Re: Henson on the Nazi meme

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Sat 26 Mar 2005 - 23:15:33 GMT

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    At 02:14 PM 25/03/05 -0800, you wrote:
    >Somebody named Keith Henson wrote an article called
    >"Memetics: the science of information viruses" which
    >appeared in the Winter 1987 edition of _Whole Earth

    It was a reprint (though considerably edited version) of the Analog article. I wrote a related article which never saw paper publication about the same time. I just posted parts of it in a transplanted thread.

    >During the course of his article Henson looks
    >at the "Nazi meme complex". I've been sort of
    >interested in what gave rise to Naziism in pre-WWII
    >Germany, but have only scratched the surface in my
    >readings on Ernst Haeckel's monism, the volkishness
    >that captivated many including Jung, the Wotan
    >archetype Jung commented upon which points to
    >underpinnings in Nordic mythology, and as an effect of
    >that movement Nobel winning ethologist Konrad Lorenz's
    >questionable association with the brown shirts and
    >writings on racial hygiene. Some antecedents,
    >including Nietzsche's writings on ubermenschen and
    >will to power as transmitted by his sister to the
    >Reich could be considered "sub-memes" (sensu Henson).
    >Yet this topic is way beyond my knowledge base.
    >Henson says: "As a replicating information pattern
    >that has gone through a great deal of evolutionary
    >honing, it [Nazi meme] still infects susceptible
    >people today."
    >After that tragic school shooting in Minnesota, people
    >have been wondering what led to that event. See:
    >There's lots of threads apparent here and the FBI is
    >trying to get to the bottom of it as far as motive.
    >It's hard to distinguish cause from effect, just as
    >with Columbine. The kid had some ersonal tragedies to
    >contend with wrt his mom and dad. He apparently has
    >been on anti-depressants which have been alleged to
    >have negative side effects. There's a movie called
    >"Elephant" which has come into the picture which might
    >have some content that converges with the events at
    >the school. The kid was sort of gothish. I'm not sure
    >goth can be blamed. That could be more of an effect
    >than a cause as kids with issues might be drawn into a
    >subculture like goth. Hey, I personally like bands
    >like "The Cure" and "Nine Inch Nails" and I'm not
    >wearing black hair or fingernails and such. Even
    >people whom adpot that lifestyle are probably, ceteris
    >parabis, not much different than anyone else.
    >One thread that has caught my attention was a Nazi
    >undercurrent to the ideational baggage this kid
    >carried around. Recent news stories about his blogs
    >and such have addressed this. Yet, is a fascination
    >for Naziism and Hitler a cause or an effect here?
    >With school shootings hitting the headlines from time
    >to time and artists like Marilyn Manson taking flak
    >along with voilent video games, I think it's important
    >when speculating about what led to these events to
    >separate cause and effect.
    >So what Keith said looks like it's supported by the
    >facts in this case. A susceptible person may have been
    >taken in by Naziism. But Did this fascination with
    >Hitler and National Socialism contribute significantly
    >to the events at the school or was this fascination a
    >collateral effect just like a tendency towards Goth
    >may have been?

    Like you say, it's a hard call. When one or two kids go off their nuts and shoot up a school, especially when they kill themselves, it is hard to say exactly what influences were involved. They were memetic of course. As a prediction, the news from this event is fairly likely to set off another. :-(

    The paragraph below where you quoted has a more definite example of the Nazi meme spreading in more recent setting though it did not result in gunfire.

      "A fascinating footnote to the horrors of the German experience with Nazism happened in 1969 when Ron Jones, a teacher in Palo Alto, exposed a high school history class to an intensive, five-day experience with the ideas that made up the Nazi meme. The experience of that week was originally published as "Take as Directed" in the CoEvolution Quarterly (CQ
    #9, p.152), and a few years ago was made into a TV movie, The Wave. Over four days, Jones introduced and drilled his students in concepts of Strength through Discipline, Community, Action, and Pride. (The fifth day was devoted to showing them how easily they had started to slip into the abyss.) The enthusiasm which most of the class adopted the memes and spread them to their friends, swelling a 40 student class to 200 in five days, made it one of the most frightening events the teacher had ever experienced. Given the track record of the Nazi meme, the mini-social movement his experiment set off is no more surprising in retrospect than the medical effects would have been if the teacher had sprayed smallpox virus on the class."

    If you want to read Ron Jones' excellent story:

    An example of a meme that infects at a particular age is Ayn Rand's Objectivism. It typically gets 13 year old boys (plus or minus a few). Sometimes it wears off in a decade or two.

    Why are young males particularly susceptible to this and related (?) memes? No idea. But the place to look would be evolutionary psychology and the hunter gatherer tribe.

    Keith Henson

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