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August 14th, 2009

Friday, August 14th, 2009 02:43 pm
American Republicans and conservatives are often accused of being stupid, and not without just cause.

I'm not so sure that they are actually stupid, however, regardless of how clearly stupid their actions are. I suspect more that they are victims of a memetic virus -- one which is so effective at distorting the judgments and perceptions of its host, and at spreading through certain populations, that its effects bear some similarity to mass hypnosis.

The way the meme seems to work is by co-opting the victim's moral sensibilities toward its own defense, very much the way a biological virus does. The meme substitutes itself as a stand-in for all the things which individuals normally might want to protect -- self, family, community, society, country, civilization -- and re-interprets "harm" solely in terms of itself.

In other words: If you (verbally) attack the meme, the individual reacts as if you had (physically) attacked or harmed one or more of these things. Remember how dissent against Bush was treason, how gay marriage is going to destroy civilization and/or our families and children, how liberals and Obama hate their country and "want the terrorists to win™"?.

The meme has now evolved (irony, anyone?) to the point where it has learned to repel the standard defenses of individuals in an enlightened society (reason and logic) and has made significant inroads towards infecting our larger national defense mechanisms (schools and mainstream media, for example).

The meme itself might be stated something like this:

"Our beliefs and values are precious and sacred. We must therefore defend them against all outside influences. Since we know in advance that our beliefs are true and precious, anything which contradicts them is evil and false, and anyone who brings forth such evidence is either deluded or evil. We should not even trust our own senses and reason to guide us, since among our precious and true beliefs is the knowledge that humans are innately bad and untrustworthy -- so if we find our human reason leading us to thoughts which might contradict our precious true beliefs, then those thoughts are themselves deluded and evil and we must work diligently to cast them out lest the evil within us grow and consume us and those we care about."

I don't know for certain how to fight this bugger; viruses are notoriously difficult to kill. As with biological viruses, it may be that prior exposure* to the lies and distortions used by the meme -- along with debunking of those lies (antibodies?) -- will help. This is the sort of approach used against specific meme-inspired causes, such as creationism and global warming denial, and while it clearly has not killed the virus, it has kept it contained.

I would suggest that we need a more organized effort to apply this methodology to meme-defensive ideas in whatever area of concern they may pop up.

Is anyone aware of a project that is already working along these lines, besides my own severely time-limited efforts (Issuepedia)?

* Some people appear to latch doggedly onto the first piece of information they are given about a political subject, sometimes believing it even more firmly when presented with contradictory information. The meme certainly exploits this tendency, and this would also be a clear indication that "immunizing" such people with prior knowledge of the meme's fallacies could be effective.