Re: Cartoon meme

From: Douglas Brooker (
Date: Fri 10 Feb 2006 - 20:17:13 GMT

  • Next message: Tim Rhodes: "RE: Cartoon meme"

    Keith Henson wrote:

    > At 08:09 PM 2/9/2006 +0000, you wrote:
    >> Keith Henson wrote:
    >>> At 03:02 PM 2/9/2006 +0000, Douglas Brooker wrote:
    >>> snip
    >>>> 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.

    naming something an epidemic, whatever the math can be highly subjective
    - it becomes an accepted term by consensus, rather than calculation. it can depend on 'expectations'. no common cold epidemics, because colds are expected.

    Here is a link from the Independent newspaper with another time line, and more importantly a description of a meeting in Mecca where there seems to have been some effort to 'rally the troops'.

    > 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 infected.

    there might be some conflation here between geographical spread and number of infections.

    in epidemiology, isn't the measure the number of people who have been infected with the disease that reported in reliably collected medical data.

    as I read your comment, the measure of the infection is the total population that could be infected. are you postulating a 100% infection rate (for the areas reached)?

    in the case of avian flu many websites have good graphics showing the spread through different countries. cases are pinpointed, but the geographical spread in which a virus is known is very different than an epidemic, which is about the number of infections.

    as you hint, a better measure of infection is the number of demonstrators, i.e those who verifiably had been infected.

    but if the meme is related to 'insult to Islam' there is little way of precisely measuring who was or was not already infected. Might presume, as you do, everyone - all Muslims ought to be expecvted to take offense against insults to Mohammad. But in this case the story seems to be the resistance to the meme of the overwhelming majority of Muslims.

    a problem with the model seems to be distinguishing between a latent
    'infection' (or genetic condition) that flairs up under certain circumstances and something that is actually invasive, in the sense it wasn't there before. suspect this goes back to basics about defintions and models of transmission.

    also it's not clear why you have only included Muslims here. Are the debates in the West not part of the spread? Shouldn't any emotional engagement with the meme be taken as a sign of infection?

    > 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.
    I'll take a pass on economic analysis. It's found in law also, largely in the United States. Promoting economic analysis to a paramount equaluative criteria is, IMHO, very American. I'm not criticising this, only saying it's a characteristic. American characteristics arose in a particular geographical and demographic context. Other values such as social solidarity have far more weight in other countries, which have different geographical and demographic contexts. Americans have difficulty understanding the varieties of 'community' that exist in the world and the variety of economic models possible. I explain this by saying the American sense of the relationship between the individual and the collective is unique to America. It doesn't even pass the Canadian border.

    >> 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.

    maybe this is the consequence of the inherent values in your analytical model, particularly the economics? are they in some (very interesting way) shadow expression of American foreign and economic policy? This would be something to prove! if it were possible to run parallel models, one with US-style economics, one with European-style economics and one with some form of Asian or socialist-economics, the results might be interesting. thought in each case I suspect they would be easily manipulated.

    >>>> 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 analysis?
    >>> 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
    >> researcher's.
    >> 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.

    you said earlier that memes are ideas, but from this comment, mustn't they must be (ideas + x) or (ideas -x) or some variant? A standard practice in anthropology and other social sciences is to find out what the subject under investigation means for the subject. In essence, much of what I'm getting at comes from this perspective, with a comparative dimension as well. this again seems an issue about the definition of the discipline.

    >>> 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 free.
    >>> 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.

    don't understand the model of xenophobic memes. xenophobia seems to suppose an already infected person - then some external factor triggers the latent virus into an active state.

    My experience observing America, mostly from Canada, the hypersensitivity of Americans may be as extreme some claim the "Islamic world" is. You just have to know what buttons to press.

    >> 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 addressed?
    > 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.

    It's a different enquiry. If you see only the forest, you can't see the trees or what the trees conceal.

    Counterarguments are that there's no shortage of resources, only inequalities in distribution. this is an economic and political issue.

    like Sen said, famines aren't caused by a shortage of food but by rapid increase in the cost of food, as profit-seekers seek profits.

    There must be a good memetic study in Sen's work on the economics of famines - very high casualty rates, with economic causes.

    >>>> might comparison between 'honour cultures' and 'no honour cultures'
    >>>> be useful?
    >>>> 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 media?
    >>> 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.

    the 'terrorist meme' brought out a lot of nasties in some western countries and at a time when the economy had not been that bleak.

    > If you can pick holes in this meme, please do. I would love to be
    > shown I am FOS on this subject.

    I don't think scholars are ever FOS, per se. Even the most blatant empirical errors or contradictions in analyses are cultural data, that can be usefully examined.

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