Understanding Fanatics

FanaticsMustDie (1)

It’s challenging to understand why someone would kill for an idea. Well if you already agree with them then I guess it’s not, but as an outsider it seems absurd. Even devoutly religious people, ones who aren’t fanatics, will have trouble understanding that kind of blind faith (not to mention arrogance in their own beliefs). How does one get to the point where you wish to murder someone because they disagree with an idea?

I’ve found it helps to view these extreme ideologies from a memetic point of view. If you don’t have any idea what memetics is, read this primer now.

So either you skipped that cause you know what it is or you just read it (And FYI, I’m not talking about memes in the common internet vernacular).

Learning to be an adult is basically learning a set of memes. I’d lump them into a series of memeplexes: social behaviours, worldview, personal life management, etc. World view includes religions and philosophies of the world. This is a truly fundamental memeplex; it’s akin to our basic operating system. It’s the first idea that all else follows from, so it’s usually immutable; once set in childhood it’s unlikely to change. This is not an absolute rule, it can be changed, but it doesn’t happen often and it isn’t done lightly. Some people may feel that they waffle on this frequently but I’d argue that it’s superficial changes not foundational. Without doing rigorous introspection you may not even be aware of what your core memeplex is. When you do change it, it’s an earth shattering event. If you have changed, there’s a tendency to shift back to your original belief later in life. This happens when you have children, you unintentionally imitate your own parents, who are likely to be the source of your memeplex. All of this is to say that it’s the most important meme.

From the view of a meme, this worldview is a fiercely competitive battle ground. Many other ideas can come and go in a person, this one is the surest bet to last. This competition inevitably led to an arms race between rival memeplexes. You can see this historically in the violent religious wars that have happened for centuries. It’s nothing unique about religions, they’re simply the apex predators in this environment.

Religion is one of the few meme’s that have regularly trumped genetics. Nationalism is another. These are so fundamental to a person’s identity that their mind can’t conceive of being without them. It can, and has, caused incredibly damaging behavior; people die for these beliefs. This is how memetics supersedes genetics. The less violent option is when a religion preaches abstinence, it still trumps genetics so the effect is similar. Few memeplexes have survived having that as the fundamental idea though, it’s just too hard to pass on. The more common tactic is to have carriers who continue the larger pool of humans, with a select number who are fully hijacked by the meme. These are the fanatics. In this light, religion can seem kinda like a virus.

This isn’t a condemnation, I’m not preaching atheism. From a memetic point of view, all human ideas are equal. It’d be like trying to make moral judgments on lions and zebras. It’s just not applicable. All philosophies of the world follow memetic evolution regardless of how nice they appear.

None of this will actually help anyone prevent fanatics from doing damage or from spreading. It’s a useful way to see them, to mentally cope with how fucked up things can get. I’m not angry at viruses, they’re just a fact of life. Like religion. That’s not going to stop me from trying to prevent the spread of viruses that cause suffering and death. As with religion.

And I say this as a religious person myself, so take from that what you will.


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