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Holly Arnold

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Are memes important for our survival? How can we draw on memetic theory to inspire ideas of sustainability that go viral?

Memes are elements of a culture or behavior that may be passed from one individual to another by non-genetic means. Dan Dennet's TED talk addresses memes that are powerful because they inspire passionate, extremist behavior based on idealistic notions of freedom, justice, truth, communism, capitalism, and religion. While not always bad, memes can be destructive and result in conflict and death. Yet, memes have great potential benefit to humanity by eliciting behaviors that promote equality, peace, and sustainability. Sustainability in particular has been suggested to be the most important factor in determining the fate of humanity, as discussed by Paul Gildings. How can we harness the power of memes to inspire notions of patriotism, freedom, and justice that elicit a passionate response for the cause of sustainability, rather than a passionate response that leads to conflict?


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    Mar 7 2012: You asked "How can we harness the power of memes to inspire notions of patriotism, freedom, and justice that elicit a passionate response for the cause of sustainability, rather than a passionate response that leads to conflict?"
    What I want to know is: Isn't this brainwashing of sorts? Doesn't i go against first amendment rights? You say it is for sustainability and to get rid of conflict, but isn't that the same argument that has been made warring countries, terrorists, and so many others? Even though you want it through a somewhat subliminal method, isn't it still a hostile takeover of the mind?
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      Mar 7 2012: I feel like this is a hard question to answer depending on notions of freedom, patriotism and justice. I think it would depend on how we answered this question: Can we think of a case in which the ideas of freedom, patriotism, and justice within a country are not a form of brainwashing?

      If so, then I believe sustainability could be propagated without considering it a "hostile takeover".

      If not, then is there a case for justifying "sustainability propaganda?"
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        Mar 7 2012: Freedom, patriotism and justice vary from person to person, so making it a conformed definition is brainwashing, so for your response to my reply, I would have to go with the case of where it is not so. So, as you said it becomes sustainability propaganda, but it would be much more pointed that just propaganda. It would be more of a subliminal propaganda, which people don't know how to defend themselves from, whereas, regular propaganda they know how to deal with and accept/reject.
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          Mar 8 2012: I think, with regards to sustainability, the key to propagation is going to be some above board method. I don't think propaganda or subliminal trickery are the tickets to this meme's success. Rather, I agree with what a lot of people are saying-that if sustainability can be boiled down into a simple image or symbol or phrase that finds a way to take hold in the internet "mind" and resonate with people then it has the potential to spread quickly and successfully.
    • Mar 7 2012: While that is a valid point I think it should be taken into consideration that memes are generally viral and uncontrollable in nature and propaganda is usually controlled at the beginning. Memes pop out anywhere and there are always multiple versions of it.
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        Mar 7 2012: But in this case, the memes would be controlled and would therefore become propaganda by the government or what ever group controls it
        • Mar 7 2012: The question was "how do we harness the power of memes" and not necessarily control it. I guess it's a matter of how we take the question. If you'd rather take the point of harnessing the power of memes through education of the people or at least perspective then it doesn't fall under propaganda
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        Mar 7 2012: In response to the two previous posts. What if we just asked "how can we make the meme of sustainability more exciting"? If we phrased the question this way would it still evoke the same connection to propaganda as the original question posed?
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          Mar 7 2012: The connection would have been weak in that situation
    • Mar 8 2012: I had a similar reaction - the first thought that came to mind my mind was how similar memes are to propaganda. Propaganda can be loosely defined as a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the mindset of people towards a specific cause or position, and images or video memes can be used to easily propagate a specific idea.

      But honestly does it even matter? No. Corporations, social and political organizations, and media networks constantly try to influence people through subliminal messages and advertising. People have shown that they have the mental fortitude to act on their own convictions and not be "brainwashed" by what they see or hear; they do so everyday. Memes have already been in existence for a very long time, the recent internet phenomenon of images being used to convey thematic messages is a very narrow definition of a "meme". Memes are a great way to spread awareness and inspire ideas of sustainability because they draw attention through their imagery. The KONY 2012 video that has gone viral over social networks like facebook and twitter is a prime example of a meme that has spread awareness of a situation in Africa. While the video itself has a particular intent, the viewer has total control over how he or she responds to the video. All that has happened is that the viewer has become aware of a particular situation, and that is the benefit of using memes.

      Taking advantage of this tool does not imply that the community will suddenly be "brainwashed" into mindless adherents who are not acting on their own volition.

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