religion, for example, does not seek individuality, but ecumenicism, the process by which differences can be tolerated for a greater reproductive unity. The question is, toward what end? There seems to be no answer, except that unity allows more people to live, while individuality provides less certainty for reproduction.

The strategy for reproduction, however, can follow strange destructive behaviors, with a reproductive algorithm becoming of less and less use for reproductive emnlargment, often resulting in self termination, like those religions who take poisons because they are convinced that they will get their reward only by the sacrifice of their lives.

Religions, like viruses, will select strategies that allow them to live as parasites, only affecting behavior to the degree that it maximizes reproduction, while minimizing the possibility of the death of its host. In this sense, church and state are alike. Government and religion takes as much as it can safely take from you while allowing you enough to survive reproductively as an individual for the greater good.

Church anbd state, like the human body, will select and maintain a library of different members for future reference, as “junk DNA” is stored for future reference tro similar attacks. Conversion of many members, therefore, serves as a reference a junk DNA collection, Borg-like(from Star Trek) to select the best strategy for a new attack.

The language reflects this need. “I was once just like you”, “I was lost, but now am found”. Found by whom? The new collective that closely resembles the reproductive needs of that individual.

A s Hoffer points out in “The True Believer”, mass movements are interchangeable. We can select new movements that better fit our reproductrive needs and provide adaptive strategies that may create modified versions in new forms.

As Hoffer writes:

“Since all mass movements draw their adherents from the same types of humanity, and appeal to the same types of mind, it follows that (a)all mass movements are competitive, and the gain of one in adherents is the loss of all the others.(b)all mass movements are interchangea ble. One mass movement readily transforms itself into a nother. A religious movement may develop into a social revolution or a nationalist movement; a nationalist movement into a social reviolution or a religious movement.”.

Hoffer writrs that while the content of various movements are different. the actual causes of the proselytizing zeal that drives them to unite are basically the same. Another way of putting it is that if the purpose of life is to reproduce, the algorithms driving the decision -making process of life will follow a similar strategy that selects for certainty and minimizes uncertainty. The more available in the pool, the less need for careful consideration of the effects of loss. The strategy becomes tautological: “that survives is that which survives”.

If a machine-like ehavior in the face of danger had no value until men began to make war on each other, it is easy to see how a reproductive algorithm can become stressed to the point that it focuses on reproduction of one set of traits at the expense of all others. The greater the army of machines, the greater the chances of reproduction of related traits, which will be modified and selected in future generations, etc.

It boils down to algorithms, patterns of decision-making that become statistical and operate according to the same general principles. Terms like “greater good” make sense to us because we are programmed to think that way at the most basic levels.

The amplified extensions of ourselves, even computers, have no need to reproduce themselves, so we seek to reproduce ourselves through them. They are extensions of us, even to the point that we plan on “uploading” ourselves in to them at some future date.

Church and state were merely the process of “uploading” ourselves into a greater system, but now the algorithms themselves can be the driving force of a machine which is the full extension of ourselves. If “narcissus” comes from the same root as “narcosis”, the final uploading of ourselves into machines is the complete narcosis, the numbing of all response to our environement for the applications of algorithms that represent the environment to us. no more need of life, no more need of reproduction.

Predestination And Randomness

As seen last essay, by focusing on predestination, Calvin logically eliminated the power of knowledge and decision-making by which we may ever get from “here’ to “God”.

Where people in medieval times were more secure in their social status, the increasing generation of wealth created upheavals in the power structure. From positions of security, to positions of change and upheaval, in which the masses no longer had a “place” nor any understanding of their new place, Luther and Calvin emerged, each with a different vision that would represent the displaced masses. While Luther focused on grace and faith, Calvin emphasized the doctrine of predestination, which was the idea that salvation or damnation was not the result of anything good or bad that man did, but are predetermined by God. If God choose one man and condemns another, it is a secret into which man must not try to delve.
As Erich Fromm writes in Escape From Freedom:

“The psychological significance of the doctrine of predestination is a twofold one. It expresses and enhances the feeling of individual powerlessness and insignificance. No doctrine could express more strongly than this the worthlessness of human will and effort. The decision over man’s fate is taken completely out of his own hands and there is nothing man can do to change this decision….The other meaning of this doctrine…consists in its function to silence the irrational doubt….Although Calvin did not teach that there was any concrete proof of such certainty, he and his followers actually had the conviction that they belonged to the chosen ones. They got this conviction by the same mechanism of self humiliation which we have analyzed with regards to Luther’s doctrine. Having such convictions, the doctrine of predestination provided utmost certainty…”

The drawback to this, as Fromm explains:

“…though the doctrine of predestination gave such certainty, the doubt remained in the background and had to be silenced a gain and again by an ever-growing fanatic belief that the religious community to which one belonged represented that part of mankind which had been chosen by God.”

Calvinism, wrote Fromm, found its most vigorous revival in Nazi ideology because it strengthened the idea of the basic inequality of men. Since their fate is determined before their birth, and there is nothing they can do to change it, “the equality of mankind is denied in principle”.

While Calvin did not believe men could change their fate by any action, he emphasized complete devotion to moral effort and virtuous life. This was a “sign” that the individual was one of the “elect”.

This focus on a certain way of life as emphasized by a leader, focusing on morality and virtue, was an excellent breeding ground for the superorganism. No person could be certain that his/her efforts would “save’ them, but every effort went toward the social “glue” of approved righteousness was solid breeding grounds for the superorganism.

Luther presents an interesting paradox in regard to Calvin. In Fromm’s words:

“Luther assumed the existence of an innate evilness in man’s nature, which directs his will for evil and makes it impossible for any man to perform any good deed on the basis of his nature. …The depravity of man’s nature and its complete lack of freedom to choose the right is one of the fundamental concepts of Luther’s whole thinking….Only if man humiliates himself and demolishes his individual will and pride will God’s grace descend upon him”.

The paradox as presented by Fromm lies between Luther and Calvin in this regard:  While Luther stressed the new freedom of man to submit to God by freewill, man cannot actually choose the “good”, but is dependent on grace. While Calvin stressed that man can do nothing whatever to change that which has been predetermined, the active pursuit of morality and service to God would be a “sign” that the person is one of the “elect”. Luther, who stressed freedom and grace, eliminated the possibility of “works”, whereas Calvin, who stressed the impossibility of “works” for salvation, stressed that by our works, we would show the “sign” our “election”.

Fromm points out that the faith stressed by Luther was the need to conquer the uncertainty already created by the upheaval of economic conditions in Italy and surrounding nations.

“The compulsive quest for certainty, as we find with Luther, is not the expression of genuine faith, but is rooted in the need to conquer the unbearable doubt. Luther’s solution is one in which we find many individuals today…to find certainty by the elimination of the isolated individual self by becoming an instrument in the hands of an overwhelmingly strong power outside of the individual”.

What better strategy for the superorganism and the needs of the genetic replicative algorithm? The reason, largely, that Luther succeeded in his efforts, is that he fulfilled the same need created by the economic upheaval in thousands of others. Dawkins was correct, Darwin was actually talking about “survival of the stable”. More directly, it was equilibrium that was sought, or homeostasis, the individual had to have “meaning”, or as Fromm states it:

“By losing his fixed place in a closed world, man loses the answer to the meaning of his life; the result is that doubt has befallen him concerning himself and the aim of life.”

The “aim of life” in this case being the reproductive capacity of the superorganism.

The two contributing factors emerging from both Luther’s a Calvin’s theology were actually quite cooperative:
1.The need to belong to something greater than one’s self.
2.The desire to prove, by near fanatical action, that one’s efforts would lead to salvation.

These two factors combined powerfully in the Protestant Work ethic, to produce “willing” collective effort toward collectivist goals, by unrelenting activity. Necessary hallmarks for the better function of the superorganism.

The ideas of both Calvin and Luther achieved success in spite of their inability to give “answers” because, as Fromm writes:

“Only if the idea answers powerful psychological needs of certain social groups will it become a potent force in history“.

The ideas of Calvin and Luther combined basically as an explanation, from a religious perspective, for what was already occurring in the wealth upheavals worldwide.

The collective “brain” of mankind operates much the same as an individual. It is a “make aware’ agent, a realization that something is wrong, and decisions must be made to correct it, to find equilibrium. The wealth creation in Italy and neighboring nations had disrupted whole masses of people, and they were seeking a “meaning’ to understand this disruption. In time, the societies acted much as an organism: they maintained stability by keeping much that the Catholics had given, but they replaced it with a new kind of ‘freedom” that allowed them to organize interchangeably, by struggle and effort, and be blessed in God’s eyes.

Fromm adds another point of interest:

“It is particularly important to understand the significance of doubt and the attempts to silence it, because this is not only a problem concerning Luther’s and…Calvin’s theology, but it has remained one of the basic problems of modern man. Doubt is the starting point of modern philosophy: the need to silence it had a most powerful stimulus on the development of modern philosophy and science….The doubt itself will not disappear as long as man does not overcome his isolation and as long as his place in the world has not become a meaningful one in terms of his human needs.”

That, in fact, boils down to equilibrium and the genetic replicative algorithm. This will continue next essay.

What Is Evil?

“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” __Aleksander Solzhenitsyn

The study of “good and evil” so far leads me to a consensus of different minds who also studied the problem.
Philip Slater point out that people tend to be destructive when they respond more to their “internal circuitry” than to the external envrionment.

Eric Hoffer points out that when individuals join a cause, however noble, the free themselves from personal responsibility and become “estranged from the self”, which allows them to disavow personal responsibility for actions performed by the collective. The “corporateness” of a mass movement gives them freedom to lie, bully, torture, and murder those not like themselves.

Roy Baumeister, PhD, who authored the book titled Evil has written that people can commit evil acts when their self esteem is high, because they are resistant to criticisms that might devalue their self image. “Ego” having become “immune” to feedback from others that might deter them from following their “internal circuitry”. Baumeister writes:

“Suppose on a scale of 1 to 10 you rate yourself a 9. Then any time someone tells you anything else, from 1 to 8, it will be an ego threat, because the evaluation is lower than your self appraisal.”

Obviously if you rate yourself much lower on the scale, ego threats are less bothersome and more tolerable. By that reasoning, writes Baumeister, the higher your opinion of yourself, the more likely to interpret comments as ego threats, and the more prone to violence you would be. Slater’s “internal circuitry” corresponds to “self righteousness”, “narcissism”, “pride”, “arrogance”, or even as Baumeister writes, high self esteem, all of which reduce our responsiveness to our external environment.

As Dawkins points out, “you” are a “colony” of a ‘cartel’ of genes that have managed to work cooperatively to produce “you”. As a result, “you” have a brain which is also designed to work according to the algorithm of the “purpose machine”, driven to respond to negative feedback, and seek equilibrium.

However, as Hoffer points out, if you are part of a larger system driven by the ego of another person or group of persons, your personal ego becomes subject to their goals and needs, and you will tend to release yourself from any personal responsibility as part of their “ego”.

Steven Pinker points out in The Blank Slate that:

“Recall that even Hitler thought he was carrying out the will of God. The recurrence of evil acts committed in the name of God shows that they are not random perversions. An omnipotent authority that no one can see is a useful backer for malevolent leaders hoping to enlist holy warriors….the doctrine of a soul that outlives the body is anything but righteous, because it necessarily devalues the lives we live here on earth”.

What is most interesting about the strategies listed is that they are not only similar, but they can be traced to the strategy of negative feedback used by the genes for its “purpose machine”. Pinker further writes:

“..if the brain is equipped with strategies for violence, they are contingent strategies, connected to complicated circuitry that compute when and where they should be deployed. Animals display aggression in highly selective ways, and humans, whose limbic systems are enmeshed with outsized frontal lobes, are of course even more calculating….aggression is an organized, goal directed activity, not the kind of event that could come from a random malfunction…the presence of deliberate chimpicide in our chimpanzee cousins raises the possibility that the forces of evolution, not just the idiosyncrasies of a particular human culture, prepared us for violence.. And the ubiquity of violence in human societies throughout history and prehistory is a stronger hint that we are so prepared.”

Howard Bloom, author of a book called The Lucifer Principle, not a religious book but an exploration of evolutionary beginnings, starts off his book with the question, “Who Is Lucifer?”

“He was an organizer, a would- be crafter of new orders, a creature bent on putting together forces in his own manner….evil is a by-product, a component, of creation. In a world evolving into higher forms, hatred, violence, aggression, and war are a part of the evolutionary plan…Nature does not abhor evil, she embraces it. She uses it to build. With it, she moves the human world to greater heights of organization, intricacy, and power…One result: from our best qualities come our worst. From our urge to pull together comes our tendency to tear each other apart. From our devotion to a higher good comes our propensity to the foulest atrocities….From the beginning of our history, we have been blinded by evil’s ability to don a selfless disguise. We have failed to see that our finest qualities often leads us to the actions we most abhor–murder, torture, genocide, and war….Lucifer…is ambitious, an organizer, a force reaching out eve n to master the stars of heaven. But he is not a demon separate from nature’s benevolence. He is part of the creative force itself. Lucifer, in fact, is Mother Nature’s alter ego”.

From this statement, Bloom, as I have done, builds on five basic concepts that drive the evolution of not only human, but all species. He begins with the replicators of which Dawkins wrote.
1 “replicators–bits of structure that functions as minifactories, assembling raw materials, the churning out intricate products. These natural assembly units(genes are one example) crank out their goods so cheaply that the end results are apallingly expendable.
2.”The superorganism- We are not the rugged individuals we would like to be. We are, instead, disposable parts of a being much larger than our selves.”
3. “The meme–a self replicating cluster of ideas…these visions become the glue that holds together civilizations, giving each culture its distinctive shape…our dreams bestow the vision of peace, but they also turn us into killers.”
4. “The neural net–The group mind whose eccentric mode of operation manipulates our emotions and turns us into components of a massive learning machine.”
5. “The pecking order–Pecking orders exist among men, monkeys, wasps, and even nations….”

That is the hierarchical order of forces that make us as humans part of a “superorganism” composed of a neural net that contributes to our part as a “massive learning machine”. But as Bloom illustrates, both good and evil go into this process, and we are wrong to assume that we can “amputate” evil by organizing into larger units that represent ideals. It is these ideals, in fact, as shown from several sources that contribute to the greatest evils. I will explore that more next essay.