RE: The Status of Memetics as a Science

From: Lawrence DeBivort (
Date: Fri Apr 20 2001 - 22:35:45 BST

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    Subject: RE: The Status of Memetics as a Science
    Date: Fri, 20 Apr 2001 17:35:45 -0400
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    Agreed about PBS having its own agenda, and none more important than
    pointing out the exploitative nature of other communication channels,
    estpecially those motivated by brand promotion primarily.

    Can't agree that 'capitalism' is the best available economic system.
    Short-term benefits at the cost of long-term ones, lack of accountability
    for tertiary damage, consumer abuse and misinformation, executive greed,
    market domination and exploitation, labor abuse, etc., are all massive
    problems that I associate with capitalism. I believe that people and
    societies must continue to search for better systems. And I am certain that
    the human species is only beginning to learn how to create healthy and
    desirable societies. (How's that for a faith-based assertion? :-) )

    - Lawrence
      -----Original Message-----
      From: []On Behalf Of
    J. R. Molloy
      Sent: Friday, April 20, 2001 5:05 PM
      Subject: Re: The Status of Memetics as a Science

      Hi Lawrence,

      Thanks for your reply.

      So you're talking about engineering memes. OK, that clears it up. Others
    have referred to this as propaganda. I guess any technology opens avenues
    for misuse and abuse, and perhaps one of the areas in which memetics can
    benefit humanity is in understanding meme systems which generate abusive
    and dangerous behavior. IOW, a constructive use of memetics is the study of
    memes which result in harmful behavior.

      The concern about the advertising industry is justified, I think. However,
    we might also note that PBS has its own (sometimes ulterior) motives when it
    comes to selecting programming for broadcast. Advertising which seeks to
    sell material products seems no more unhealthy than programming which
    intends to promote ideological perspectives, it seems to me. Capitalism is
    the worst possible economic system -- except for all the others. (Apologies
    to Winston Churchill.)

      Best regards,

      --J. R.
        ----- Original Message -----
        From: Lawrence DeBivort
        Sent: Friday, April 20, 2001 1:24 PM
        Subject: RE: The Status of Memetics as a Science

        JR Molloy posed the question of engineering and memetics earlier today:
    By engineering in this context I mean the conscious design and release of
    memes for the purpose of achieving a pre-specified outcome. I am concerned
    that this capability may be abused ethically. Wade in past conversations has
    disagreed that such engineering is possible; we can only hope that lots of
    people agree with him and that of these who have nefarious motives take
    their efforts elsewhere and into less powerful areas of endeavour.

        I watched a fascinating PBS Frontline program last night (April 19 2001)
    on the entertainment/advertising industry and their efforts to appear "cool"
    and appeal to kids under 25. They are moving close to memetic-level
    competence by copying youth trends (rebellion, grunge, outsider dress,
    music, language and behavior, etc.) and identifying corporate brands with
    it, e.g. Sprite, Nike, Reebok, The program, having shown how the industry
    does this, then described a 'counter' effort by teens to promote
    anti-commercial trends, whereupon the industry embraced _that_,
    successfully. The narrator of the Frontline program speculated at the end
    that the advertising/entertainment industry and the kids were in a positive
    feedback loop: teen trendsetters influence what the industry embraces; the
    rest of teens embraces the fads shown by the industry, reinforcing the
    success of the industry, and then the teens start to ape the
    commercialization effort of the industry, putting on 'shows' of the trend
    when the industry communications (e.g. MTV channels) are watching. The most
    hopeful thing the program explained was that the fads and their
    commercialization are self-defeating: when a trend has been popularized by
    the commercializers it becomes 'uncool' and the commercializers have to move
    to new fads. Perhaps the 'Columbine' kids ought to be going after industry

        The program also showed an interesting difference between genders: girls
    are seeking a conformist approval (via 'midriff' beauty) and the boys are
    seeking approval via non-conformity (the rebellious grunge-shock look). Of
    course, industry has no problem embracing both themes.

        The program also pointed out that the industry is not interested in
    older consumers, finding them more resistant to their efforts to influence
    them. The teenagers are not only most easily influenced, they are also flush
    with money given to them by parents who feel guilty for their absence from
    the kids' lives, and so good marketing marks.

        - Lawrence
          -----Original Message-----
          From: []On
    Behalf Of Brent Silby
          Sent: Friday, April 20, 2001 12:27 PM
          Subject: Re: The Status of Memetics as a Science

          [Lawrence wrote:"The only danger I can see to memetics (other than
    that it might be poorly
          done and waste time) is that it might give rise to an engineering
    application that might be misused ethically or socially."]

          I think this is already happening -- just look at the advertising


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