As I was preparing my eggs benedict this morning, I found myself wondering how it is that ideologies that restrict the freedom of adherents manage to stand the test of time. I speak mainly of the sexually restrictive ideas inherent in Christianity and Islam.
Memetics would have us believe that ideas survive because of one or more of the following factors; the ease with which they are copied, their satisfaction of our genes, or their comfort in the midst of pre-existing memes. Let's examine sexual restriction memetically. Restricting one's sexual behaviour will never be called easy to copy. It seems to actively defeat our genes. It does not sit well with other memes like "go forth and multiply". So what's going on?
A few moments into my thought meanderings it occurred to me - as it has before - that the urge to morally assert oneself is evolutionary in nature. It allows you to attempt to enforce rules when you would otherwise be out-competed sexually (rules against polygamy are a good example). So, the longevity of morally prescriptive ideas about sexuality survive not because of their effect on the adherent directly, but because they endow the wielder with authority to force these rules on others.
So let's reexamine the memetics. It is very easy to inspire moral shame in others, but it is even easier to inspire a sense of moral superiority. The idea of moral superiority thus will spread easily (easy to copy). Restricting the sexual behaviour of others with rules makes it easier to pass on your genes, especially if you cheat (more on this in a moment). And finally, the idea of morally asserting oneself fits very well with preexisting memes for "authority", "chosen-ness", "we are the head and not the tail" et cetera.
Moral assertion is particularly effective if you don't follow the rules yourself. In this way, you level the playing field for everyone else, but continue to reap the rewards of your illegal behaviour. This sort of psychopathic can be seen in statistically significant levels at that place where power (the ability to cheat) and the urge to morally assert oneself meet (read: The United States Republican Party).
What do you think?
For more on memetics, see here