Friday, September 17, 2004

Meme Proliferation, Pt. 2

I was going to start right in on Political memes here, but Sean brought me back to what inspired this essay, his own post about memes. The particular idea sprang from an old post from The Truth Laid Bear that used the novel Kaleidoscope Century by John Barnes. The novel conflates the ideas of memes with computer viruses, another great biological analogy, to create the idea of people falling prey to and acting out on rogue ideas.

TLB had idea that I'm going to run with: Who's to say that this isn't happening already? While I haven't lost all hope in human free-will, ideas have lead to more war than the fights over dirt. ("That dirt should be mine" being a meme itself is a little too circular for this stage of the discussion.) How many people have died from malignant applications of the memes "Christianity", "Racial Superiority", and most recently "Wahabbi Islam"? Most of the damage done by rogue memes has happened well before computers came along.

The difference that computers are making is that memes can travel farther, faster. In the end, I believe the net impact as a result of computers to be positive. With the internet, memes are able to reach virtually all over the world. While at first blush this would mean that a wider net can be cast to catch fertile minds for both positive and negative memes, the final result is that there are no longer isolated pockets where a malignant meme can cultivate itself without having to fight more peaceful, and in my view more successful at improving the host's life, memes. "The War on Terror" meme may be successful at heaping negative outcomes upon the "Jihad" meme, but it will be the "Individual Liberty" and "Tolerance" memes abilities to deliver happier lives that will ultimately be the means to "Victory".

Sidebar: From the first paragraph, note how we can trace a path of the meme "Computer Virus/Meme" from John Barnes, to The Truth Laid Bear, To Doc in the Box, to Game the World, and ultimately, you. That the spread is very much like how an epidemiologist would chart the spread of a disease is the heart of the meme anaology. Starting from the novel's author (and there's no telling where he got the idea from or what idea he mutated to come up with the new one) it has traveled through several generations to end up nestled in your brain. That is what you get for looking at this used brain hanky I call a weblog.

Update: I forgot to mention that I also believe that the memes that fall under the genus "Partisan Rhetoric" can potentially explode into truly virulent strains. Hearing stories of peoples homes and cars being vandalized for displaying pro-Bush signs or stickers is very disturbing. I absolutely believe that if Bush wins in November, or even looks to be taking a commanding lead prior to the election, someone will experience a mutation of the "Bush=Hitler" meme and will attempt to carry it to a fatal conclusion.

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