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.

Genes, Alphabet, And An Imagined “God”

Marshall McLuhan, in “Understanding Media”, brings out connections between number(having a “numbing” effect on senses) and the alphabet:

“Euclidean space is, itself, a direct result of the action of the phonetic alphabet on the human senses….The effect of any kind of technology engenders a new equilibrium in us that brings quite new technologies to birth, as we have just seen in the interplay of number(the tactile and quantitative form) and the more abstract forms of written or visual culture. Print technology transformed the medieval zero into the Renaissance infinity, not only by convergence–perspective and vanishing point–but by bringing into play for the first time in human history the factor of exact repeatability. Print gave to men the concept of indefinite repetition so necessary to the mathematical concept of infinity”.

This process of exact repeatability was introduced into our collective consciousness by Gutenberg, with the printing press. McLuhan writes:

“The same Gutenberg fact of uniform, continuous, and indefinitely repeatable bits inspired also the related concept of the infinitesimal calculus, by which it became possible to translate any kind of tricky space into the straight, the flat, the uniform, and the ‘rational’. This concept of infinity was not imposed on us by logic. It was the gift of Gutenberg. So, also, later on, was the industrial assembly line. The power to translate knowledge into mechanical production by the breaking up of any process into fragmented aspects to be placed in a lineal sequence of movable, yet uniform parts was the formal essence of the printing press.”

Before the printing press, with emphasis on standard repeatability came the alphabet, with its linear focus, proceeding from letters, to words, to paragraphs, etc. creating a concept of linear logic in which one thing “follows” from another thing. Sequential cause/effect. This shaped our mental capacities for mechanical thought, with symbols to extend that process. Geometry was merely the spatial extension of this process. Space later defined in the exact repeatability of the calculus, extending from the linear written word, to the exact repeatability of print.
The effect of the written word on “tribal man”, wrote McLuhan, was to take the “corporate” existence of e n and translate it into a process in which;

“He is emotionally free to separate from the tribe and to become a civilized individual, a man of visual organization, who has uniform attitudes, habits, and rights with all other civilized individuals”

With the combination of papyrus and alphabet, “the alphabet spelled the end of the stationary temple bureaucracies and the priestly monopolies of knowledge and power….the alphabet could be learned in a few hours…The easier alphabet and the light, cheap, transportable papyrus together effected the transfer of power from the priestly to the military class.”

As I pointed out earlier, Slater wrote that a mechanical response in the face of danger had no value until men began to make war on each other. McLuhan suggests that the combination of papyrus gave new extensive power and organizational reach to the military class. The introduction of Gutenberg’s printing press imposed an exact repeatability on all social functions. Not only was a man drawn out and “civilized”, he was able to reduce all social structures into a “reductionist” mold, defining all processes in either alphabetic text or the Arabic numbering system.

“In the low definition world of the medieval woodcut, each object created its own space, and there was no rational connected space into which it must fit. As the retinal impression is intensified, objects cease to cohere in a space of their own making, and instead become ‘contained’ in a uniform, continuous and ‘rational’ space.”

As Slater wrote in “EarthWalk”, people begin responding to their “internal circuitry”, the symbol system that represents reality by “containment”, by breaking the most complex systems to irreducible parts. Unfortunately, the world of quantum science tells us that there seem to be no irreducible parts.

McLuhan continues in “Understanding Media”:

“Psychically the printed book, an extension of the visual faculty, intensified perspective and the fixed point of view. Associated with the visual stress on point of view and the vanishing perspective there comes another illusion that space is visual, uniform, and continuous. The linearity precision and uniformity of the arrangement of movable types are inseparable from these great cultural forms and innovations of Renaissance experience.”

As we see in history, and stated by Leonard Shlain in “The Alphabet And the Goddess“, the alphabetic text was used by the ancient nation of Israel, who incorporated their law into a primitive form of alphabet. The oldest alphabetic text was found in the Sinai desert, and we know from biblical history what happened at Sinai. This would suggest that Israel, as a wandering culture, would be able to utilize the simpler symbolism of the alphabet to challenge the older Egyptian priesthood based on the hieroglyph. Not only did the alphabet replace hieroglyph, but it also made symbols connect to sound, so that words were formed by the various connections made possible by the unification of sight and sound. It was easier learned, easier taught, and easier read, so that there was no need for monopolist control by priesthood.

In fact, the images so deeply revered in hieroglyphic text was prohibited by the second commandment of Israel’s alphabetic text. They were not to bow down, create, or serve any kind of image. This command had an “abstract” effect, releasing individuals from “ideograms” as in Egyptian and Chinese writing, and allowed the people to communicate the unification of sight and sound in alphabet. Communication was linear, interchangeable( by re-arrangement of alphabetic letters), and could be creatively created to assemble new words, a definite advantage to the Industrial Revolution.

If the mechanical response in the face of danger had no value until men began to make war on each other, and the use of the alphabet transferred power to the military class, then technology and war became the process by which societies achieved a “shortcut” of social evolution. As Slater writes in “EarthWalk”:

“Historians have long observed that war is the prime progenitor of technological development. Fro m the materialization of the need to coerce, what else can come but discord and destruction?”

War, the machine, and technology were united by the simpler, cheaper, movable forms of the alphabet. The standardization and repeatability of function allowed this process to spread like a cancer worldwide, and the process was incorporated into both government and religion. As McLuhan writes:

“Socially, the typographic extensions of man brought in nationalism, industrialism, mass markets, and universal literacy and education. For print presented an image of repeatable precision that inspired totally new forms of extending social energies. Print released great psychic and social energies….by breaking the individual out of the traditional group while providing a model of how to add individual to individual in massive agglomeration of power.”

Eric Hoffer wrote “The True Believer” , and was able to see the effects of this on the social extensions of man, and was ale to analyze these effects in 1951, probably because he was not educated trough normal social channels. Blinded until he was a teen-ager, Hoffer was completely self educated. He was able to link the process of linear organization that lay behind all forms of nationalism, cults, or mass movements:

“There is a certain uniformity in all types of dedication, of faith, of pursuits of power, of unity and of self sacrifice. There are vast differences in the contents of holy causes and doctrines, but a certain uniformity in the factors which make them effective. He who, like Pascal, finds precise reasons for the effectiveness of Christian doctrine has also found the reasons for the effectiveness of Communist, Nazi, and nationalist doctrine. However different the holy causes people die for, they perhaps die basically for the same thing”.

In 1951 this was a profound insight, since Hoffer didn’t have either McLuhan or Slater to see where this “uniformity” came from. But it was this insight that also led to the realization that it was the form of organization most suitable for what Dawkins calls the “genetic replicative algorithm”. I will explore that in the next essay.