People aren't "mean".
I'll say it again. People aren't "mean".
They aren't really "robots" either, or even "sheep". Sheep don't pretend to be intelligent as they flock around with each other, following the alpha-sheep or his human replacement.
When humans bully each other (and I'll cover this more elsewhere), or are "mean" to one another, it's really in response to memetic pressure and the perception of memetic "opportunities" which give a memetic "reward" which consists of deploying an immunomeme, i.e., something that blocks what the victim is trying to do, and which other people accept for one, and even better resonate with.
It's equivalent to others laughing at one's joke. Not laughing at one's joke is not really immunomemetic, but a still worse response, i.e., apathy, ignoring the victim, alienation. At least if somebody attacks you, they are paying attention to you, using you at a way to get a "memetic orgasm" that, without you, would not be possible.
If we posit the idea of a memetic reward, or a memetic orgasm of some kind that motivates people to imitate, and that imitation can consist of regurgitating some kind of ultimately conservative (with respect to the given subgroup) imitation of an established "appropriate" speech even or action, then we can get a whole new view of bullying, prudery, oppression, racism, sexism, nationalism, xenophobia, homophobia, and so on.
Otherwise we're still in the zone of "the Devil made me do it", the problem of Evil, "it's because of the Patriarchy" or other such imaginary explanations, or at least explanations -- they don't really deserve the title of "theories" -- that are non-extensible. For example, will bad things happen to me and my family if we decide to move to Cleveland? If we go and light candles in the church, or give lots of money to the church, will that obviate these bad outcomes? Or exceptions are hard to account for. If the Patriarchy idea dictates that all men want to keep women down and deprive them of economic self-determination, but then a man makes a substantial donation to the local midwife advocacy group, how do we categorize that? If midwifery is good for women, then that man has helped women, but if in some alternate reality hospital obstetrics are better for women, then he has effectively set women back, i.e., oppressed them as men are meant to do, but his intention was still to help and his contribution was real.
The problem seems to be the idea of intention. If we ask, "why are people so mean?" then we are really question-begging, because we really want to ask what causes their actions, and we are mixing up this idea that they have an intention to be mean, or a "mean disposition". We then further beggar the question with statements such as "I know people are not evil, so why to they act so mean?" or "If people are mean, then it must just mean that they are evil". We then engage in no end of hand-wringing about racism and sexism and religious intolerance, etc.
If we throw out this myth of "intention" and just look at how most people are sometimes mean to others, but other times not, and what factors cause this to happen sometimes and not others.
Memetics theory to the rescue! I further posit that "immunomemes" are imitated actions that act in response to "novel" memes (actions) evinced by outsiders or "deviant" members of the group infected with the given memetic system. We can perhaps examine also how concepts as "power" and "abuse of power" may be explained by this illumination. I propose that immunomenes always take the form of bullying behavior, i.e., abuse of an individual in a socially acceptable manner, and against which the victim cannot retaliate.
Why do people deploy immunomemes? Precisely because they can. Just like telling a joke and having people laugh. If one has a joke and one perceives that the people around would be receptive, then they laugh at the joke, which is a memetic response on their part, and their making an expected and validating response to the joke teller gives the feedback that "you did it right" or "you imitated it successfully" and the concommittant memetic reward, i.e., a postive pleasurable rush.
Telling a joke is a variety of "signal meme" i.e., a unit of imitation, a quantum of imitation which hopefully resonates with the target individual(s), to evince a response. There are a number of possible responses, e.g., emitting another signal meme, or an immunomene, or an action meme, or having a physiological reaction such as laughing or crying, or going into a new "memetic state", i.e., a state in which a new set of memes are now available, e.g., the recognition that we are all biologists, Christians, Republicrats, etc., and that it is safe to use a specific set of memes that would not otherwise be good to use.
This is a version of the way that social bullying works in the larger society, and how things like racism and sexism works. American society is prudish and sex-negative because Americans are allowed to deploy shaming (bullying) memes in cases that would not occur to people in other cultures. Memes to do with nudity, gender relations, child-rearing and so on all have a large set of very specific memes (and some general ones, which I term "omniphagic immunomemes"). Examples include "I can't be a slut", "I can't telephone a man", "hitting your kid is bad", "bathing with your kid is perverse", "if the kid has teeth or can ask for it, then should shouldn't breastfeed them", "you shouldn't enjoy breastfeeding", "you have to be married to have sex/children", "everything is oppressive sexism against women", "men are sex maniacs (and women aren't)", "women are 'objectified' (and men aren't)", "male infant circumcision is fine, even good (and female circumcision is perfectly horrible)", and so on and so forth.
All of these represent immunomenes which may be deployed to bully "deviant" members of society, and they work because they resonate with the other members of society, including the victim. So immunomemes are ultimately conservative in nature, i.e., they keep the society, the meme system (or "memeplex") stable and unchanging, or at least changing only slowly.
In a future installment I want to discuss the difference between immunomemetic bullying and being ignored and how the former is actually inclusive while the latter is exclusive. I also want to cover how things like race and sex and "memetically sticky" and so memes are attached to them which are effectively being broadcast all the time which can invite the deployment of sexist and racist immunomemes without the victim actually doing anything, and how this is also actually an inclusive phenomenon (although nonetheless oppressive). In other words, oppression can (and perhaps always does -- this requires further theoretical development) actually include a group in the larger society, albeit in a victim role, as opposed to alienating them completely, which could lead to things like genocide (more theory needed here, and even still this might be an inclusive phonemenon).