Re: Meme: A call for help

James Rogers (
Sun, 19 Jan 1997 18:01:38 -0800

At 04:10 PM 1/19/97 -0800, Dan Fabulich wrote:
>I'm new to the Extropian movement, but I like it. I've enjoyed and
>generally agreed with most of what comes out of the Extropy Institute,
>and I'm readily becoming attached to its principles.

Pleased to meet you!

>However, I have a problem. If it's not appropriate for this list, tell
>me so, and I'll take the conversation elsewhere.
>The Extropy Institute has a philosophy which strives towards spontaneous
>order through decentralized systems. It denies dogma in favor of
>healthy criticism. It's a far more open system than any religion or
>fundamentalist philosophy. I like that. However, it's been painfully
>obvious to me, throughout my life, how far people can get when they're
>dogmatically committed towards a particular idea. Ideas like bigotry,
>fascism and censorship are incredibly rampant because they develop a
>devoted and unquestioning following. The masses flock to their
>shepherd. They're insanely bad memes, but problematically trong:
>if people are more powerful when they are fundamentally committed
>and when surrounded by people who agree with them, then they'll adapt
>as is most advantageous to them: conform, centralize, dogmatize.
>I don't like any of this. But this has been a problem that I've been
>fighting with for most of my life. I'm not here to argue that religion
>is better than healthy criticism and spontaneous order. I don't think
>that. But in the face of what's out there, how can I, and others like
>me, fight a meme of centralization which may be fundamentally more
>powerful than the one I'm trying to spread, simply by virtue of the fact
>that the meme I'm spreading can never be a dogma? Can this meme ever
>surpass authoritarianism?

The strength of these bad memes is more apparent than actual. By
definition, a "bad" meme is one that at some fundamental level is incorrect,
inadequate, or counterproductive. No matter how apparently strong a meme, a
truly bad meme will *always* contain a weakness which can be exploited.

The key to stopping the propagation of bad memes is to give the people the
ability to recognize bad memes. The problem is that many of the people who
get caught up in traditionally virulent memes have neither the cognitive nor
emotional fortitude to step outside the meme before becoming caught in it.
Propagation of most of the worst memes goes hand in hand with ignorance.
Most "Bible belt" fundamentalists I met when I was in the South were poorly
educated and sadly ignorant. Consider the "white supremecist" movement.
Most of the members of that "master race" can barely read, let alone engage
in rational, intelligent thought.

Even the toughest bad memes fall in the face of an educated populace. I
believe the bad memes are slowly being weeded out. The extremist backlash
you may see or hear about is really the death throes of broken memes. Many
traditional virulent social memes are losing ground to "good" memes. A
truly "good" meme is always defensible and rarely cedes what it has taken.
The same cannot be said of bad memes.

Of course, this is just MY theory on this issue.

-James Rogers