TED Conversations

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!

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