Virus of the Mind – The New Science of the Meme by Richard Brodie

I’ve been reading this amazing book about Memes and I felt I had to share this short chapter on sexual mores.  You can purchase this wonderful novel here.

Mores and Hypocrisy

One way for DNA to increase its chances of winning in the human-reproduction game, aside from doing everything possible to get its own host to reproduce, is to make it more difficult for other to reproduce. In the pre-meme days, powerful males could physically intimidate other males and keep many females for themselves.  Males lower on the dominance ladder would be most likely to pass on their DNA by pretending to respect the sanctity of the dominant males’ harem but secretly taking advantage of whatever mating opportunities they could find.  Studies show chimpanzees engaging in just this behavior.

When memes arrived on the scene, it became in the genetic interest of males to spread memes that would decrease the likelihood of other males’ mating.  It was in the interest of females’ DNA to spread memes promoting good behavior in their suitors.  It was in the interest of grandparents to spread memes that would result in the successful rearing of their grandchildren.  Thus were born the concepts of sexual mores.

Sexual mores are rules of the game, so to speak.  They are strategy-memes saying Don’t do this thing you have a desire for.  They keep you from mating with some class of potential mate.  People get programmed with them as they are being raised.

It’s easy to tell what your DNA wants: just notice who you’re sexually attracted to.  That’s a good indication that, genetically, mating with that person would be useful in passing down your DNA.

Some of the first known sexual prohibition-those in the ten commandments-fit right into that model.  Two of the commandments forbid a man having sex with, or even coveting, another man’s wife.  Men who put that big investment into the home and family only to become cuckolded-referring to the cuckoo bird, which manipulates other birds into raising its young-lose big in the evolutionary game, and so might be expected to spread memes discouraging other men from having affairs with their wives.

But following sexual mores makes you behave in the interest of everyone else’s DNA, not your own.  So the optimal selfish-gene strategy, before people became conscious and had the possibility of a life about something other than spreading their DNA, was to participate in spreading mores but to secretly ignore them whenever an opportunity arose to mate counter to them.  That is the evolutionary explanation for hypocrisy.  We should expect to see the most hypocrisy around sex, since it’s simultaneously in everyone’s DNA’s advantage both to spread antisex memes and to selfishly ignore them.


*If you enjoyed this excerpt and want to read more, purchase the book here.


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