Genes and Memes

by Johnathan Storlie, PhD
Unique Approach to Nurturing Stewardship Consciousness through Reflection on Personalized History

Practice

While everyone may have a different view, as I work with members, I try to make use of three principle techniques to relate them to their own personal genes and memes, and to promote through dialectical interaction a space between stimulus and response in which reflection can be nurtured. These three techniques are:

  1. Biological deconstruction: Starting with the premise that people learn new things by making connections to those things they already are familiar with, I begin by establishing each individual member’s connection to their own ancestors and to historical events through personalized interaction with our growing genealogical database. I then seek to show members how interrelated they are to other people within their own community through autosomal, yDNA, and mtDNA genetic genealogy, which identifies hundreds of their genetic cousins based upon an autosomal genetic test that tests over 1/2 million SNPs in peoples genomes.
  2. Cultural deconstruction: By videotaping the oral histories that document the trials and joys of their senior relatives, the Heritage Center preserves the stories of the past to create intergenerational bonds that remind younger generations of the common elements of human existence. Further, these videotaped oral histories help show how cultural norms have evolved within each generation and document real human experiences and reflections. Giants aims at keeping things real at a time when historical generalizations and straw-man caricatures of senior citizens is the norm in the mass media.
  3. Reflective, collaborative reconstruction: In the intergenerational dialogue that the Heritage Center promotes, it is my hope that practical life strategies and an “attitude of gratitude” will be nurtured within the minds and hearts of members of the community. Ultimately, the goal I see for the Heritage Center is to promote a rational, reflective, and loving stewardship of the present that will most benefit present and future generations.

Theory

At the Heritage Center, our activities include developing a personalized approach to history by helping people to understand the three ontological pillars of their human existence: genes, memes, and reflection. Since no one chooses either their biological impulses or their early childhood conditioning–the two powerful unconscious forces that move animal and unconscious human behavior–free will cannot exist in merely following whichever of these two forces momentarily prevails within each person’s psyche during decisive moments. Free will must arise by another force than simply the chemical impulsion directed by our nature as we encounter stimuli, or the altruistic posturing-behavior directed by our spirits that are conditioned by our particular environment. Free will must arise from an altogether different, authentically free faculty that is able to understand the bigger picture, and reflect on the shortcomings of the proximate goals set by our genetic hardware or our conditioned “spiritual” software. Through reflecting on the poverty of human existence in history when it has been under the tyrannical, though vacillating control of these two unconscious forces, a desire arises in a human beings to do better. With this strong desire to do better we begin to make our decisions more consciously. Further, we hope that our decision making will be based, not simply upon biological or conditioned impulses, but upon abstract universal moral principles that take into account the greater good, that of sentient existence through time. The consciousness that arises through reflection, or dialectical reason, has been sometimes called the Logos. The Logos is that universal moral consciousness that transcends the particular religious idioms and myths and arises through abstract reflection on such classical questions as,

“If you had a choice of living in two different hypothetical towns, would you prefer to live in one where you use other people as a mere means to achieve your own immediate goals, and they do the same to you? Or would you prefer to live in a community where, just as you consider other people’s feelings and goals, they too consider yours?”

“What type of society would you most prefer to live in if you could not choose your parents, or their socio-economic status?”

“If I am not for myself, who will be? If I am only for myself, what am I?”

As one reflects on these types of timeless questions, something inevitably occurs, assuming a) one is honest with oneself and b) one has the cognitive wherewithal to engage in an internal rational dialogue. That something which occurs is the realization that one has taken positions in the past which are untenable when exposed to the light of critical reflection. While most people have strong opinions about their positions, which they call their “values”, the light of reflection quickly discriminates between the universal moral principles of the sage, the stubborn insistancies of those who fail to intuit the abstract principles behind the particular concrete myths, and the merely self-advancing representations of the hypocrite. Though the stubborn are frequently the cause of strife in the world, they are not infrequently led by hypocrites who use their rhetorical skills to advance their own interests. Unlike those who are merely stubborn and blindly loyal to their particular conditioning myths, the hypocrite is likely familiar with a range of values. The hypocrite simply chooses the opinions that advance him the most and calls these his values. His values would thus change if his situation changed. For example, if a hypocrite suddenly found himself in a different socio-economic class, he would suddenly change his values, while a sage would have already imagined, hypothetically, all situations that others go through, and his values would be unchanged were he to trade places with another person in a different socio-economic condition. The sage would have the same opinions, but not because of internal rigidity, rather because his internal flexibility has already allowed him to find the most tenable moral and just position.

The faith a sage has in universal moral principles is categorically different than the faith of the hypocrite. When the sage is in a position of little power, he doesn’t need to put his finger up and test the prevailing winds to reassure himself that he has the correct faith. When he is in a position of great power, he doesn’t demand that others accept his dogma, for he knows that the mere acceptance by the majority of a faith or value, does not lend any credibility to that faith or value. True faith is not about dogmatic coercion, but about growth of understanding. Understanding moral principles is like understanding math or logic. Once you understand math, could anyone ever convince you that one plus one equals three by simply punishing you for not believing it or rewarding you for believing it? The same holds true for the Logos. In The Bible, a text most of our Spring Grove ancestors’ revered, there were some characters whose faith was categorically different than that of their fellow, entirely conditionable citizens. The abstract monotheistic understanding of Daniel, Shadrack, Mischach, Abednego, and Job, for example, could not be changed simply because it was not popular, not lawful, or not momentarily productive. The faiths of these individuals were not merely conditioned into them and therefore could not be merely conditioned out of them, as was the case for the faiths of all the others in the stories relating, for the adherents of those faiths were able to worship King Nebuchadnezzar’s statue, and also King Darius, the Mede, but Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and Daniel intuitively understood that such prostation before “the work of man’s hands” or before a man was an abomination.

This type of intuition is rooted in the integrity that follows from a principle centered life, rather than an inflexibility from nature or nurture. It is rooted in what Immanual Kant called a priori synthetic knowledge. That means that it was a faith of those who, by rational reflection rather than empirical conditioning, had figured out certain universal moral principles. These people lived by faith in the development of their understanding and understood the universality of the golden rule (or the golden rule’s properly qualified version known as the categorical imperative). Most of their fellows, in contrast, lived

by empirical conditioning within their own particular idioms, and the gods and values of those peoples were as diverse as the particular idioms. Thus, their faiths were different–one in Athens, another in Rome. The number of gods worshipped by the conditionable were “legion”, as many as the idiosyncratic institutions that conditioned them. In contrast, for a true monotheist, the number of gods worshipped by those with understanding was One–I am what I am–and that One was so great that it was not even to be written down or said aloud for fear that the utterance or the name would become an idol. To be made more intelligible to children on the developmental path, that universal existence has been simplified, personified, and graven images have been made to represent it. All these simplifications were made with the qualification that they were merely a bridge for us to get to our destination, and not the destination itself.

“I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.” Corinthians 3:2

While graven images and simplifications have helped many, it may be argued that they at some point have hindered our phenomenological actualization, for they eventually have become Baals by another name. We must be careful that we understand that these graven images are only training wheels for our development, and symbols are not the real thing. It is only by aligning one’s behavior with abstract universal principles that one can reprogram oneself, and thereby actualize one’s potential human freedom.

“Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish…” Hebrew 5:13-14

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