Prose Header


by Andy West

Table of Contents
Table of Contents
1, 2, 3, 4, 5,
6, 7, 8, 9, 10

part 5

Bleary with sleep and hair still dripping from a very brief shower, Alan flicked on his PDA. The device indicated a message from Memmet, but he had no time to read it. Only a few minutes later he was thrusting his coat on as he rushed down the drive. He’d done this so many times before, a flicker of acknowledgement briefly made him feel strange, as though he was just a mindless section of video set on an endless sequence of repeats. But these days even a park-keeper’s time at work had to be electronically monitored, he reflected ruefully. And the span of useful daylight was drawing in too. He should have got up earlier.

When he reached the park, he wanted to recover some calm and reconnect with the soil before considering the latest enlightenment on memes. He was also too guilty to steal time after arriving late. Yet the drainage project was on hold until he received more piping. So instead he got stuck into dividing bulbs, those in the modest beds spread throughout the rocky grotto area. He never had a shortage of jobs, but this one was easy going and he always found it pleasant.

He took a break at about 10 a.m., leaning back against a slab of stone and stripping off his gloves. It was a bright day, though the rays creating warmth on his cheeks had passed through air that was actually chill for once. Enjoying the contrast of temperatures for a short while, he closed his eyes and listened to the chatter of birds as he savored faint, sweet scents released by the sun’s action.

He felt safe within the arcs of the grotto’s heavy embrace, and relaxed again after the stress of his hurried arising and the aggressive morning traffic. He poured himself a tea from his flask. Heat coming through the plastic cup felt good against his hands, and he liked blowing away a curtain of steam before he took each sip. Inexplicably, this always reminded him of childhood. Eventually he set the cup down and fished out his PDA.

Well, to answer your last questions first, I was born in the United Kingdom, but I guess you’d have to label me International now. I move around quite a lot, a great deal in fact, and have connections in many countries. I am in your time-zone right now though.

Regarding my qualifications, I’m one of the world’s leading experts on memetic forms, but as there is no degree in this subject, I can’t prove that to you! So what I’ve done is attach a list-file of web references to academic papers in the field, by a number of other distinguished authors, so you can wade through them if you like and cross-check the validity of my information. I’m afraid they are rather hard going though.

As to why I’m assisting your understanding, that’s a little more difficult to explain. Negative memes like Paradox cause a surprising amount of damage to society. They’re effectively parasites. I guess you could say I’m driven to hunt them down and prevent their spread, via education. In practice I can only target certain meme families, but almost all my answers are pre-prepared and I send out loads of them, so it’s no trouble to add you to the list. In fact if my email system only sees ‘send more’, it simply responds with the next section automatically. The breaks just give people time to think, and maybe ask something extra.

It crossed Alan’s mind that these answers were ambiguous somehow, but he couldn’t put his finger on why. After all, Memmet had made a reply to each of his questions. The well-traveled expert hadn’t offered anything more though.

He was still uncomfortable with the whole Memmet thing, but captured too. He read on.

Well, having said all that, I’ll get back to my pre-prepared sections. Fortunately, the next one already deals with your questions “what is Paradox really saying and why is it so appealing?” So here goes...

The core of the ‘Paradox’ message, which in fact finishes at the word ‘stockroom', is spawned by a meme lineage that must surely be one of the oldest there is. All the millions of variants in this venerable family say in one form or another: ‘the past is always better’. This meme has always been extremely attractive to humans. I’m not a psychologist and only they can explain the details of why. Yet it's some combination of most people having had a time of much less responsibility and more fun in childhood, plus natural fears of change becoming associated with an unseen future or even a stressful present, and finally a comfort-clinging to constancy finding a focus in what has already been, or maybe instead assumed to have been!

Judging by statistical fact, the ‘the past is always better’ meme speaks absolute rubbish! Over time the human sphere is always changing, but by no means always for the worse. Circumstances vary over different areas and eras, but degradation is certainly no more likely than improvement. If it were, wouldn’t we all still occupy a harsh stone-age and have little chance of living beyond forty?

Whatever one thinks about “adding years to life”, to say we have not also added “life to years” after leaving our caves, denies all the art and culture and understanding developed since then. There is no such rule as ‘the past is always better’!!

For western society at least, the meme is not just statistically untrue, but the complete opposite of the truth. It is pretty much always worse, not better, the further back you go into western history for a thousand years and more. Please refer to my original reply on historic events, then if you wish trace them back still deeper into the past.

The rest of the world is more variable in recent centuries, but the main point is that there is still no hard rule of degeneration. If you happen to be plunged into a war or national financial crisis in any country, times locally were obviously better a couple of years before such an event! But individual occurrences like this do not dictate whether your society overall is better or worse in the longer term.

Now, do you remember about it being an evolutionary advantage for negative memes to be vague? Note that the ‘Paradox’ meme never mentions what point in history it is comparing ‘our era’ to. The fact of it comparing at all is only broached directly in the title and first line, elsewhere it is just a subtle implication lying behind the text. This strategy allows readers to each imagine their own favorite point in history, probably, too, an idealized past that never really existed!

It also makes it harder to analyze the truth or falsehood of each statement as one scans through at reading speed. The meme thus hides uncomfortable contradictions to its message behind mystique, and its power to convince is greatly increased. But the mechanism of persuasion is provided by the reader’s own subconscious!

Next we’ll look at Paradox’s particular linguistic tricks, but do you have any other questions first? Memmet.

He didn’t have any at the moment, and besides he had to get back to his bulbs. He just replied with ‘send more’, to generate Memmet’s automatic answer. But the PDA complained there was no signal and it couldn’t transmit.

Connection to base-stations was flaky enough in most of the park, but he remembered then it was worst of all behind the grotto’s thick walls. He shrugged and was just stuffing the PDA back into his pocket, when its default message-alarm pierced the air. He was absolutely astonished to find that the in-box contained yet another section of meme explanation.

“Weird,” he muttered to himself. The damn thing must have connected after all.

He pulled on his gloves and attacked the next bed, but his mind was no longer on the job and his progress soon slowed.

Mild anger at himself made him plunge his dibber rather too aggressively into dark soil. He could scarcely believe he’d missed the fact that ‘Paradox’ avoided all comparison with any real point in history, thereby fooling him into making ideal comparisons. So simple, yet so very effective. He was keen to find out what other cunning tricks those sneaky verses had played on him. It was embarrassing to discover how easily he was misled.

But as the sun warmed his back and he dug and split and replanted and pressed down, again and again, his thought turned from memes to Memmet Emiane. It was an unusual name, and its owner seemed very unusual too. Certainly most determined to shine the light of truth at him, until any part of the ‘Paradox’ parasite that might lurk in his subconscious was wholly erased. He felt as though his precious intellect had turned out to be a rather flaky old house that needed fumigating, and Memmet was doing the job in earnest.

Yet surely the man couldn’t overcome an absence of network signal, no matter how determined or clever he was! It was so curious, that last message getting through. Maybe his PDA had automatically tried a re-send. He fished the device out again and checked the signal strength. It was still showing zero. A slight shiver flitted down his spine.

Even though he was fascinated by the revelations on memes and grateful to Memmet for setting him right, he realized some deep, defensive instinct was making him apprehensive. Something about Memmet simply wasn’t right. Nevertheless, now that another hour of work had passed by he couldn’t deny he was dying to read the next text, so he took a second break.

Proceed to part 6...

Copyright © 2007 by Andrew West

Home Page