I'm taking as point of departure that critique groups start out as 'Circle of Friends' and then devolve into one of the three archetypes: 1. Cheerleading Squad, 2. Sharks and Dinner, or 3. Master and Slaves.
My hope is that's possible to create a fourth type using the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions of Critique Groups, that will keep it stable at something resembling the 'Circle of Friends.'
Meanwhile, I'd like to see if I can come up with a description of the memetic state of each of the three archetypes and how each might be reached through a memetic evolution. My theory is that the Cheerleading Squad is the only one that is stable. It follows that the others are unstable and will either break up or evolve into the Cheerleading Squad.
The Laws of Macromemetics So Far
I think that these laws may be used to describe how groups change, and will show how these changes are unavoidable, predictable, and describe their stabilities and instabilities.
|One||An agent deploys memes in order to achieve optimal resonance||Any stable memeplex contains an immunomemeplex|
|Two||Deployment of a meme causes transition to a new state||A system of rules or laws translates to a collection of bullying behaviors|
|Three||A mutation is a Modification, Addition, or Deletion of a State, an Agent, or a Meme|
|An immunomeme is a meme that works to prevent a mutation to a memeplex|
What is Happening?
What functions of a memetic system that we currently understand could be at play in a critique group? What are we assuming? I think it's safe to say that the same people are there, i.e., system change is not due to new people coming in (generally). We're seeing new manuscripts coming in constantly. The people in the group read the manuscripts, and then comment on what they read.
Okay, the manuscript influx can be seen as an influx of "new memes" or even "alien memes." The members, "agents," all have the same manuscripts to look at, so these are effectively memetic nexuses, i.e., any comments made about the contents will potentially resonate with the whole group (2).
Where do immunomemes act? Perhaps this may be illuminated by looking at what resonance is. Resonance consists of: 1. recognition and 2. response. This ties into the difference between alienation (1) and oppression.
The influx of new memes in the form of manuscripts will automatically tend to set off the immunomemetic response of the group. Since the group is a novel collection of agents, we may assume that said immunomemeplex is nothing more than whatever immunomemes, biases, senses of morality, and so on, if you will, bring to the table (4). This may evolve over time, however, which may become significant (3).
We see what resembles a form of memetic hacking (5). Agents are presented with truckloads of novel memes in the form of manuscripts, and they respond, i.e., deploy (immune)memes. The other members of the group are exposed to these, and so learn more memetic pathways.
A couple of examples leap to mind. Say one member is sensitive to certain fictional scenarios, say group sex, or even just polyamory. We don't even have to say whether this member finds depictions of group sex, or multiple partners, "offensive," per se, or just finds it incredible that multiple men would be willing to have sex with one woman at the same time, or that having multiple romantic partners could be stable, fulfilling, or what-have-you. All we care about here is that the member raises some kind of objection (6).
There are a couple of things that might happen. One is a kind of "self-censorship" in which the author and other authors decide to stop putting these kinds of things in their manuscripts, to avoid the disapproval of the one member. Another, perhaps more important effect, is that the other members of the group learn that if they themselves object to such sexual scenarios whenever they appear, they will get the resonance of the initial "offended" member. We would expect this effect to snowball over time.
Here I'm just talking about a single, specific, readily identifiable, and rather extreme example, i.e., explicit sex. These same effects should be able to be applied to any number of things: word usage, grammar, style, entire genres, politics, gender anything, and so on. There's no reason why immunomemetic inventory not accrete around any of these points or any of a plethora of others.
But is this why critique groups degenerate? If so, is there any way to predict the timeframe within which they degenerate, or otherwise measure it somehow?
What Does Degeneration Look Like?
Perhaps a Chomsky-like textual analysis of the texts being submitted for critique would shed light. What would we expect, or what kinds of things might we expect to see in the evolution of texts submitted? Are there any theories or predictions of what we might see in the evolution of manuscripts submitted for critique in a group that was degenerating towards one or an other archetype?
I can try to speculate. The Cheerleading Squad devolves into a state where usually one author is submitting work to a group which make only anodyne comments, spelling errors, possibly questions about punctuation, and little else. Plot, story, character building, even basic style are left untouched (7). New authors catch a lot of flak about everything (8). We should expect, I believe, a homing in of the elements of the manuscripts, a loss of variability (9). One might also expect the "hero author" to meet with an immunomememtic response were she to attempt to break out into a different type of writing (10).
The Sharks and Dinner archetype I would theorize to be a group dynamic either in the process of evolving towards Cheerleading Squad or towards some sort of disintegration. What might this look like? Just off the cuff, I should imagine that the character of manuscripts being submitted would vary in a chaotic fashion. Why would I say that? I envisage a mode of operation where manuscripts are submitted, they are ripped apart by immunomemes, and importantly, these immunomemes resonate with all the members of the group, giving the meetings a kind of "feeding frenzy" quality (11).
But why? Memetic cohorts like to get into memetic chain reactions, memetic orgies or feeding frenzies, as the case may be.
One problem is that while the Cheerleading Squad seems "positive," the Sharks and Dinner is "negative," in terms of the memes they deploy, i.e., sucking up to the hero author or tearing down most everybody who submits a manuscript. One obvious implication of this is that a Shark group cannot transition into a Cheerleader group, or at least not without having some positive memes. You could say that the Cheerleader group deploys mainly memes, while the Sharks deploy mainly immunomemes.
Can immunomemes somehow change into memes? Memes that once actively defended the system against mutation continue their lives by responding to "normal" incoming memes, ostensibly without "fear" that the memeplex will undergo mutation from the incoming memes they are reacting to? This may not be so crazy, and may represent an important evolutionary process of memetic systems.
Summary and Conclusions
The interesting point may finally come down to how critique groups end their lives, so to speak. The Cheerleader group may have long-term stability, rather like a red dwarf star or black hole or such in cosmology (12). The Sharks group is probably unstable, and may or may not be in the process of evolving towards becoming a Cheerleader group, or towards disintegration.
There is probably research to be done in terms of a textual analysis of manuscripts submitted to a group over time. One might expect them to become "simpler," but the data may not bear that out. The timeframe of their evolution may be valuable for quantitative macromemetics. At any rate, the characteristics of manuscripts may be a useful characterization of the immunomemetic structure of the group in question. More to be seen here.
Another possible insight, of which critique groups are a unique example, is that the discussions of a manuscript, which is obviously an example of a memetic nexus, by the way, may be an example of a group-level process of memetic hacking, i.e., the immunomemetic biases of members are exposed, and can thus be used by other members for self-censoring or as ammunition for ganging up on some authors, either to tear them down or even to groom them to be the hero author of an eventual stable Cheerleading group.
Questions remain. The Shark group is characterized by negativity while the Cheerleader group is positive. One welcomes many certain memes, while the other rejects many. How to characterize this? If a Shark group is to transition to a Cheerleader group, presumably it must already have, or develop, a large enough collection of positive memes to eventually function as a Cheerleading group, if this is indeed the mechanism of transition. The idea that memes could "start their lives" as immunomemes, and somehow transition to being regular memes by some process or as a result of some environmental driver or other, is novel and probably worthy of theoretical and empirical attention.
The whole hypothesis that some Sharks transition to Cheerleaders may be altogether false, moreover, so a testable theory should be developed.
Further, the hypothesis that a critique group is a kind of "petri dish" of memetic hacking and exposure of idioimmunomememtic bias which fuels an increasingly dynamic memetic feeding frenzy (or memetic orgy) should also be formed into a testable theory. The idea of an organic, emergent process of memetic hacking is novel in itself and could light the way to insights into how immunomemetic systems develop, among other things.
It seems that the Laws of Macromemetics, as so far elaborated, have shown themselves to be useful in attacking the questions of critique groups, and presumably other applications as well.
Some interesting ideas, possibly useful insights, no small part of it hinging on the initial assumption of the critique group archetypes. It seems that a lot of macromemetically interesting things may be going on in critique groups, worthy of further research and theoretical attention.
(1) Which is in turn related to memetic desolation. Desolation is the state when there are few or no memes that may be exchanged by a given agent.
(2) And this, memetic resonance via a memetic nexus, can lead to chain reaction, or "memetic orgy," or in some cases, "feeding frenzy." All of these are very desirable for humans, any memetic agent, and could very well be the reason for critique groups being popular.
(3) One question is whether the degeneration of a critique group is the result of existing biases (individual agent immunomemetic inventory), the learning of each others' immunomemes such that the set of all usable immunomemes grows over time, or the influx of manuscripts somehow contributing to the immunomemeplex over time, or some combination, or other factors.
(4) By the laws of macromemetics, this has to be a minimal common set of immunomemes, so that any immunomeme deployed is able to resonate with the other agents. There might be learning over time, i.e., agents learn each others' immunomemes, and this may be significant.
(5) A term for an interview process to evince the immunomemetic response of an individual. It is difficult to know, a priori, how an individual will respond to any given stimulus with only the memetic inventory of the memetic fabric to go on. There could be any number of responses which are never revealed by mere observation of the memetic system and its cohort. Many immunomemetic responses are only displayed in response to stressors, and even still all responses to all possible novel stimuli quickly devolves into pure speculation. Memetic hacking seeks to evince responses from individuals using hypotheticals, in private, free from the influence of other agents.
(6) Approbation of the depictions in question might also be interesting, and we may consider that later, but for now, a member objects in some way.
(7) Maybe something of an overgeneralization, but let's leave it for the sake of argument for now.
(8) I have some evidence for this, and it supports a theory that the Cheerleading Squad "ossifies" around the style of the "hero author" and therefore mounts a strong immunometic reaction against any other authors. At the risk of question-begging, I put this in as a possible codicil to the Cheerleading Squad morphology.
(9) If this is true, it would be interesting from a quantitative macromemetics standpoint, so quantify as many of these values as possible, and even their evolution over time. It would probably yield great fruit in terms of the "Science of Conformity."
(10) Also fertile ground for research.
(11) Indeed, I name "feeding frenzy" as a kind of memetic orgy where there is a single person targeted, in this case, an author and her manuscript, in other cases a minority member, a political scapegoat, or so on. The state is appealing, i.e., memetic orgies and feeding frenzies are things that cohorts like to get into when they can.
(12) At the risk of explaining something simple in terms of something more complicated!!