The 4th Humour
uninfluential words from an uninfluenced man
Bile humour Apathetic hemetic Fluent indifferent Emetic Phlegmatic
Tuesday, July 29, 2003
Shut Up (Pass it on)
I've caught some kind of paradoxical, masochistic, self-destructive, doomsday meme, because the more I think about memes, the more I'm convinced that they are in the "wrong hands" (actually, they're in nobody's hands, but...) and represent a real threat to society. As Douglas Adams put it in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Radio Show, "...the Babel fish...removed all barriers to communication...consequently, it has been the cause of more and bloodier wars in the history of the known Universe." Something like that.
I see one solution as getting everyone in the world to just shut up. There may be other solutions...a society of immortals comes to mind, but I'll discuss that later. Maybe.
Anyway, my self-imposed challenge lately has therefore been to devise a meme that can make everyone stop communicating. This is naturally very difficult since communication is needed for memetic transmission (specifically, imitation is needed); a meme must have high copy number (fecundity), a long lifetime (longevity), and accurate reproduction (fidelity). (Aside: I also think there is a 4th property, some sort of spontaneous evolution rate, which would be a measure of how often the meme springs up out of "nowhere" in the population.)
The phrase "Shut up" is the simplest silence meme I can think of. However, I know it will fail simply because it's failed so far, in spite of having all the attributes outlined above. It meets fierce competition with all the other memes out there, because it's hard for a silence meme to compete. That's why I've tacked "pass it on" to the end of it. Admittedly, it's still not effective, but it's the sort of property it ironically needs to have.
Silence has spread in certain pockets of culture out there, though. Some monks take vows of silence. Natives of St. Petersburg, Russia consider it rude to speak loudly. The fictional "Ellen Jamesians" in The World According to Garp have no tongues. Whether religious, spiritual, or cultural, however, simply not speaking (or speaking softly to prevent unintended transmission) isn't enough, because speaking is only one type of communication. When I say "shut up", what I'm really saying is, "stop trying to breathe your memes down my neck." This includes any sort of information that could be processed by my mind.
One way to shut the world up would be to give it quite a big scare, somehow convincing it that communication really IS bad and must be limited. Information paranoia to replace information addiction. Seeing that I already have this paranoia to some extent, it seems theoreticaly feasible. The problem would then be in its execution. It's unrealistic to expect everyone to come up to speed on my lifetime of scientific and philosophical musings that led me to this point. Therefore, I'm certain the meme would have to enter the machine of Popular Culture in a nice manufactured package. It would be fitting.
The other possibility would be to invent a new religion. L. Ron Hubbard did it, so why couldn't it be done again? The gist would then go something like, "Shut up, pass it on, and you will be rewarded in the afterlife." As Hofstadter once noted, tacking "in the afterlife" to the end of a reward-promising phrase immediately gives it more weight, because hey, you never know!