Shared & Unshared Collections of Word-Memes
Clearly all sentences of the pertinent language form a superset of the set of all utterances which make up the signal memes and immunomemes of a given memetic system, or memeplex. Here I mean all valid, i.e., both syntactically correct and meaningful sentences.
This is a fairly prosaic statement, but it may point to an experimental method to measure the degree of incursion of a given meme system, or even the topology of the memeplexes within a given memetic fabric2. Put another way, there are collections of people who communicate with one another, who are in memetic contact (as opposed to memetically connected) by geological collocation, shared language, etc., i.e., they have the potential to share memes since they share MIAOs. Having said that, there may be a large number of MIAOs which are not shared, e.g., special vocabulary, religions iconography, class and other differences in access to resources, special health and body issues, and so forth, with the general population. These may anchor "private" memes (as opposed to "contact" memes) or exposed memes in a novel fashion.
Memetically Resonant Cohort
Notwithstanding, such a cohort has the potential to exchange memes freely, even if in practice they do not. Memetically connected people have memetic resonances whereby the memes one individual deploys resonates, or provokes an expected response in (this concept requires further development) but it's an exchange in which both parties experience a memetic reward (or memetic orgasm). This is a practical definition, perhaps the practical definition, of a memetic system, a connected memetic network, is that all of the members have the potential for sharing a memetic reward. This, by the way, has the potential for illuminating things like entrenched racism, sexism, and religious hostility. Even though groups are nominally at odds with one another, they still have a wealth of memes that they may exchange, and so are in a highly-connected and complexly functioning memetic system intimately involving both groups. Perhaps this is the approach to take to dismantle such systems of oppression.
Isolating the Memetic Web of Words
Back to the original topic, i.e., words as the most basic memes (or MIAOs) of a memetic system and therefore a relevant point of entry into rigorous analysis of same. Why MIAOs rather than just memes? Why make a word into an object rather than just letting it be an action, i.e., an act of imitation? It may not, in fact, be an important distinction in terms of this analysis. Words act together in concert, that is, a word may not be arbitrarily connected to other words. Having said that there are four types of grammatical objects:
- bound grammatical morphemes
- unbound grammatical morphemes
- bound lexical morphemes
- unbound lexical morphemes
Two Distinct Networks
It's worthwhile to make a point here, and that is that there are two networks at play in this discussion. One is the collection of all people, all minds, which are able to communicate with one another, which do communicate with one another, presumably forming connected graphs, "islands", or "continents" in the set of all minds in a population and their possible connections. The other is the connections between memes, i.e., which memes act as signal memes for others, which memes cause memetic resonances and rewards between individuals, which memes are evokes by others (usually in conjunction with a memetic reward), and so forth. In the first case, it's probably fairly easy to define the network in question, indeed, there are probably armies of marketing people and others working to do just that, i.e., identify which people talk to which and what TV shows they watch and what media they read (if any). In the second case, we have to establish some definitions, e.g., what constitutes a pair of connected memes, e.g., appearing in the same text, proximal in speech events, used by the same people, and so forth. Perhaps all of these definitions produce the same results -- at this point this is an unknown. The second is identifying how, in a practical, mechanical sense, we may tease out memes from a body of media, a collection of speech events and bodies of text and so on. A sentence? A clause? A paragraph or the body of an entire text even? Or perhaps it's useful to consider an individual word to be a meme, since that's why we have words in the first place, i.e., as minimal elements of imitatable, transmissible meaning. But what we really care about are the networks between these memes, e.g., what sentences they appear in together (or, if you prefer, which clauses), which paragraphs, which documents, which collections of documents. Any of those above the word level may be thought of as an increasingly large (and complex) memeplex.
So, we are perhaps getting closer to a methodology for identifying these networks of memes. Some questions leap to mind:
- Is the network a directed graph? (it seems likely)
- are immunomemes all omniphagic4 or are some more like antibodies? (targeted to a specific enemy/invader meme)
There is a phenomenon I like to call contact memes. One trivial example is the clothing worn by religious groups, e.g., Mormon missionaries wearing white shirts and ties and riding bicycles in pairs, orthodox Jews wearing black and hats and forelocks, or Muslim women wearing scarfs or burkas. These are the memes (or MIAOs) presented to the world, perhaps consistently so, but where do these memes fit into the memetic system of the members of the groups deploying them? Are they "important" memetic subsystems of the group, or not? How much does that matter? Do these constitute an interface between the subgroup and other groups?
Attacking (and Defending) the Hubs
If we can identify a morphology of memes in texts, and of memetic systems, then we can begin to mechanically extract them from texts and identify the memetic webs that contain them. At that point we can begin to identify things like memetic hubs, i.e., the memes that are most central to the memetic system(s), and in the case of systems of oppression like racism and sexism, or harmful political movements like Naziism, target those hubs with the possibility of dismantling them. My assumption is that memetic webs, in both forms, i.e., the web of humans exchanging memes in resonance, and the web of memes interacting with one another, are scale-free networks. Scale-free networks, while very resilient against random destruction of their nodes, however, if a focused attack on their hubs is carried out, they tend to collapse, break into disconnected islands, quite quickly.
Another facet of this way of thinking is a clash between cultures, to take a very relevant example, the confrontation between the United States and China (and also India). Each culture can be seen a challenged by the other to adapt their economic system, their educational system, their social system to avoid being overrun by the other, whatever that means. It could mean producing goods better and more cheaply, invading the other culture with images, icons, even language, and so forth, that make the other culture the "driver" culturally, economically, or what-have-you. First off, there is whether a given culture is very competitive in the first place. There are few countries that are big enough and well-organized enough with sufficient economic and cultural output to challenge the United States on any serious level. China, India, Russia, Europe, and possibly Japan are perhaps a complete list.
Is US culture "flexible" enough to adapt? For example, China and India have the (deserved) reputation for treating women horribly, and America has a slightly better, if far from perfect record. However, it may be the case that the structure of Chinese and Indian society allows them to very quickly allow women to step from a condition of chattel to full equality in employment, education and social standing, thereby doubling their workforce and intellectual capacity overnight. America may find the need, facing the gigantic populations of Asia, she needs to do the same but cannot. The misogynist memes may be too strongly anchored, perhaps to the "God meme" which cannot be easily dismantled, hence, America finds herself stuck.
The "God meme" merits examination, moreover. It is undoubtedly a "hub" of the American memetic system, indeed of Western culture generally. This could be a great vulnerability, since most respect for the law, indeed, the whole concept of law itself, is anchored to the "God meme". In the East, however, things like laziness, criminality, pollution, prostitution are anchored to various much more concrete memetic subsystems such as loyalty to family, work ethic, pride of work, national and ethnic pride, the historical destiny of the nation, nostalgic iconic cultural traditions, a body of literature and other cultural artifacts, and so forth. Two points here: in the latter case the supporting memes are both concrete and not easily uprooted as well as diverse, while in the former it's arguably abstract and very central. If the "God meme" is successfully attacked, the whole structure could fall apart. This may mean that there is a huge amount of immunomemology dedicated at all levels of the system to the defense of this central concept. Japan and China need no such defense. Family loyalty, hard work, love of tradition and culture are such that if they somehow disappeared from Japanese or Chinese culture, that country would cease to exist or at least no longer be recognizable.
One could argue that if the "God meme" were erased from American society it would be little noticed. A lot of high-value real estate would become available, a tiny number of people would become unemployed, and some 50%-70% of people would have a few extra hours free one day per week. And a huge number of people would become nihilists and lose all motivation for behaving morally. Could they find a new reason quickly, or would the society collapse completely, or a more virulent and stable society step in and take over?
The point is that the "God meme" may be an example of something that makes American society inflexible. How do you introduce the idea that prostitution is okay, that woman should be able to work and study as equals, that homosexuals and minorities should be treated well, that people in general should be more free and able to explore different lifestyles and ideas, if those ideas are blocked by a giant, overarching meme such as the "God meme" without dismantling said meme in the process? Especially if that meme is also (as is almost always the case) an anchor for a huge number of vitally important other memes, such as honesty, hard work, not stealing and killing, caring for one's family, and so on?
An analysis of memetic networks would hopefully provide answers to questions like these. How are memetic systems, i.e., the guiding systems of entire cultures, organized, structured, where are their strengths and weaknesses, and so on?
As Slavoj Zezik points out, an inability of one group to access a prevailing ideology is the basis for outbursts of violence. Systems of oppression such as entrenched racism and sexism are not this sort of ideological alienation, but rather the opposite. We see in sexism against women in America, and also racism against African Americans and other people of color, a great deal of internalized oppression in which the oppressed group is not only oppressed by the oppressor group, but also by themselves, internally. In other words, there is not only a web of inter-group memes that maintain the oppression, but a great number of intra-group (on all sides) memetic exchanges.
1 MIAO = Memetic Iconic Anchoring Object
2 the collection of minds in a given community
3 a group of persons (mind) inured of the same memeplex, i.e., which resonate with a large set of shared memes
4 immunomemes which may be deployed in fairly generic contexts against non-specific threats, e.g., "that'll never work", "the boss won't like that", "everybody'll think you're a whore", "that's never been tried before", "that's been tried before", etc.