Macromemetics gives us insights how groups of humans really work and how they might work better. One question I looked at was what we should think about government activities, like secrecy.
Secret Orgies and Echo Chambers
I wrote an essay where I looked at how high transparency can make the government less effective. We can think in terms of how efficient memetic transactions are. This can also be related to how humor works. Much like a joke which dies when overexplained, the efficiency of an organization in getting its job done can be eroded by the need to explain things arbitrarily to outsiders.
The Structure of Memetic Systems
You can check out THIS ESSAY for an example of what memetic state transition diagrams and transition matrix sets look like. The point is that adding more memes and states, like "an outsider asked a question" or "react to an outsider asking a question" or "make a new government 27B-6 form to deal with questions about this thing" or "hire more people to process the new 27B-6 form" and so on.
Each of these causes the organization to have a new state, e.g., "answering the phone" or "replying to a stack of 27B-6 forms" and so on, and memes that of course transition to and from those states. What that means is that the organization spends less time on its core mission memes and states such as "brainstorming on how to make nuclear power safer" or "getting search warrants for people we think are defrauding people on the Web" or "auditing ourselves and reporting to Congress" and so on.
The effect is probably way worse than it sounds. And also, the typical efforts to quell problems to do with an organization floundering from distractions from its core mission tend to be pretty draconian as well.
Memetic Design to the Rescue!
People tend to throw up their hands and accept that things have to be expensive, slow, inefficient, and unsatisfying, and that many worthy goals simply have to be abandoned since we'll never get our poop in a group.
Yes, the objectives of efficiency and transparency are probably mutually exclusive, at least locally. If we have an organization with a specific mission, outside can mire said organization in responding to requests for information. Hopefully this is kind of obvious.
However, an efficient organization in which a high degree of the states it gets into and the memetic transactions (messages) that move it around those states can be maintained, I think, if the communication interface is controlled. Why not create another organization whose mission is to communicate with the outside world, and then filter that function into the organization with a specific non-communication mission?
In this scenario, the communication interface organization can have a rich and complex set of states and memes to do with communicating to taxpayers and other outsiders. They can make up their own forms, man (1) their own telephone lines, reply to their own emails and websites. They can then turn around and communicate and filter the information and requests to other organizations, who have other missions not directly rated to communication.
I suppose this is fairly obvious. But there is a strong macromemetic engineering justification for something like this design. Further, looking at macromemetics may give detailed design ideas and principles to make solutions to problems like this more clear.
Memes not related to the "mission" of an organization dilute its effectiveness. The addition of "external communication memes" just means more states and memes, which take resources, that are not related to the mission.
One possible approach is to reengineer things so as to shift the communication memes away from the mission memes, so that communication memes coming in from the outside do not "interrupt" the work going on elsewhere in the system.
Memetic design principles can inform how to do this sort of thing in detail.
(1) This is a generic term. Women can "man" things.
I hit a brick wall trying to inject my "Unlitterbug Meme" (1) into the population of my town, as I mentioned before. My frustration sort of coalesced around this image of "What does it take for people to adopt some new system of behavior? A bus full of orphans going over a cliff?!"
The Apathetic Team
A lot of wasted effort comes from the team not working as a whole. The manager needs to get information like productivity numbers, for example, and if he has to go around and wheedle and cajole everybody every single week, it equals a lot of lost productivity. A lot of the managerial reports consist of getting this information, so if the team could help out more, it would save time.
Then you have the problem of social loafing. Nobody's telling me to do it until the manager comes around and bothers me, and as soon as he leaves I'm footloose and fancy free again. Or rather, the immediate demands of my job and my coworkers are always there, but the manager's silly needs for my productivity numbers are abstract, and not as pressing.
So how do you make the manager's needs to be "pressing." Explaining over and over again why I have to get the TPS report ready for the Thursday afternoon meeting doesn't seem to work. Everybody always slacks on getting their data and reports ready on time, I end up working late on Wednesday every week. And it never changes.
The Feedback Problem
My vague idea was that something like "Blue Shirt Tuesday" would be something that could "anchor" more directly relevant activities. Mainly I wanted to see if I could inject something, anything, into the population of my fellow engineers and then it might be possible to inject more useful things later. Something to do with "let's all get our productively numbers done by the end of the day on Tuesday" or something.
The idea was to get team members to "bully" each other to perform objectives that purely served the manager, the team, even if they weren't directly related to their own immediate tasks.
This required a number of things, which I discovered in the course of injecting my first real memetic system into the population. I discovered marking and closure and how they work together with "bullying opportunities" (5) to produce a stable memetic system. I also discovered that it's incredibly easy to inject a memetic system into a population, if certain requirements are met.
My motivation for my earliest experiments (6) was to see how easy it was to inject a memetic system into a population (or if it was possible at all). My long-term motivation was to make the workplace more efficient, e.g., improve communication between team members, make it automatic and reliable, and make sure that all functions, including higher-level managerial functions which were abstract to lower-level workers, would also get fulfilled with total reliability and high efficiency. All of this was to be without managers having to do a bunch of unnecessary legwork.
I'll get to my "Blue Shirt Tuesday" experiment (about which I have a number of posted essays) soon!
(1) Trying to get everybody in my town into the habit of picking up just one piece of litter per day, every day, and thereby through mass cooperation to make our town litter-free. Great idea, no? If only everybody could just get along!
(2) One perk, a "perky perk" you might say, is that the local office assistant, typically a winsome young woman (3), suddenly starts paying attention to you, asking how she can help you
(3) Yes, this is a totally sexist characterization. Duh. However, more on this later. There may be some very significant ramifications for promotions and power in the workplace. It may well be the case that men are willing to literally kill themselves with extra work for no extra pay for the guarantee of female attention (4).
(4) Even if this attention is not explicitly sexual in nature. Men may also be able to "multiplex" or "superpose" or "sum up" semi-sexual encounters spread out over time, e.g., getting a smile from ten women for holding the door for them, a smile and a kind word from a barista, a few five-minute meetings with the office assistant, and a couple of "good mornings" from a couple of female engineers (who now notice him because he's a supervisor) may all add up to the equivalent of a night of passionate lovemaking with one woman (which he no longer has time for anyway since he's so busy with his supervisor job). More psycho-social research required here. If this is true for men (and not true for women), then the ramifications may be sweeping. First, it means that women have tremendous "soft power" over men which they may not be using efficiently (American women, especially, perhaps). Another implication is that there may be little or no limit to the degree to which men may be motivated to get arbitrarily large amounts of work and commitment out of them, even to the point of self-harm (of which there is plenty of evidence, e.g., the Presidency of the USA, CEOs of large companies, generals leading armies, etc.). Again, this may have huge implications for the gender dynamics of power in the workplace and in society. More research needed here, and it may be for the psychologists and sociologists to perform, at first.
(5) I came to link "bullying opportunities" to "immunomemes." A bullying opportunity is a chance to deploy an immunomeme, which is like any other meme, basically, but it has certain interesting properties which I would spend a lot of time researching later.
(6) My later experiments began to focus on the more practical, e.g., getting people to do things that were typically hard to get them to do, such as fill in workplace suggestions, change the way they did inventory in the factory, and behave properly and show up on time for the school bus.
Before we go too far down the rabbit hole of immunomemes and how important they are, I should probably get into the concept of injection, or infection. Memes "infect" their hosts (agents) and in order to create an actual up-and-running memetic system, or memeplex, you have to "inject" the memes of that memeplex into some population.
I realized early on, and I'll get to that, that injection is a crucial process. It's all very well to think about how memeplexes behave, but you can't really engage in society-changing memetic engineering if injecting a memeplex into a population of agents is super-difficult.
Take for instance a large religion, like the Catholic Church, or a "religion-like" ideological system like Communism or Stalinism, or even selling a product like Coca-Cola to a consumer base of hundreds of millions of people. All of these took billions of dollars, required decades if not centuries, and caused the deaths of tens of millions of people.
My hope was that there was a better, easier, cheaper way to go about this, but at the start of my research, I had zero evidence that this might be the case. It was merely a hope.
Running Around like a Headless Chicken
I was motivated by a couple of things. The first was probably that even smart people do stupid things, cruel things, counter-productive things, and even when this is explained to them, a better way is shown to them, they nonetheless cling to their old ways and often make up silly excuses for why they should do this (1). Of course this resistance to reason and change at the individual level tends to scale to the group level, even to the organization level and society level. Why don't people do what we expect, what we tell ourselves, i.e., that if they are shown a better way, if they are shown a better mousetrap, they don't immediately buy it? The other thing is the human cost of all this. We suffer and waste, but sometimes we do change, and when we do it always seems to be at great cost in terms of activism, money, human lives, wars, and as often as not things are the same or made worse in the end.
In other words, the human progress situation looked rather grim.
I just blindly leapt into the fray and thought about a behavior I was doing when I would go out running in the morning. I would pick up one piece of litter I found on my way and throw it into the trash. I thought how wouldn't it be great if everybody in my town would do the same thing, just pick up one piece of litter, and then be done for the day. In short order there would be no litter, our town would be tidy.
So my problem was to inject this very simple memetic system into the population of my town. I had no clear idea as to how to do this. One problem was that I was out running in the mornings, and there were few if any other people around to see my do my "unlitterbug" activities (2). So I started attaching notes to bits of litter that I didn't pick up, saying things like "be an unlitterbug" or "join the unlitterbug bunch" or such. Later I started attaching money (3) bits of litter along with the notes. I would prepare a few notes, a few dollar bills, and some rubber bands before I went out, and distribute them.
There was a spectrum of expectations I had. One was that after a few days or weeks, I would begin to witness random people here and there tossing litter into bins, and calling each other "unlitterbugs" and slapping each other on the backs with warm bonhomie. The other was of course that nothing would happen. I even found bits of litter with the rubber bands still on, still in the same spot I'd left them, with the money gone.
The situation for an "easy injection" mode for memetic systems started to look grim. For some reason the image of it taking a "busload of orphans going off a cliff" to provide enough emotional impetus to galvanize people into adopting a new memetic system.
Here's an essay that summarizes some of my early efforts, and how things started to look up.
I should probably wrap this up for this week and get into my first forays into memetic injection later. Basically, I recognized that memetic injection was a critical first step. You can dream up the greatest kinder, gentler society, but it you can't "bootstrap it up" within a given population, it's all just a pipe dream.
That was my problem. Everybody has an opinion, and everybody has an idea that just won't work. The people of my town had shown themselves to be resistant to, maybe even apathetic toward, my idea of unlitterbuggery.
It's important to note that one is injecting memes, not memeplexes, into a population. Yes, when one is done with the whole process of "memetic engineering," the memeplex as a whole is injected. I didn't understand this at first, and only came to through my further research. I think I kind of got the idea that one meme by itself, like picking up some litter, needed other memes to support it, like the name "unlitterbug," and that they somehow had to be injected "together" but I didn't get how that was all supposed to work.
In short, the "Unlitterbug Meme Experiment" was a failed experiment in that it didn't give me much if any good data, except that it didn't work, didn't successfully inject anything, but I did know that I was connected with people since they were taking the money (and not throwing away the litter).
More next week!!
(1) Alcoholics and addicts are notorious in their tendency to self-justify their dogged persistence in keeping on doing the same old thing and expecting different results, but it appears that everybody does it do one degree or another. It's just that most people don't die (though they may make others die) from their own bull-headedness.
(2) As I learned in my later experiments and research, my "unlitterbug" activities were poorly "marked" and had poor "closure," which I'll dive into later, in the sense that if somebody observed me they would not know what I was doing, or rather, what they would have to do in order to imitate me, and also to see a memetic reward for themselves for doing so, and the closure bit means that they couldn't be sure what they were expected to do, i.e., where the "action" or "meme" started and when it was fully completed and so forth. More on this later!
(3) My reasoning here was that in order to adopt a meme--and I had no clear idea what this meant at the time--some kind of what I termed a "libidinal reward" (4) would help to inject the meme.
(4) For "libidinal reward" I also use the terms "limbic reward" or even "bribe." As we'll see later with the Box-Binning Project as well as the Blue Shirt Tuesday and Prime Pizza Thursday projects, memetic systems can work with a bribe included, but artificial memetic systems may also be injected without any built-in material reward, and there are lots of implications for both of these.
I mentioned last time that memetic systems are conservative. This should be fairly obvious from any number of real world examples. I hope to show mechanisms in macromemetics why this should be so. Examples include language and culture. English-speaking Americans don't all wake up one day suddenly speaking different languages, like French or Japanese, or some gibberish such that they cannot speak to one another. Likewise, cultures persist, although they may evolve over time. Members of a culture expect to continually be able to use the same cultural references with their fellow culture members.
So far I have not explicitly mentioned ways in which such systems resist changes. The first law of macromemetics suggests that conservatism makes it easier for agents to optimize resonance.
Keeping Things on Track
How do things get off track? If an agent deploys memes that push the system into a direction that makes fewer, not more, memes available to the rest of the cohort, then those other members are motivated to resist these deployments. But what can this look like?
First off, such "deviant" deployments push the system into states where less-deployed memes live. Resisting such transitions ultimately leads to such memes atrophying, being replaced by other memes, or more mainstreams getting deployed.
A New Kind of Meme
All memes are effectively the same, but it's sometimes useful to put memes into subclasses. One useful such distinction is the immunomeme. An immunomeme is one whose main function is to prevent the transition into a given state and to instead transition to another state.
The three laws of immunomemetics are as follows:
1. Any stable memeplex contains an immunomemeplex
2. A system of rules and laws is equivalent to a collection of bullying behaviors
3. The function of an immunomeme is to deter mutations to a memeplex
Immunomemes have some special properties. A big one is "unassailability." For example, saying something like "That's a dumb idea," or "That's [communism, misogyny, unamerican, etc.]" or "I'll give you lots of money if you do what I ask."
It's useful to take a separate look at a class of memes called immunomemes, so called because the immunize the memetic fabric against change.
There may be a blurring between a memeplex, a memetic fabric, and a memetic system. They are kind of the same thing. I tend to think of a memeplex as a snapshot of the system and the memetic fabric as the system in motion, and the memetic system as encompassing either or both. The cohort is connected to the fabric, the inventory of the cohort is the collection of memes which may be reasonably used by anybody, even though agents in the cohort may have more memes in their own inventories, and they may be members of other cohorts and memetic fabrics.
We'll see how immunomemes, and also alliance memes, which we'll also dig into, control the state of memetic systems, and the effect is conservative, i.e., curtailing the changes in the deployment opportunities of the agents in the cohort of the memetic fabric.
I Wait ‘til you pee
Wait ‘til you pee
It’s dark and dank there
Down in the tank 🚽 there
Take it from me
There’s no change in the weather 🌊
‘Til you press the lever 🚽
After you pee
I’m down in the drink there
Fightin’ the stink there
I’ve got no troubles😈
And hardly no bubbles
As I wait ‘til you pee
I’m not a shocker
Scales up to my knockers 🧜♀️
So if there’s a kid there 👦
Who takes off the lid there 🚽
There’s nothing to see
As I wait ‘til you pee
Wait ‘til you pee
I’m tried and true there
Keepin’ it blue there
When it gets yellow
Cuz I’m there when you pee
This reminds me of a short story / novella I wrote a while back, about a mermaid 🧜♀️ from the darker depths, the bad part of town, called Éfleuvièlle (I think that was it).