When even the brightest mind in our world has been trained up from childhood in a superstition of any kind, it will never be possible for that mind, in its maturity, to examine sincerely, dispassionately, and conscientiously any evidence or any circumstance which shall seem to cast a doubt upon the validity of that superstition. I doubt if I could do it myself.– Mark Twain
I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth, it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives.– Leo Tolstoy
Memes, or as I like to call them, mental viruses, are in my opinion, the most persistent and potentially damaging of any pathogen. This is due to the ease by which they can spread, the difficulty, if not near impossibility of spotting the infection in yourself, and the numerous challenges in eradicating the virus in yourself or others assuming you or they have the will to do so. Looking at the course of history, including events of today, it seems that almost all of the death, violence, and destruction of human history can be traced to a religious or political ideology attempting to spread and enforce its viewpoint on others.
Religions are certainly the oldest of these pathogens and the most long-lived, though political ideologies are not far behind. Both undergo evolution due to changing environmental conditions branching into new forms, each with its own tendencies to enslave the mind.
While I believe all religions are dangerous due to their drive to limit freedom of thought, the degree to which a religion mandates the unconditional acceptance of its doctrine, and encourages the punishment of those who fail to believe and follow its obvious truths, defines how dangerous it is to my mental health and the health of the general public. Examples of the violence perpetrated by those infected with such memes fill the news channels every day and should be a warning to all regarding both the spread of these diseases as well as their fatal consequences.
Likewise, political ideologies also capture the mind and narrow the viewpoint to the extent that people infected cannot see any viewpoint other than their own and will also violently attack those who criticize or resist theirs. From the perspective of the impartial anthropologist from Mars, I suspect that they would see both behaviors (political and religious motivated violence) as symptoms of the same underlying pathology, though caused by different strains of agents.
Is there a cure for these diseases? Unfortunately, not one that I think can be imposed externally. Certainly, the attempts by the pushers of religious or political ideology think that they can convert others by simply shouting louder or, if necessary, bashing the unbeliever’s heads in or chopping them off for their failure to accept the shining light of truth that is their belief system. These are diseases that can ultimately be cured only by the infected themselves, through the recognition of their mental state and their subsequent actions to break free of their mental chains. As Twain and Tolstoy both noted, this is not an easy task and partly explains the prevalence of these diseases.
If a cure is difficult, the best course I believe lies in prevention. Living a Stoic life, combined with a skeptical viewpoint, is for me, my best chance to avoid a meme taking hold and spreading in my own mind.