Re: Cartoon meme

From: Scott Chase (
Date: Fri 10 Feb 2006 - 14:20:21 GMT

  • Next message: Wade Allsopp: "Re: Cartoon meme"

    >From: Keith Henson <>
    >Subject: Re: Cartoon meme
    >Date: Fri, 10 Feb 2006 00:16:32 -0500
    >At 08:09 PM 2/9/2006 +0000, you wrote:
    >>Keith Henson wrote:
    >>>At 03:02 PM 2/9/2006 +0000, Douglas Brooker wrote:
    >>>>the problem I think, as some of the replies indicate, including the
    >>>>above, is that some have jumped right into the substantive issues,
    >>>>good-bad, right-wrong, rather than a memetic analysis.
    >>>Correct. For example, why did the cartoon meme take the time it did and
    >>>not more or less time to snowball?
    >>your earlier post on this point was not amongst the replies I was
    >>referring above.
    >>I'm a non-memeticist looking for suggested answers. In memetic terms,
    >>what kinds of answers are possible to explain the snowballing?
    >"Snowballing" is a colloquial term for fast growth. Under some conditions,
    >a ball of snow rolling down hill picks up more and more snow until it
    >becomes huge. Growth in the number of those infected by a meme depends on
    >the expansion, i.e., how many people are infected by one person. The math
    >that describes this is exactly the same as that describing epidemics.
    >There is (in engineering terms) gain, spread-out number and the time
    >constant which it takes for the meme to spread. Assume it has reached half
    >of the Islamic population, 500 million (though motivating a smaller number
    >to riot) starting from 5 upset Islamics in Denmark.
    >That's an expansion of 100,000,000. or ten exp 8. Ten exp 3 is about 10
    >doublings, 10 exp 6 is 20 doublings. 10 exp 8 is about 28 doublings. Now
    >given that this has been expanding since Sept, it's reasonable for it to
    >have been "organic" with a doubling time of roughly 5 days.
    >Of course in the later stages it was starting to make news, so the "gain"
    >factor went up, though at a time when a substantial fraction of the
    >population already had been infected.
    >So while governments might have been involved, there is evidence it spread
    >out (in the early stages at least) just by infecting those who could be
    >As to *why* they were easy to infect, I make the case that the Islamic
    >population is aware of their poor economic prospects. This maps back to
    >the stone age when such recognition of an overloaded ecosystem (economics
    >of that time) lead to high gain of xenophobic memes and wars between groups
    >that reduced the population and the load on the ecosystem.
    >>My working theory is that an explanation by a western memeticist will
    >>betray how they feel about the underlying issue in the 'news'. That's to
    >>say, 'they'll spin it in their favour' and moreover won't recognise this
    >>is being done.
    >I use evolutionary psychology as a tool to understand human psychological
    >traits that underlie the transmission of memes. It is a depressing area of
    >study because it leads to predictions of vast number of people dying one
    >way or another.
    >>>>Should not an adequate account of this start off with an account of the
    >>>>commentator's own memeplex of values which are to be used the subsequent
    >>>I am not sure "values" is the correct term to use in analyzing the
    >>>psychological "forces" behind the spread of the "cartoon meme".
    >>Are you saying that memes simply refer to psychological forces?
    >No. Memes are like computer viruses or diseases. To understand their
    >spread you need to understand the host and the two factor of gain and time
    >for replication.
    >>The point about the commentator's memeplex of 'values' is that they are
    >>implicit, but unstated in the analysis and should be accounted for.
    >>They are problematic, as you seem to agree, for an adequate enquiry.
    >>all the relevant memes should be part of the enquiry, including the
    >>A stronger phrase than 'values' would refer to the researcher's "cultural
    >>indoctrination", that dictates perceptions can occur only within the
    >>boundaries the native culture permits. Once a memetic analysis
    >>involves a non-native culture, the values - cultural indoctrination -
    >>become quite problematic - which was the point that prompted me to
    >>initially post. (my field is comparative law, and would suggest a need
    >>for something comparable, like comparative memetics)
    >It is certainly true that cultures are more susceptible to some memes than
    >others. But the evolutionary psychology argument is that all cultures are
    >more susceptible to xenophobic memes of the kind that lead to wars when the
    >average member of the cult sees a bleak future.
    >>I would like to hear an Islamic memeticist explain the issues.
    >A few years ago I would have doubted the existence of someone who could
    >understand that religions *are* memes and still be in one. However Kate
    >has demonstrated that such people can exist.
    >>>My preferred takeoff point for looking at this is evolutionary
    >>>psychology. In theory, and to a large extent by those who use it,
    >>>evolutionary psychology is "value free."
    >>>Deplorable as the situations are in regard to battered wife syndrome,
    >>>understanding the evolutionary context that gave rise to the
    >>>psychological trait of "capture-bonding" is or at least should be value
    >>>I could mention another example, but fear to do so for starting a flame
    >>>war about the subject and not the underlying science.
    >>>>One reference, for example to "the protective strength to the religion
    >>>>given by the hypersensitivity to criticism aspects of the
    >>>>ideology." ought to be deconstructed for its own memetic qualities.
    >>>>so what is the 'hypersensitivity' meme? is it a purely subjective
    >>>>assessment residing in the minds of those who use the word? can some
    >>>>objective truth or insight about the meme in question result from the
    >>>>application of "hypersentitivity" as a measure?
    >>>Evolutionary psychology models give you reason to expect that sensitivity
    >>>to memes that lead to wars and other forms of social disruption is
    >>>dependant on measurable factors, particularly the per capita economic
    >>>history and future prospects.
    >>I'm speaking to the cultural bias of the term, 'hypersensitivity to
    >>criticism'. This could be unobjectionable if paired in the same
    >>sentence or paragraph with the point of view of the participants in the
    >>demonstrations - that they are only doing their duty as Muslims in
    >>protesting. And the term 'hypersensitivity" marks an ignorance of the
    >>intensity of Islamic culture. Islamic music provides clues about this
    >>sense of "intensity". It's not ABBA.
    >>An the pair - hypsensitivity versus Islamic duty - constitutes - what?
    >Islamic culture might well be hypersensitive to criticism compared to other
    >cultures. But that's an independent consideration. Whatever sensitivity
    >they have to xenophobic memes in good times is going to be worse in times
    >(like now) where the population is economically stressed.
    >>We might also have to add other actors who think they are doing their duty
    >>by publishing (standing up for 'free' speech, i.e. the right to insult
    >>other cultures) or (not to publish, i.e. to forestall reactions from those
    >>who find the expression of 'free' speech objectionable).
    >>This is a problematic field work issue - what paper published when, what
    >>was their circulation, other minute details, probably essential to a
    >>coherent scholarly account.
    >>Does anyone disagree that these are fields of the enquiry that *must* be
    >I do. You can get bogged down in academic detail and never see the forest.
    > That bad enough, but failing to see the forest is full of fuel
    >(population in excess of resources) can get too many of us killed.
    >>>>might comparison between 'honour cultures' and 'no honour cultures' be
    >>>>there is a lot buried here.
    >>>>first thing is to define the meme? yes? no?
    >>>No. Memes are elements of culture or replicating information patterns.
    >>>Very broad definition.
    >>you mean memes are ideas?
    >Yes. The hundred year old saying "ideas have a life of their own"
    >encapsulated the meme about memes.
    >>>>is it the cartoon? if so what are the qualities of the cartoon? Or is
    >>>>the meme the reaction to the qualities of the cartoon. what exactly is
    >>>>spreading? what are memetic qualities of the reactions in the western
    >>>It isn't important how you sort out the technical definitions of what is
    >>>causing people to charge into gunfire. What is important if you want to
    >>>do anything with the knowledge is understanding why they are doing it
    >>>*now* and not ten or 20 or 50 years ago.
    >><,,1705315,00.html>an academic
    >>discipline should have a stock of technical definitions in place that
    >>permit classification of material encountered in the field quickly.
    >>something like the diagnosis in medicine.
    >>are you suggesting a memetic response team? my interest is purely
    >>academic - trying to hear an explanation of the events and 'forces' at
    >>work in memetic terms. or even a methodology by which a thesis could be
    >>adequately researched and proven.
    >One of the most important feature of an epidemic is how susceptible the
    >population is. This is especially important for memes because the gain
    >factor for the really nasty class of xenophobic memes depends on the
    >economic history of the population and what they see as future prospects.
    >If you can pick holes in this meme, please do. I would love to be shown I
    >am FOS on this subject.
    The history of a population is important as you say as human populations are not equipotential when compared, since cultural factors have relevance beyond the shared evolved psychic factors of EP. Those factors may play a role, but history facilitates how these factors manifest themselves.

    Economics may be one facilitating factor. Perhaps populations that suffer privation relative to other populations develop a sense of resentment and xenophobia could then rear its ugly head. As a comparison we could look at the various African American populations in the US and events that have sparked riots or conflagarations of violence and property destruction. Economics is hardly the sole feature here. Years of oppression, often systematic (slavery, Jim Crow laws, lynching, media stereotyping, etc) have also added dimensions to the context that African Americans have been born into in successive generations. The riots after the verdict in the trial of the police that beat Rodney King is still relatively fresh in all our minds I assume. I'm not sure if this was a "hypersensitivity" *per se*, but there's defintely a sensitivity about how situations involving race relations and pereceptions of justice, etc. The verdict was a flashpoint perhaps for something that had been building pressure for quite a while. Xenophobia may have been part of the varied reactions. Whites and Korean Americans may have received some of the brunt of the reaction. But overall I'm not sure xenophobia was the overarching influence. It's not so much a visceral hatred African Americans had for whites. I doubt such a hatred exists for the most part. It was probably more of a reaction to the situation (especially as reflected by the verdict) itself. Oppression and injustice have resulted in some xenophobia and separatist extremism among African Americans over the years. As a reaction to the situational variation across the US, groups such as the Nation of Islam and Black Panthers had evolved, but the mainstream civil rights movement wasn't driven by hatred or xenophobia, but by a hope that the situation could be resolved in a manner
    ("we shall overcome") beneficial to African Americans over time. There could be events now and in the future that set off episodes of violence and destruction, but these are probably not parallel to the contextual associations of the cartoon we are discussing.

    Arabs and Muslims have been depicted as terrorists in media before this event. This represents a problem, but has hardly generated the sort of backlash seen in Europe now. Movies have had Arab or Muslim characters depicted as violent extremists and Arabs and Muslims are definitely sensitive to this sort of thing, but hasn't the reaction been more of verbal protest than violence overall? The popular show "24" has had some characters that have raised concern from Arab and Muslim Americans, but I cannot recall the reaction being more thn saying something like, "Hey this is not a fair depiction since it legitimizes stereotypes". Insulting the religion of Islam may not be the full reason for recent events, since insults have been cast before without as much of a reaction. It's probably not aspersions towards the religion itself that's the main factor, wrong as such aspersions may be and surely the emotional memory of such long term insult may build to a flashpoint over time. The main factor seems to be depiction of the Prophet. Period. Would depictions of nondescript Arabs and/or Muslims have generated this much backlash? Surely such depictions would have infuriated folks, but maybe not to the same extent depictions of Muhammed have. These depictions violate a very deep seated proscription key to Muslims and maybe this should be a learning experience that such tenets should be respected if there's going to be interfaith harmony. Some (most?) Muslims are sensitive to how the Prophet is portrayed. Is there any overlap between this situation and how Salman Rushdie incurred the wrath of some Muslims and had a fatwa issued by an Ayatollah?

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