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Diane Benscoter

Author - "Shoes of a Servant", Salient

TEDCRED 100+

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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 4 2011: First of all. Love the analogy! Infection, condom, prevention. It's clever and accurate. :)
    Secondly. Many visionaries through the ages have thought of forcing the "right" ideas on people. And as far as I'm concerned, "forcing them" is bad, both in effectiveness and in being kind of annoying. And I sense tendencies of wanting to force these memes on people, obviously with good intentions, I generally like the idea, but that's not how the world works. Just dropping the right propaganda on people isn't enough. Humans are hard, sometimes almost impossible, to control.

    Anyways, my idea for a condom is "humor". (Going with the same idea as Amos Oz in his short book about curing fanaticism) How wonderfully naïve of me. But I'm serious about humor, it's funny, and thus it is probable to replicate. And with humor I don't mean all humor. Not pure shadenfreude or something like that. But the ability to laugh at yourself. "Självironi" is the swedish word for it. To be able to see your own flaws, to laugh at that which doesn't make sense. Instead of being a double-thinking asshole, laugh at the inconsistency. See the ironic part of serious issues. It's easy to laugh at crazy fundamentalist creationist, because they make no sense. They're a rich topic. If you are a fanatic, you'll just be insulted by this heresy. Someone is making fun of something holy! But I think that when humans face the choice in modern society between the group of people laughing at the humor of the world versus the group of offended people, they will much rather belong to the group that's having fun. And I think topics humor is an expanding circle. If it's ok to make fun of A, a couple of years later B accepted, and so forth.

    However, in societies where you get stoned to death for heresy, there is little hope for any quick change. Still I believe humor and fun will win in the end, because in circumstances where the status quo is fanatically on the side of stoning heretics and such, humor triumphs.

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