Memetic Index (uncategorized)
Earlier I looked at how ceremony is a critical element of human macromemetic interactions, and also a way in which one can "force" groups of other people to behave in a predetermined way by enacting a ceremony (1). In some ways, one is able to (temporarily) make oneself into a memetic nexus. Furthermore, leaders are most certainly "obliged" to adhere to their trappings of authority (2), at the risk of being unable to invoke, or even to weaken and lose, their powers of office.
No T-shirts at the Presidential press conference, and the bride and groom had jolly well better wear white dresses and tuxedos (3), or people aren't going to respond -- that's how their memetic matrix is set up, so live with it.
Going Along with It
When somebody enacts a ceremony, it's easier to respond than not. Not going to a wedding or a funeral makes one look bad, and showing up nets one cred in the eyes of society. That's the way ceremonies work. You have to fight to not go along. If you think it's stupid and archaic, you're right. If you realize that you have to do it, then you're right, too.
Going Along with the Bullshit
My idea is that structurally, bullshit (4) may be quite similar to ceremony in the effect that it has on the listener (5). The bullshitter, much like someone who puts on a wedding, is forcing the cohort to comply, to enact a number of specifically determined memes in response. Unlike a person who simply reports the facts or tries to make a logical argument, the bullshitter works in terms of memes, and facts and logic are of secondary, if any, importance. Like someone who puts on a wedding, one important effect is to sharply limit the set of memes participants are allowed to enact, and to offer them memetic rewards for their complicity. This closely describes what the bullshitter does.
The Hard Sell
A cheeseball salesman uses similar memetic tactics, i.e., blustering the victim with a cocktail of memes, and packaging some kind of message within them. The memes support one another, and as with any memetic microcosm, this interconnectivity of memes may be perfectly illogical (7), and they ultimately also support the manipulative message embedded within them.
Brainwashers do the same thing. North Korean brainwashers during the Korean War turned captured American pilots with exchanges like this, lasting weeks or months:
pilot: communism is bad
brainwasher: would you say that the chair you're sitting on is bad?
pilot: it's a good enough chair
brainwasher: this chair was built by communist workers. could you agree that communism is not completely bad?
pilot: yes, I could admit that
...and the result is that the captured pilot ends up confidently extoling the virtues of communism as a mouthpiece for his captors.
This is what cheesy salespeople do, and this is what bullshitters do -- pepper the listener with memes that they cannot help but respond to (8), embedding their own message into the mix. For example, that you should buy my product, communism or whatever philosophy is good, better, bad, whatever, you should vote for my guy, my bill, I deserve special treatment, etc.
At some point it becomes easier to accept the message, the collection of memes being thrown at one, than to continue trying to mount a resistance, or to find a different interpretation for the memetic system being thrown at one, not only for oneself, but also for those around oneself.
Those around oneself? The thing about memetic systems, is that there is necessarily a cohort inured of them, otherwise the memetic system by definition doesn't exist. So the fact that one may be selectively peppered with a collection of memes which are consistent with a given memetic system (9) means that all of ones "fellows" agree with what is being said, even if they themselves are not the direct target of the "bullshitting."
One definition of bullying is:
Doing socially unacceptable things
in socially acceptable ways
In the same way, bullshitting is memetic bullying. Saying and doing things which are consistent with the memetic system, getting one or more people to resonate with the memes one is enacting, but also embedding one's own collections of memes into the mix, forcing the target, the victim, to respond in ways that are required by the memeplex, giving the target no choice but to respond in the "designed" way.
Summary and Conclusions
Ceremonies cause persons or groups of people to respond in specific ways to the memes put out by those enacting the ceremonies. There is reward in participating, it is easy to just go along, and difficult to swim against the current.
In essence, ceremonies are a sure-fire method for any given individual to "force" others to behave and react in prescribed ways, e.g., dress a certain way, say certain things, act in certain ways, and moreover, there is social bullying (immunomemes) that force them to do so (10).
Bullshitting functions in a similar way. A collection of memes is used to "force" a given individual or group of individuals into a specific reaction. In sales or brainwashing, the victim is pushed into a desired action. In bullshitting, the target may merely be urged to ignore or passively approve some egregience, give a nod to some minor thing that costs themselves little or nothing, in other words, to let pass by things that, individually, they might well oppose, but taken together are easier to let slide. To paraphrase one of my favorite Samuel Johnson quotes (11):
The bullshitter overcomes the wisdom of our venerable oracles
through a plethora of minor egregiences,
which taken singly would alarm our cautions,
but considered together are overwhelming
It's pretty clear that bullshitting represents a kind of "death by a thousand cuts," but when examined from a memetic perspective, it takes on a similar appearance to ceremonies, where one can control and constrain the behavior of others in precise ways, and greatly limit their freedom to act.
(1) for example, a wedding ceremony
(2) black robes (and wigs), crowns, sceptres, suits and ties, documents, etc.
(3) even if the bridal dress is like some of the stuff Andie MacDowell tried on in Four Weddings and a Funeral, or if the tux has short pants and a floral print cummerbund.
(4) bullshit is the act of talking such that lies and truths and tautologies are all intermixed in varying degrees, the speaker treating them all as equal, perhaps themselves unable to distinguish which parts of what they're saying are true or untrue, or not even caring.
(5) the effect may be to keep talking, pelting the listener with speech and memes, to anchor memes that one wishes to convey, somehow force the listener to respond to some memes, e.g., trivially true things, loaded positive images (6), and slipping in other memes that somehow fit together with the others, illogical though they may be.
(6) America, freedom, mom, apple pie, the flag (Old Glory), crypto-pseudo-Feminism, healthy economic competition, keep those druggies under control, fight crime, family values, etc.
(7) see other introductory essays on macromemetics on the grouping of memes into memetic systems, or memeplexes.
(8) there is a memetic reward in accepting and responding to an incoming meme in one's own memetic inventory (one's "culture" after a manner of speaking).
(9) e.g., a collection of social mores.
(10) at a wedding, you are expected to wear certain things, bring gifts (or money in Japan and elsewhere), sit and listen to speeches, sometimes dance or makes speeches or toasts, thank the families for the party and wish them well, let the couple dance first and eat cake first, etc., and in turn participants are offered memetic rewards. Failing to do these things gets one in trouble, serious trouble, not only with the families, but with everybody in the wedding party, indeed all of society. It's a strong immunomemetic response.
As the venerable oracles of our parsimonious ancestors have informed us,
the waste of our fortunes is through small expenditures,
too little singly to alarm our cautions,
and which we never suffer ourselves to consider together.
-- Samuel Johnson