2015-11-09

模倣子 What Does It Mean to be "Mean"?

My theory is that telling a joke, a friendly greeting, saying something nice, or a cutting remark are all examples of the same thing: expression of a meme, or an imitated action.

Even if the speech event seems to be "original", it's still really cobbled together from well-known building blocks of conventionality.

Successfully expressing a meme gives a reward to the person doing it. It also gives a reward to the people who respond to it. That is why humans imitate each other -- there is a reward, some kind of pleasurable feedback that comes with doing so1.

I characterize the first three, the nice ones, as being "signal memes" while the last would always in theory be an "immunomeme". The difference is that a signal meme serves to reënforce that the expresser and the receiver are both members of the same memetic system (or memeplex), in other words that they share a common culture or ideology. An immunomeme is a response to an alien meme, or one not part of the given meme system, and it's function is to shut down expression of alien memes in order to protect the memetic system from being contaminated and perhaps damaged or destroyed. A religion for instance has lots of definitions for things like "heresy" and has stock responses that believers and clergy are able to make when they encounter these enemy memes.

However, one can see the possibility of a so-called "glutton for punishment" or someone who is masochistic in seeming to invite abuse in the form of immunomemes or even action memes consisting of physical violence or denial of needed resources, etc. The point is that friendly, nice exchanges and mean, cruel ones are really two examples of the same thing in the world of memes. The are both forms of memetic interaction with the rest of society. The truly different is the state of being ignored, where one has no access to memes, or only a very limited set of memes, to interact with the society in which one finds oneself. Examples might be invalids, mentally disabled people in institutions, and possibly prisoners (there may be some particularly telling examples here). The example of deeply marginalized and isolated groups of poor immigrants has also been put forward by Slavoj Žižek2.

In any case, theoretically, being ignored is a very different thing than being abused or oppressed, though they might appear similar in their effect on the individual.

Back to immunomemes and masochism, the art world is perhaps an extreme and interesting example, since there is an entire class of people, the art dealers, critics, publishers, etc., whose entire existence is to decide whether to accept and validate or to bully and deprecate every given person or piece of art that is produced.  Again, obscurity is the hell of not even being harshly criticized or "dismissed". A "dismissive" review is much different, and one could argue, far better, than simply being ignored. Some artists go to great lengths to get "noticed" even if the notice paid them is less than charitable.

The artists themselves play an interesting role, as well. Their whole purpose is to shovel out "art" to be judged by the "judging community" and perhaps only after this, the public at large. The Internet Web may have changed this, i.e., provided a direct pipeline to the public, or it may have not. Artists' work is adjudged "good" which usually means "orthodox, but not an obvious copy of something else that was also orthodox" or "bad" (for the same reasons). It is, it seems, easier to be a "knock-off artist" than a true "innovator". The former may be judged against a preëxiting standard, and, more importantly, the whole inventory of memes, e.g., commentary, descriptions, comparisons, comments of appreciation or of dislike, etc., may all be brought to bear, and so the memetic fabric, i.e., the collection of all of the minds in the Art World, may glom on to the knock-off artist's warmed over dreck with next to no effort, while there is no immediate and handy reaction to what the innovator provides, hence, no way to say if it is "good" or not, which really only means that it takes time to form a reaction to it, and there is lots of competition in the memesphere between new memes for reaction to other innovative works. Hence a work may "fail" due to "competition" from other works for the primary reason that it takes more time and effort on the part of the collective minds of the Art World to form a reaction to the given new piece of artwork than others coming out at the same time, and thus goes under-noticed because of a kind of "memetic starvation", i.e., people "can't figure out how to talk about it" (quickly enough).


1This, by the way, may be a route to scientific proof of part of the Theory of Memetics, i.e., if some kind of measurable brain response takes place in response to imitation, that is, expression of a meme, then that may provide the physical proof of this "memetic reward" phenomenon.
2c.f., The Pervert's Guide to Ideology (movie)

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