Thursday, 4 July 2013

Why we should be aware of memes.

The Broad Street Pump

A meme is “An element of a culture that may be considered to be passed on by non-genetic means, esp. imitation”.  Memes include harmless habits, skills, songs, stories, or any other kind of information that is copied from person to person. But they also include virulent religious ideologies such as the jihadism that inspired the recent terrorist attacks.

To quote Susan Blackmore:
 "Some memes are almost entirely exploitative, or viral, in nature, including chain letters and e-mail viruses. These consist of a “copy-me” instruction backed up with threats and promises. Religions have a similar structure and this is why Dawkins refers to them as ‘viruses of the mind’. Many religions threaten hell and damnation, promise heaven or salvation, and insist that their followers pass on their beliefs to others. This ensures the survival of the memeplex. Other viral memes include alternative therapies that don’t work, and new age fads and cults. Relatively harmless memes include children’s games, urban legends and popular songs, all of which can spread like infections."

Dangerous memes are the cultural equivalent of contagious diseases, and can kill you or your family just as effectively as epidemic diseases in the days before their causes and treatment were understood.   So awareness of memes is as vital as awareness of micro-organisms, and as with germs and viruses, there are three levels of understanding:

(1) Protection of self and family - awareness for everyone
(2) Protection of the wider public - information for medical, sanitation and public health professionals
(3) Scientific and cultural interest - for academics and the intelligent general public.

(1) Protection of self and family from pathogenic memes.  

Until the mid 19th century, no one had a clue how diseases were spread, and death rates from preventible diseases, especially childhood mortality, were appallingly high.   Awareness, even among medical and public health professionals, only began to change with the removal of the handle from the cholera-infected Broad Street Pump in 1854

Broad Street Revisited

Even so, it took many years for the type of knowledge that we take for granted to become general.   Nowadays, though we don't consciously think about it, we are showing microbial awareness whenever we wash our hands after going to the lavatory, separate raw meats from other foods, sterilize babies' feeding bottles, clean and disinfect wounds, avoid milk ftom sick cows, segregate sewage from drinking water and so on.     Such basic hygiene would have been incomprehensible only 200 years ago.

Just as microbe-born diseases killed our ancestors off individually, in groups, or in epidemic proportions; so the disease of jihadism is killing us individually (Woolwich), in small (Boston) or larger (Beslan) groups, or in vast numbers (9/11).   It is also threatening our societies' and our children's future through creeping Sharia, stealth jihad, and organized pedophile networks. As Churchill said, jihadism in a man is as dangerous as rabies in a dog.

And yet we have no awareness of basic memetic hygiene to counteract these threats.  We are completelely clueless about the memetic mechanisms of how jihadism infects individuals, of how it spreads through groups, or what can be done to break the cycle of infection.   We are like the citizens of Broad Street haplessly pumping away, while the cholera spreads all around.

The fact that jihadism masquerades as a religion shouldn't deter us from ruthlessly dissecting and disabling it, just as the fact that the cholera source masqueraded as a community water supply didn't deter John Snow from removing the handle.

Death Meme

It is every infidel's business the challenge those aspects of a religious meme that take a hostile position concerning non-believers.

If I am the subject of some other religion's doctrine, and such a doctrine states I am to be treated as a second class citizen, what is to be done to me if I insult that religion, what I may or may not do freely, then, even though I am not a member of that religion, it becomes my urgent business, especially as a parent or grandparent, to probe these doctrines and even to demand the 'religion' be treated as a public mental-health hazard. On the other hand, if a religion minds its own business, is generally benevolent or has little to say pertaining to me as a non-believer, then I should respect its right to be left alone.

Obviously I don't want to commit Islamophobia, nevertheless, most of the examples given in this blog are drawn from jihadism, because
(i) Jihadism is a clear and present danger
(ii) Jihadism exemplifies in a clearly coordinated structure (a 'terrifyingly brilliant memeplex'), and in extreme forms,  almost all the component memes that are found piecemeal in other less pathological memeplexes.

There are other malignant totalitarian memes, such as Dominion Theology , which have the ambition, though not the ability, to be as dangerous as jihadism.

(2)  Pathogenic memes as a public mental health problem

Although there is increasing awareness of dangerous memes at the grassroots level (eg by the EDL and 969 movements),and memes have long been studied in academia, there is a huge gap at the level of political action.     In the late nineteenth century, governments, both local and national,  became aware of pathogenic micro-organisms as the cause of death and suffering, and took vigorous action to prevent their spread.   

In the 21st century pathogenic memeplexes are similarly causing widespread death and suffering. Apart from the endless terrorist attacks, there are memetically inspired honor killings, female genital mutilation, homophobic attacks, pedophile abductions, acid throwing, general thuggery, intimidation and deteriorating of quality of life for the infidels.   

Incredibly, no Western governments will take action to stop these invasive memes from propagating freely.    And yet there are measures that could be deployed, as I will explain in future posts, that could break the infection cycle of these sociopathic mind-viruses.

All that is needed is to recognize jihadism as a serious public health problem rather than a religion, and the will to act accordingly to eradicate it from the Body Politic.

Meanwhile, it's as if the inhabitants of Broad Street had realised that there was something seriously wrong with their pump, and had rejected its product, and the medical researchers had published the lifecycle of the cholera bacterium in their learned journals; and yet despite all this, the local health authority and national government did absolutely nothing.

(3)  Academic and cultural aspects of memes.

There is a lot of literature online about memes and memetics from an academic perspective.   Most of this is written from a strongly secularist and atheistic viewpoint, regarding all religions as worthless mind-viruses, with nothing to choose between them but their degree of violence.    In future posts I hope to explore memes from a 'spiritual but not religious' point of view.  Virulent religions parasitize many normal mental faculties and use them for their own propagation (eg martyrdom for 72 virgins as an outlet for meme-induced religious repression).    It may well be that, as many pagans claim, spirituality is a normal mental attribute, pre-existing independently of organized religion, which has been hijacked and corrupted by bogus memetic cults.

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