Kalavai Venkat
The Libertarian Memetics-phobia
This article originally appeared in CRI content has now been subsumed in The views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of

In Libertarian Myopia & Religious Freedom, I had argued that the libertarian notion of religious freedom is unscientific, false, and violates the rights of children based on memetic evidence. In Responding To Libertarian Critics, I had provided a 14 point rebuttal of a libertarian’s critique of my article and pointed out instances where my libertarian critic took liberties with facts. I am still waiting for a single libertarian to argue why it is alright for parents to abuse their own unsuspecting children by forcing harmful religious beliefs such as Christianity upon them. In this second and final part of my response, I will rebut some of the absurd and incoherent claims regarding memetics that my libertarian critic, Gargi Dixit, had made in her two critiques, Richard Dawkins trapped in Ill-Information of Economic and Political Memes and A Response To The Response.

Dixit initially accepted the science of memetics, “I agree with the concept of meme.” She seems to have subsequently realized that memetics falsifies libertarianism and hence reversed her original stance with a series of abrupt u-turns.

1. First, she claims that Richard Dawkins himself supported “the libertarian idea of individual rights and free market.” However, this is not at all true. Dawkins has consistently denounced libertarianism and free market, as evident from his 1986 documentary, Nice Guys Finish First, where he explicitly warns against the attempts by the proponents of libertarianism and free market economy to misappropriate his theory of memetics.

2. Next, she denounces Dawkins for extrapolating “scientific ideas into other realms of human studies.” Here, she is opposed to Dawkins explaining religious and economic social behavior by memetics. However, she does not seem to realize that memetics was specifically meant to explain social behavior. In Libertarian Myopia & Religious Freedom, I had cited the works of Blackmore, Brodie, et al to explain how memetics explains religious behavior. Here, I will provide a summary of other scientific theories by which economic, religious, and other social behavior are best explained by memetics.

In Cooperation Through Competition – Conspicuous Contributions As Costly Signals In Public Goods (Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 2009), professors Mark Van Vugt and Charlotte Hardy explain such behavior through the models of competitive altruism and costly-signaling with the example of the peacock’s tail. It is costly to grow, restricts mobility, and exposes the peacock to predators. However, it also bestows some advantages: a peahen is attracted to a peacock with the most flourishing tail. Vugt and Hardy explain that individuals indulge in a certain behavior to send costly signals about who they are which explains altruism. They also present data to prove that those who are social elites tend to be more altruistic than those who are lower in social hierarchies because altruism is a desired signal among social elites.

I can provide another example from the realm of economics: foreclosure of homes in the USA. Why did numerous individuals buy homes on a 30 year mortgage even though there was no guarantee that they could afford those homes or keep their jobs for 30 years to pay off debt? Costly signaling explains it. The memetic idea of American Dream disposes one to indulge in costly signaling to rest of society by informing them of home ownership even when they cannot afford the home. Here, the memeplex irrationally values the temporary gains (acceptance by society) and ignores long-term impact (loss of home).

3. Dixit accuses Dawkins of failing to understand that “reciprocal altruism represents the rational self-interest.”

One merely needs to read The God Delusion (Kindle locations 3480-3540) to understand that Dixit has absolutely no clue about Dawkins and his works.  Here, Dawkins explains both reciprocal altruism and competitive altruism – the latter is needed to explain certain social behavior and one can benefit from the researches of Vugt and Hardy cited above. Dawkins provides an excellent summary of how this idea was originally implied by the theories of Thorstein Veblen and recently confirmed by the mathematical models of Alan Grafen and how along with the researches of the biologist Amotz Zahavi explains how altruism works. In short, altruism and self-interest are not different from one another. Dawkins also briefly summarizes the content of The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation by Matt Ridley which also explains the principle of good reciprocator and constitutes the basis of altruism (or self-interest).

Dixit’s confusion is less to be blamed on Dawkins than on the pseudo-intellectual Ayn Rand, the darling of libertarians. Rand distinguished between self-interest and altruism and promoted the former as desirable. She never learnt anything from emerging scientific researches that was demonstrating that both are one and the same. Rand was oblivious to the fact that the basis of her belief system was being falsified by science. Libertarians such as Dixit inherit their incorrect layman’s notion of altruism vs. self-interest from Rand and not from science. As laymen, they are unable to comprehend what Dawkins writes and hence castigate him.

4. She claims, “It is difficult to study memes as a science because memes are not consistent.”

Linguistic substratum is difficult to study as is the mutation of cancer-inducing genes. Is that a reason to abandon the field? Contrary to what Dixit thinks, numerous scientific techniques and mathematical models have been developed to measure and study memes. Some examples are Can We Measure Memes? by Adam McNamara (Frontiers in Evolutionary Neuroscience, May 2011) and On Selfish Memes – Culture as Complex Adaptive System by Hokky Situngkir (Journal of Social Complexity, October 2004).

5. Dixit claims that memetics stresses “on the idea about how difficult it is for a human being to develop free thoughts of his own.”

Memetics does not at all claim so. Numerous models on memetics, some cited above, actually demonstrate the opposite: that memes are always selected and adapted to fit the memeplex. However, as Brodie (Virus Of The Mind – The New Science Of The Meme) and Blackmore (The Meme Machine) demonstrate, the memes that are likely to be selected and nourished are the ones that are already similar to the ones that already dominate the memeplex. These memeticists actually demonstrate, contrary to Dixit’s claim, that memes mutate. However, such mutations as Christianity are not beneficial to the host but harm him just as the mutant virus harms the host.

So, one can conclude that my libertarian critic does not understand science and misrepresents even the well-known works of Dawkins et al. This kind of misrepresentation and ad hominem attacks seems to be her modus operandi as is evident from her claim that I have propounded the idea of state atheism in my original article. This is something easy for anyone to verify by carrying out the following exercise:

  1. Go to my article Libertarian Myopia & Religious Freedom.
  2. Press ctrl+F and type “athei” so that all instances of “atheist” or “atheism” can be found.
  3. You will find three instances of usage in my article (comments section excluded) – the break-up of which is as follows:
  • In the first instance I introduce Dawkins as an atheist.
  • In the second instance, I sign off identifying myself as an atheist.
  • In the third instance, in footnote #5, I refer to my paper published in the highly respected American Atheists Quarterly.

Thus, everyone can see that I have not at all advocated state atheism. My article simply focuses on demonstrating that the libertarian stance of religious freedom is false. It is pitiable when a libertarian is unable to defend libertarianism and instead falsely accuses me of propounding state theism. As I pointed out in Responding To Libertarian Critics¸ vide point #3, she had ignorantly claimed that Aśöka was secular. I demonstrated with evidence that he was quite the opposite. A reasonable person would either stand corrected or back her original claim with evidence. However, Dixit seems to operate differently. She made a quick u-turn to argue “Despite of Ashoka using aggression and violence of whole state apparatus against anyone defying Buddhism, Buddhism in India failed to gather support” and goes on to argue that this validates libertarianism. Did she not realize his sometimes violent use of the state apparatus when she first claimed that he was the epitome of secularism? It seems that in the irrational mind of a libertarian, a secular Aśöka as well as the religious fanatic Aśöka validate libertarianism!

In Libertarian Myopia & Religious Freedom, I did not recommend what form of governance is ideal. In footnote #10, I had rejected all populist systems and had hinted that the ancient Indo-European (IE) model of republic is a good pointer in that direction and could be adapted for the present. I had not spelled out which IE model I had in mind (Indian, Greek, Iranian, etc.) or from which time period or what adaptations are necessary. I had stated I would do so at a later time. This did not prevent Dixit and another libertarian critic, Vijay Kumar, from falsely alleging that I am propounding the state of Brahmin hegemony and Hindu theocracy. It seems that my libertarian critics are fairly free of moral scruples. I hope that the incoherent Dixit and Kumar are not representatives of libertarian intellectualism and that a reasonable and informed libertarian would be capable of responding to Libertarian Myopia & Religious Freedom in a scholarly manner without resorting to lies and ad hominem attacks. If that happens, I would love to engage in a debate with that person. Until then, I will sign off hoping that you enjoyed the thread and found it informative.


Kalavai Venkat is a Silicon Valley-based writer and an atheistic, practicing Hindu.