notes: virus of the mind by richard brodie
from Virus of the Mind: The New Science of the Meme by Richard Brodie, Hay House, Inc, 1996
“everything we call ‘culture’ is composed of atomlike memes, which compete with one another. these memes spread by being passed from mind to mind in the same way genes spread by being passed down thru sperm and egg. the memes that win this competition – those that are successful at penetrating the most minds – are the ones responsible for the activities and creations that constitute present-day culture.” p5
“labeling a meme True lodges it in your programming and eliminates your conscious ability to choose your own memes. once some authority convinces you something is True or Right or is something you Should do, you are effectively programmed. if you realize there are only half-truths – that the truth of any meme depends on the context in which it exists – you have a powerful weapon against the programming of mind viruses.” p32
“a mind virus thrives on your belief that its memes are True. people defend the memes they’re programmed with like they were protecting their own lives! it’s the mind virus’s paradise: it has co-opted your intelligence and problem-solving ability in order to preserve itself.
the only way we learn and grow is by changing our belief systems – changing our memetic programming. yet, paradoxically, we tend to hang on to that programming as if it would kill us to be wrong about any of our memes.” p33
[second-order buttons] …distinguishing yourself. a drive to do something new, innovative, or significant makes an individual more likely to find food or shelter and makes him stand out from the crowd as a potential mate. any memes that make people feel distinguished, special, or important have an edge in meme evolution.
…obeying authority. it was in an individual’s genetic interest – that is, in the interest of his dna – to recognize the authority of someone more powerful or wiser than he is. going along with that authority would increase his dna’s chance of survival and replication, while fighting the authority might get him killed or left out in the cold.
the way these second-order drives work is similar to the way the primary drives work: you get some kind of good feeling when you’re doing the thing that the drive drives you to do, or you get a bad feeling when you’re not.” p78-9
[more fit memes] “evangelism. any meme that explicitly involves spreading itself to other people has an added advantage over other memes. evangelism is often combined with the mission meme, making it even more powerful. it makes little difference whether the thing being evangelized is true or false, good or bad; evangelism works so well that it has become one of the most prevalent memes on earth. evangelism tells us to ‘spread this meme as much as you can!’
then there are mems that b ecome entrenched in people’s minds and are extremely resistant to attack:
faith. any meme that entails believing in it blindly can never be dislodged from your belief system by any attack or argument. combined with evangelism, faith makes for a powerful mind-virus envelope that can be stuffed with just about any content.
skepticism. questioning new ideas is a defense against new memes. the opposite of faith, skepticism actually has a very similar effect on the mind programmed with it. skeptics are resistant to new ideas just as the faithful are. a faithful and a skeptic can argue forever and never learn anything.” p80-1
“the male-dominated hierarchical system, sometimes called the patriarchy, is a perfect example. some feminist writers have cautioned women against buying into this system, and with good reason: the whole thing evolved so that the dna of males could be passed down more efficiently. is that any way to design an economy? p96
“following sexual mores makes you behave in the interest of everyone else’s dna, not your own. so the optimal selfish-gene strategy, before people became conscious and had the possibility of a life about something other than spreading their dna, was to participate in spreading mores but to secretly ignore them whenever an opportunity arose to make counter to them. that is the evolutionary explanation for hypocrisy. we should expect to see the most hypocrisy around sex, since it’s simultaneously in everyone’s dna’s advantage both to spread antisex memes and to selfishly ignore them.” p103
“different cultures today have evolved different sets of sexual mores, resulting in differences in male and female behavior. in sweden, a social democracy where women have great economic independence, we see a high degree of sexual freedom among women. without needing to depend on men for their security, swedish women need to be concerned so much with testing potential mates for commitment and generosity. the result is greater promiscuity among women: a study showed swedish men prize a potential mate’s virginity very little compared with other cultures. swedish men, in turn, are among the least violent of any culture: with women more available, men need not engage in the violent, risky he-man behavior that comes from a genetic drive to rise in the hierarchy and therefore have greater access to women. harsh punishment for violent crime isn’t necessary.
in sexually struck saudi arabia, we see the opposite. women are highly dependent on men for e conomic security. access to sex is greatly restricted for saudi women. men prize virginity in their potential mates. violence is high – an artifact of prehistoric times when engaging in such behavior increased a man’s chances of mating – and punishment for violent crime is severe in reaction to that.
access to sex is the driving force behind many aspects of culture.
through a chain of cause and effect, the availability of females for men to mate with can shape prevailing mores, the amount of violence, and the laws and punishments of a culture. there has been a shift in sexual mores in the united states from the free-love era of the ’60s, when a baby-boom surplus of young women ‘did their own thing’ sexually, to the aids-fearful ’90s, when young women were admonished to ‘just say no’ and abstain from sex. this shift has been accompanied by an increase in violent crime among men, as would be predicted by this model.’ P105-6
“the millions of years of genetic evolution that produced these instincts did not count on our figuring out that we could have sex and not get pregnant.
we’ve thrown a huge monkay wrench – or perhaps a rubber sheath would be a better figure of speech – into the genetic works. we’ve figured out how to have sex without having babies, and as a result, the act of mating is no longer the genetic prize it was for millions of years. our instincts still think mating equals reproduction, and that’s why our sex drives are still so strong.
but now everything has changed. what really benefits our selfish dna now is teh baby-making drive: choosing to have a baby.” p108
“many myths and religions have some kind of threat of retribution from their god or gods, and their doctrines warn of the dangers of doing various forbidden things. why? because memes involving danger are the ones we pay attention to! as oral traditions developed, our brains were set up to amplify the dangers and give them greater significance than the rest.
once again, meme evolution took off the instant that communication of danger started taking place. today, having eliminated most day-to-day threats to our survival, we find that our lives are still filled with danger memes. the more dangerous, the more we pay attention to them.” p111-2
“cognitive dissonance can be used to create a meme of submission and loyalty to whatever authority is causing the dissonance. fraternity hazings, boot cap, and some religious or spiritual disciplines put people with cognitive dissonance, people end up believing they have received something valuable, something deserving of their loyalty, when i reality all that has happened is that the people who were torturing them have stopped.” p131
“it’s easy to pay more attention to the memes of groups that contribute than those that don’t, and paying attention is the first step toward meme penetration.” p176
” religion formed in this way, as a cultural virus (evolved without conscious human intention), evolves not toward truth, not even toward the betterment of its adherents, but toward more effective memes. this is the most crucial point in this entire book:
meme evolution is not designed to benefit the indiidual.
so for religions that were not created by individuals with the conscious intent to start a designer mind virus – which i would imagine accounts for most of the religions on earth – the belief systems are not guaranteed either to be True or to be good ways to live life. they are, however, guaranteed to be self-perpetuating.” p184
“immersed in questions like that [angels, head of pin], it’s difficult to get a perspective on what religion is and where it came from. but from the memetic model, all naturally evolved religions – cultural viruses – are bundles of memes. religions are creations of our minds, kluges that have evolved from the days when our lives were mostly spent avoiding danger and seeking food and sex. religions are conceptual bundles that map the prehistoric world are brains were used to onto today’s world of morals, culture, and society. and unless we invent our own religion – a designer virus, with a particular purpose in mind – the way these bundles shape up is determined by meme evolution: religions evolve to have good memes.” p186
“[tradition] it’s not that the traditions are being kept because the religions are true or good – the cause and effect are reversed! the religions survived because, in part, certain traditions became ingrained in them. religions without strong traditions had less chance of surviving.” p18
“[evangelism] it’s beside the point that people are sincere and have good reasons to evangelize” ‘jesus/scientology/the forum/the american way made such an incredible difference in my life that i want everyone else to experience that joy.’ the institutions that encourage evangelism – that even condition people to evangelize – have a memetic advantage, regardless of the impact of the religion on people’s lives. the religion is successful because somehow evangelism became a part of its dogma. a religion that gave people incredible joy but did not program them to evangelize would not be as successful.” p187
“[making sense] religions that have clear, handy explanations for those tough questions are much more popular than those that challenge people to think for themselves, such as zen. of course, those answers to tough questions don’t have to be true, any more than santa clause o r the easter bunny, as long as they’re easy to understand.” p187
“[repetition] rituals abound in most religions, from sunday chruch to saying grace before meals. the more we repeat an action, idea or belief, the more comfortable we get with it and the less we question it: we become conditioned or programmed by it.” p188
“[security] many religions are based in fear: fear of god’s wrath, fear of burning in hell, fear of ostracism by one’s community. setting up artificial dangers and claiming to be a safe haven from them is a very powerful part of a belief system.” p188
“[problem] this one is especially pernicious and effective at lassoing in smart, educated people. the idea that there is a mysterious body of knowledge that can be attained through a lifetime of problem solving is a powerful lure. this is the cornerstone of such eastern religions as zen and taoism, although adherents would probably tell you it isn’t. (that’s what makes it so mysterious!) .” p189
“although memetics makes it breathtakingly clear how religions have evolved, it does not force us to conclude that religion is a bad thing. that’s a knee-jerk conclusion often reached by people when they discover that memes have been the driving force behind the success of religions dogmas.” p190
“cults typically have a mission that they say they’re working toward – perhaps a holy mission. members are conditioned to believe this mission is the most important use of their lives, and they should be willing to sacrifice everything else for the higher purpose. once that meme gets programmed in, they’re effectively enslaved.” p202
“another meme-harnessing strategy used by corporations is called golden handcuffs. the gold these handcuffs are made of is a financial reward, usually in the form of stock options, that is tied to the employee’s long-term participation with the company.
golden handcuffs are nothing more than the consequences of leaving meme, the same one used by cults to keep people in line.” p203
“in a future where mind viruses prol,iferate, the kinds i personally want to see win are viruses that raise people’s quality of life. the way to make such viruses win is twofold:
1. evangelize, evangelize, evangelize! when you come across memes you like, spread them consciously! silence is death to memes.
2. make a point of tying together all the button-pushing memes you can with the memes that raise quality of life. point out how they help our children! remind people this is a crisis! serve them food! offer them sex! well, whatever. but complacency is defeat in the world of mind-viruses – you’re competing with all these self-replicating memes designed to take us back to prehistoric times.” p207
“although zen masters never heard of the word meme, becoming aware of the memes that program one is the essence of the zen discipline. there is incredible value in learning how to free yourself from the prison of thoughts and mind programs anytime you want to.
zen practitioners meditate and ponder riddle-lessons called koans in an effort to retrain their minds to do just that. they learn to take in exactly what their senses perceive and to dissolve the artificial distinction-memes of human ideas and concepts. as any adherent of zen would tell you, it’s almost impossible to even understand what this means unless you’ve actually done it.” p217
“by looking at life from these different perspectives, the student eventually realizes that many of the beliefs she had taken for granted about the nature of reality were simply figments of her imagination.
this process, zen adherents believe, eventually results in the dissolving of all artificial beliefs and an understanding of the world at a new level.” p218-9
“no one comes along and taps you on the shoulder saying it’s time to move up to level 3. in fact, you will have tremendous resistance to even considering that level 3 exists or, if you acknowledge that it does, that you’re not already in it. if you’re living a life of quiet desperation, you’re in level 2. if you often feel bored, unmotivated, confused, resentful, guilty, unworthy, powerless, or like life lacks meaning, you’re in level 2. if you’re just doing what you’ve always done without thinking much about what you want out of life, you’re in level 2 or 1.
i’m now going to say something about level 3. if you’re in level 2, your first reaction will probably be to compare what i say to something you already know and form a conclusion about it. that is a level 2 learning strategy that doesn’t work in level 2….
level 3 is learning to look at life as something to be created out of your personal programming and purpose – the two p’s? = rather than as a maze of knowledge, beliefs, goals, and challenges to be run like a rat. it’s complete personal freedom – freedom from societyal pressures, fredom from guilt, freedom from mind fviruses. (you know the trouble with the rat race, don’t you? even if you win, you’re still a rat.)
In level 3, you pick a purpose for your life and hold it as your highest priority. if you commit strongly enough to this purpose, the cognitive dissonance created with old memes that don’t support this purpose will result in some reprogramming. after time, you’ll find yourself becoming more and more effective at living your purpose. and again, i would recommend picking a purpose that you find rewarding, motivating, meaningful, and altogether fulfilling. you’ll enjoy life and be good at what you do.” p222
“One popular philosophy is live and let live. i’ve got my beliefs, you’ve got yours, and that’s fine. this is an offshoot of the what comes naturally strategy, and as such, leaves evolution in the hands of selfish replicators that don’t serve your quality of life. it’s a very tempting position to take, almost a mandatory position for tolerant people in a free country. but there’s a big difference between the government imposing totalitarian beliefs and individuals spreading memes they consider important. we’ve got to get over our distaste for evangelism if we want to have a positive impact on society; otherwise, mind viruses that make use of evangelism will win the battle for people’s minds.” p223
“is copying ideas a facts really the primary purpose of education, or should it be? remember, without conscious effort on our parts, we tend to fall into the role of mind slaves of memes, living our lives to perpetuate and spread whatever memes are the most powerful.
can we consciously choose a better purpose for education than simply pumping our children’s minds full of memes?” p224
“imagine your’e in charge of creating a brand-new society. you’ve got a school full of eager teachers and bright-eyed children just starting first grade. it’s your job to decide what to do with those children for the next 12 years in order to give your society the best chance of flourishing and give them the best chance of having rich, full lives. what wold you do?
the problem with our current educational system is that we don’t ask questions like that very often, and when we do, any proposals that would call for substantial changes get hammered down by the entrenched power structure and by people’s fear of change.” p225-6
“it’s easy to find people and organizations willing to answer the other questions, about the meaning of life. the problem is, those answers are all either self-serving or part of some mind virus ready to hook you into a religious belief system. but the current fashion of eliminating any of these spiritual questions from school curricula creates a psychic hole in graduates, who within a few years begin to hunger for meaning in life.” p227
“saying it’s the parents’ job to supply the children with values and direction won’t work for these kids who don’t have much of a family. the schools are the place to start tapping these kids’ interests and showing them there is indeed an opportunity for them to have a great life.
the next great shift
whateve the method, the next great shift in education needs to be as big a shift as the momvement from memorization to learning how to thnk. the next step in education is teaching children to decide for themselves what is more important in their lives – facilitating their leap to level 3 of the learning pyramid.
that means empowering them to discover what excites them, motivates them, makes them feel worthy (you know, ‘self-esteem’), and gives life meaning for them. it means telling them the purpose of their lives is to make the most of these things, not to be a cog in the self-perpetuating mechanisms of random culture. it goes beyond handing out buttons telling them to ‘question authority’ or bumper stickers exhoreting them to ‘subvert the dominant paradigm,’ and giving them license to be their own authority and create their own paradigm. it means teaching them to be conscious! conscious! conscious! conscious!
scary? you bet. but the only way to wrest the course of our evolution away from the random selective fores of memes and get it in the hands of individuals is to be absolutely unwavering in our belief that each individual is entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. right now all we’re teaching kids is the pursuit of grades and approval. the pursuit of approval is an engraved invitation to the viruses’ ball. it sucks you into whatever powerful mind virus pushes the most of your buttons. children must be taught to discern and pursue their own values.” p229