virus: Re: detrimental memes

Glenn Grant (pawn@CAM.ORG)
Tue, 25 Feb 1997 06:10:48 -0500 (EST)

David Rosdeitcher <> sez,

> This morning I posted a question about possible names for memes that are
>detrimental. I came back this evening to find 2 good suggestions ('parasitic
>meme' from Martz and 'low-profit meme' from Corey) but there was no indication
>by anyone that such a word existed to convey a detrimental meme.

Detrimental in what way? "Detrimental" is a vague word that could mean
anything. There are memes which can kill, which in the Lexicon are called
"toxic memes" - a Keith Henson coinage, I believe. I make a distinction
between "auto-toxic" memes, which are deadly to their hosts, and
"exo-toxic" memes, which are deadly to people other than their hosts
(usually by encouraging their hosts to attack the hosts of rival memes).

>Manipulation 101 Lesson 12--Preventing Others From Identifying Reaity
> An effective form of manipulation is confusing people by preventing them
>from making identifications about reality. If people don't have the words and
>concepts to understand how you are controlling them, they will not be so aware
>of how they are being manipulated, much less stop your manipulation.

Ah, I believe you're talking about memes intended reduce a person's memetic
immunity, to dismantle or subvert their critical faculties so as to lay
them open to infection by a new meme complex. In the Lexicon, I call such
memes "immuno-depressants". Not a very elegant or pithy term, I'll admit...

> For instance, one country that has a really corrupt judicial system is
>France, where people are guilty until proven innocent. So, anyone who is
>arrested and cannot prove innocence, might be thrown in jail or executed. I
>somewhere that the French language has no word for "fair play".

franc-jeu, "frank/straightforward play"

I suspect that whoever said it didn't mean it literally. Your point is, of
course, that it's very hard to think about things for which you have no
words, and you can manipulate people if you can control their vocabulary.
No need to slag off the French to demonstrate this - there are plenty of
examples closer to home. Just turn on the pundit debates on CNN and watch
them shamelessly do it to us all.

[As an unrelated aside, I've always wondered what the Japanese did with
their lips before adopting the loan-word "kissu"? I mean, what did they
call it *before*? If they didn't have a word for it, does that mean they
never did it? I think I'll do some research on this...]

> In the field of memetics there is a language problem in which people have
>trouble identifying which memes are detrimental to people and which are
>allows for rationalizing the spread of any kind of meme, whether or not it is
>beneficial for others. Some people can control other people by spreading "good
>memes" that are detrimental and the victims would not be able to identify what
>the problem is since they have no word for a detrimental meme.

People have come up with thousands of words to put down memes they think
are faulty, especially for memes they think other people shouldn't adhere
to. They call such ideas "the devil's lies", "subversive propaganda", or
"heresies", "treason", "silly nonsense", "dangerous twaddle" (one of my
favourites!)...or "toxic memes" for that matter. In more rational
discourse, you can always call rival memes "poorly formed axioms", or
"syllogistic reasonings", "weak arguments" or "tautologies", whatever is
applicable. I've noticed that, in some circles, calling a meme
"Self-evidently non-objective" is a popular put-down - though I'm mystified
as to why this is supposed to be effective.

But Memetics is not really in the business of identifying which memes are
"true" or "false", "beneficial" or "detrimental". It's more about how memes
evolve, how they reproduce, combine into schemes, compete against rivals.
We can discuss why one meme is more contagious than another, or why some
people are more susceptible to certain memes, or what makes a given meme
appealing, but within Memetic discourse we can't really say which memes are
better for you than others - except that, historically, some memes are
demonstrably deadly.

A few memes (techniques for making fire, say), persist over the long term
because they provide some practical benefit to their hosts. For each such
demonstrably useful meme, there are a billion others that claim to be
practical and useful, but are really just a waste of time, or are actually
dangerous. Why can't people tell which are which? Because even memes that
don't have any practical use can appeal to our many other needs - mostly
emotional needs, usually having to do with assuaging insecurity.

Good night, and sweet memes,


-----------------------Glenn Grant-----------------------
Web: <>
"That which does not kill us makes us stranger."
-- Trevor Goodchild