But in a static society that beginning of infinity never happens. Despite the fact that I have assumed nothing other than that people try to improve their lives, and that they cannot transmit their ideas perfectly, and that information subject to variation and selection evolves, I have entirely failed to imagine a static society in this story.
For a society to be static, something else must be happening as well. One thing my story did not take into account is that static societies have customs and laws – taboos – that prevent their memes from changing. They enforce the enactment of the existing memes, forbid the enactment of variants, and suppress criticism of the status quo. However, that alone could not suppress change. First, no enactment of a meme is completely identical to that of the previous generation. It is infeasible to specify every aspect of acceptable behaviour with perfect precision. Second, it is impossible to tell in advance which small deviations from traditional behaviour would initiate further changes. Third, once a variant idea has begun to spread to even one more person – which means that people are preferring it – preventing it from being transmitted further is extremely difficult. Therefore no society could remain static solely by suppressing new ideas once they have been created.
That is why the enforcement of the status quo is only ever a secondary method of preventing change – a mopping-up operation. The primary method is always – and can only be – to disable the source of new ideas, namely human creativity. So static societies always have traditions of bringing up children in ways that disable their creativity and critical faculties. That ensures that most of the new ideas that would have been capable of changing the society are never thought of in the first place.
How is this done? The details are variable and not relevant here, but the sort of thing that happens is that people growing up in such a society acquire a set of values for judging themselves and everyone else which amounts to ridding themselves of distinctive attributes and seeking only conformity with the society’s constitutive memes. They not only enact those memes: they see themselves as existing only in order to enact them. So, not only do such societies enforce qualities such as obedience, piety and devotion to duty, their members’ sense of their own selves is invested in the same standards. People know no others. So they feel pride and shame, and form all their aspirations and opinions, by the criterion of how thoroughly they subordinate themselves to the society’s memes. [381−2]
A static society involves – in a sense consists of – a relentless struggle to prevent knowledge from growing.