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Diane Benscoter

Author - "Shoes of a Servant", Salient

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Can we build useful memes? Peace memes?

The term meme has been debated for years, but it has recently gone mainstream. There are hugely popular sites like knowyourmeme, memegenerator and quickmeme. They are referring to internet culture and for the most part lack serious content.

Still, the usefulness of the term meme in it's more scientific definition has not been fully taken advantage of. I see the possibility of building powerful packages of information that spreads quickly - and more importantly can do good things. Using our understanding of what makes a powerful meme can we set out to build them for specific purposes?

Can we, for instance, build memes that are targeted toward those most vulnerable to being infected with dangerous memes such as those that infected hitler youth, suicide bombers and religious cult members?

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    Jun 28 2012: Thank you Barry. Because of my experience, of losing my cognitive freedom to a religious cult, I have some thoughts about it that are a bit different than those you described.

    My interest is in first understanding three things as much as possible.

    1. Memeplexes that grow out of an addiction to power or money. These memeplexes tend to evolve into a set of psychological themes, such as described in Robert Jay Lifton's book; Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism (Chapter 22) which as he says "pose the gravest of human threats".
    2. Vulnerability - I am interested in creating a developmental scale that would help identify stages of life when an individual is most vulnerable to all-or-nothing memeplexes as well as factors that contribute to vulnerability at any stage of life, such as divorce, loss of career, etc.
    3. Prevention - Once we understand the problem of memetic infection better, as discovered through above - the information needs to be disseminated to those most vulnerable in the most effective ways. The creation of these memes has a strong resemblence to those you mentioned in your question but are targeted to prevent manipulation.

    As you point out, memes are already used in all the cases you suggest. I am proposing a focus on preventing manipulation.

    Again, thank you for your comment!
  • Jun 28 2012: We have had many means of generating and spreading memes, and meme complexes, for centuries: propaganda generation, public relations, advertising, religion, philosophy, psychological warfare, education, political parties, and who knows how many others.

    1. Are you proposing something different from all of these?
    2. When you build and spread these memes, how do we hold you accountable for the unintended consequences?
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    Jun 10 2012: Does the following definition characterize what you refer to as, "serious content"?:
    "Computing Dictionary, meme definition
    Richard Dawkins's term for an idea considered as a replicator, especially with the connotation that memes parasitise people into propagating them much as viruses do.
    Memes can be considered the unit of cultural evolution. Ideas can evolve in a way analogous to biological evolution. Some ideas survive better than others; ideas can mutate through, for example, misunderstandings; and two ideas can recombine to produce a new idea involving elements of each parent idea.
    The term is used especially in the phrase "meme complex" denoting a group of mutually supporting memes that form an organised belief system, such as a religion. However, "meme" is often misused to mean "meme complex".
    Use of the term connotes acceptance of the idea that in humans (and presumably other tool- and language-using sophonts) cultural evolution by selection of adaptive ideas has become more important than biological evolution by selection of hereditary traits. Hackers find this idea congenial for tolerably obvious reasons. "
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      Jun 10 2012: Yes, Edward, that is helpful. Dawkins listed the following three characteristics for any successful replicator:

      copying-fidelity:
      the more faithful the copy, the more will remain of the initial pattern after several rounds of copying. If a painting is reproduced by making photocopies from photocopies, the underlying pattern will quickly become unrecognizable.
      fecundity:
      the faster the rate of copying, the more the replicator will spread. An industrial printing press can churn out many more copies of a text than an office copying machine.
      longevity:
      the longer any instance of the replicating pattern survives, the more copies can be made of it. A drawing made by etching lines in the sand is likely to be erased before anybody could have photographed or otherwise reproduced it.

      If we keep these in mind while thinking of, for instance, the people most likely to be vulnerable to the concept of becoming a suicide bomber for jihad - we can craft memes that will most effectively lower their vulnerability.
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        Jun 10 2012: Not that I advocate the horrors you mention, but I am concerned about how this Behavioral Modification Plan would be administered. Are we saying there is brainwashing, but it is for a good cause and therefor justified? How far does the Meme Designer Czar go in ridding humanity of "undesirable" behavior? I am opposed to the idea of "building memes."
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    Jun 9 2012: That kind of education fails as much as it works. It's like your teacher telling you not to smoke vs your mate offering you a cigarette behind the bikesheds. One has far more persuasive power than the other but try as you might, you cannot control both.

    It's similar to the way artificial, constructed assessment fails the learner because it was built by someone other than the learner for a purpose that is generally irrelevant to the learner.

    It smacks of 1984.
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    Jun 9 2012: Like vaccination. The trick is to spread memes that look like the target memes, but are milder and easier to destroy.
    Education is such a vaccination. Memes in the classroom are weak. A class on suicide bombers is a vaccine.
    When you're out of the class room, the dangerous meme is recognized, and you've learnt how to deal with it while it was mild. And you're immune to BS.
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      Jun 9 2012: I agree with you wholeheartedly! The more we "vaccinate" against manipulation the less power manipulators will have.
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        Jun 10 2012: But there's something else education should do...
        It so happens that dangerous memes look alike. They all have "because X said so" extensions.
        We're wired to be intimidated by this and surrender to whatever nonsense is being delivered. So the easy thing to do it to build an immunity to that single extension.
        For instance, let's write on the walls in school the old Nullius in Verba :

        TAKE NO ONE'S WORD FOR IT.

        And instead of the idiotic allegiance to the flag, let the day begin with a short summary of what this means ; that knowledge comes with explanations.

        Or why not change the nasty " Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test." by the imperative :

        PUT EVERYTHING TO THE TEST.