Bali Bombing Meme

From: Bruce Howlett (
Date: Tue 22 Oct 2002 - 03:00:24 GMT

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    >Considering that anthropologists have not yet come up with a standard
    >definition of culture, don't hold your breath. ;-)
    >OTOH, I think that the differences about the definition of memes are
    >more philosophical than scientific. I think that most memes pass the
    >Stewart test. We may not be able to define them, but we know them when
    >we see them. Memes can be identified in the same way by people holding
    >different definitions. For instance, the phrase, "Give me a break!"
    >identifies a meme. Some people may define that meme as the behavioral
    >expression of the phrase, others may define it as a neural structure in
    >the brain, others may use other definitions, but they can all still
    >agree that the phrase identifies a meme, and can informally say that
    >"Give me a break!" is a meme.
    >This kind of agreement exists not just at the level of identifiers, but
    >at the level of phenomena. Memetics can ignore neither the external nor
    >the internal aspects of a meme, regardless of how it is defined. When
    >you get down to brass tacks, a thorough scientific study of, say, "Give
    >me a break!" will cover the same phenomena, regardless of how it is
    >What I would like to see is less talk about definitions and more talk
    >about memes. :-)

    Hi Bill.

    I'm with you on the philosophy, and you have also identified a major problem with our memetic theory, that is the fact that our understanding of neural activities is limited. I also have the desire to move past the endless discussions on definitions, I guess I just reacted to the shock of getting back on the list after a long break and discovering not much had changed.

    I will take your suggestion and attempt to open a discussion on a memetic event of some note, that is the Bali Bombing. The event itself of course is not remotely memetic, but there is no doubt in my mind that both the perpetrators, the victims and the observers are all involved in some fairly extreme memetic phenomena. My intention is not to debate the event itself but to examine the memetic epidemiology and theorise on the possible use of our understanding of memetics in mitigating this type of phenomena. I don't think I would be interested in this subject if I did not perceive a practical use for it further down the track.

    My first observation is the phenomena I think of as the "stable door" syndrome. The advice given by the authorities (at least in Oz) for tourists to avoid travelling to Indonesia seems to me to be very irrational - which always makes me suspicious that memetic forces are at work. I would think that the statistical probability of such an event happening again immediately after the first event would be lower than before? I understand that governments need to be seen to be doing something but this is just such a useless reaction that I think it must be memetic.

    My second observation is that, to me, the over the top media reaction to this event is doing everything to further the terrorist's agenda, and absolutely nothing for the victims or the communities involved. While I grant that freedom of the press is a basic right in democratic societies, the perpetual publicity of the event seems to me to be encouraging the perpetrators to do it again. I would be interested in any comments from a memetic perspective.


    Bruce Howlett

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