An Eye for an Eye makes the whole world blind ...
Sent: 9/24/2001 10:48 AM
From: Joe Breskin
To: !Robert Force
Sent: Monday, September 24,
2001 10:48 AM
Subject: Where I am sitting today
was pointed out to me day-before-yesterday by Paula that the I-Ching
was written in times as troubled as these, and the framework for the
discussion it invites was similar.
But I still see this as the first
skirmish in a war between ancient and modern memes. Between the global
infection of shopping-mall America and the ancient memes still reflected by
some of the people who have apparently found it necessary to take a
"religious" stand against it. And these are very different memes than the
ones that infect the kids protesting WTO, or Earthfirst! cutting down power
transmission towers to a uranium refinery, and yet the symbols and the targets
are exactly the same and the reasons they are targets are the same.
almost comes down to asking people to stand up and be counted - O.K. folks
-who is infected by which meme?
Who is willing to die for which cause?
meme allows them to enter into alliances with whom?
If the numbers are big
enough, even the stupidest leaders should be prepared to back down ...
they are operating in a largely delusional world created by their meme
So, before I can pretend to understand what is going on, or
going to happen, I feel like I "need" to see a demographic map - a histogram
display that gives a clear indication of the % of total population in each country in
the world that subscribe to what might be called "fundamentalist" religious
views - where a significant number of people are willing to die as saints or
martyrs for their religious beliefs. I see this as a critical map.
occurred to me yesterday that the state of war, or the definition of
warfare, could be as simple as a temporary suspension of our ethics, of the normal
rules under which a society operates, and a shift to a model based on the
premise that the glorious ends will justify the horrible means.
greatest beauty (and horrible and beauty are not oxymoronic, if the
ends justify the means) of the terrorist's exercise at the WTC was the web
of connectedness it revealed. Even beyond showing that strategic missile
defense and most of the Pentagon's budget was absurd - both obsolete and
unnecessary and ineffective - if all you needed was box knives to use any existing scheduled
public transport device - be it a bus, an airplane, or a ship - as a
weapon as effective any ICBM, it clearly showed us that nearly everyone in
America was connected to someone who was injured or killed. And from
that lesson we can project a consequence of retaliation that radiates out
from that center, be it Afghanistan or Pakistan or anywhere, and
imagine/realize that every death we cause in our misguided attempt at revenge
surely creates hundreds or thousands of new enemies.
line: "An eye for eye only ends up making the whole world blind."
By the way: a "meme" is a word virus - not a word macrovirus
like people send over the internet, but a communicable disease transmitted
through human language or human behavior. Dawkins would perhaps take issue
with "darkness" implicit in the disease model, but I believe it provides a
better, broader fit than his gene-like model. Our immune system grows from
it's experience and exposure to viruses, just as our understanding of the
world, and our collection of filters that prevent us from experiencing the
world, are acquired from experience.
There is little or no evidence that I have encountered that
resistance to specific infections is acquired through experience and passed
to subsequent generations through genes. Typically meme infections have sets
of symptoms, hence I believe that a meme creates a sort of identifiable
pattern of altered responses in infected individuals: a syndrome. "Jesus
Christ as personal savior" is a meme. So are "sainthood" and "martyrdom". And "good
and evil". And the Bill of Rights.
Richard Dawkins (who I once believed coined the term) says: Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases,
clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. Just as genes
propagate themselves in the gene pool by leading from body to body via sperm
or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain
to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation. If
a scientist hears, or reads about, a good idea, he passes it on to his
colleagues and students. He mentions it in his articles and his lectures. If
the idea catches on, it can be said to propagate itself, spreading from brain
Memes should be regarded as living structures, not just
metaphorically but technically. When you plant a fertile meme in my mind, you
literally parasitize my brain, turning it into a vehicle for the meme's
propagation in just the way that a virus may parasitize the genetic mechanism
of a host cell. And this isn't just a way of talking -- the meme for, say,
'belief in life after death' is actually realized physically, millions of
times over, as a structure in the nervous systems of people all over the
So, I initially assumed that people who did not know the word meme would either
discover its meaning from the context I had developed around the word, or Google it. Googling
meme history gets you:
which offers (in part):
But what I still totally fail to understand is why a few hundred of people
with in-flight magazines in the pockets of the seats in front of them and
hard pointy objects like ballpoint pens in their pockets could not figure out how to disarm a few
people with box knives.
"Considerable controversy surrounds the term "meme" and
its associated discipline,
memetics. In part this arises because a number of
possible (though not mutually exclusive) interpretations
of the nature of the concept have arisen:
- The least controversial claim suggests that
memes provide a useful philosophical perspective
with which to examine cultural evolution. Proponents
of this view argue that considering cultural
developments from a meme's eye view — as if
memes act to maximise their own replication and
survival — can lead to useful insights and yield
valuable predictions into how culture develops over
time. Dawkins himself seems to have favoured this
- Other theorists have focused on the need to
provide an empirical grounding for memetics in order
for it to class as a real and useful
scientific discipline. Given the nebulous (and
in many cases subjective) nature of many memes,
providing such an empirical grounding has to date
- A third approach, exemplified by Dennett and by
Susan Blackmore in her book The Meme Machine
(1999), seeks to place memes at the centre of a
radical and counter-intuitive
theory of mind and of
personal identity. "
Port Townsend, WA
(360) 385 firstname.lastname@example.org
Additional/related thoughts 03/20/2004:
Two and a half years after 9/11 The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press
published the results of an interesting poll of global attitudes a year after the American attack on Iraq. The report does not provide the basis for the map I requested above, but it does provide some extremely useful worldwide demographics
that give a good indication of the size of the populations who do NOT appear to carry the fundamentalist meme infections.