Sunday, May 20, 2007

Googling "Meme War"

I've been googling "meme" and "meme war" to try discover what others have been thinking and have come across some good reading including this post from The Speculist:

...isn't the War on Terror ultimately a memetic war? The self-replicating extremist Islamic ideas of worldwide Jihad and restoration of the Caliphate are up against the self-replicating Western ideas of political and religious liberty, equality of the sexes, etc. Or, depending on your ideological frame of mind (that is to say, your memes) the self-replicating Western ideas of hegemony and imperialism are up against the self-replicating developing-world ideas of cultural identity and independence.
Which ideas will win out? Those that are morally superior? Probably not. At least not because they're morally superior. Those that are most viable? That's more likely, but it depends on what you mean by "viable." Memetic theory tells us that memes (like the selfish genes of Richard Dawkins' book of the same name) win out based on their ability to reproduce themselves. From a meme standpoint, a typical chain-letter pyramid scam is more viable than, say, a marketing campaign to raise AIDs awareness. Celebrity gossip and urban legends have a lot more going for them memetically than boring (but useful) information about things like safety, nutrition, sound investment strategies, etc.
So from that standpoint, who's got the better memes (going back to that first dichotomy) -- the West with our individual liberty and separation of church and state, or the Islamic extremists with their certainty of glorious victory and paradise for the heroic martyrs? Both sets of ideas are pretty compelling and have an excellent record of reproducing themselves. A problem for the West is that some of our memes have evolved variations at odds with the original ideas. Tolerance of individuals -- which is essential to guaranteeing individual liberty and dignity -- has evolved into tolerance of cultures -- which perversely means not speaking out against societies that deny individual liberty and dignity to their citizens. This is how supporters of feminism, gay rights, and religious diversity can sometimes find themselves unable to criticize (or worse yet, effectively "on the same side" as) radical Islamists who want to create a society in which people who care about those issues would be permanently silenced...
From a memetic standpoint, this could be disastrous. If it isn't careful, the tolerance meme is going to reproduce
itself out of existence. Meanwhile, in the Islamic world, amongst the large majority of believers who are neither terrorists nor extremists, there are well-established self-replicating ideas in place about how Muslims ought to stick together and never oppose other Muslims. So while the Western meme-set is evolving antidotes to itself, the extremist Islamic meme-set is free to grow unhindered.
Ultimately, the fact that the West is militarily superior might not matter that much. Our memes can lose to their memes if theirs spread to us and we begin to reproduce them ourselves...or if ours continue to evolve away from being in opposition to theirs, which is what has happened to some extent with the tolerance meme.


tim said...

Hi Phil, good to hear from you.
I think you make an important point, re citizen self involvement in WoT. However I wonder about the post you linked to. I think the moral aspect is very important, at least if you subscribe to 4GW theory. Boyd held that, within his trinity of war (physical, mental, moral), the moral is the most important. I guess that's not quite what The Speculist is talking about (there's no way in which Jihadism/al Qaeda is more "moral" than the West). Moral in this sense would refer more to internal consistency, for example Abu Ghraib cedes moral high ground (esp in the eyes of Western civilians); jihadist asymmetry makes mujahideen look like noble strugglers in the face of overwhelming odds, etc. Ultimately the moral feeds the memtic.

phil said...

Hey Tim,
Actually it wasn't my intention to link to this specific post. When I was filling out the comment form on your site it had a space for URL and I just put in the URL for my blog. This post is isn't directly related to the topic of my comment.

I do have a couple of recent posts that are directly relevant to the topic of citizen action:

I agree with you, the moral aspect is very important. And I have come to believe that citizens acting independently of government are better at operating in that sphere than gov't. I hope to flesh out this idea more in future posts.

tim said...

Ah right. [Scurries off to read...]