Liberal Education, Part IV: The Mitochondrial Peace

“Don’t let the forest grow over that path you came there by.
But you will, so…

So hurry up and run to the one that you love. “

Bright Eyes, “Make War

“The devoted were wearing bracelets
to remind them why they came:
some concrete motivation
when the abstract could not do the same.
But if all that’s left is duty, I’m falling on my sword;
at least then i would not serve an unseen distant Lord.”

Pedro the Lion, “Secret of the Easy Yoke

“Stay the way I am today and serve to more disaster…
He could tell a fairy tale that’s happy ever after…
Just relax and green of grass will grow here for a change.
Maybe then we’ll last a million years or more.. or more.. or more..”

Guster, “All The Way Up To Heaven

“Have you ever tried to neck with an earwig?
Oh, your body is a home to your friends.
You’ve a tick for each nipple and a leech for each finger
And a parasitic love that never ends.

Do you have any love left for me?
I’m small, but that’s a start.
Eat me up with your love.
Burrow your way to my heart.”

Darkest of Hillside Thickets, “Burrow Your Way To My Heart”

Liberal education is a fertile land for ideologies. The Sahara was once fertile, too.

Ideas evolve. Some evolutionary analysis of ideas looks at memes,” which is just a term for anything that is imitated. The ideas, which compete through a form of natural selection, have the same goal of any other evolutionary organism: thrive.

Specifically, evolution is a battle for niches. The full range of environments where a species might exist is its fundamental niche. It actually exists in a realized niche. The realized niche is almost always smaller than the fundamental niche, because of enemy species — “natural enemies” — that are impeding the thriving of a meme.

So from this we can derive another evolutionary requirement of species: to destroy and preempt enemy species to increase the size of its realized niche to include the entire size of its fundamental niche.

Human ideologies were allowed to thrive when the rise of learned rulesets caused by liberal education weakened the human cognitive immune system. The human mind went from thinking concretely about issues like folk, kin, and trade:


to thinking abstractly, one open for any number of rulesets:


The golden age of liberal education was a boom-time of memes and ideologies, when the focus is on reproduction and not competition. Like a virgin land, the soil of the human mind in a society beginning to liberally educate seems to give enough for everybody.

But that ends. Liberal education will cease being a revolutionary force as it becomes a status quo. Ideologies will focus more on fighting each other for valuable resources and less on cultivating new lands, just as business gets more brutal as a product evolves from the growth state to the maturity stage.

The natural goal of an ideology is to rebuild a cognitive immune system, with it on the inside and everything else on the outside.


In physical things, mitochondria achieved the same feat. They needed some sort of weakened cells in order to invade and subvert the living thing. But later, after they had infested themselves, they became symbiotic to the larger cells and needed strong cells to protect against future invaders.

A Cell with Mitochondria
The Cell is so subverted that it ca no longer exist without them

From an evolutionary standpoint, the fate of liberal education is clear. It will be subverted by an ideology that will cover up the path it came in by. The new ideology will allow critical thinking only so long as it does not threaten the ideology itself. Ultimately, it will fashioning a form of “liberal” education that would fall apart without the ideology.

In a post commenting on this series, Mark Safranski wrote:

there has been, at all levels of education, a retreat from that ideal in the public sphere. There we see movement toward required indoctrination of multicultural-leftist attitudes or rote mastery of facts without a concomitant critical analysis ( in some schools, both at once).

From an evolutionary perspective, the reply is “of course!” Just as one sympathetic to a return to pre-mitochondrial cells might have said two billion years ago

“There has been, at all levels of energy allocation, a retreat from that ideal in the cellular sphere. There we see movement toward required supply of the mitichonria’s needs or rote endocytosis of all foreign organisms (in some cells, both at once)”

The most logical future would be a universalist — “catholic” — system of ideologies that are closely related but specialized for different sub-niches. Just as cousins may compete against each others but against strangers, the ideological future is one that will have debate within one narrow family of ideologies.

Because a more successful species is one with less mutation — because mutation threatens it by future near-kin competition — this future ideology should attempt to minimize liberal education to just what is necessary to spread to the people. This means that the ideology will be relatively uncomplicated (less memetic code to mutate) and be tuned to subvert the natural human mind (specialized for its niche).


The ideology will be a learned ruleset, so it will be powerful for the first decades of life, but it will naturally be complementary to the biological human desires which unfold as one lives.

We already see evolutionary attempts at this. Human identity is based of folk, kin, and trade, and we already see ideological belief rulesets that try to latch on to some of these:

Ruleset + Folk: neoconism-theoconism
Ruleset + Kin: Christian Right, Iraqi Sunnis
Ruleset + Trade: khemer rouge, anarcho-syndicalism

Because this ultimate ideology is a symbiotic to humans, it will be evolved to help humanity thrive. As Curtis noted:

Most of us don’t weave our own cloth or forge our own tools, thus we don’t need to know how to do those things. With cheap products, we don’t need to know how to repair our own possessions as long as we can buy replacements without too much effort. (We don’t rebuild cars but buy new cars, or repair televisions but buy new televisions, etc.) There are creators of these things; but the ratios are different now, since fewer creators can supply for more consumers.

The ultimate ideology will be largely one spread through mostly illiberal education, since the truly symbolic thought that allows much of the creativity of capitalism can be reserved for a very small fraction of the population. The rest will be taken care of by a subspecies of the larger ideology — a cousin to the mass ideology.

This does not have to be good or bad. Just inevitable.

Liberal Education, a tdaxp series

Liberal Education 1: The Petty Troika
Liberal Education 2: Liberation and Rulesets
Liberal Education 3: Infection
Liberal Education 4: The Mitochondrial Peace

8 thoughts on “Liberal Education, Part IV: The Mitochondrial Peace”

  1. “Some evolutionary analysis of ideas looks at memes,” which is just a term for anything that is imitated”

    If I understand you correctly you are saying memes are imitators. This is a concept I have never thought of before. I always thought memes as, I don't really know how to put this but maybe, “source code” might be the term I would use. I mean how can truth be imitated. It is either truth or not truth. Imitation need not apply.

    It would be interesting to have Mark Safranski comment on this, as his status of being a meme should qualify him.

  2. Larry,

    A meme is a pattern for imitation. From the Wikipedia definition

    “The term “meme” ([miːm] in the IPA; rhymes with “theme”), derived from the Greek word mimema, “something imitated” often refers to a piece of information passed from one mind to another. “

    I'm not sure how you are using “truth,” but it is pretty clear how belief and behavior can be imitated.

    I'm looking forward to Mark's thoughts too! 🙂

  3. “A meme is a pattern for imitation. From the Wikipedia definition”

    True. However, I thought of this pattern for imitation, more as forces moving through a network. Forces flow through a network like a tsunami wave through the ocean. The wave at mile-one from the origin is imitated at mile-two from the origin. However, the only thing that is really imitated is the forces inside the wave and not the mass of the wave itself.

    The meme moves information through the network as a tsunami force to be repeated onward. hopefully that which is repeated is also correct, at the time of movement. If it isn't the meme probably will not last long.

    So the meme is able to hold these non-vertical forces, using a liberal education, long enough to pass them along. So in a way the meme is not imitating, the meme is simply a point of departure for horizontal forces.

  4. Larry,

    Instead of “truth,” I think a better word would be “viable.” We don't say that a successful species represents “truth” so much as it is viable for its niche.

    Viability also puts the emphasis in the relation between the entity and the outside world. A “truth” standard implies that the objective world is all that matters, while viability recognizes its the quality of the subject and the object.

    Last, I'm a constructivist, and that's their pet word 😉

    More substantively, I like the idea of memes are time-extended/horizontal forces. Also good to think of them as quine code, [3] but it's import to realize that quine code can act in multi-stage cycles.


  5. [Sorry for the length; but pt. 4 asks many questions.]

    [Dan] “another evolutionary requirement of species: to destroy and preempt enemy species to increase the size of its realized niche to include the entire size of its fundamental niche.”

    –or :

    1. adapt to environments; i.e., become non-competition for competitors by utilizing a different sector of the environment than that used by competitors; meaning: *redefine one's own biology* until one has no competitors (innovation; filling a non-occupied niche.)

    2. alter environments to better suit one's own success (redefine the fundamental niche; this could lead to destruction of competitors unable to thrive in the altered environment; or, it could lead competitors to alter their biology to fit the altered environment (#1), thus continuing the competition; or, it could lead to…)

    3. symbiosis; join with the competitors (if the environment is altered just so, the adapting competitor might be brought into symbiosis which benefits both; same with an altering of one's own biology, except that one adapts for symbiosis rather than to fill an unoccupied niche.)

    [Dan] “Human ideologies were allowed to thrive when the rise of learned rulesets caused by liberal education weakened the human cognitive immune system. The human mind went from thinking concretely about issues like folk, kin, and trade…to thinking abstractly, one open for any number of rulesets”

    Not precisely.

    Your “human cognitive immune system” is really *insularity*. That is, there was no serious threat from competition, since the troika operated as a team, different teams were not allowed to breed with one another nearly as often as competitor teams were destroyed or merely kept in separate fields through strong defenses — with the exception of KIN, which might have interbred between tribes; but KIN was superseded by FOLK long ago with the advent of the strong and large tribe, city-state, or nation-state. (KIN and FOLK were entirely one before this.)

    Thus, the weakening of the “immune system” actually began long ago, with the increase in trade between the KINFOLK tribes — or perhaps even before that, when *conquest* began to replace simple defense against opposing troika-sets and simple destruction of opposing sets. This is the symbiosis mentioned above, brought about by both organic adaptations and environmental alterations for the memes pulling the sleigh.

    KIN gave way to FOLK with the increase in size of the tribe/state. I.e., symbiotic relationships between different KIN developed which gave more weight to FOLK for determining personal identity; otherwise, KIN-groups would continuously fight. So, the introduction of complexity diminished the *security* guarantee of the KIN relationship, since so many KIN-groups could always be arranged against one isolated KIN-group within the tribe. Security demanded a stronger FOLK loyalty to diminish the complexity of the relationships — and I mean, the sense of security. Liberal education didn't weaken KIN first; FOLK did. This may seem counterintuitive, since family loyalties occupy people's minds more often than national loyalties; but then, more people leave their families than renounce their citizenship, in any country. There is more movement between families (via marriage, friendship groups) than there is between nations.

    TRADE never quite succumbed to FOLK in the same way as KIN did, although attempts have been made to make it submit. In fact, TRADE seems as strong as ever. Liberal education has actually *strengthened* this horse: consider the necessity of declaring a major and committing to following that path. For determining identity on the basis of TRADE, liberal education probably does more than an absence of liberal education. The uneducated may work in many fields during a lifetime, going where the paycheck is, but a college graduate is more likely to work within a set field. This in fact may be where liberal education most subverts the KIN and FOLK horses: by giving such a strong focus on a set career path not first determined by either KIN or FOLK.

    In the last part quoted above — from thinking concretely to thinking abstractly — I'm not sure exactly what you mean, except that it has something to do with my earlier comments on types of creation. How does one think “concretely?” Answer: one doesn't. However, I think you mean by that a certain pre-awareness of patterns which have already occurred. That is, concepts of KIN, FOLK, and TRADE which are traditional have had their concrete results throughout general and personal history, and “thinking concretely” merely means a focus on all those past results when one thinks about kin, folk, and trade. One can predict where one is going, because so many examples exist; so, one does not think about it too much, but just does it. “Thinking abstractly,” however, would be the use of imagination to create results within the mind which do not have a historical basis. Therefore, we could consider gay marriages, global government, and cross-national anarcho-syndicates, if we “think abstractly” about kin, folk, and trade. By requiring a commitment to a career path, higher liberal education tends to focus the mind on career choices and away from the “concrete” memories of FOLK and KIN. In fact, the career choices themselves may be largely abstract, especially at first if the student is considering an occupation not followed by Mother and Father and so many cousins. By requiring a set field, liberal education tends to isolate the other two horses into another field. Even lower liberal education does this, by requiring the student to focus on algebra, literature, etc., which may be things not “concretely” witnessed in personal histories. These things might be considered “white noise” — until later in the educational system, when a career path must be chosen, and a concrete shape must be made out of that white noise. So…

    [Dan] “The natural goal of an ideology is to rebuild a cognitive immune system, with it on the inside and everything else on the outside.”

    — This could mean that much noise must be eliminated in order for a concrete shape to be formed. This goes back to something I said earlier, that 4GW forces provide a framework of understanding that is simplistic;or, to your comment here that, “the ideology will be relatively uncomplicated.” But the *immune system* is insularity. If, as I've proposed here, a focus on TRADE (career) within liberal educational systems is a focus away from KIN and FOLK, then matters relating to KIN and FOLK may form part of that white noise. (Thus, the student is more likely to devise abstract notions of both?)

    I've already written far more than a simple comment should contain… 😉 The idea of an “ultimate ideology” interests me, but the pragmatic consideration of it would need to go on much longer than I have already! Given the above considerations, which focus on the individual within the educational system, and drawing out the line to a universalist “status quo” idea of liberal education, I'm left wondering what such insularity for individuals would look like on a broad field. I approached just such a consideration in “Flu(n)x” on P.C. —

    It is tempting to suppose that the combination of insular career-trapped individuals who have no KIN or FOLK loyalties will be worker bees with little comprehension of kin or folk; they will be drones “closely related but specialized for different sub-niches” who are subject to “less mutation” than we now are. But with the introduction of greater levels of white noise — with the explosion of technologies and forms of communication — something else might happen. Perhaps no concrete forms will last for long or trap the individual in self-referential niches. The white noise might produce a transhuman species of Renaissance men and Renaissance women — if, that is, we are still “men” and “women.” Heh.

  6. The human cognitive immune system does generate a type of insularity. Just as the cell body is an island protected by the dikes of its cell wall in the sea of the body, the self is an island (“insula”) protected by the dikes of its identity in a sea of friction. [1]

    As I earlier wrote [2], most of human history has seen competition between folk groups, kin groups, and trade groups. But it is incorrect to say that folk ever became kin, or kin ever became trade. Such a claim cannot be demonstrated.

    The difference between concrete and abstract thought is the difference between arithmetic and algebra. To give an example from Elkind [3]

    Concrete logic is syllogistic. Here is the classic example from Aristotle:

    “All men are mortal.
    Socrates is a man.
    Therefore, Socrates is mortal.”

    A child can typically think this way around his fifth birthday.

    More recently, Jean Piaget discovered that abstract, or formal, thinking begins about adolescence. An example of abstract reasoning might me

    “If Dinosaurs are smaller than Horses,
    and if Horses are smaller than Mice,
    then Dinosaurs are smaller than Rats.”

    A five year old thinks syllogistically like Aristotle, but declares Piaget's formal reasoning “dumb.”

    Even though its emergence seems natural with good nutrition, it appears that abstract thinking quickly self-extinguishes. Liberal education appears to be effective at staving off this extinction.

    You have an interesting point about traditional liberal education's fetishism for “professionalism.” However, that professional degrees are typically considered high-end technical education rather than liberal education is significant.

    It's not so much a cognitive immune system has to eliminate noise from an environment as keep it away from critical thinking. The immune system deafens the self, but a higher-order system would then attempt to reshape the environment.

    “Ultimate Ideology” is an important concept. It recognizes our current time as a transitionary moment, where evolutionary attempts at ruleset-folk, ruleset-kin, and ruleset-trade ideologies are recognized as mere stepping stones for an evolutionarily fit ruleset-folk-kin-trade ideology. In a world of punctuated equilibrium, the current moment is a temporary punctuation, not a long-lasting equilibrium.

    I enjoyed the Flu(n)x article, though the Ultimate Ideology would span competing groups, not merely define one of them.

    Saying “the white noise might produce a transhuman species of Renaissance men and Renaissance women” is expressing a belief that biological human evolution will run faster than human cognitive evolution. Possible, but unlikely.


  7. All of this assumes one thing; a Liberal Education that questions Folk, Kin and Trade, but does not question anything else. It's a reasonable assumption, given that things do seem to work that way in practice, but it skips over a question.
    What if that Liberal Education questioned everything, not just those three things? Would the ideologies still be able to get in?

  8. Michael,

    My guess would be yes, it should be possible to nurture “liberal” critical thinking within domains that you wanted, while keeping it from developing (for the most part) in others.

    Good catch!

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