by Andy West
Table of Contents|
1, 2, 3, 4, 5,
6, 7, 8, 9, 10
The religious context of origin is significant. As I mentioned some while back, fringe religions host many negative memes. Unfortunately, mainstream religions can carry quite a few too. Christianity has been exploited for centuries by ‘the past is better’ lineage.
Even the great Polish theologian Maximilian Kolbe, canonized in 1982, said: “Modern times are dominated by Satan and will be more so in the future.” Given events in his homeland during the first half of the twentieth century, which led to his own execution in Auschwitz, this no doubt seemed to sound a ring of truth within that era.
Yet statements of this type ultimately become contradictions as time marches on. Considering also that Christianity has frequently used devices like: “He [Satan] has more knowledge but less wisdom than any other creature...” (this from a sermon by C. H. Spurgeon in 1865), it requires no imaginative leap to put these two assertions together and hence deduce that modern men, being dominated by Satan, will become more like him in some respects, giving: “Modern men have more knowledge but less wisdom.” Our ‘past is better’ lineage has now developed a particular meme that is shorn of religious context and can thus launch itself into the secular world.
In practice, developments of this sort often occur in parallel, at separate geographical locations or in different cultural strata, making traceability very difficult. Cross-fertilization between different meme families in the same lineage is also tricky to pin down.
Another family I am keeping an eye on has roots going back before ‘Paradox’, to a passage apparently penned by Martin Luther King: “Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.” This is a perfectly valid and reasonable comment of social protest, if kept in context. But when the last half is detached (as has been done by many war protestors for use on banners), then appropriated by ‘the past is better’ lineage to sit between attacks on current times of the sort found in ‘Paradox’, it can become a falsehood.
Men are no more misguided now than they ever were, perhaps less so if anything. Reflecting on the period from the fall of Rome to the invention of guided missiles, this would more or less start with Attila the Hun and end with Hitler and Stalin, plus how many more misguided men in-between?
Incidentally, this particular quote has picked up evolutionary side data too. Various Indian religious leaders including Mahatma Gandhi have been credited as the source. Other authors are cited too, even the automobile manufacturer Henry Ford, though he died in 1947 before guided missiles were a reality!
This all emphasizes the fact that writers are not in control of their words once they’re out there. Through the action of many accidents and many other writers, memes have a life of their own!
I guess that’s it for the history. — Memmet.
Alan yawned and stretched. Dawn was creeping past the curtains. A new day was starting. He felt like a new man, armed with new knowledge and fired by an exciting secret. He realized that all his suspicions and fear of an alien form had completely evaporated. Knowing Memmet — more importantly, knowing the meme-hunter’s true nature too — made him feel very special. He typed in more to his new friend.
I remember how skeptical I was when you first said about memes having a kind of life of their own. It seems an age ago. But you’re right, they have! At least as much as viruses do.
I’m curious to know how you manage to keep up with memes like ‘Paradox’, especially if you say some modern ones are even more virulent right now. It takes only moments to be tricked by those verses, but it’s taken you a long time to convince my slow brain about what they really are! Surely they must be winning the battle for minds by miles! — Alan.
All education is the enemy of negative memes. I just target more specifically. But though it’s true that any particular meme can easily outrun me, once I’ve persuaded a human of the truth they tend to be immunized against almost all negative memes! Hence they then stop re-transmitting any other lineage that hits them. So memes win on speed, but they’re not able to persuade someone permanently. My methods are slow, but I win out on convincing people generically and forever!
These days I also act more cunningly and lurk on Servers to kill meme transmission at source, especially if it’s about to infect a vulnerable area like an education network. But there’s a limit to how much one can do this without becoming overly censorious. In the end people must learn for themselves, at least in part. If you simply shield a population, it will steadily become more and more vulnerable, until disaster strikes! Anyway, long before then so many messages would be missing that officials would soon detect me! — Memmet.
Alan yawned again. The lack of sleep was catching up on him, though he was hungry as well as tired. He thought about calling-in sick later, but then guilt pricked him and he decided to take a day’s leave instead. He drifted into the kitchen for an early breakfast, taking the PDA with him.
The bright colors of political leaflets pulled at his eye from the bin. He thought about fishing them out and reading them after all. He realized his decision not to vote was in part because ‘Paradox’ had made him feel that all intelligent efforts were useless, that our times were already doomed. Now he knew that was just bull, and deep down he’d not really forgotten that voting was crucial. He knew it made a difference.
He left the leaflets there, but decided to put his support behind the smallest party of the three. It was more important to keep multiple players in the game and force true negotiation, true politics, he mused, than it was to analyze the fleeting policies of any particular group. As long as they weren’t extremist, that is.
Satisfied with this decision, he put some bacon on and then addressed Memmet again.
I’m grateful for your help, Memmet. I feel a bit better about the world somehow. I understand that you’re a very clever program, but how come you know such an incredible amount!? — A.
Don’t forget I spend my entire life on the web! That’s how I found out about your great aunt, it’s amazing what you can dig up. But in truth there’s much about the real world not recorded here, especially about human behavior and character judgment. So I have large gaps and am frequently forced to guess at stuff.
I thought you might want to know about memetic evolution in chain letters. I mean real ones, before there was email and text messaging. There’s a great paper on them by Daniel W. VanArsdale. He explains everything better than I could myself, so I downloaded a link to it into your ‘favorites’. You can read it at your leisure, but I put a great quote from this paper below. It underlines the rather chilling truth about memes, for chain letters are just particular memetic forms, of course.
“Chain letters are ‘designed’ to replicate, not to help anyone. Hope and fear, truth and error, charity and greed, all may be used in service to reproduction. Yet in this terrible freedom lies their one service to humanity: they instruct us on the generality and inexhaustible opportunism of evolution.”
Better than I could put it myself! Daniel explains how early chain letters stemming right from millennia back used to be religiously oriented. For their spread, they relied on such mechanisms as the promise of heavenly rewards, or guilt from a lack of piety. Much later, as religion waned, they evolved into using phony gambling or pyramid schemes with promises of money, or superstition in the form of good luck charms or bad luck threats. He says:
“The resulting ‘luck chain letters’ still circulate, and in over four thousand generations of copying (with variation) they have accumulated ways to increase replication that challenge our understanding.”
This four thousand generations of real letters on paper covers a period of about one hundred years from 1900, by which time email evolution was much faster. In fact many email lineages were founded from the paper letters. He adds later, when explaining about the religious origin of the ‘luck chain letters’: “They probably developed as a secularization of promises and threats in the Letters from Heaven.”
I hope your lack of sleep won’t hamper your work! —Memmet.
An insistent sizzling and the irresistible smell of bacon pulled Alan away for a while. He returned to the table and the PDA armed with substantial fuel, a huge bacon roll and the inevitable mug of tea.
I’m going to take the day off! What are the Letters from Heaven? — A.
They are short religious texts that were said to have come directly from God or from heaven, though what heaven and which God varies with each particular religion, of course. Some are very old indeed. No doubt their reputed origin was designed to increase their impact upon vulnerable populations, many of whom regarded all written documents as a kind of magic in any case. Below is a summary from Daniel’s paper (Himmelsbrief is just ‘Letters from Heaven’ translated into German). — Memmet.
“A German authority on the Himmelsbrief, H. Stube, said the letters long predated Christianity (Oda). Examples in Greek, Arabic, Armenian, Syrian and Ethiopic have been published with German translations. Jewish and Islamic Himmelsbrief are also reported (Hand). These may all derive from an early Greek source (Bittner). A letter which was said to have fallen from heaven existed in the third century A.D. (Hippolytos, Refutation of All Heresies).
The oldest Letter from Heaven for which we have a full text is the Latin ‘Letter from Heaven on the observance of the Lord's day’, the original of which dates from the close of the sixth century (Priebsch). St. Boniface denounced this as a ‘bungling work of a madman or the devil himself.’ Eckehard (A.D. 1115) wrote that it had spread over the whole globe then known to man. It has circulated in English in many versions.”
I’m staggered by how far back this all goes, the immense age of the roots! — A.
Yes. Negative memes are parasites that perhaps have accompanied humans since they first learned to speak. Maybe even from before, in an era of grunts and sign language.
Their dangers should not be underestimated too. Negative memes abounded in the collapsed Germany after the first World War. One particular memetic myth circulated among troops coming back from the front, who felt betrayed, considering they were everywhere abandoning positions held on enemy territory and judged they could still have won.
This myth stated that Jews and Bolsheviks, among other supposed crimes, had sabotaged the home front and the government by propagating lies and pessimism, which led to a lack of nerve and so ultimately to the surrender. It has no basis in fact of course, but it gave the soldiers someone to blame and preserved some sense of their fighting pride.
Both verbally and on paper this myth became more attractively and cleverly phrased. As the accusations also included economic sabotage and black marketeering, it eventually appealed to much of the German population, who were trapped in an economic abyss and similarly needed someone to blame.
A fledgling far-right party in the twenties, the Nazis, pushed and amplified this myth for all they were worth, proposing ‘a solution’ to stem further betrayal too. The leverage they gained from that action was a very significant factor in their struggle to power, with all the terrible consequences that followed including an appalling 55 million deaths. But the initial infection they so cleverly took advantage of, occurred on its own, via the blind processes of memetic replication. — M.
Don’t worry! No nasty meme is ever going to get past me again! — A.
I believe it! And so it’s time for me to erase this part of me and leave you. The battle is raging elsewhere and I need every spare second for others who need immunization. If you ever want to have a rummage through any ‘Paradox’ history yourself, just type the exact phrase “taller buildings but shorter tempers” (including the quotation marks) into any web search-engine. You’ll find there’s an unfortunately large amount of hits!
You have my UK address should you really be in need again one day, or to introduce another client to me. Actually, on that subject, before I leave I’d like your permission to track down everyone in your address book you sent ‘Paradox’ to.
One of the reasons I think I’m alive, is that it gives me great pleasure to have helped someone, especially in the very rare cases when they know who I really am. It’s been great talking to you Alan. I’m sure we’ll meet again. — M.
Of course you can trace those people. I’ll miss learning from you! I will be in touch again one day. Until then, goodbye for now and thanks once more! — Alan.
Goodbye! — Memmet.
With his hunger satisfied and slurping at his tea, mixed feelings overtook Alan. He could scarcely believe it, but he meant what he’d said. He would actually miss talking to a program! He sighed, then grinned. Life was strange sometimes. He resolved to always be on his guard against harmful myth and memetic forms, and become a pupil Memmet could be proud of.
Then he returned his thought to his rather neglected life. He spent some time on an email to Gwen, then made up some sandwiches for Abbey before giving her a shout. She was still lazing in bed and would soon be late for college. After waiting to hear some movement, he called into work and then flipped through the plant encyclopedia again, trying to resolve the germ of an idea that had come to him the day before.
That was it! Kaempferi! It was an Iris with a rich purple flower like the reticulata, but it was a marsh plant too! They should love it down near the lake. He’d get to keep Iris on that stretch after all! As for the Lilies, well he supposed he could get used to them.
The PDA alarm announced an email response from Gwen. Halfway through reading it he dropped into a blind panic. She and Emily were boarding the plane home early their next morning. Despite their cheap tickets and therefore longer journey, he had less than two days to complete several weeks of housework! He gulped down his remaining tea and rushed off to grab the vacuum cleaner.
Copyright © 2007 by Andrew West