2016-08-04

模倣子 The Memetic Orgy of Pretendianism

Index of Memetic Materials

A Quick Overview
Pretendians are people, typically Americans, who pretend to be Native Americans. My purpose here is to apply memetic analysis to this behavior and sub-culture. There are a number of principles, both macro-memetic and micro-memetic(1), which apply here. I'd like to focus on memetic rewards(2), memes that govern the contacts between groups, and those that defend groups against incursion.

What do pretendians get out of pretending to be members of another culture? Either from the culture they are coöpting, their culture of origin, or both? Also, importantly, in what ways does their behavior allow them to coërce benefits from the coöpted culture, or from their own?

Memetic Rewards of an Alien Culture
There is an interesting set of memetic rewards available to the individual who sets out to engage with an alien culture. Moreover, these rewards are free of many of the costs and risks associated with successfully procuring rewards within one's own culture. Things like speaking the language or enacting basic memes such as procuring food, clothing, gestures, etc., bring very little in terms of memetic reward within one's native culture(6) and indeed the improper enactment of these memes brings painful immunomemetic responses(7). A foreigner, however, often receives very great rewards early on for showing even an attempt to enact the local language or customs. The fact that they are a foreigner is tied to this -- it's effectively the definition of being a foreigner. This may actually lead to a reliably obtained "memetic orgy", i.e., where most every meme enactment by the interloper receives a strong (and typically positive) response. This reward is doubled if one can then turn around and pretend to be a "native" to one's own mainstream culture, and thereby get the same rewards and avoid the immunomemetic pitfalls from that direction as well.  Indeed, one can more or less freely pick and choose which rewards one will seek and which penalties for "anti-social" behavior one will avoid from this position, which is quite desireable indeed.

We could venture into "beliefs" such as those that might allegedly be held by natives and in-group (mainstream) people, along the lines of "this person values my culture at a similar level to their own" or "this person is willing to make an effort to reach out to us" or "this person looks like one of us, but they really aren't [so it's okay']" or "it would be racist/pretentious/not nice/risking censure to challenge their claims of being native" or "it's nifty that I know a native person now -- that means I'm not a racist myself" and so on. Memetically speaking, such anthropomorphized "beliefs" are not very useful in illuminating the dynamics of the situation, but as memes, they are, since they work for the pretendian by shutting down challenges to their claims and allowing them to secure what would otherwise be a rather "odd" position, usually mainly held within their own culture.

The Interface Between the Pretendian and Real Natives
I'm working on a few new sub-types of signal memes which have to do with interactions between groups, between memetic systems and the cohorts that support them. The form that these sets of memes take could have bearing on how a group responds to interlopers, and may show that some cultures are more invasive than others, some more resistant, and even that these two properties may be mutually exclusive.

One issue is contact memes, i.e., the memes that outsiders readily see and associate with in-group members, e.g., clothing and behavior, including manners of speaking. Depending on the culture, the contact memes may not be closely identified with by members of the in-group, i.e., they are important only to outsiders. There may be things that members of the group do or say all the time, e.g., wearing tiny backpacks, saying "ou bien" at the end of every sentence, or riding around in pairs on bicycles with neckties and short-sleeved white shirts. Japanese girls may recognize one another as Japanese when abroad by their tiny backpacks, while others might not. Also, the Swiss may well not recognize that they say "ou bien" at the end of many of their sentences, or indeed recognize other Swiss folk by this trait, but the French recognize them and use this characteristic to indicate Swissness, while Americans might not recognize this trait as Swiss-indicative. And while everybody assumes Mormon missionaries are about upon clapping eyes on the bikes and neckties, the Mormons themselves may not consider that to be their most defining trait, indeed, the traits they see about themselves as defining may be almost totally unknown to outsiders.

Much like a camouflaging parasite, such as a cuckoo bird or an ant spider, a pretendian, moreso than being able to enact the actual memes of the memeplex of any Native American tribe, may be able to enact the contact memes of Native Americans vis-à-vis mainstream (e.g., ethnic Northern European) culture. Indeed, in mainstream culture the distinctions between individual tribes might not even be recognizable by the average mainstream person. An outsider blandly accepts what a cohort member might find silly or offensive, e.g., confusing Canadians and Americans, lumping all English speakers in as Americans, treating Coke and Pepsi as indistinguishable, mixing up the States of Idaho, Ohio, and Iowa (いや、オハイオで御座いませんが、アイダホ州で御座います(笑), or the countries of Thailand and Taiwan, Switzerland and Sweden, or Austria and Australia. The in-groupers can decide to be offended, make fun, or let it go, depending upon how much weight their umbrage carried, which in the case of natives, is not much. If the out-groupers have been getting it wrong from the start then they may not be motivated to change, and in such a case they will continue to be susceptible to charlatans.

It's not hard to convince people that you are an Indian (or French, or Canadian, or Japanese, or a PhD in Biology, or whatever) if the people people you're trying to convince have a very simple set of contact memes toward the group of which you're pretending to be a member. If a French or Swiss person thinks I'm Swiss or French because of the way I speak French and what I know about their culture, that's one thing, but it's much less of a coup to convince a typical Idahoan or Japanese person of the same.

Contact memes also have another extreme incarnation, and that is where the contact meme is firmly implanted in the minds of (the memetic inventories of) outsiders, but not at all in the memetic inventory of in-group members. One can see how this can easily happen and how it is expression of bigotry against peoples of different races, religions, genders, or regions.  For example the Joe Piscapo sketch from Saturday Night Live, "Oh, you from Jersey? I'm from Jersey! What exit?" The joke is that people from New Jersey identify where they live by which exit is closest on the New Jersey Turnpike.  From what I gather from my friends who are from New Jersey is that no one from Jersey says this and that they find it offensive. But if I didn't have friends from Jersey, I could just as well assume it to be absolutely true. Stereotypes would seem to be related to this, to these memes that evince a strong response in out-groupers to recognize in-group members, or that in-groupers are being referenced. As with all memes, there is nothing guaranteeing that these be logical, consistent, kind, or remotely accurate.

Another is reaction memes, that is, memes that trigger in-group members to go into a different memetic state, or change the current memetic inventory available to them. The presence or non-presence of a perceived out-grouper could be such a trigger. Another SNL reference is Eddie Murphy's sketch where he played an African-American man who put on "whiteface" and went among white (ethnic Northern European) people and found that, as the joke went, white people completely change their behavior when the last non-white person leaves the bus, room, etc. It becomes a party, everybody is open and nice to one another, and so on. This is often a component of racist narratives, by the way, that one group or the other, usually both each in their own way, has some kind of "secret life" which may only come into being when no members of other groups are present. This can center around race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, and so, and conjures images of shared intimacies, orgies even, kindness, relaxing of harsh rules which are in full force when other groups are around.

Reaction memes are those that tell the members of the memetic cohort to change their memetic inventory, either to go into a state of not being able to enact some of the memes they normally would, or to have a larger or different set of memes that they now can in the new state.

The idea is that given a certain memetic state, the individual has the opportunity to deploy certain memes based on their perceived chance of garnering memetic rewards, which is a physiological gratification response (also somewhat light-heartedly known as a "memetic orgasm"). There are a couple of problems here: one is that the individual's assessment of a chance for reward may be wrong, and they may not be perfectly skilled at deploying the meme which would otherwise net said reward.

This is all ultimately based to some degree on individual choice. I have memes that I am able to enact, and I have have skill in enacting them (timing, dexterity, voice control, etc.) and I have to judge what memetic state the group is in, which determines which of the memes I have at my disposal are appropriate at the given moment, assuming I have sufficient cultural knowledge. Judging the memetic state is a skill, like any other, like throwing an object at a target, juggling, judging the sexual receptiveness of another person, and so on. With other people, like with sex, it's about assessing their willingness to take risks in the hope of receiving a reward themselves, given circumstances, and with assessing those circumstances, including the possibility of changing those circumstances favorably.

So it's not about determinism, per se, it's more about enhancing the granularity of analysis. Rather than saying that somebody "feels" a certain way, we  talk about the inventory of memes that they are able to enact, and how that inventory is governed by current circumstances as well as the inventory of memes that other people might choose to enact.

Interface memes are those memes which are shared between two groups, and which they can exchange in one way or the other, or both. This is nothing to do with peacefully or happily, but only the "memetic vocabulary" that one group may deploy against another, and vice versa. There may be very few that go both ways (like a greeting), and an important thing is that interface memes may stimulate reaction memes on both sides, but they are almost certainly different reaction memes, and this is an important point (and related to shared MIAOs as well). Memes enacted by one group can trigger the reaction memes in another group, putting them into a certain state, e.g., more receptive, less receptive, "hostile", etc.

If there are few reaction meme systems available to be stimulated by interface memes from another group, then we are in a state of alienation or memetic destitution.  That is, the groups cannot interact with one another at a memetic level, and this leads to violence, and possibly...apathy.  Note that memetic destitution is not the same thing as oppression. A group may be oppressed vis-à-vis another and still have a rich interplay of interface memes between the groups. The oppressed group may be denied freedom, access to services and basic necessities, but not (yet) be in a state of memetic destitution.  This is the theory, at any rate, and more research on the relationship and interplay between these factors, including apathy, would almost certainly be useful.

Shared MIAOs are another important concept, particularly as concerns racism, stereotyping, and cultural coöption. MIAOs are objects to which memes may be attached, that is, they invoke memes when they appear. This is where the sometimes fine line between memes and "iconic objects" comes in. An object or image such as a coffee cup, a cat (or a caricature of one), a swastika, a dreamcatcher, a totem pole, feathers, buckskin clothing, sweat lodges, etc., are clearly not memes since they cannot be "imitated". One could draw or make one, but that is not imitating the object itself. But what do we mean by a meme being "attached" or "anchored" to an object? We could say that when a person is exposed to a MIAO, there are all sorts of memes attached to that MIAO, and if they are interface memes or reaction memes for the memetic state that person is in, then the MIAO can effectively trigger those reaction memes.

Some of the contact memes of mainstream society toward Native American culture are the different memes which they attach to Native American iconography, or MIAOs. Mainstream culture, and this is true of most cultures in their attitudes towards most other cultures, recognizes some, potentially quite a few, Native Americans symbols as being Native American...without understanding their meaning to Native American culture or Native Americans themselves.

A quick aside: I took my French cousin and his visiting coworker around the corner to a Mexican convenience store in Los Angeles to buy a 3-pack of Twinkies®. It is illuminating that I was able to ask for Twinkies® in Spanish and was directed to them, i.e., that they were among the products stocked in this particular store, since it illustrates the degree to which the iconic snack, a MIAO, is ingrained in American culture, regardless of language and subculture. I ceremoniously got out a plate, set out the cakes, and we each picked one up and bit into it. The response from the French delegation was "Euh, c'est pas bon, ça" to which I replied that that was precisely the point, yes, it may not be good to eat, but that they needed to know what this thing was in order to understand much of American cultural references and as much as 70% of any stand-up comedy show they might see. I had not set up a memetic exchange with my cousin and his friend, in which I was inviting them to enjoy a (sacred) piece of American culture, but rather a metamemetic exchange, in which we were discussing culture from outside it, from the standpoint of a shared context. Now they have the knowledge of the cultural icon from that perspective, not from the perspective of having grown up with Twinkies®, but a kind of "crash course" in their place in American culture. They can now interact with Americans, looking like they know something about Twinkies®, able to laugh knowingly, able to make references, etc., but perhaps more significant to our example, they are much better equipped to front to other French people back in France about their knowledge of America and support their own credibility. If they were to mention Twinkies® to a friend in France, that friend would likely have never heard of them, nor have any idea how important they are to Americans. The friend might dismiss this information, or store it away, only to discover upon visiting America or talking with an American that the Twinkie® is a MIAO with a rich and widespread set of memes shared by most all Americans. The point is that my cousin or his hypothetical friend back home, while being able to seem more knowledgeable about American culture to Americans, possibly, would definitely be able to seem more knowledgeable about America to other French people merely by knowing that this MIAO, the Twinkie®, exists at all. "Ah, oui, les Twinkies®, les américaines en sont friands, carrément," and no one could contest it, indeed, they would feel foolish even trying.

By the same token, a pretendian can pretend to know about totem poles, dreamcatchers, teepees (tipis), buffalo, long houses, bows and arrows, sweat lodges, frybread, feathers, buckskins, a native word or expression here and there, you name it, regardless of whether these are all from different regions and tribes (they are) or what their cultural significance to the given tribe they happen to really be from, and it doesn't matter, since mainstream culture doesn't know and probably doesn't care. Moreover, a member of mainstream culture might only recognize a small portion of the total iconography (MIAOs) coöpted by a given pretendian, but would be even more impressed that said pretendian seemed to know more Native iconography than they themselves, even if said iconography were wrongly portrayed or even invented from whole cloth. Yes, if one can make oneself appear to be a subject expert to the uninitiated by enacting a few familiar memes or invoking a familiar MIAO or two, then additional material (even of dubious origin) may well serve to make one appear more of an expert, not less.

Pretendians as an Ersatz Priestly/Rabbinical Class
By vaunting their supposed knowledge of Native Culture (as apposed to a native culture -- important distinction), the pretendian paints themself [sic] as a subject expert. As we've seen, this puts the pretendian in a position of being able to define what Native Culture is for their uninformed fellow in-group members, who may have no prior knowledge and indeed, no interest in trying to inform themselves otherwise.

As such, do pretendians perform the function of packing the memespace(17)? The coöption of another, minority, deprecated culture tends to put the coöpters in the position of dictating and elaborating the details of the coöpted culture, the meaning of iconography (MIAOs) and the use of words and customs and so on, vis-à-vis the mainstream. African-American culture is legendary for how it is invaded and coöpted, with words, culture, and images taken and used by outsiders.

Parodies of the prevailing ideology provide interesting contrast, as in Monty Python's parody voices of Americans in The Meaning of Life. One can choose not to be offended, since everybody knows it's a joke anyway. Or it's taken seriously, as when China, or France, or Russia, or Saudi Arabia (or the Arab World generally), or any large powerful country, raises an objection about something some individual or other country did or said, since everybody hears about it and understands the whole context since it's important that they do so because the offended group is perfectly able to take action to set things straight. None of these are true of native groups.

Invasion of the Culture Snatchers
Another thing that may be relevant is a given culture's sensitivity to invasion by outsiders. All cultures have immunomemes to protect themselves from disintegration, and these bring with them a certain amount of xenophobia. An imperialist/colonialist culture needs to have a strong identity, and by extension, xenophobia, in order to push into other cultures and subvert them to their own designs without being altered by them. This includes language, of course, and nationalist/imperialist movements invariably involve suppression of regional dialects and often language standardization. All groups of people hate some other group or groups of other people, and this is typically a neighboring country or tribe. An altogether alien (out-group) person coming in from nowhere with an alien agenda is able to trade on the fact that they trigger none of the in-group defenses against already-hated other groups as well as any of the memes which in-group members deploy toward other in-group members. This may allow them to do some memetic hacking and discuss in-group culture from without. It is not so much that they "fit in" well as that they fail to trigger any of the defenses of the given (native) culture.

Some cultures may not "care" very much about the incursion of interlopers. Japan seems to be quite welcoming until one starts to get fairly far into the language and culture, whereas the French seem to be the opposite, prickly at the outset, but welcoming once one makes an effort at learning the language and understanding the culture. That may make the French quite inclusive, and the Japanese may not "take seriously" most assimilation attempts, since they may regard the outsider as fundamentally alien and therefore incapable of ever truly participating in their society. To put things in memetic terms, some cultures have a strong set of immunomenes around their language (the French are probably an example -- if you can't speak French, forget it), while others may be racist such that the out-group interloper's physical appearance is the attachment site (MIAO) for a set of memes that set them apart permanently. Another may be that the culture may be very complex, and improper enactment of the entire framework may deny inclusion. This may be Japan again, and oddly enough, perhaps America (which also revolves heavily around linguistic immunomemes). Both countries are profoundly racist, but being of the "wrong" race and yet enacting or not enacting the "right" cultural memes can set one firmly in an altogether different category. Native cultures may have a combination of these, or others, or they may not even, as I suggested, have the concept of "cultural invasion" (unlike a nationalist/imperialist culture) and so lack immunomemes to subvert it. This may be a cause for some cultures' vulnerability to colonialism, i.e., they have no immunomemetic response to such an incursion, and it takes quite some time to formulate one. France, Japan, and Thailand are strong stand-outs as examples of the opposite case, by the way, i.e., immediately and strongly resisting colonization.

As happened with Margaret Mead, the natives may take the interloper at face value, so to speak, and see them as an otherwise normal person who is strangely and amusingly ignorant of the most obvious things, and so someone to be joked with in a doubly funny way in that the interloper doesn't know they are being made fun of, and due to the language barrier, the natives can laugh and joke all the more since they know their words (and cultural references) will not be understood. As such, and again as with Margaret Mead, or any other outsider anthropologist, even if the people under study do not actively resist, the information gleaned may be very suspect, especially when viewed through an out-group lens.

But what does it matter? The consumers of the information provided by the pretendian, i.e., their own mainstream in-group, are non-critical. We have seen how easy it is to infiltrate some cultures and to pass oneself of as an expert on another culture to one's own culture, and how this is underpinned by simple and fundamental memetic principles. However, we can take a page from sociologist and Yiddish scholar Max Weinreich, who offers us the following famous statement about language and culture:

A language is a dialect with an army and a navy

So, while it may not be very nice to make fun of the French, the Chinese, the Russians, or even the Americans by pretending to be a subject expert on their cultures to one's fellows, these nations are perfectly able to defend themselves and will go on quite happily despite our ridicule. Native cultures, on the other hand, have been the victims of colonization and genocide for centuries, are much less able to defend themselves and their members, and typically depend heavily on the benevolence of the mainstream societies of the pretendians who would coöpt their native culture for their own selfish reasons, reasons better dealt with on the psychiatrist's couch than on a stage in fake regalia or with pretentious books pandering to their fellow "white" people.


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(1)The study of systems of memes (memeplexes) at a large scale. Contrasted with micro-memetics, which focuses on the behavior of memes at a conceptual level, e.g., how they are transmitted, their effect on individual human behavior, etc.

(2)Also called "memetic orgasm". The driving force for humans to enact (or deploy), and resonate with memes. Theoretically humans experience a "rush" or "pleasure reward" when they successfully enact a meme, or when they close a memetic loop(3).

(3)Along with the memetic reward, the concept of the "memetic loop" forms the motivational basis for an individual to participate in a memeplex, even a dysfunctional one. When one individual enacts a meme and a second uninurred(4) individual shows they have learnt it by imitating it back to the initiator or resonates (enacts an appropriate response meme) with the enacted meme, the loop initiated by the first person is closed, or completed, giving a physiological reward to all involved. Note that this theoretically forms the basis for intergenerational abusive behavior, but that is outside the scope of this essay.

(4)Memetic inurement is the internalization of a given meme (or memeplex) such that one resonates with the enactment of said meme(s) by another, or is able to enact them in response to appropriate signal (triggering) memes.

(5)Also Born-Againdians, which can be slightly different. A born-againdian is someone who "rediscovers" their Native American heritage later in life and only then begins to practice it, absent family tradition or personal experience, e.g., living on the rez, etc.. However, many born-againdians often have such tiny blood quantums that they are better described as pretendians.

(6)Or the culture in which one finds oneself enveloped, e.g., in the case of an immigrant, though there are any other examples.

(7)An immunomeme is a special class of signal meme which is enacted in response to an alien meme, that is, a meme which is not in the memetic inventory(8) of the given memetic cohort(9)

(8)Memetic inventory of a memeplex or individual or memetic state(10) and is what defines in-group and out-group status of a person or a meme. It's the set of all memes that make up the memeplex or sub-memeplex, or the set of all memes the individual is able to enact (which may span partly or completely multiple memeplexes). This is distinguished from a memespace(11).

(9)A cohort is the group of people who are inurred of the given memeplex or in a shared memetic state(10). Related to a memetic fabric(13). However, a cohort refers to the set of all individuals that participate in a memeplex, whereas a memetic fabric can be a superset in that it is the set of all collected brains in communication with one another in an interconnected community all of which may or may not be inurred of the memeplex in question. See memetic polarization(16).

(10)A memetic state refers to when an individual is able to enact a larger number of memes reliably, usually because they are in a special state of attention with other individuals (see also "memetic hacking"(12)), usually individuals sharing some kind of common interest or persuasion, e.g., same religion, speakers of a common language(s), same hobbies or interests or profession such as gun owners, car fanatics, manga nerds/otaku, engineers, parents of young children, etc. The result is that such a sub-cohort(9) can exchange more memes more efficiently, with a larger inventory of shared memes, and can place those individuals in a state where practically every meme they deploy produces a strong resonance, and can lead to a memetic orgy(14). A teaching scenario may also produce a high memetic density(15) state, and may be the motivation for pursuit of this occupation.

(11)A memespace is the set of all memes residing within a given memetic fabric

(12)Memetic hacking

(13)Memetic fabric

(14)A memetic orgy is a chain-reaction situation produced when a cohort(9) are in a state(10) where almost all memes deployed resonate and continues to build and maintain a high level of memetic resonance over an extended period. Obviously the deployment of memes in this scenario produces very reliable rewards, which is a major point of this essay.

(15)Memetic density is the degree to which the inventory of available memes connect to memes in other individuals. The proportion of memetic pathways that do not lead to dead ends.

(16)Memetic polarization is the extent do which individuals comprising a fabric respond to a given MIAO(17) by enacting any of the memes within a given memeples associated with the MIAO. For example, there are a number of memes surrounding religion, feminism, or any other dogma or "belief system", which might be classed as "for" and "against" (I use these terms loosely). The degree to which individuals in a fabric tend to resonate to or enact any of the memes of the memeplex attached to a given MIAO is the memetic polarization of the fabric (as opposed to some cohort). For example, if wearing a T-shirt with a given image or slogan elicits some kind of response within a given memeplex from most ever person in a community, one could say that the fabric is highly polarized around that MIAO. For example, when I wear a gun rights shirt in my community, many people notice and respond positively, including inquiring where they might obtain a similar shirt. However, wearing a "The Patriarchy made me do it" shirt elicits only very occasional response (sometimes quite strong), but largely no reaction (despite my community have a large population of young university students). This suggests that the fabric here is not very polarized around the concept of "The Patriarchy", i.e., many people either are unaware of the concept or have no memes to enact around it, in other words they are not members of any cohort related to "feminism" or any reaction group against "feminism". This could be related to "apathy", but this is another concept I hope to explore later, i.e., "apathy" as an immunomeme.

(17)MIAO "Memetic Iconic Anchoring Object". An object (can be abstract) to which memes may be associated.

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