RE: Why memeoids?

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Sat Jan 19 2002 - 03:38:36 GMT

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    Date: Fri, 18 Jan 2002 22:38:36 -0500
    From: Keith Henson <>
    Subject: RE: Why memeoids?
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    At 05:24 PM 18/01/02 -0500, "Lawrence DeBivort" <>
    >I must confess that I am grateful that the US government -- or ANY
    >government for that matter -- knows much about memetics.

    They don't of course. Not for a lack of trying on my part I should add.

    >I believe we can build the requisite models, and do believe that there is
    >much we can do -- even now -- to improve significantly US relations with
    >other peoples.


    >The Cold War may serve as an example: the governments (US and USSR) were
    >locked into a relationship based on military might and political
    >brinkmanship. American citizens, acting privately, took it upon themselves
    >to reach out to Soviet citizens; their rationale was that these contacts
    >were the only means to defuse the mutual suspicions that the governments had
    >engendered in each other. Memes to this effect were created and launched.

    I have discussed the fall of the Soviet Union (Communism) in other
    places. It was communism that held it together, and when that failed, the
    "Union" fell apart. Communism was/is a meme. I have argued in other
    places that it properly should be classed with religions because it was/is
    in competition for the same "place'" in human minds as religion. The way I
    measured how religious-like some meme is is how much having this meme
    reduces the chance a person will self identify as a methodist or a baptist
    or others which clearly are religions. Call it the religious meme
    exclusion principle.

    Communism in the old Soviet Union was not really a home grown
    product. During WW I Lenin was given a huge sum of money by the German
    government to take Russia out of the war. (The sum is hard to express in
    modern terms, but it was certainly in the hundreds of millions of
    dollars.) Once set up, the system used crude but initially effective
    propaganda and other methods to suppress other memes, religious, political
    and even scientific.

    For a number of reasons the Soviets were not able to entirely close their
    borders to information (memes). This leakage eventually made the
    difference between what they were told the workers paradise on earth should
    be doing in competition with the capitalist dogs so clear that the
    communist meme lost its ability to persuade people to put up with the
    endless problems caused by a "planned" economy. And the whole thing crumbled.

    Communism is far from the first religion to fall, and in fact there is
    considerable lip service paid to it today, though there are relatively few
    "hard line" cases left, i.e., the meme has become diluted in most places
    where it still survives. As to why (beyond the initial funding) communism
    gained sway over a good fraction of the population of the earth, much of
    the reason relates to our tribal pass where ideals much like those of
    communism have been stamped into our genes. (See Matt Riddley's Origin of
    Virtue for more.)

    Notice that the communism meme was seldom able to compete without serious
    subsidy. The high point measured by the percentage of world population
    under communist rule (memes) was probably in the late 80s when free
    elections in Nicaragua turned them out.

    >The US government was deeply opposed to such contacts, but eventually were
    >unable to stop them. Gradually the strategy worked, and Gorbachev, sensing
    >that the end was near for centralized communist rule, was able to defuse the
    >Cold War, the private citizen exchanges (then called citizen diplomacy) had
    >enabled the Soviet people to ease their fears that the US would exploit
    >their weaknesses. [In the interest of full disclosure, I was deeply
    >skeptical that these citizen initiatives might have any effect, and I was

    You are correct that contacts between people outside and inside contributed
    to the meme leakage that displaced communism.

    >It may be that we now need an equivalent of citizen diplomacy, in which
    >Americans and others of good will, reach out to those who have become
    >convinced by our government's actions that they are targeted by it.

    One thing that is true but hard to convince is that *nobody* is in charge
    of the spread of western culture. What are your citizens going to be
    doing? Saying to people that 1) were nice guys, and 2) would the children
    like to try this Game Boy? (A Japanese product.)

    >We have
    >a second problem to address: besides the US government, the move toward
    >corporate globalism is viewed by many as a threat.

    "Corporate globalism" is just a feature of western culture. The big
    players are not necessarily even US companies.

    >It is not quite clear to
    >me how to mitigate this. The anti-globalization demonstrations don't seem
    >promising, but I may be wrong about the impact of these, too. Memes may be
    >the answer.

    It is more like memes are the *problem,* western culture memes vs. the
    memes of religious fanatics. Memetics might help you get a handle on what
    the problem is.

    >And a model that explained the 'why's of anti-American sentiment
    >might be an important tool in helping our government policy-makers
    >understand some of the impacts of what they consider.

    I suspect really understanding the problem will just leave them feeling

    >Re. your smallpox question: I can't imagine such a scenario, and would feel
    >terrible if anyone were to recommend this.

    Even though wealth does not entirely prevent insane memes (and cult
    leaders) like Aum from causing massive problems, I think there is enough
    data points to calibrate a model. The wealth factor and the rate of change
    of wealth may be of major importance in the size of the pool of people who
    are infectable by highly disruptive memes. In the last 50 years, the US
    with a relatively large population has generated a handful of really grim
    disruptive events. Northern Ireland/England has seen a much larger
    number. It would be worth looking into the economic situation of the
    social strata contributing to the problems there. Israel is another
    example that could contribute data points to the model.

    Wealth per capita can be increased by economic growth, but there are limits
    on economic growth. If the population grows faster there is no obvious way
    to prevent the really negative memetic effects of falling wealth per capita.

    If you really wanted to be paranoid, maybe this *has* been modeled by
    secret government agencies.

    Keith Henson

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