virus: Re: detrimental memes

David Rosdeitcher (
26 Feb 97 09:34:35 EST

I wrote:
>>there was no indication
>>by anyone that such a word existed to convey a detrimental meme.
Glenn wrote:
>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).
These are excellent distinctions that I've never seen before. Maybe these words
sound too academic to be good memes. By detrimental I was referring to "memes we
don't approve of".

>> 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...
Glenn--Another great identification but as you admit, packaged in a way that it
is not a "good meme".

>> 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.

I don't think it was meant literally--it was from a fiction novel called
"Shibumi" (a great book) by Trevanian in which all cultures were put down. When
I think about the book from a memetic standpoint, the whole thing was based on
memes. The book was about an individual who was up against a
multi-billion-dollar conglomerate goverment/corporation. He didn't have their
power, but he had certain metaphors and concepts based on the oriental board
game, 'Go', that could help him beat this big conglomerate called the 'Mother

>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.
What, you're leaving my statement in context? :-)

>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" "toxic memes" for
that >matter. "poorly formed axioms", or
>"syllogistic reasonings", "weak arguments" or "tautologies"
>"Self-evidently non-objective"
Again, these are great identifications but awkward.

>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.

I understand that memetics looks at language in a way that puts content and
value judgements on hold, focusing on the memes themselves and how they spread.
I have no problem with this. What I've been complaining about here are
statements like the following:
Ken wrote yesterday:

>Yes!! David R. now penetrates the Content Barrier!!

As if CoV is some sort of fraternity or club with a code of behavior that you
have to "get" to become a 'memeber'. It's like thinking memetically is somehow
superior. What a bunch of bullshit!

>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.

That problem is here at CoV like anywhere. Why not give some concrete examples,