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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.
Thursday, May 28th, 2009 09:54 am
The other day, it somehow came up that [personal profile] harena's 12-year-old wanted to watch the "Devil in the Dark" episode of Star Trek. Having not watched it in maybe a decade or more, I sat down and watched it with him (from a VHS tape I apparently recorded in ~1987).

For those not familiar with the episode: a human mining colony is experiencing sudden and mysterious deaths as well as missing and damaged mining equipment, all of which are soon traced to a frightening creature who strikes with lightning speed and vanishes, horribly charring its victims with acid and leaving nothing but ashes and bits of bone. The creature even completely removes a pump vital to the colony's survival. The colonists and their leader understandably want the creature killed. Long story short: Spock makes mental contact with the creature, finds that it is very intelligent and that the humans have been unknowingly destroying its eggs; its attacks and vandalism were an attempt to protect the eggs and drive the humans off. Spock arranges a truce, the creature returns the pump, and she and her children begin helping with mining operations, making them all "embarrassingly rich".

At the end, we were talking about how this is an example of why it's better to try and understand your "enemies" than to fight them, and it occurred to me that this is probably the thing I liked most about Star Trek: positive-sum thinking, as exemplified by things like talking to an "enemy" and finding that what they want is totally compatible with what we want, and all we have to do is avoid stepping on their toes; the idea that trustworthiness and communication are more important than weaponry; that we don't have to destroy others in order to get what we want; and so on.

Further, it occurred to me that the basic premise of this episode -- the "devil" in the dark becomes an ally -- epitomizes the exact opposite of the kind of "demonization" thinking nurtured and promoted by the neocons: there are those among us who may seem innocent but are in fact enemies of everything we hold dear; they must be sought out and eliminated, without negotiation.

Lately I've been having some rather intensive online discussion with a fellow claiming to be a "progressive" conservative. I was initially rather skeptical that "progressive conservatism" wasn't an oxymoron by definition, but it's looking like it may actually be theoretically possible, depending on how you define "conservatism" -- if nothing else, I'm beginning to think that "progressive conservatism" is as good a name as any for a philosophy which is primarily being practiced, these days, by those calling themselves "liberals".

What he hasn't been able to show me, as far as I can tell, is how the public policy choices he supports are any more "conservative" than choices I might prefer.

I had labeled the philosophy I was defending as "rational liberalism", to avoid confusion the wide range of "liberal" values, much or most of which I agree with but which can get pretty loopy in places (albeit generally less alarming or outright dangerous than many neocon beliefs), but after watching this episode I found the phrase "Star Trek liberalism" bouncing around my head...

...and then it occurred to me that what I am actually doing is saying something like this: Neocon/Republican philosophy is a radical departure from the values which seem the best to me and which I grew up with, many of which are demonstrated by the better Star Trek episodes. The moral values displayed in those episodes are the values I want to preserve, in the face of the "post-9/11 world" claims that we must clamp down on freedoms and lower our standards if we expect to survive the terrorists (and abortionists and gays and America-hating liberals).

In short: I am a Star Trek conservative.