virus: A Memetic Analysis of the Lord's Prayer

Reed Konsler (
Mon, 23 Jun 1997 23:41:44 -0400 (EDT)

>Date: Fri, 21 Jun 1996 18:59:41 -0500
>From: Eric Boyd <>

>> hallowed be <thy> name.
>> Sound's like the commandment, no? A distinction
>> meme <"God"> acting in concert with <God>?

>This took me a while, but I think I see it now. The statement basically
>says <"God"> commands you to propagate <God>, right?

Well, kind of. <"God"> is the signifier, while <God> is the signified.
The point is that the word "God", independent of the referent, is
itself "hallowed" or special. This is similar to the commandment:
"Thou shalt not take the Lord's name in vain".

>> Also a memetic defense against indirect attack
>> through ironic usage.

>huh? Defence? Irony? I can't make anything out of this.

Both the commandment against saying "Jesus Christ on a popsicle stick!"
and this line of the Lord's Prayer serve the purpose of inhibiting ironic
or use of the word. "God" is hallowed and thus may be used only in
worshipful tones.

Which reminds me of a wonderful story I heard on "This American Life"
which you might be able to catch on NPR, out of Chicago. I think
the host is Ira Glass, but I might be mixing up my radio programs.

Here's an abbreviated version. As I don't remember the details I'll
tell you a parable:

Once there was this guy who lived in a homosexual enclave within
the city. He himself was homosexual. He decided to sign up
with the Republican party and found himself to be the only
member in his area (I wonder why?).

So, as a result he gets to go to the local convention. He raises a
fuss, proposes that a plank on the tolerace of differing sexual
preference be added to the platform, offends a lot of stuffy can imagine the conversations.

The rest of the convention get's a little testy...after all this is
THEIR party, not this faggot's, right? So some crusty old
dude proposes that there be no more conversation about
anything having to do with homosexuality, and the vote

Trouble is, there is this plank afterwards on God, family and
all that shit which expressely says that sodomites ought
to be made to feel this Earth is a living Hell, since
everybody suspects they might not actually be going to
Hell. And the trouble is they have to vote on it.

So, after a while, the guy in charge of the running the thing
throws away Robert's Rules and any pretense of democracy
and reinterprets the former vote as saying that there can
be no POSITIVE reference to homosexuality in the
discussion, but NEGATIVE references are kosher.

Do you see?

Hallowed be thy name.

>I like how you (intentionally?) imbedded "Christ!" in there. Mutually
>supporting memes, eh?

Everything I do is intentional. Well, almost... ;-)

>I also realize that this message was primarily directed at me. I guess
>I have been a little cruel. Mabye I'll go read the Bible for a bit...

Have you ever heard of the literary trope, common in fantasy, called
"Illusion of central position"?

>Not a "parasite". This is the part of the meme-complex that insures it
>will be communicated again and again. In your analogy to computer
>programs, this is step #2:
>> 1 print "Reed is Great"
>> 2 transmit 1,2,and 3 to another
>> computer and tell it to "run"
>> 3 goto 1

You'll have to convince me.

>> See, memetics is so much more efficient.
>I thought efficiency was what you were just critizing me for! :)

Aphorist's Dillema.

>Looking back, I'd say that in theory we could almost always find the
>"viral shell" part of a meme-complex. The hard part for your average
>urban legend is identifying the "replicate me" portion. I think that's
>becuase urban legends don't actually need this part. We humans
>replicate them well enough that they never even bothered to develp that
>part. Simply not necessary.

It's not so hard. Try Brunvand's books on Urban Legends.
The problem is, it's depressing.

For instance (this is one I caught Freshman year of college):

[This section censored by the author]

On further consideration, nevermind. I have to live with
that disgusting thing in my head. There's no reason you
should have to have it, too.


Reed Konsler