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Diane Benscoter

Author - "Shoes of a Servant", Salient


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Memetic condoms to prevent extremism

I see extremism as more than a belief system; it is a dangerous cognitive disorder. It creates circular logic and is fueled by a message of "us" verses "them". If extremism is an infectious destructive meme it must be understood and combated with an even more powerful meme.

Extremism cannot be stopped with 10, 000 or 100, 000 troops equipped with the latest weapons of war. It will rise up again, every time, because it is the meme - not the person infected by the meme - that lives on.

Utilizing methods such as fMRI, it should be feasible to demonstrate that certain “memetic infections” can disallow access to the part of the brain where rational thinking takes place.

Let’s assume it could be demonstrated that extremism is linked to a memetic infection which causes dangerous cognitive damage to the brain (even if temporary) and that certain vulnerabilities to this type of memetic infection could be clearly defined.

It would then be possible to create "memetic condoms," if you will, to immunize against such damage.

An effective meme should have fecundity, fidelity and longevity. Armed with solid facts about the cognitive damage and the inherent dangers of extremist memes, educational memes could be built. After being carefully constructed, these preventative memes could be propagated in targeted areas to those most vulnerable, for example, those in war torn places.

If we can understand what happens inside the brain, making it possible for otherwise good people to be able to commit unthinkable acts…we can begin the long road to prevention.


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  • Mar 23 2011: I don't think I would use the word, "damaged" to describe the minds of extremists. While it is true extremist memes influence the way we think, often causing us to behave "abnormally", a person infected with a extreme meme, doesn't behave in ways that are wholly disconnected from normal human nature. Its more of a situation of psychological "reaction norms". Where there is a wide range of "normal" mental activity, including things that from our perspective might seem unusual, memecomplexes are patterns of mental activity.

    It is my view, from observation; that memes have evolved to take advantage of human emotions, cognitive biases, group solidarity, and other trends in human psychology that have biologically origins. Human beings are biologically hardwired with cognitive biases, I can recall a pretty good TED video on monkey economics that touched this issue briefly. But theres plenty of such phenomon that psychologists have discovered.

    There is for example a representativeness heuristic tends to lead people to think emotionally important events (life, love, intelligence, creativity), have emotionally significant causes ( all loving creator, universal consciousness, inmaterial soul,etc). Another good example is escalation of commitment. Where people justify continue to invest in something, based upon how much they've already invested, rather than weither or not their investment is likely to pay off.

    As for reason, reason is a tricky beast. Two people can believe drastically different things, but both can be equally as rational. In most cases, reason alone only serves to ensure people hold self consistent ideas. The crux of the issue, is the rejection, or deliberate ignorance of facts. Which coupled with reason, would warrant the distorted meme induced perspective obsolete. This can adequately be explained by confirmation, and emotional biases.

    As for your inquiry, I think science and/or the particular thought proccesses associated with it, are our anwser.

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