Sunday, May 25, 2014

Memes have immune systems - guest post by Conor O'Higgins

Memetics is about modeling ideas as evolutionary critters – they breed, reproduce, survive and die. Unfit ideas join the dodo; those that successfully survive and replicate become influential.
In the struggle for survival, one thing that every beastie needs is a way to defend itself from infexion. Even pretty unsophisticated animals seem to have some sense of hygiene, an instinct to avoid infexious conditions. But avoidance only goes so far; living in a sterile plastic bubble is impractical. To roam free and breathe contaminated air, a critter needs to develop an immune system. It needs to come into contact with pathogens, but fend them off. To do this, animals carry around a system of antibodies, T-cells, lymphocytes etc. that attack any threats that get inside the body.
As it is with resilient organisms, so it is with resilient memeplexes. (A meme is a belief; a memeplex is a Belief System.) Without an immune system to reject ideas that contradict it or otherwise threaten it, a Belief System won't long survive the dirty information-environment of today. A memeplex's immune system consists of a bunch of counter-memes that attack threatening ideas. These defensive memes are often derogatory labels – Christians tag threats as 'blasphemy'.
Anything contrary to atheism-materialism is 'woo'.
Verboten experiences like UFO sightings can be dismissed as 'mass hallucination'.
Scientologists have an interesting way of installing an immune system in their Believers. They tell you that adherence to the Scientology Belief System will solve all your problems, but – be careful! – there are people out there called “suppressive personalities” who'll try to contradict and undermine Scientology. A biological robot receives this programming in a Scientology center, off he goes into the world, and it is not long before he talks to a friend who tells him to steer clear of Scientology. Alarm bells go off: “this is one of those suppressive personalities I've heard about; disregard whatever they say”. Any further advice from the friend falls on deaf ears. The immune-meme about suppressive personalities fends off the friend's memes about the dangers of Scientology, and the B.S. survives the threat. In a world generally pretty hostile to it, Scientology still manages to be influential enough to pull in a half-billion dollars a year; it couldn't do that without a strong immune system. I mentioned that critters avoid dirty conditions. Memeplexes also use avoidance to survive. The Catholic church maintains an index of prohibited books, infexious memes so dangerous to the Catholic B.S. that believers need to steer clear. Very totalistic Belief Sytems resort to the most extreme kind of memetic avoidance and isolate Believers on a ranch in Guyana or whatever, where they have no contact with foreign memes.

The most successful therapy for depression is cognitive therapy. Cognitive therapy achieves its results by modeling depression as a Belief System and disproving it with logic and evidence. At the center of the B.S. are beliefs along the lines of “everything sucks”, “nothing is ever gonna get better” and "I'm worthless".
These beliefs should be easy to disprove; there's plenty of joy and fun out there and the person under the spell of this memeplex comes into contact with it every day. The depressive memeplex is under constant attack from happy memes. So how does it perpetuate its species enough to disable 121 million people? The same way we survive in a world full of influenza viruses; it develops immune responses to fight the fun. Psychologists' preferred term for the immune system of depression is “disqualification”. Depressed people disqualify joy and fun. If you make the obvious points to them: that lots of things are good, we don't know the future well enough to say that things won't get better, and they personally have good qualities, they'll disqualify it with a defense-meme – usually some variation on “it doesn't count because...”: If you point out a depressed person's accomplishments, they'll often tell you, “Anyone could've done it”, or disqualify it as a fluke, or say that it was no accomplishment on their part, that they were just doing what they had to do in the situation. If people praise them and show them affexion: “They're just doing it to be nice” or “they think well of me because they don't know the real me”. 100% of depressed people disqualify like this. This is what makes depression such a knotty problem that disables more of our brothers and sisters than nearly anything else.

A key feature of all these immune-memes is that they aren't really testable. You can't know whether people's praise is genuine or mere politeness, not unless you can read their mind. A report that proves a conspiracy theory wrong looks the same as disinformation put there by Nazi gremlins. You can't pee on a strip that detects blasphemy. If something really weird did appear in the skies, the reports would be identical to reports caused by 'mass hallucination'.
Therefore, the memetic immune reaxion can remain undisturbed by facts. (My last article on this blog discusses bla-bla: claims that are adrift from empirical evidence.) This is the source of both its resilience and its stupidity.

Domesticated primates find it easy to sneer at the B.S. of Others – but doing that just digs you deeper into your reality-trench. You can't see much from in there, and you rob yourself the creative play of Kaos.
This site exists to help you to evolve beyond your B.S., and my purpose in writing this article should be obvious. I want you to get aware of your own memetic immune responses. Identify them so you can start to dismantle them. Notice how you react to ideas you dislike, notice what labels you use. The next time you find yourself labeling something as 'nonsense' or 'right-wing propaganda' or using whatever defense-meme is installed in your nervous system – get excited, because this is your chance to expand your reality-tunnel. Let the foreign meme in. Some of the best innovations in evolution came from viral DNA being integrated into the body.

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