Re: groupthink gauntlet: MacArthur's ill-fated drive toward the Yalu

From: M Lissack (
Date: Sun 01 Feb 2004 - 19:36:06 GMT

  • Next message: M Lissack: "re: book/case study reference [2]-- memes as catalytic indexical"

    the note below illustrates what happens when people who do not bother to read original work attempt to critique it on the basis of a few phrases

    unfortunately this tendency is all too common

    -------- Original Message -------- Subject: Re: FW: groupthink gauntlet: MacArthur's ill-fated drive toward the Yalu Date: Sun, 01 Feb 2004 18:59:06 +0000 From: Arel Lucas <> To:,

    Dear fellow scholars,

    I realize that I'm jumping into the middle of something, and that this behavior might be ill-mannered, ignorant and useless, but I keep hearing about this stream from my husband Keith Henson, and, as the inventor of the word "memetics," I feel it's possible I might have something to say.

    In the first place, I've heard that someone on this list has been defining "meme" as a "catalytic indexical" (if that's the correct spelling--if it isn't I can't find a definition). I disagree on both counts, assuming that I understand the definitions involved.

    "Catalytic" I take in the chemical sense, as
    "Pertaining to or causing catalysis," which is from the Greek word for "dissolve," or more anciently, to
    "loose down," "the causing or accelerating of a chemical change by the addition of a substance . . . which is not permanently affected by the reaction."
    (The New Century Dictionary, 1946). (I apologize for the HTML. I really should shut it off. If it makes this hard to read and you're interested enough to want a plain text copy, I can send one.)

    "Indexical" I take in the WordNet sense,, essentially pertaining either to (1) an index, or (2) a fact or assertion.

    Here are the two counts: (1) Catalytic: I agree that causing or accelerating chemical change is essential to the definitiion of the action of memes on the brain. However, a catalyst is not permanently affected by the reaction it causes. This is where I disagree. It leaves out the evolutionary aspect that is the basis of the defition of the word "meme" and the reason for the creation of the concept by Dawkins, an evolutionary scientist. When a hemoglobin molecule catalyzes oxygen reactions, it temporarily changes shape but does not keep that shape after the reaction is over. If it changes shape permanently, it does so in response to damage, ontogeny or phylogeny, but not in response to the reaction. In that case, it either changes or cannot catalyze the reaction it typically facilitates. A meme is not like hemoglobin. It is more like oxygen. Memes are capable of mutation and dissemination in and from each brain that receives them. They can also stop right there and cause no reaction at all (an essentially Buddhist or Zen response in the rare case where it is not the result of an ineffective meme or ignorance, indifference or genetically based dissociation on the part of the receiving brain).

    Count Two: A meme is not a fact or assertion. Nor is it an adjective (as is "indexical"). I think the definition of meme has by this time absorbed those of
    "culturgen" and other "idea-related" concepts of evolving information patterns that affect brains and cause behaviiors. Nor does a meme pertain to any sort of index. I have been an indexer, and I can assure you that all ideas or memes on the planet have not been indexed. At the point when I began to work on one, there was no publically available thesaurus of semiconductors--and still might not be one. I produced one with several thousand words for Applied Materials, a private company, and they copyrighted it.
     I only got started. And that was just one field, bordered by physics on the one hand and industrial processes on the other, with a dimension of social organization. A lot of definitions have been offered for memes, and I've defined it in various ways at different times, but "facts" or "assertions" have no legitimate place in these definitions, because "facts" have absolutely nothing to do with the way the brain works, and little to do with information (especially defined in physics and engineering).

    I realize I don't have Count Zero, but it belongs to my husband. (If you don't get that feeble joke, you might not be geeks.)

    Incidentally, about MacArthur & the Yalu, I'm not a historian, but as a newly minted curator and an archivist of 6 years' duration I've taken an increased professional interest in something that before had been just a hobby pursued since I was a teenager (I'm now 62). The little reading and discussion I've done about MacArthur's truncated drive into China has led me to believe that MacArthur was actually right and that, with the near-perfect hindsight that historical study can bring, could have continued on into China and won. As it turns out, the Chinese had massed their entire forces along the Korean border and were ill-equipped and supplied. Had Truman, overwhelmed by fears and advice that he would start World War III, not stopped him, the Chinese government might have been conquered at that point. Of course, what would have happened after that might have been a prolonged and early Vietnam-type conflict, so perhaps it wouldn't have been such a good idea. I remember talking witih the son of Chinese immigrants who had been deprived of all their businesses and belongings and chased from China under threat of death by the Communists. During the time I was reading and listening to tapes about MacArthur & Truman, he told me that he really wished the Americans had continued that drive. His parents, he said, would not be the bitter and poverty-stricken exiles they were in the early '90s.

    By the way, do you know who won the Korean War? Kim Philby. He was the British spy who ultimately defeated MacArthur and led to MacArthur's paranoid assumptions of infiltration of the US government. Every time he turned around, it seemed to MacArthur, the Koreans knew what he was doing. It never seems to have occurred to MacArthur that the spy he knew was ratting on him was in the British service, with whom the Americans were sharing their troop movements and other intelligence. No wonder he assumed Washington was riddled with Communists! His suspicions helped fuel the McCarthy era. So Philby indirectly caused that too. Ah, memes!

    Arel Lucas
    "We are the champignons, my friend. And we'll . . ." Why are you laughing?

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