Mind Viruses, Post-Modernism and the Rise of the Neo-Shaman: Everyone is Sick in the Head

Memetic exorcism?

Ideology_IconAlthough 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.

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  • Ted Heistman

    I love this topic! This is making me think of something I can’t quite put my finger on….Its like meme t-cells or something anti-memes, that can be used to cure people. Its like they would have to have a similar pathway and mechanism but cancel out the other memes.

    • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

      One of the first weird topics i started getting into was memetics. Its funny you mention the anti-meme. I pondered a lot on this concept. Like thoughts as potentials, and memes and anti memes being forcing functions in the realm of belief, and how societal pressure serves as resistance and admittance for someone believing in something, sortof in electronic system terms.

    • eyebeam

      There is propaganda, and counter-propaganda, but the principles of skeptical inquiry, and logical deduction, help to immunize the mind against destructive memes.

      • echar

        What if the destructive memes are skeptical inquiry, and logical deductions?

        • Andrew

          The truth will not set you free. The truth will enslave you. Lies will set you free.

          • echar

            What is truth and freedom, and how do these concepts relate to skeptical inquiry and logical deductions?

            How do we/I know if the correct questions have been asked?

            How do we/I know if the proper tool has been used to deduce?

            Ho do we/I know if the tool (mind, microscope, reality tunnel,etc) is immune from influencing the results?

            How do we/I know if those results are immune from influencing the perception of others who test those results?

            Ad infinitum?

          • eyebeam

            Those are the questions that form the basis of epistemology.

            It is an infinite cycle of questioning your assumptions, deducing the most probable truth, and questioning the validity of your conclusions.

          • jnana

            don’t believe what you think.
            that’s a start.

          • echar

            Lay off the shrooms.

          • jnana

            not too partial to psilocybe myself, actually.
            now, peyote. that’s medicine.

          • Alan Morse Davies

            I love this. Freedom is slavery. No cognitive dissonance there. I’m guessing this is from the U.S.?

            Freedom and truth as concepts and words have constantly been co-opted and distorted. I think Bertrand Russell had a very deliberate hand in at least the definition of freedom in the West after WW2 as a form of brand messaging vs the Soviet Union.

            We need to be wary of language in that it’s inherently nostalgic.

            Freedom doesn’t mean the same thing as it did in 1975 or 1875 and neither does truth.

            The really great marketing opportunity is to sell to those that believe that these concepts are constant and true to people’s original understanding of them, then slowly distort those concepts for personal gain.

            Freedom and Truth have been made into flags that we can wave and it’s become a patriotic duty to wave them. What do they mean?

            I think it’s about the psychopathy of publicly limited companies, and I present as evidence social media. You have a grievance, how would you talk to someone that is standing before you, with consequences vs someone remotely in a non-personal environment, with no consequences?

            Remoteness makes us more cruel. The same is true of an investor in a publicly limited company. Investors want a return, the job of a CEO is to make that happen and only within the law, which they have a chance of changing.

            I guess the greatest irony and the greatest marketing I’ve seen in my life is to convince 50% of America that god/jesus wants laissez- faire capitalism. That’s phenomenal work.

            Regardless of the definitions, past or present, isn’t “Freedom” a feeling? I see no way to make it absolute. If two friends have the same “freedoms” but person two feels more restricted, are both still equally free if they don’t talk about it?

            For truth, we have concensus, that’s all, even with science. I’m not equating magical thinking with science to be clear. At least good science can be repeated and measured.

            Sorry, quite drunk.

        • eyebeam

          A free thinker…

  • emperorreagan

    Turn everything on its head and make it meaningless, like some sort of linguistic immunotherapy. If you stumble over a root while hiking, then trees are a bunch of goddamned terrorists who hate you for your freedom. Then giggle madly.

    • Matt Staggs

      I think that Rimbaud might have meant something like this when he wrote of the derangement of the senses.

      • emperorreagan

        Here is an interesting article I found about Rimbaud and the Qliphoth.
        http://www.society.kosmic-gnosis.org/words/monstrous.html

      • emperorreagan

        The other thing, though, is that laughter is frequently referenced as a banishing in chaos magic currents. If you think about it from the reverse side – about how laughter at your expense can make you feel small and dismissed – it starts to make sense.

      • Schizo Stroller

        No Rimbaud had a subtle understanding of language and poetics lost on Dawkin’s vapid concept of a meme

  • Gentleman G.M. Hagar

    Nice thinking. Love the concept of “memetic infection” and the connection to a kind of shamanism. This kind of mental-emotional disinfection and hygienic routine has a long history in spiritual work.

    • Matt Staggs

      I think so, too. I was trying to reference it in an off-handed way when I mentioned ritual as a possible curative measure. I’d love some links here if you’ve got a moment. Always eager to learn.

      • Gentleman G.M. Hagar

        Many “schools” have this idea that what we perceive of as reality and as self or mind are in fact fictions implanted in via language and symbol. Digitization of language, symbol, image, and narrative not only create a psychic environment where we are like the proverbial “fishes who don’t recognize water” (we are literally swimming in (dis) information, but also now the ability exists to ceaselessly manipulate, fragment, and transform these things at our pleasure. So, if “the false self” was a problem way back when people were chiselling stone and writing on vellum and speaking only in person, imagine the challenge now! I think the whole process is much more “magical” than we tend to imagine.

        Links – if I think of any I will post them here. Until then I will continue to blather.

        • Matt Staggs

          Please do!

      • jnana

        my personal curative measures involve a couple things.
        1. Don’t believe what you think
        2. Don’t be attached to your thoughts and ideas
        3. Pray for release from delusions and harmful thinking
        4. LOVE others, yourself, God and let nothing stop you from loving others, yourself and God. Not their attitudes, actions, not ideas, and not any circumstance. Nothing should stop you from loving.(doesn’t mean you will “feel love”, whatever that means)

    • Noah_Nine

      and the opposite…. propaganda….

  • pythagorasblak

    It seems to me like the meme is a symptom, or manifestation of the greater dis-ease, the Baudrillard-ian Spectacle, of which we are all increasingly apart of.

    • Matt Staggs

      Ah, now we’re breaking out the good stuff! Do go on!

    • Gentleman G.M. Hagar

      Wow, its been a long time since I spent time thinking about this stuff, but if I recall what you have here are two ideas (related) rolled into one. Baudrillard’s theory of simulacrum and DeBord’s Society of the Spectacle. This isn’t bad comparison of the two: http://goo.gl/kQ2HQ

      Anyway, as it relates to memes I suppose this is that they are simulations of communication / thought, which are problematic because as simulations go, it is virtually impossible to distinguish authentic thinking/communication from these simulations? Adding to the problem, that these simulations/models eventually (potentially) wind up obliterating the genuine article altogether (the metaphor of the map replacing the terrain)?

      • Nomi

        I’d not heard of the term pataphysics before but the blog link highlighted something I’ve been growing more aware of recently. The original article, blog and all these posts emphasize the growing distance between ourselves and ‘reality’ but I’d like to replace the word reality with ‘each other’. I’ve liberated my attention from the hyper reality of the society I’ve grown up in at times, and it’s not the memes and ideas I have a problem with exactly, it’s how much of a monopoly they are allowed to have in our day to day life and social relations.

        For instance, when was the last time you sat in a room with somebody and focused your *full* attention on them without a parade of thoughts, memories and emotions distracting you? No conversation necessarily, just attention? And then with the other person reciprocating? Much in the same way, how often do you read words on a screen in a monotone without overlaying your own emotional-ideological interpretation?

        I imagine there are some people who are inclined towards solitude and hardly ever get lonely, but for the most part social contact is an innate drive for us and can be a health risk if not remedied, and I see the ‘possession’ by memes as a barrier to effective communication and loving contact. As far as the ethics question A.M Davies raised below, when you start to believe everyone should pull out from hyper reality with no discretion, the whole thing goes full circle and becomes the original problem again. My personal moral code dictates that free will is paramount in choices such as these.

  • Tchoutoye

    I’m still waiting for a meme-blocker browser add-on that can filter user-specified sequences of text like ad blockers filter banners. Shouldn’t be that difficult but I’m not a coder.

    • Noah_Nine

      does this make grumpy cat some sort of familiar?

  • http://hormeticminds.blogspot.com/ Chaorder Gradient

    Excellent article Matt.

  • BuzzCoastin

    what you are describing are the effects of edumacation & culture
    any “meme” is a fixed point of view with wide cultural acceptance
    culture & edumacation solidify these abstract ideas into a concrete POV

    when I tested the memes I had been inculcated with
    I discovered many of them to be false
    which has enable me to live a much more interesting life
    than the life dictated by culture, edumacation & memes

    • Noah_Nine

      tt doesn’t have to be language though….. a meme can be a dance….

  • echar

    Excuse me while I make no sense at all. All concepts have meaning, and those meanings can be broken down into words or are sometimes just a word or symbol. Those words can be broken down into a letter, and that letter can be broken down into a pixel. Those pixels can have no meaning or be represent anything, as long as it is acknowledge that the person gives it power.

    The old, sometimes wise, and often rude Ducky M taught me this several years ago.

  • trompe l’oiel

    to answer your question, yes.

    the neo-shaman/ trans-personal parapsychologists in training are gaining their footing to prepare for the upcoming pandemic infection of what you so accurately describe.

    brilliant article.

    • Matt Staggs

      Thank you. I’d love to see any links you can share.

      • trompe l’oiel

        This is just an understanding gained from my own empirical undertakings and interactions with other sentient beings. But there are a few examples of modern shamanic initiation happening with greater frequency on the internet, I’ll try to find what I’m referencing.

      • zen shaman

        if i may say this. as a practicing shaman, in touch with other shaman around the world, in times present, past, and future. we are aware. we have been battling unseen forces for milennia. we are well aware of the current situation. for those who seek to psychically cleanse themselves, i will repeat this old zen saying. when the student is ready, the teacher appears.my site, for those who are interested, is zenshaman.com

      • trompe l’oiel

        Matt here is a great essay on what I was referring to. It resonated with me big time, I may not have had identical traumas, but the overall message is what matters.

        http://community.humanityhealing.net/group/shamanism/forum/topics/we-are-all-shamans-in-training

  • eyebeam

    I’ve come to this conclusion before. History is full of examples of “memecide,” such as the anti-Cathar Crusade in the Middle Ages, and the zealous pursuit of Communism in the late 20th century.

  • Cyprus Mulch

    The notion of “memetic exorcism” reminds me of the theory and practice of auditing in Scientology, wherein harmful memeplexes called “engrams” are identified and “exorcized” through repetition, until the formerly meme-infested subject becomes “clear” — and is then infected by Scientology with a legion of new memes to ensure hir loyalty to and reliance upon the Church. W.S. Burroughs thought that there were positive applications of such methods, but rejected the Church as a control organization. Burroughs himself later underwent an “exorcism,” of sorts, carried out in a Native American sweat lodge.

    What about full-blown memetic possession? Makes me think of Jung’s theory of archetypal possession, also the ancient Gnostic concept of Archons.

    I like the idea of inoculation via controlled exposure to toxic memes. Personally, I find that whenever I spent a significant amount of time “unplugged” from the Spectacle, afterward I find exposure to the shitstorm of banal corporate memes somewhat traumatizing. So small doses of toxic memes might prevent that kind of shock.

    Interesting article…looking forward to seeing where these ideas lead!

    • Noah_Nine

      if you see some of these young “fashion”-forward urban kids walking around they look like they are completely possessed by a whole host
      of memes… their entire idents become a randomly assorted variety of what’s hot right now….

      • Cyprus Mulch

        Sort of like the kids’ process of self-discovery/self-invention has been hijacked by corporate “culture”? Zombie consumerism?

        I wonder if the memetic possession is consensual, and then: if kids are inundated since birth with commercial media attempting to coerce them into being a good zombie consumer, is informed, free “consent” even possible?

    • King Christian Pierce

      Philip Farber

  • Alan Morse Davies

    Who decides which memes are good and which are toxic?

    Is it the majority?

    Is this sickness of toxic ideas a new thing? If so, when did it start?

    I would argue that memes are like viruses only in that we understand them very little and have never developed a cure for a single one.

    Ideas and viruses spread because we are social animals, that doesn’t make them comparable concepts, they just spread in a similar way. Ideas can be “treated” but history shows that we often make things much worse in doing so. What are the boundary lines between an idea, a personality and the genetics of the human that has them? How far would you go to treat “bad thinking”?

    If you were an extreme conservative using the same logic, you may see homosexuality as a meme. For the conservative you it’s bad thinking, it’s a choice and there’s a chance it might spread. How would you talk to the conservative you? Neither version of you has formed an opinion based on first-hand data, you have largely trusted others. If the conservative you is less intelligent than you, are his views less valid than yours? If his world view is based on less data than yours, are his views less valid?

    You cite “terrorism” as an example, yes it’s a marketed and manipulated meme, one of many thousands we all carry around with us. How we think of children, how we see the stars, how we see ourselves, how we see each other, how we see history, how we see a spoon.

    When you look at a spoon, do you perceive it in the same way as a Chinese girl in Kunming? Is it the same spoon? Yes I know this is trite but I’m trying to make a point.

    Everything we perceive is built on a lot of these shared ideas because humans generally prefer to agree if they can. Which ones should be removed? If we remove all received wisdom what is left? Or is there a date when we suddenly went bad?

    “Bad” ideas are not a disease, they’re a subjective difference of opinion and that’s really my problem with your argument.

    Judgement replacing dialogue. It’s extremely partisan. It’s a dehumanization of those that don’t agree with you and provides no path to a conversation.

    We continue to mutate, we will continually produce marginal people who produce a lot of change that benefits us. What you have made is the argument of the revengeful insecure, world domination stated meekly. Your argument, like some of the main players of WW2 is essentially totalitarian. You identify as liberal right?

    My prescription is to talk to more Chinese people who were not born in the U.S. and compare concepts, I’m serious. Please. You seem very limited. I’m inclined to introduce a counter-meme to correct your bad thinking, death sentence comes later, how else should I treat your bad thinking? It’s humane.

  • Alan Morse Davies

    Who decides which memes are good and which are toxic?

    Is it the majority?

    Is this sickness of toxic ideas a new thing? If so, when did it start?

    I would argue that memes are like viruses only in that we understand them very little and have never developed a cure for a single one.

    Ideas and viruses spread because we are social animals, that doesn’t make them comparable concepts, they just spread in a similar way. Ideas can be “treated” but history shows that we often make things much worse in doing so. What are the boundary lines between an idea, a personality and the genetics of the human that has them? How far would you go to treat “bad thinking”?

    If you were an extreme conservative using the same logic, you may see homosexuality as a meme. For the conservative you it’s bad thinking, it’s a choice and there’s a chance it might spread. How would you talk to the conservative you? Neither version of you has formed an opinion based on first-hand data, you have trusted others. If the conservative is less intelligent than you are his views less valid than yours? If his world view is based on less data than yours are his views less valid?

    You cite “terrorism” as an example, yes it’s a marketed and manipulated meme, one of many thousands we all carry around with us. How we think of children, how we see the stars, how we see ourselves, how we see each other, how we see history, how we see a spoon. Is history a 100% shared and agreed concept? When you look at a spoon, do you perceive it in the same way as a Chinese girl in Kunming?

    Everything we perceive is built on a lot of these shared ideas because humans generally prefer to agree if they can. Which ones should be removed? If we remove all received wisdom what is left? Or is there a date when we suddenly went bad?

    “Bad” ideas are not a disease, they’re a subjective difference of opinion and that’s really my problem with your argument.

    Judgement replacing dialogue. It’s extremely partisan. It’s a dehumanization of those that don’t agree with you.

    • jnana

      Plato declared that Truth is Truth and the Eternal Ideas are Reality. They exist on their own. All knowledge is remembering and anamnesis is how we can perceive clearly. I have my qualms about A Course In Miracles, but that book helped me to remember and gave me some tips on how I might go about remembering.

      • Andrew

        Plato was wrong.

        • jnana

          ya think so?
          how?

          • Alan Morse Davies

            Plato was wrong because his statement is magical, elevating human ideas to the immortal to fill the mental “god gap” left when someone raised to believe loses faith, as I guess he did.

          • jnana

            i don’t think he lost faith. I just think he experienced anamnesis and realized the Idea came first. “In the beginning was the Idea and the Idea was with god and the Idea was God”

    • Noah_Nine

      with memes it becomes a matter of asthetics…
      .

  • Nomi
  • Microhero

    The fact that our brains so easily acquire such “viruses” shows that they are probably usefull somehow, in a relational sense, despite their potential to also be harmfull. Maybe the social construct needs a dose of informed skepticism as well as one of blind acceptance from each induvidual, depending on their specific context. If you now look at the meme as bacteria rather than viruses you might speculate that as with our owns organisms some bacteria are harmflull while others are not only beneficial but essencial.

    The trick should be to figure out wich are wich but only to ourselves as others might grow sick or stronger from different pathogens than us.

  • Noah_Nine

    what separates a meme from a trend?

    • Noah_Nine

      mirriam webster says:
      MEME–: an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture….
      TREND–1 a line of general direction or movement 2a : a prevailing tendency or inclination : drift

  • Dan

    Such memetic exorcists already exist in the form of thinkers, authors, artists, filmmakers, musicians, and comedians. We see them in the deconstructionists of the memes as by way of innocuous internet memes and sketch comedy to something more sophisticated in the form of satire, cultural analysts, and (sombunal) stand-up comedians.

    General Semantics, as a field, is certainly a predecessor (or post hoc explanation) for a lot the modern forms of memetic exorcism. We owe a lot to a few people who didn’t forgo their sanity in the march towards modernism.

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