漫画 Caught out of Uniform

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模倣子 Coöption of Nerd Culture

There are a lot of people running around the US who call themselves "nerds" these days. Back in the day, this was a very unpopular thing to be, or to be called -- it was even considered an insult.

The term "nerd" may be a anglicization (goyfication) of the Yiddish word nebbish, or at least related. Actually they may not be so similar. A "nebbish" is a pitiful and ineffectual person, which overlaps somewhat with the original idea of a nerd.

Nowadays nerds are cool, they make money, they can do stuff, they know stuff. And everybody wants to be one.

As someone who grew up as a nerd (and I'll fill you in on what that means) back when nerds were an oppressed minority -- rather than the chic caricatures they are now -- this stings more than a bit...maybe even more than a byte.

So What's the Problem?
First off, it sucked to be a nerd back when being a nerd really meant something. You were ostracized and you were bullied and beaten up.

Secondly, now there are a lot of fake nerds (1), which there never were before. This is discouraging, since back in the day you had to do a lot of actual work to be a nerd. The ill-fated Bill Cosby delivered the commencement address at Carnegie-Mellon University (2), and he made a very good description of what it means to be a nerd.

D'après Cosby, a nerd is someone who "continued on where non-nerds..stopped." That is perhaps the best definition of a nerd I have heard. Again, it took work to be a nerd, so it rankles to have the undeserving of the title take it up so lightly.

Trappings of Nerdom
When Windows NT (4) came out we suddenly had the ability to do things like administer a network through a graphical user interface (GUI) (11). The problem is that somebody who doesn't really know what he is doing can do it, just by pointing and clicking. I was lamenting this to my buddy Allan (also a nerd), and he immediately saw what I was talking about, even though we both thought the new interface was pretty cool.

With a GUI, you don't have to use the command line interface (CLI).

It's worth mentioning that GUI and CLI are a big watershed between Real Nerds and snerds (1). First off, let's look at the word "cursor" (3). Non-nerds think of that arrow that runs around the screen when you move your mouse as a "cursor" -- it is not.  It is a "pointer." A "cursor" is a little flashing box or an underbar or such that hangs at the end of the line you are typing, yes, typing, on the CLI.

The CLI means you actually have to know the commands, how to use them, which parameters they take. You do things like write scripts to save commands or groups of commands that you use a lot and/or which are hard to remember. In the GUI, you can click, you can open and close, you see all the blanks and boxes and radio buttons (5) so you know what's expected of you. You never have to face the terror (or the exhilaration) of the blank, black screen in front of you, and only a keyboard to attack it with.

Now people have smartphones, they send e-mails (6), they surf the web. It's not that Real Nerds don't do these things, it's just that it's much, much harder to tell who the Real Nerds are, especially if you aren't a Real Nerd yourself.

Now there are all kinds of people calling themselves nerds who can't program a computer or build one, play an instrument, sing and perform a musical or opera, read and speak a foreign language (Japanese preferred), can't draw, or have any of the other several "trivial superpowers" which are hallmarks of Real Nerdom.

As with all coöpted oppressed minority cultures, the real members, those who have actually suffered under the merciless whips and chains of the majority oppressors, lived through an openly hostile alienation, have ambiguous feelings when the majority population begins to adopt, even embrace, the superficial elements of their culture. It's nice to be recognized instead of ignored and swept under the rug, but there is seldom an apology. Also, as we see in the case of Fake Nerds, the coöption of a minority culture, in this case, Real Nerd culture, results in an appropriation of control of what that culture means. In other words, the majority are now saying who is a nerd and who isn't, and Real Nerds are robbed of their identity. In fact, they are just as ostracized as before (8), are able to recognize one another, but are no longer recognized by society as an actual group.

We see a large number of people who now self-identify as nerds. Back in the day, "nerd" was an insult applied by other people, and one which one tried to weasel out of with justifications along the lines of "I went to a football game once," or "I have a girlfriend (sort of)." Nowadays we hear the opposite, e.g., "Yeah, I watch Dr. Who -- I'm a total nerd (7)."

Kind of liking a TV show, or owning a couple of T-shirts or comic books, does not make one a nerd. At best, one might be called a "nerd groupie," (9) -- liking The Rolling Stones does not make you Mick Jagger or any other sort of rock star -- you're a "fan" or a "groupie," not a member of the band by virtue of your mild interest. Being a member of the band takes work (and luck) as does being a nerd.

In other words, dressing up in the superficial trappings (10) of a subculture does not mean that you become a member of that subculture, and to pretend that you do is cultural appropriation or coöption.


(1) a.k.a, "snerds," short for "poser nerds" or "imposter nerds" (also "imposnerds")

(2) Yes, the hypen is on purpose. If you're a hard-core CMUer, you remember the hyphen, and you cherish the hope that it will someday return.

(3) from the Latin for "to run"

(4) another fact that might be lost on non-nerds is that CTRL-C is actually the interrupt command, and when Windows decided to make it the "cut" in the "cut-and-paste" command, there was a brouhaha. Of course, CTRL-Z was the "throw it into the background" command (in Unix), but that might be a bit obscure...  vi uses "u" for "undo" -- correct me if I'm wrong...

(5) yes, that's what they're called.

(6) with attachments, yes, which are seamlessly attached and detached. All of these snerds will never know the agony and the ecstasy of a broken MIME header (or fixing it).

(7) may be wearing a Dr. Who T-shirt, one of two such in wardrobe -- further example of "nerd cred"...not!

(8) it is said that "conservatives are people who admire radicals...centuries after their deaths." by the same token, society may (vaguely) admire nerds, but still nobody really wants to be at a party with them.

(9) and we probably need a term like this

(10) the superficial outward impressions of a culture are what I call contact memes. I have an example of the corporation. I probably still need to write on contact memes, probably in the context of cultural appropriation

(11) pronounced "gooey"


March of the Mermaids


模倣子 The Future Ain't What It Used to Be

I am something of a follower of the history of technology, and it has often seemed to me that inventions we rely on today were practically unusable in the form they had at the time of their invention. It almost seems that the inventor was imitating some kind of "form" that they [sic] had seen in a vision of our day and age, and simply copied it. An invention we use today might work quite well (or seem to), but its original incarnation, while perfectly recognizable, seems or is totally impractical.

One example that leaps to mind is the toothbrush. Somebody in China got the idea to "attach" pig neck bristles to a bit of bamboo, and then somebody in Europe "attached" some horsehair to a bit of bone or wood or something. One wonders what sort of brush-making technology existed at that time (a few centuries ago).

Another example is the automobile. Human clothing fashions are probably another. 'Nuff said, I think.

It makes me think of the "cargo cults" of the South Pacific islands. These people fashion outfits and airfields to look like those used by WWII navy flyers (9) when plane after plane full of supplies would land, to try to make the planes come again.

Memetic Implications
We could go back and forth about  the "technology" that led up to the toothbrush ("chew sticks," etc.), but consider the memetic implications of the advance of technology as illustrated by my silly little image of an ancient inventor (10) being given a glimpse of the modern age and mindlessly imitating the form of the devices they [sic] see, without really understanding how the device is meant to function -- only what it looks like and how it is to be used.

That's precisely what micromemetic theory tells us should happen. Humans imitate things for the sake of imitating them, and inventions spread throughout the population because they are easily imitated, not because they do a lot of good.

But where does that leave us?

I suggest that many human inventions started out as an idea that was:

a. easy to make, not impossible to imitate the manufacture
b. had a use pattern that was distinctive, also imitatable
c. was purported to have properties (1), easily explained (2)

Useless Crap
One demonstration of the memetic motivation for technology would be to research inventions which were super-popular at the time of their invention, but which went out of style and were forgotten. I'm not talking Sony Betamax versus VHS, since the VHS still exists (3), but inventions which were popular and well-known, but which quickly disappeared without being replaced by anything in terms of a similarly functioning or similarly touted product.

I suspect that there are many of these things, and that we would laugh to learn of them nowadays. Of course, unlike the Betamax, which we know existed, we would not a priori know that such inventions existed without digging for them.

But Things Work Well Now, Right?
Yes, and how did that happen? My idea is that once somebody invents something, and it's catchy, a virulent memeplex, easy to make and use (4), then people keep making it, and along the way different people make changes to the idea. The memeplex continues to become more complex, after people are already convinced to copy it and use it (even if it's useless).

There's also the political and marketing angle to consider. If a memetic nexus can pump a new idea out to their [sic] subscribers, or invoke an idea already in the public consciousness (5), proposing that existing technology be employed (and greatly improved) in order to do it.

Summary and Conclusion
It seems that many inventions are not only not as good as they are today when they first appear, they are barely if at all usable. Memetic theory tells us that humans will imitate fabrication and use regardless, down to the most superficial details (6). Once an artifact is "born," and memetically viable, it will continue to be made, may get steadily improved along the way, and it may actually become useful and effective in its originally stated purpose down the road.

This may be the primary process whereby inventions come into our lives, i.e., by a sort of random progeneration followed by haphazard, minor modification (8), all the while humans imitating their fabrication and use in classic memetic fashion. The inventor has a vision of how to make something, and an idea of what it is meant to do, and these may be (and it seems they often are) not always very closely related. The inventive "genius" may be much less common, and may be nowhere near as necessary to the promulgation of technology as we might hitherto have supposed.

(1) such as "it cleans your teeth!" Or, it imparts status, like with the original cars or even bicycles, e.g., it's "modern," or "expensive," or "the owner/operator is sophisticated (or an early-adopter -- a prized memetics trait, by the way).

(2) As in (1), the reasons for having it, using it, etc., can easily be communicated to others, and these descriptions do not "mutate" such as to lose their memetic value (virility) as they are copied.

(3) at least for the time being. And I'm also not talking about VHS tape being replaced by DVDs, either. I'm talking about things which were big at the time, but disappeared completely and were not replaced by anything. This might be along the lines of the "electric health" gadgets such as one saw from the 1890s through 1920s in the  US, depicted in the film The Road to Wellville.

(4) This is relative. A rocketship or a nuclear reactor may not be easy to make or use, but the idea behind each is clear, as is the use. For example, the concept of a rocketship would not be so distorted as to result in some people winding up with grain silos with liquid hydrogen tanks inside them, for example. The big thing in memetics is that the idea not mutate, either in its form or use, over time.

(5) The rocketship might again be a good example. Jules Verne wrote of space travel by rocket (or artillery shell) as early as 1865. Robert Goddard was experimenting with rocketry as early as 1913.

(6) e.g., color, or "fluting" on columns which are made of stone/concrete (7)

(7) c.f., Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead

(8) and sometimes even "improvement"...!

(9) helmets made of palm leaves, light batons to direct the planes in made from bamboo sticks, etc. Imitation of the form and use, but not understanding how it actually works.

(10) or "cargo cultist" (9)
模倣子  Memetics Essays

Mermaid CCLXX


模倣子 Memetic Loops and Residual Memetic Debt

My essays are primarily concerned with macromemetics (1), but I have discovered the need to lay out a few micromemetic (1) concepts, namely, memetic loops and residual memetic debt, in order to support my macromemetic conclusions  These concepts provide a model, an answer, to the problem of why human beings choose to deploy memes, and which memes they choose to deploy, if any. The question of why humans deal in memes at all is already answered by Susan Blackmore (2) and others.

However, just like the question of why a given human being should decide to eat, to have sex, etc., at a given moment still seems to need an answer. I have a few simple concepts that address this, and also happen to take in large problems such as why we have intergenerational abuse and genocide, and even why children misbehave and other familial and social dynamics.

In short, these concepts are basic to such concepts of memetic engineering and analysis.

Memetic Reward
People are driven to deploy memes because they hope to get a memetic reward (3). This biological reward/response is achieved when an individual is imitated by others, or when they successfully imitate others, i.e., when their successful imitation is acknowledged by said others or somebody else. This could be getting taught a skill, retelling a joke, making an artifact just like somebody else did, wearing the same clothing style, and so on. The fact that we have copyright laws makes a strong point that this is a basic component of human nature.

Examples of Memetic RewardsOne interesting example may be live performances as opposed to filmed or recorded ones. Performing in front of an audience, and being in the audience, affords the chance to exchange memetic rewards. There may also be smaller rewards to be members of the same audience along with others, even if the performance itself is filmed/recorded.

One thing to be pointed out is that there are purely physiological memetic responses, e.g., crying, laughing, getting angry, afraid (sweating, trembling), and these can be reward-yielding memetic responses, but cannot themselves be imitated, per se. A comedian/actor gives a performance, and an audience laughs/cries/etc. and the performer gets a reward, although the response itself may not be later imitated, or rather, if somebody laughs or cries in other circumstances, it is not an imitation of the performance reaction, nor is it such if somebody else tries the same jokes or schticks and also gets a similar response (it is not the same response in memetic terms).


Memetic Loops and Residual Memetic Debt
The imitator and the imitated both get rewards. If the imitation attempt receives no reaction however, this is a different thing (4). Theoretically, failure to elicit memetic responses is the cause for anti-social behavior and violence, and even intergenerational dysfuction and genocides, and that brings us to memetic loops and residual memetic debt.

A memetic loop is something that begins when a meme is deployed, and then completed, or "closed," when it is successfully imitated (6). The deployment of a meme creates an open loop, causing memetic debt in the deployer, which is then "paid back" when a desired response (7) is deployed, thereby closing the loop.

Loops that are left open, even partially (8), result in residual memetic debt, i.e., a desire in the individual to recover that remaining memetic reward (9). In the case of familial abuse, where a parent is abusive toward their children, the children are unable to return the abuse, to perform the abusive act against the parent in return, until they themselves have children and are able to enact the same meme from the same direction. Preventing children from crying or getting angry when punished/abused probably makes the residual memetic debt worse (10).

Sub-populations who are not able to evince memetic responses from the mainstream population may resort to violence in order to get some kind of reaction (12). Given this, a possible solution to interracial violence may be to react to the memes the other group is putting out, e.g., laugh at their jokes, etc. -- who knows? Heavens forefend, learn their languages!

When we get to genocide, we can see examples of a people who were the victims of genocide turning around and inflicting similar horrors on another population (16). One example may be the Hutu and Tutsi peoples of Rwanda, i.e., the minority Tutsis were established as the ruling class by the Belgians upon their departure as colonial rulers of the country (13), and then when civil war broke out, the Hutu ended up slaughtering the Tutsi, perhaps in "closing the loop" on the oppression they themselves had suffered under Tutsi rule.

Another compelling example is the Israelis, the Germans, and the Palestinians. The German genocide of the Jews is legendary, and now we have the Israelis herding the Palestinians into their own concentration camps (14), in a kind of replay of what was done to them during WWII. Other examples no doubt abound, even to the examples of long-standing feuds between inner city gangs and families such as the Hatfields and the McCoys and such.

It occurred to me that micromemetics was lacking something, namely a driving physiological force to compel individual human beings to deploy memes (or not) and how to react when these memes are responded to and when they are not responded to. I devised the concept of a memetic reward (3) and its related memetic loop to satisfy this requirement.

Implicit in the memetic loop, which requires "closure," is the idea of residual memetic debt (15) which is either quickly resolved, the loop closed, or not. Failure to close a memetic loop results in the individual (or collection of individual) harboring the memetic debt until such time as they can recoup it. This offers us an interesting explanation for why people cheat and steal, why children (and adults) misbehave, what drives non-political violence, and why intergenerational dysfunction and even genocide happen (and are perpetuated).

(1) as opposed to macromemetic, which is the study of systems of memes working within the context of large groups of people, a.k.a., "memetic cohorts." Micromemetics refers to how memes work within the minds of individuals, how they are transmitted, etc., that is, how they are experienced by individuals and how memes influence individuals. One could say the "biological aspect" of memes, which is what I hope to discuss here, and how it relates to group behavior.

(2) The Meme Machine, Susan Blackmore, PhD., foreword by Richard Dawkins.

(3) I also refer to this half-jokingly as a "memetic orgasm," because this is a useful way of looking at it, i.e., it is a physiological response, it reduces/satisfies "drive," and there is an inherent desire to achieve/attain it.

(4) Failing to receive a reward from imitation can lead to trying harder, trying other things (5). In my essays Memetic Destitution and Violence and Why Does Alienation Lead to Violence? I look at how non-response to attempts to garner memetic rewards can lead to anti-social behavior.

(5) Children misbehaving can be in response to a parent reacting, especially in the case of young children. If the parent does not react to a given misbehavior, the child will tend to fairly quickly abandon it in favor of a new behavior. If it's a bid for attention, then reacting strongly to good behavior can be effective (of course), or simply paying lots of attention to the child to keep them [sic] out of the bad behavior zone.

(6) Again, a response could be laughing, crying, etc., as in the case of a comedian delivering an act. Some memetic deployments expect an imitation of the deployed meme, e.g., learning and using a skill being taught, a neologism becoming widely used, a new style becoming prevalent, or a new product having market success. All of these represent a memetic loop being closed.

(7) And this may be a response that actually harms the deployer, physically or emotionally or what-have-you. They still get a memetic reward, close the memetic loop, if a relevant response is offered.

(8) Discussions of partially-open memetic loops (engendering residual memetic debt) are discussed in The Tragedy of the Koffee Klatch and Contact Memes and the Corporation and elsewhere.

(9) to make it the rest of the way to "orgasm" if you will.

(10) See the Re-evaluation Counseling theory of emotional discharge. If you beat your children, at least let them cry and get mad at you (and hit you (11) )

(11) If you can't handle getting hit by your own kids, you might thing twice about beating them in the first place!

(12) See Slavoj Zizek in A Pervert's Guide to Ideology, by Sophie Fiennes.

(13) This must be the only time that European colonial power deliberately messed up their colonial territory before decamping....not!

(14) See Noam Chomsky et al

(15) which occurs when the meme in question is not resolved, or when the resolution is ambiguous. For a clean resolution example, see "Blue Shirt Tuesday" and "Prime Pizza Thursday," and for unclear resolutions and their consequences, see The Tragedy of the Koffee Klatch, and Contact Memes and the Corporation.

(16) even a totally different one to their original oppressors, as with intergenerational abuse

Uncategorized Full Index (of memetic essays)

Found Art

This was written on the butcher paper on the table in our meeting room.  Pretty neat. I wonder what kind of pen they used. Is this just one person's work?

Mushrooms around Moscow