The 4th Humour
uninfluential words from an uninfluenced man
Bile humour Apathetic hemetic Fluent indifferent Emetic Phlegmatic

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Tuesday, July 22, 2003
Meme Warfare

I was watching TV the other day when this guy appeared out of nowhere with a syringe (my door was open to let wandering friends, "fresh air", and insects in). He asked if he could inject some cat shit into me. I naturally said no--because hey, who wants cat shit injected into them--but I was too passive to do anything about it, and he injected me anyway. Now I'm feeling a little strange, and a little disappointed in myself for not having developed the proper defenses against this person.

That's a lie, of course; everybody knows I don't watch TV.

The rest isn't true, either, because we all know that none of us would ever let anyone do that. At the least we'd move away. At most we'd grab that baseball bat under the couch. We all know that being physically injected with foreign substances is, on the whole, a bad thing. Even most drug addicts would want to know what's in that syringe before letting someone inject them with it.

And yet this goes on all the time, metaphorically-speaking, when it comes to our minds. We leave the TVs and radios on, subjecting ourselves to numbing sitcoms, mind-wiping political agendas, and manufacturered music. We walk down the street and get assaulted by bulletin boards, blaring car stereos, raving activists, and the occasional philosophical homeless person. We listen to everyone else's crappy opinions, crappy music, and crappy agendas because this is a free country. "No, I won't shut up, because this is America, and I have the right to free speech. What the fuck are you gonna do about it?" I wouldn't have a hand left if I punched every mouth that said that. Such is the price of freedom.

On the one hand, sure, I like being able to say whatever I want, but on the other, I don't want anyone else's crappy ideas soaking into my head, either. It's easy to stay away from physical harm, because you can just avoid it, but it's harder to protect your mind from all the invasive memes out there--especially the ones manufacturered by the media specifically to get into your head and spread--because while there are laws (not to mention etiquette) against physical harm, information broadcasting is not yet seen as something harmful. It's seen as Popular Culture.

We are bombarded by information day-in and day-out. So much, in fact, that people are becoming addicted to information itself. As Khan points out in his entry about addiction, addiction can happen with anything. This is one of those cases where it's less noticeable. When you are addicted to information, you'll take ANYTHING into your head just to get that fix, and that's pretty dangerous. Humans did not evolve in this Information Age. We, as a society, are not equipped to deal with this.

"Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me." What an ingenious meme that is, forcing children for generations to prematurely lower their memetic defenses! Memes are possibly the most destructive force on the planet (tell me that any ecosystem driven only by genes would ever wipe itself out, and yet we might just do it), though their effects are subtle.

"Don't even think about it" is another common phrase. I used to rebal at this, thinking to myself, "I can think whatever I WANT." I knew the reasoning, of course...if something's in your head long enough, you might eventually believe it or act on it.

So how do we keep all this crap from getting into our heads in a nation of free speech? We develop defense mechanisms, some more active than others. Passively, people wear headphones, stare at the ground, or reflexively glaze over large banners (I often miss obvious titles in papers and webpages, because my mind automatically discards anything BIG near the top margin). Actively, people turn up their stereos louder, and speak and behave in ways to bring more attention to themselves, thus competing with the other memes out there. Memes for silence are (by default) less successful than memes for non-silence, so we end up with a memetic arms race.

--Listen to me!

--No, listen to me!

Arms races happen all the time in nature. Progress for the sake of progress. However, in an arms race among memes, our minds (for the time being) are the battlefield, and I wonder how well they can handle it.