Some children are *impossible*. Some parents fight with their own children. Some girls are stunningly hot. Some guys are no less attractive, even if less effort has gone into describing it. Some people have midlife crises -- all of a sudden -- when the problem was visible for many years. Others waste their lives on trivialities and never notice. Some people go to great lengths to please others and be socially acceptable. Those same people exert effort to hurt anyone who doesn't do likewise.
These seemingly disparate situations all have a common thread. I now wish to introduce a matter of some consequence. First we will consider the effects, and afterwards I will explain how it happens. So bear with me if at first some notions strain your credulity.
Imagine that all the sins and vices of humanity are not natural, innate, inherent, God-given, or genetic. Consider that they are ideas, passed on through the generations, just like the knowledge to build fire or speak a language. This is not a very popular proposition, because it plants responsibility for the failures of humanity squarely on people and their mistakes. But that is no reason to think it untrue, and it is deeply optimistic because it insists that we are not stuck with our problems forever.
For an idea that isn't naturally reoccurring to survive very long, it must be able to get from older people to younger people. The best known and most effective means of transferring knowledge to the next generation has always been the teachings of a parent to his child. It is rare that any source rivals the influence with a child that his parents have, especially for very young children whose minds are most malleable. So if we consider that sins are ideas, and we further suppose that children do not invent all their sins anew, the most likely source of vice is from their parents.
It may seem a strange concept that parents would teach vices to their most loved ones, who they would do anything to protect. Surely no parent wants to hurt his child, or worse, doom him to a life struggling against vice and immorality. But what happens is not always what is intended to happen. It is well know that everyone has flaws, and that must include parents, no matter how virtuous their desires. Why should not their flaws make them do wrong unto their children?
Here I will ask you to again imagine a fact that seems foreign to the reality you know. We normally think of flaws in simple terms. A person might be a poor judge of romantic partners, or investment opportunities, or quality appliances. A person might have an angry streak and hurt his loved ones, or a cruel streak and hurt acquaintances, or be gullible or miserly or stupid. But where do such characteristics come from, if they are not inherent traits of humanity? They are not well liked like math, and no parent gives lessons to teach his child to be angry. So imagine that a part of the flaw was that the person behaved in such a way that he *did* teach the flaw to his children. Consider what reality would be like if this were true:
The shortcomings of humanity are now comprehensible, explicable phenomena, and we can do something about them. If defects in children are the result of parental behavior, then they can be prevented if parents behave differently. If our neighbors deficiencies are just ideas, we can reason with them. Most importantly, those parts of our own character that we find most distasteful are not outside our power to change. This view, while superficially it seems to cruelly blame people for qualities they'd do anything to give up, in actuality is a message of hope and optimism that we can all change for the better.
To see how it may be plausible that what you have imagined is accurate, let us turn our attention now to a concept that is already well accepted: the meme. A meme is an idea that, in the right circumstances, causes behavior in people so that the meme is copied into other people's minds essentially intact. Earlier we imagined flaws that caused themselves to be copied into the minds of children. If flaws are ideas, memes are a good fit.
Memes function according to the principle of evolution. Evolution simultaneously accounts for how the complexity of memes came to exist and gives us logic to see what sort of memes would come to exist. Complexity comes from competition over many generations. Over time, changes that make a meme more competitive will be favored. It is an easy proposition that improvements that help memes spread effectively would increase complexity. Think of a serious, involved debate like over abortion. Both sides have complex positions, and if you removed most of the complexity from either side it would become unconvincing.
What do memes compete over? Being passed on to younger people. Only a limited (large, but limited) amount of information is passed on. The logic of memes says that only the most competitive ones will survive, so we should expect all memes to have some characteristics to ensure they are passed on to more and more (younger) people (or to be new and on their way out).
How do memes compete? What makes a good one that will survive? It takes knowledge. This can either be knowledge of how to survive directly, or it can be knowledge of reality that people find valuable. This suggests (following David Deutsch) two distinct categories of memes: static and dynamic. The names will make sense shortly. Static memes embody knowledge of how to survive: they have knowledge of how to cause people to spread them. They contain mechanisms to cause human behavior, and function in any environment where people don't know how to resist those mechanisms. Dynamic memes have knowledge about reality, like an explanation of how to fix cars, or a theory of gravity. They function in any environment with people who value good ideas and actively seek them out.
Static and dynamic memes have different methods of ensuring continued survival, and that's where their names come from. Static memes, in essence, work to create a world of stasis. If nothing changes, they live forever. Dynamic memes are so named because they always change. They survive only as long as they remain the best ideas we have, but they are only replaced by better ideas, so the tradition of dynamic memes lives on.
Static memes might sound like a dark fantasy. Ideas that control people and suppress creative thought? However, their logic can and would work if the right ideas existed. So the only issue of their reality is in whether they were ever invented. Designing an idea capable of controlling human behavior and suppressing creativity would be virtually impossible. No one has the necessary knowledge and understanding of human behavior. However, static memes could have begun extremely ineffectively, and evolved to become more effective. At first, one might control human behavior in only a few rare cases, and only be able to suppress a few specific sorts of thoughts. But new variants that were a little more powerful -- that controlled people a little better -- would be selected for. Other qualities that would be selected for include being harder to notice having the meme, being harder (more complex or more painful) to get rid of the meme, and being better at causing people to copy the meme to children.
Returning to our initial queries, the common theme is that static memes offer an explanation of each situation. The child is impossible because his parents are hurting him which makes him irrational which makes him more accepting of static memes that don't make sense. People being attractive makes not enacting the romantic ritual painful and makes choosing mates an irrational process thus ensuring less competent parenting. People waste their lives because they are living statically. And social norms are a method by which static memes suppress new ideas.