If you could change one thing about human nature, what would it be?
The answers I get tend to be pretty similar:
- Reduce greed
- Increase compassion/empathy for others
- Value to future more
For context we have to understand that with this question I’m glossing over the underlying assumptions about what human nature actually is, and avoid questions like whether or not human beings are innately good or evil or if there is such a thing as good or evil.
Evolutionary psychology commonly seeks genetic basis for behavior. Indeed, I have a previous post where I ask how instinct is stored genetically. Let’s start with the assumption that we are, in fact, programmed with some semblance of human nature. This genetic component gives us one set of instincts behaviors for a particular set of adaptations.
The whole principle of memes is introduced to study a additional class of information passed down through thoughts to form cultural practices. These memes undergo similar evolutionary pressures as the genes, and can lead to the reproductive success (sexual selection) or survival (natural selection) the same way that genes can. The additional value of memes is that, when shared by a group, they can have a network effect to aid the survival of each individual, in a way that would not be possible if alone. This is the emergent property of memes that does not exist in genes.
Now, if we know that there are cultural practices that can increase the survival chances of the group, and they are not encoded genetically, but memetically – what practices are important to have reinforced culturally? Well, surprisingly similar to what we listed above.
We need meme systems to increase empathy so that we not only defend our families, but groups of families. Not just tribes but groups of tribes, cities, states, countries and empires. Genetic factors will not enlarge the tribe mentality by themselves. We need meme systems so that we care about the members of these enlarged tribes, and will defend them, and we need meme systems to convince us to think about the future of the meta-tribe long after we are gone. We need a system to engineer human nature to bring about self sacrifice for those who are not genetically related.
A system of memes is often called a meme-plex by Blackmore. The most famous meme-plexes of all lie in the realm of religion. And in fact we see that religion has been the meme-plex that holds together empires, that subjugates the presence in service of a long-term plan.
Religion is the most successful method for engineering human nature.