2015-09-01

模倣子 Anthropomorphicization and Cults of Personality in Social Conformity

It occurs to me that if I bring the doughnuts for Blue Shirt Tuesday and am too much perceived as being the arbiter of whether so-and-so's shirt is blue, or that I'm the "blue shirt police" such that when I'm not looking people feel all right taking a doughnut when I'm not around, it's a different type of memetic system than if would-be doughnut eaters and cheaters police themselves. It may be the difference between a law-based system and a shame-based system.

Spot the Big Other
If we consider a law-based society as opposed to a shame-based society, who is the big other in each case?  In the law-based scenario, perhaps it is me, the "doughnut-bringer", and if I'm not around, or if I can be "circumvented" then non-adherents can have their doughnuts and eat them, too. However, in a shame-based society, the big other is everybody else, i.e., all the other members of society who police and shame cheaters.

Is the latter always preferable?  Is there a situation in which an anthopomorphized (or even personal, as in the case of a cult of personality like around a religious leader, a dictator, a celebrity, an activist doughnut-bringer, etc.) big other is "preferable" to a diffuse one? Or to phrase it in a more useful way, are there memetic systems who function better or who are only able to function with a personalized big other?

Major Religions
An obvious example is religion, mainly "major" religions, e.g., Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Mormonism.  All of these have a prophet or promulgator figure whom adherents regularly quote and cite as the source of the rationales for their devotion. A family is similar, and this is perhaps not a coincidence, i.e., there is a parental figure which is the source of decisions, blessings, judgement, etc.  These systems have rules and laws, and these tend to be (or always are) couched as proceeding from the anthropomorphic big other.

Is there still "bullying" to maintain social conformity in the law-based system as well as the shame-based system? I think it's clear that the answer is affirmative. As with probably all bullying, the tenets, spoken and unspoken, of the society, give "permission" to the bully to attack the transgressor, and pulls in the "co-bullies" by a similar mechanism, to support the bully both logistically (by physically helping to attack the victim) and also by echoing the immunomemes invoked by the bully to give the bully the sought-after "memetic reward" or "memetic feedback", which is the ultimate objective of immunomemetic bullying.

Why Law-Based Systems?
My feeling is, of course, that a law-based system is a short cut through the development of a mature, strong memetic system, i.e., a stable shame-based system (like in places like China and Japan) takes a lot of time to settle in, to develop, and if you're already far behind, like the Roman Empire and Europe in general, you have to cheat. A bully in a shame-based system simply knows by experience what he will be allowed to get away with, i.e., what his fellow would-be bullies will support him on, and in what situation. The retribution of the victim/transgressor is irrelevant if the bully is confident that he has found a valid immunomeme for the given transgression, i.e., that he will hit a resonant chord guaranteed to garner the support of society at large, or, if you will, the favor of the big other.

Now, a law-based society facilitates the bully's task since it's simply written, possibly even in plain language, and there are lots of appointed uniform-wearing police to jump to his aid, in addition to any of his fellows who are aware of the laws. Of course purely shame-based, social bullying remains as an option, but in terms of quickly organizing a society that was previously fragmented and disordered, a law-based system is a life-saver. Where there are not enough shared immunomemes or a rich enough memetic system generally to form a "vigorous" society strong enough to oppose, make war against, or colonize some given other society, laws can fill in the gaps efficiently, assuming that a law-based mentality (itself a memetic sub-system) can first be inculcated.

What's the Catch?
Law-based systems are a time-saver, a cheat, an end run around the memetic evolutionary timeline required to inject/develop a strong, stable, purely shame-based memetic system. However, it's not all positive, that is, there is a price to be paid. By abstracting the big other away from "the people", i.e., the idea that every other member of society is watching you and waiting to bully you, and also the more subtle idea that "everybody else really is a good citizen, and nobody but me does these bad things [in private]", you lose this sense of how it's impossible to escape the judgement of the big other.  It becomes possible, as I said, to "get away with it when the big other/police/government/the boss/et al is not looking" or to conspire with sympathetic, like-minded non-conformists behind closed doors, again, where the big other  cannot see.

Perhaps this is part and parcel, i.e., that adherence to the big other, whether it be democracy, religion, a job at a given corporation, and so on, is a choice, expressed by the real fact that one may withdraw that choice at any time or that it has limited scope, e.g., I only have to wear a tie when I'm actually at work, or whatever. It may be that this has tremendous power. If I know that I'm deciding to participate, and may quit anytime I like, the decision becomes conscious and probably more committed. One implication of this is that the choice must be constantly re-enforced and re-iterated by the system in order to keep members from leaving.

Another trade-off is the opportunity for fanaticism, which is something I see elsewhere in memetics and find useful explanations for. The big other is a separate quasi-individual whose favor one attempts to curry, is someone one may plead with, which is impossible in the faceless judgement of a shame-based society. The anthropomorphized big other is a justification for collective action, or personal deviant action, i.e., novel action, which if the big other approves, may be carried out.

God may be a justification for anything...even taking a doughnut when you're not supposed to.

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