“And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”
WB Yeats, The Second Coming
The West is a Vast, Memetic Parasite that Wants to Take Over the World.
There. I said it! I think I have wanted to write those words for a while now. But somehow I didn’t really have the courage to go out on, what seemed to me, like quite a limb. I was scared to just put my concerns and judgements right out.
But I think now is a good time.
I’ve been living predominantly outside of the West for the last eighteen months. And, aside of all sorts of other stuff that has happened, this time has also been for me a kind of detox. A detox from Western media and Western thinking.
This piece, however, is not about media. It’s about the Western mindset.
The Western mind is a way of perceiving the world. We have this hardened sense of subject-object boundaries, like what’s me and what’s not me. We have a clear sense of discreet “things.” And we like to place these “things” in categories. This type of knowledge is often called propositional - because it’s purely semantic. Our culture is like an experiment in what happens when you extend propositional thinking to its logical conclusion.
You might call it epistemological fundamentalism - the assertion that our way of knowing is the only way of knowing. And that all other ways of knowing need to be first marginalised, and then eradicated from the human psyche. A final solution.
Historically, our adoption of propositional thinking has given us certain adaptive advantages.
Us British seemed to get the mindset first. Newton, Locke, Hume, all those guys. We used our love of propositional knowledge to investigate our world. We made amazing discoveries that led to incredible inventions. We developed tactics.
Some of these inventions and tactics enabled us to sail around the world, scheme, manipulate, deal drugs, fight wars and create the biggest empire our planet has yet seen. Our adoption of propositional knowledge gave us an adaptive advantage over other cultures and we exploited it to the max. As you do.
Europeans and then Americans followed suit. And somewhere down the line, we all became Westerners.
Yet, no one way of seeing the world would be widely adopted if it couldn’t also offer us pleasure at times. And our acceptance of propositional thinking has re-wired our brain’s dopamine system. To feel happy, we now need to believe that we are moving forwards, both as individuals and as a culture. And that we are the “good,” pushing against the “bad.”
How could we be Westerners if we had to accept that nothing was changing? Or if there was no good or bad? Would that even be possible?
Taking a view from above, this mindset of ours can simply be seen as a type of memetic parasite, embedding itself into our brains, offering certain rewards if we just allow it in. Just see the world in this way, and you will get certain adaptive advantages, it says. I will support you to get your basic evolutionary needs met, and then more!
And, let’s be honest here. Our championing of propositional knowledge has most definitely transformed our world, pretty much indubitably for the better. Like the famous scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian, we might rail against the technological world, shouting “What has propositional knowledge ever done for us?” But people are going to raise their hands and say “Well, what about…?”
But I think that we are already past the “boom times” with this way of acquiring knowledge. We have eaten the low-hanging fruit from our Faustian memetic pact. And if we are not careful, we will have to pay the devil his due in return… a purely mechanical life in a purely mechanical world.
We will soon have a health system based only on reductive propositional science. We will all somewhere know that it doesn’t work, but will be unable to raise an argument of sufficient coherence to convince the mind of the scientist.
For this is the issue with such a semantic, compartmentalised way of seeing the world. You can only talk about that which can be rendered into words. And any experience, such as love or oneness, which cannot be rendered into language, over time simply ends up invalidated.
And as we become increasing mechanistic in our way of being, so this will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Trapped in propositional thinking, we will no longer be able to feel love, so we will come to believe that our arguments against it are validated.
Another issue with having our frontal lobes hijacked in this manner is that, under the surface, an immense fear begins to develop - a fear of the unknown. Or rather, of anything which can’t be quickly placed into a category and controlled by propositional thinking. We start to live in a sci-fi movie, inhabiting a vast “safety pod” - forever wondering what life outside the pod might be like. But terrified by the stories we hear of what could become of us if we look. Better stay in our safe mindset.
Say no to epistemological fundamentalism. Love someone today.
There you said. The cat is out of the bag. Let's talk about this Tuesday.
Sounds a bit satanic. But you are spot on. Language can be dangerous, e.g, silver tongued devils.