Although now we tend to associate the word “meme” with image macros, the original intent was to conceptualize why certain ideas – religious, political, moral – spread more quickly than others.
Some personal ideas regarding this is that contagion is dependent upon simplifying complex concepts in as few words as possible, invoking tried and true cultural archetypes, and using charismatic people as initial meme vectors.
Now, we’re all infected with these mind viruses to some extent or the other, but some of them are more destructive than others and not all of us are aware of them. When you’re aware of mind viruses they can be used constructively. For example, “Follow the Golden Rule” or “Save the environment.” In addition, toxic memes can be used as well to inoculate against full infection, much like one can be immunized against the flu by using “dead” viruses. Awareness and consent – and subsequent moderation – is critical in this process.
One of the problems with toxic memes (example: “Terrorism” – either the perpetration of, or, fear of) is that they’re innately destructive, but they can can also completely override critical thinking entirely. The virus overwhelms the mental immune system of critical thinking.
I think that one of the most interesting opportunities in a post-modern technological society is the recognition and diagnosis of memetic infection. Essentially, to become a pseudoshaman. Think of these memes as cases of “demonic infestation” and the necessity of exorcism – with the consent of the infected – becomes apparent.
Perhaps one might develop a classification of memes – a diagnostic manual – along with symptoms.
Off the top of my head, spouting clearly recognizable catch phrases (“Taxed Enough Already!” “Don’t Tread on Me!” “Check your privilege!”) as responses to complex problems could be a good one. If you’ll forgive me for mixing metaphors, think of catch phrases as the little droplets of virus that are expelled into the atmosphere when one coughs. They spread the disease. It becomes incumbent upon the practitioner – the shaman or doctor (witch-doctor?) – to recognize these symptoms and treat the disease (or demon), but how?
Hence lies the rub. The only way that mind viruses can be treated is through recognition and destruction of its habitat, and sometimes that involves injecting competing memes – like this one. Other techniques such as meditation, pharmacological intervention (hallucinogens) and ritual are possible modes of treatment. What one should hope for in all of theses cases are sudden shocks of cognitive dissonance: A recognition of the vulnerability of the mind virus and the opportunity to overpower it.
Will practitioners of this sort – memetic exorcists – continue the shamanic tradition? Are they already out there? Is there the possibility that this could grow into a vocation as our society becomes more complex? I don’t know. It may be up to our children to decide.