Some of this is based on my understanding of scientific research. Some of this is based on my understanding of various philosophers. Some of this is based upon my personal observations.
I’m certain it is flawed. I am also certain that it has been a useful model for me in trying to understand other people.
We are a species in the Great Ape family who have developed the ability to understand and internalize an untold number of concepts, and to use them as tools to improve decision making.
In his 1976 book “The Selfish Gene”, Richard Dawkins coined the word “meme”, to refer to a self-replicating unit of knowledge.
“Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation. If a scientist hears, or reads about, a good idea, he passes it on to his colleagues and students. He mentions it in his articles and his lectures. If the idea catches on, it can be said to propagate itself, spreading from brain to brain.”
— Richard Dawkins: The Selfish Gene (1976)
We are born with a base of instinctual behavior, and build from there. Augmenting our capabilities with new ideas, and allowing us to overcome instinctual behavior with understanding.
Once an idea has proven itself it becomes internalized. You can think of this as a new behavior becoming habit, but it also applies to what psychologists call “core beliefs”.
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These core beliefs are not necessarily true, but accepted as true without thought in the moment. Beliefs supported by observation in the world are stronger, even with the core belief itself is flawed. “Correlation is not causation” is not enough to overcome a core belief without actually challenging the belief directly. You cannot challenge your own unseen belief without someone pointing it out.
This is the role of an effective parent, teacher, mentor, or psychologist. Learning to understand is critical, not just to remember.
We judge people based upon our impression of what they say.
“Gaia Zoo Gorilla” by lesbaer4 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Our impression of what someone else says is based upon what we know. We are often overconfident in what we know, and we’re always blind to what we don’t know.
A religious individual who sees truth in their religion isn’t going to listen when you tell them that their religion is wrong. Atheists use this confirmation bias to justify their own belief that religions are all wrong. To me, this feels like it’s missing the point if your goal is to look for truths.
Real truths can be small, self-contained and powerful. Real truths will have been found all over. While a religion can be a system of manipulation, it does not necessarily begin there. Often, like Philosophy, religious texts can be a source of old truths. The explanation may be flawed or open to interpretation, but there is truth in thousands of years of observed human behaviors.
We are forged in conflict. Trial by the world. The hotter the fire, the stronger the will.
Our core beliefs are shaped by the fire. Cruelty from cruelty, suffering from suffering. Without someone or something worth measuring against, you will be warped by the views or others.
Happy is the man who can make others better, not merely when he is in their company, but even when he is in their thoughts! And happy also is he who can so revere a man as to calm and regulate himself by calling him to mind! One who can so revere another, will soon be himself worthy of reverence.
Choose therefore a Cato; or, if Cato seems too severe a model, choose some Laelius, a gentler spirit. Choose a master whose life, conversation, and soul-expressing face have satisfied you; picture him always to yourself as your protector or your pattern. For we must indeed have someone according to whom we may regulate our characters; you can never straighten that which is crooked unless you use a ruler.
— Seneca: On the Blush of Modesty
“The people around me are cruel and unjust” can easily become “the world is cruel and unjust”. For some, this becomes justification for behaving cruel and unjust.
More insidiously, “the people around me are good and just” can easily become “the world is good and just”, leading people to become the unwitting pawns of the cruel.
Cruelty itself can be viewed as a meme as well. We learn from our environment what types of behaviors will be rewarded and which will be punished. Cruel environments perpetuate cruelty.
“Such vicious circles can go on for centuries and even millennia, perpetuating an imagined hierarchy that sprang from a chance historical occurrence. Unjust discrimination often gets worse, not better, with time. Money comes to money, and poverty to poverty. Education comes to education, and ignorance to ignorance. Those once victimised by history are likely to be victimised yet again. And those whom history has privileged are more likely to be privileged again.”
— Yuval Noah Harari: Sapiens — A Brief History of Humankind
Learning that our own conception of how the world works can be anxiety producing. Re-examining our views requires a willingness and ability to let go of what is keeping us afloat. In our society, this is a luxury that most do not have.
I believe that individuals who do not thrive are a product of their environments in addition to their choices, and that we far too often let our collective failures in someone’s past justify not helping them today.
Our society glorifies exploitation while it demonizes needing help.
We are profoundly unjust, and that cannot change without each individual taking time in quiet contemplation to examine our own internal conflict.