Gods, Memes and Truth

The gods receive daily guidance from many people. I have acquaintances who assure me that Yahweh wants them to kill all the Arabs and populate Philistia exclusively with Khazars. Other friends tell me that Allah instead would prefer that all the Khazars leave Canaan and return to New York , which God instructed them to confiscate from the Amerinds. Local Southern Baptists regale me with tales of how the Son of God, Yoshua ben-Yosef, turned wine into water at Cana and made Galilee into a dry county. They consider it their religious duty to conquer the holy oil reserves of Mecca and burn them as sacrifices in their consecrated SUVs.

So the many gods receive many different and conflicting instructions. Some foolish agnostics have concluded from this that there are no gods. This is bad reasoning. There are almost certainly an enormous number of gods. A pantheon, a surfeit of gods. But just because someone is a god doesn't mean you can take her seriously. To make sense of all this, let us look at the Linnaean phylogeny of the gods:

Classification Of Gods

  1. 1. Technologically Advanced Alien Grad Students (John Frum, Kosius kodos)

  2. 2. Simulation Programmers (Nerdus matrixus)

  3. 3. Memes (Deus dawkinsus)

  4. 4. Transcendent Beings (Ahura-mazda, Horus, Pallas Athena, Xena, et. al.)

One (of many) insoluble problems of theology is differentiating the types. (Integration is practically impossible without a graphing calculator). There is no way for a mere human mind to tell types 1, 2 and 4 apart, and many humans are even fooled by type 3. Nor is there any way for our limited knowledge and intelligence to determine which, if any, gods are good. Most of us can't even pick a decent mutual fund, and yet somehow we are expected to see through the complex motivations of transcendent beings on pain of eternal damnation (only 9-billion-year damnation for Buddhists. It's a much better deal, if you think about it).

Well, one commonly advocated solution is indexing. Simply purchase an equally weighted interest in every supernatural or apparently supernatural being, and make contributions via payroll deduction over time. The problem with this approach is that you can't determine whether you are purchasing more good or more evil. The tax and eschatological consequences may be complex, and an infinite amount of record-keeping would be involved.

Before we give up and adopt theo-indexing, let's look at a few case studies and try to avoid these theo-business errors. First case study: a Type I case. Yes, humans have met advanced aliens, not that long ago.

John Frum (The Advanced Alien)

In the 1600s, New Guinea experienced a wave of UFO sightings. These Unidentified Floating Objects behaved in supernatural fashion: traveling over the ocean without paddling at impossibly high speeds. Bigger than any log ever recorded, they were clearly beyond human technology.

Those who ignored the UFO sightings as kava-induced dreams soon regretted it. Near-humanoid gods from the UFOs soon landed. They killed those who failed to worship and propitiate them properly, with thunder from great distances. Then the probings and abductions began.

But some New Guineans learned to coexist with the gods. They sold them food (or perhaps unwanted relatives) for supernatural objects: Cargo. Cargo allowed you to cut down trees, butcher hogs, dazzle women. A new religion was born, the Cargo Cult. They built watch fires and prayed for the return of 'John Frum,' with Cargo for all the faithful.

John Frum was busy elsewhere for centuries, as is common with gods of various sorts. Then, in the 1920s, he dropped into the middle of the New Guinea highlands in his trimotor magic flying house. He paid in Cargo and kina shells for the soft, valueless metal he called 'gold.' This caused a kina shell inflation, but little theological innovation.

In the 1940s, Cargo Cult prophecy was fulfilled. Thousands of flying houses dropped bulldozers and US soldiers all over New Guinea . They revealed the sacred rituals that summon Cargo: first you clear a sacred landing strip. Then you build a sacred landing beacon fire, and say certain prayers (into a radio, but this point was largely ungrasped). Then canned food, machine guns, penicillin, and tens of thousands of blood-crazed war gods drop into your world. It's more fun than digging taro roots!

The Cargo Cultists maintained their religion long after the departure of US troops, continuing to build the sacred landing strips and beacon fires. Sadly, they had not actually grasped the true secret of Cargo (or radio). When they asked missionaries for the secret, the missionaries told them a bunch of Keynesian nonsense about government spending being necessary to prime the economy. Having been through Keynesianism already with the kina shell debacle, the Cultists became a trifle miffed with missionaries.

What can we learn from Cargo Cultists? A lot! Their gods actually did exist, and had real superpowers. But worshipping them was a big, big mistake.

The same could be true for us. Alien grad students could become very bored in their million-year quest to finish their Ph.D. theses. Could we blame them for using their advanced physics to appear as angels and tell us poor primitives to build the Pyramids, or to go to Canaan and kill all the natives? Yes, but we could blame the idiots who believed them even more. Just because someone has better technology than you, doesn't make them nicer' or easier to fact-check.

An even more extreme version of the advanced-alien problem is when they sneak into your bedroom while you're sleeping, disconnect your brain and hook it up to a computer. Now they can sell you any kind of baloney, and there's no way for you to fact-check it at all. They could even make you think you're reading an article about New Guinea natives, and that you find it interesting.

The Programmer

It is obvious that most intelligent beings live in simulations. Every real universe with intelligent beings generates huge numbers of simulations, for purposes from safety testing to entertainment. (Our universe is called ' South Park ' by its unsavory audience of gods with poor taste).

Thus, the programmers of the simulations appear as gods to the simulated, complete with supernatural powers, bizarre motivations, and occasional glitches. Reincarnation, miracles, and even passing to the 'real' world (or at least a higher-level simulation) may well be commonplace.

Does this make the programmers morally superior to the simulated? Or even, necessarily, smarter? Nope.


Real gods might have a lot of motivations. But real supernatural beings don't need money, and they don't cease to exist if you don't believe in them. Memes, on the other hand, need your money and your mind to exist and to reproduce themselves. So a certain class of memes exist as extremely vicious god-mimics.

Memes follow the same evolutionary rules as viruses; memes don't 'care' about the brains they infect, only about maximizing their own propagation. But mutualistic memes that confer advantages to their hosts can gain an advantage over self-destructive or random memes. Successful early mutualistic memes must have included Flint Pressure Flaking and Firemaking. Today's equivalent mutualistic technical memes, such as Nuclear Power and Genetic Engineering, are so big that they won't fit into a single human brain and can only propagate through archives of books and computers. But some of the small, early, mutualistic memes are still important; Trade, for instance.

Unfortunately, mutualism is only one strategy that a virus or meme can use. A meme can also attain competitive advantage by destroying other memes and the brains that carry them. Successful parasitic memes take control of the reward circuits of the host brains, making them 'feel good' about their aggressive and destructive behaviors. They also suppress the ability of the host brain to take in new memes, and in extreme cases like 'Islam,' may ban all other memes entirely. Modern memes such as Tai Ping, National Socialism, Stalinism, Maoism, Khmer Rouge, etc. have all used parasitic strategies to kill off competing memes (and millions of their human hosts).

These parasitic strategies may even be directly against the survival interests of the parasitic meme itself. National Socialism used its hosts to attack the hosts of Holy Land , physically destroying all those it claimed to be Holy Land hosts in death camps. Stalinism destroyed even more human hosts of competing memes in even bigger death camps. Stalinism also destroyed all copies of the mutualistic meme Darwin Evolution that it could reach, replacing them with the nonfunctional Lysenko Evolution meme. These internal wars weakened Stalinism and National Socialism against external foes.

Genocidal, parasitic memes have been around for thousands of years. For example, the Holy Land meme has lived for thousands of years, growing, mutating, and spreading itself with no regard for the lives of its human hosts. Sometime during the reigns of the Middle Eastern god-kings who ruled through memes, Holy Land infected the tribes known to Egyptian recordkeepers as the Habiru ('Hebrews'). It forced the Habiru to storm into the plain between the Fertile Crescent and Egypt , in a genocidal campaign to exterminate and/or enslave all the previous inhabitants and destroy the memory of their cultures (i.e. the competing memes).

Later, from the second century BC on, Holy Land fought the Greek Culture and Imperial Roman memes, and was decisively defeated in 135 AD. Holy Land was forcibly cleared from Philistia and the area was taken by Imperial.

But then in the 300s, Constantine mixed the mutant anti-Roman Holy Land Messiah meme with other memes (including Mithra and Sun Worship), and created the pro-Empire Catholic meme. The Catholic meme fought for the Empire, but still had elements of Holy Land in its basic structure. Around 1000 AD, Catholic reverted back to the original program of Holy Land and went back to trying to conquer the area around Jerusalem and exterminate the inhabitants. After centuries of genocidal war, Catholic was driven out of the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean by a newer mutation of Holy Land that occurred in the early 600s AD, called Islam.

Meanwhile, after its defeat in 135 AD, the remnants of the original Holy Land were carried up into Iraq on scrolls by remnants of the Habiru. From there it spread to Central Asia ; around 740 AD the ruler of the Khazars forcibly infected all the Khazars with Holy Land , probably to stop Islam and Eastern Orthodox, which he couldn't control. Khazars carrying Holy Land migrated to Eastern Europe after their defeat by Mongol tribes running KhaKhan. The Khazars are now called Ashkenazim, and some of them still carry Holy Land and fire Hellfire missiles at suicide-bomber hosts of Islam.

Now another mutation of Holy Land has entered the meme war. A distant descendant of Catholic, Telefundamentalist infects a significant number of Americans. To get the electoral support of Telefundamentalist, American Presidents support Holy Land against Islam with vast quantities of foreign aid.

Our current President is trying to mobilize all the citizens of the US and all their varied memes in a general Jihad against Islam. So the cycle of destruction continues. Parasitic memes will continue to fight over Jerusalem until there is nothing there but a nuclear blast crater. Then the memes will mutate in Diaspora hosts and fight over the Wailing Crater, using ever-more-powerful weapons provided by helpful, mutualistic, technical memes until a final antimatter blast turns the Holy Land into the Holy Cosmic Rays, sending the bare nuclei of holy dirt molecules expanding out into the Galaxy at near the speed of light.

Ironically, in the end there is no meaningful difference between different strains of the parasitic memes. Memes can even be identical in every respect but name, and still fight to the death. National Socialist is essentially no different from Stalinist or Khmer Rouge or Telefundamentalist. All of them will try to destroy all other memes and take over every brain by force.

Of course, some memes are more virulent than others. This is why Kim Il Sung and Castro have physical barriers around their regimes; a month of exposure to supervirulent modern advertising memes would infect the present hosts of Beard Communism and Starvation Communism to the point that the original memes would be outnumbered and displaced from power.

So, how do we end the meme wars? We don't, if we want life to continue to increase in complexity, diversity, and range. No meme can be allowed to win and impose the peace of stasis; we call times when single memes dominated Dark Ages. The Liberty meme is our best countermeasure. Liberty promises that all other memes will be allowed to survive and copy themselves, but that they must refrain from acquiring hosts by forcible means. Liberty promises that minds will have access to all memes; mutualistic memes will tend to predominate as the minds they infect prosper and proliferate.

If Liberty is present in a sufficient proportion of minds, we will be able to use the mutualistic, technical memes like Nuclear Propulsion to spread life throughout the galaxy. The Liberty meme leaves room for Life Extension, Mars Terraforming, Asteroid Colonies, Drain The Van Allen Belts, and the general proliferation of complex life and memes.

But Liberty can probably never win a final victory. Any mutation of Liberty that starts forcibly exterminating memes (as opposed to destroying hosts running active copies of force-using memes, which is permissible) is by definition a defective copy, and must be attacked by other copies of Liberty. And of course, all hosts of Liberty must copy this meme and infect as many others with it as possible . . . . just kidding no I'm not; copy and send to entire address book.

And if there are any real gods trying to help us, Liberty allows them to be heard. Any 'god' that tries to use human force to wipe out other memes is just a meme itself.

Transcendent Beings

Somewhere above all the levels of simulation, perhaps there is a 'real' universe where superpowerful beings spend part of eternity contemplating how to make your life better. Perhaps they will contact you via angel or email. If they do, ask them for the chemical structure for a safe and effective cancer cure (maybe a telomerase inhibitor), or for the secret of the Bowhead's 200-year lifespan, or for a General Unified Physics equation. If they really are transcendent beings, they won't have any trouble coming up with it. If they're just a meme, they won't know any more than you do.

In any case, gods of all kinds must be held to at least the moral standards of humans. If they tell you to commit genocide, donate your income to huge institutions with poor audit trails, drown your children, or commit other destructive actions, then forget 'em. We human beings can cause enough trouble on our own.

None of this essay should be taken as theo-investment advice. Do your own due diligence, and remember to diversify.

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Bill Walker's picture
Columns on STR: 16

Bill Walker lives in Plainfield NH.