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2/1/2013 8:43 a2/p2 Corrupted Thinking and Decisions: Memes, Myths and Cascades Why do bad decisions happen to good people. Is it from pernicious mind genes (Memes) embedded in our culture? Trio of Misperception-----------------------------------------------------------4-A Myths Are Important------------------------------------------------------------4-B Cascades, Shortcuts for Decisions Without Thinking---------------------4-C Memes, Genes of the Mind------------------------------------------------------4-D Correcting and Improving Memes---------------------------------------------4-E Value of the Concept of Memes-------------------------------------------------4-F Memes for a Rebel-----------------------------------------------------------------4-G Countering Faulty Memes-------------------------------------------------------4-H Breakouts Categories of Memes-------------See Appendix 1


Part 4-A The Trio of Misperception Sometimes we let ourselves be duped into mini or major rebellions by what have been called “viruses of the mind”. As you recall memes in biological terms are basic units of cultural transmission. There are good memes and bad (viral) memes and more complex meta memes which involve an entire complex of transmitted information or knowledge .It is particularly important to a leader-rebel to understand the concept of memes and the some special categories which are pernicious to rational thought. A better understanding will not only help you understand what and how to motivate people it will also facilitate your personal ability to separate damaging “viral” memes from useful ones. In terms of “causes” changing pernicious memes of our culture is also worth consideration. Associated with memes are myths, and informational cascades which in terms of causing humans to ere are a special type of meme. Assumptions we make before we take action are often based on myths or the results of cascades. There are some particularly frequent erroneous assumptions that fit this category and these are addressed in Chapter Six. Poor assumptions based on this trio are an extension of the reasons we make bad decisions and are discussed in Chapter 6. Section 4-1 Humans are Not Necessarily Crazy Nor Stupid Many of our problems and errors do not stem from stupidity or mental problems. They stem from mental tools that have helped us survive but which over time may have become inappropriate or damaging to survival and progress of the individual and humanity. Two of the more important decision making tools in the broad category of memes are Information Cascades and Myths. These decision or reasoning tools are important in that they provide a simple, quick, and learned way to process information rapidly. Aside from their use in survival they enable us to fit ourselves to the demands and needs of our culture or environment. Memes include myths and information cascades. Memes are replicating information patterns that use minds to make copies into other minds 1and are the mental equivalent of genes. Cultures with productive or well adapted memes do better than cultures with less beneficial memes. The cultures of criminal gangs, for example, pass on memes or dysfunctional approaches to society which leads gang members to crime and jail. These dysfunctional memes replicate themselves in successive gang members. In a 1

. Dawkins, Richard (1989) The Selfish Gene, New York: Oxford University Press, Second edition.


sense memes are like genes which better enable the more and better adapted genotypes to excel over those less well adapted or those with faulty memes. Gene “complexes”, like religion, scientific applications, and myths, are the more involved meme mental constructs. Education provides us with memes or meme complexes which allow us to accomplish long and involved productive tasks which make it possible to produce objects and systems of value to our culture. Some meme complexes, like religion and myths help us reconcile ourselves to the unanswerable or un provable questions about the whys and meaning of life and death. Information Cascades concept is important because it gives us clues as to when and why revolutions break out or reach a tipping point. 2 They are particularly important to this book in that The Art of Rebellion leads to a second book, A Call to Rebellion, which raises the question of whether our society has reached a tipping point in our dissatisfaction with our method of selecting candidates for President and the corruption of the major political parties and Congress; If the tipping point has been reached it may well be that this will precipitate the crisis which will allow us to improve our government system, a system which was deliberately made difficult to change by the founders of the republic. There is another movement and site on possible ways to improve presidential selection which argues that we have reached a tipping point and must come up with a different way of electing presidents. Aside from the question of “tipping points” for social revolutions we are faced daily with important “informational cascades’ which frequently impel our government and populace to action will little attention to details and veracity of the information. Unwise group actions of Congress and the news media are prominent examples of “The Stampeding of the Herd” which occurs after incidents like hurricane Katrina, egregious corporate boondoggles, or other disasters. Later paragraphs cover this cascade


Pierre Lemieux, Regulation WINTER 2003 – 2004: Cascades are related to tipping points in public opinion and, ultimately, to social and political revolutions. Timur Kuran (1) has developed a model to explain changes in public opinion that lead to sudden and unexpected political revolutions. Major examples include the French revolution in 1789, the Russian revolution in 1917, and the Iranian revolution of 1977–1978. Why did public opinion seem to change so rapidly that contemporaries (and even some revolutionary leaders) were taken by surprise? The crux of Kuran’s theory lies in the assumption that individuals have two types of political preferences, private and public, that do not necessarily coincide. Public preferences are fully expressed and contribute to public opinion, but they may not be the real preferences of the people who express them. Some private preferences may be kept secret. People engage in this sort of “preference falsification” in order to get “reputational utility” through favors, or at least nonrepression, from the regime. But an individual will only falsify his preferences up to a certain point, because he also gets utility from “integrity” — that is, from the coincidence of his public and private preferences. An individual decides which preferences to express so as to maximize his utility by balancing reputational and integrity contributions. A sudden revolution happens when people stop hiding their private preferences, and the movement snowballs. –(1) “Availability Cascades and Risk Regulation,” by Timur Kuran and Cass Sunstein. Stanford Law Review, Vol. 51, No. 4 (April1999).


phenomenon in more detail. “Rush to judgment” is not uncommon in many cultures and is typical of “tipping points” in “information cascades” There are several classic and recent publications explaining other categories of errors which lead us to do stupid things.3 If we are to succeed in better understanding the tools and arts of rebellion we need to better understand the major categories of thinking errors.


The old Classics on the subject of stupidity include Michael Shermer’s, Why People Believe Weird Things and Charles McKay’s 1841, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. Later works include Gene F. Ostrom’s Why Smart People Do Stupid Things and recently Robert J. Sternberg’s collection of scholarly papers on Why Smart People Can be So Stupid.


Part 4-B Myths are Important Section 4-2 Myths Help a Culture Cope Many of us like to think that we have escaped from the age of myths. Not so. Myths still serve us in worthwhile ways despite some that are damaging. While there are various categories of myths the types that interest us here are just a few examples so that we may lay out a more lengthy examination after the importance of such an examination becomes more apparent. Myths include urban legends. Since much of religion is based on faith many myths are efforts to turn faith into certainty. There is a multi-faith site which makes a serious effort to improve religious tolerance as well as open up the discussion on religious legends or myths.


Part 4-C Cascades, Shortcuts - Decisions Without Thinking Section 4-3 Cascades Have Value and Danger Cascades are shortcuts which help the herd or troop of animals survive. Cascades serve to indicate danger to animals. A baboon troop’s cries alert all members to danger, real or imagined, and impel them all to move to higher safety. To humans cascades serve a similar mechanism for quick transmission of information which may or may not be true. We human animals still use “cascades” because they save us time and effort– notwithstanding that our knowledge that the use of information will frequently be in error. They allow us to be social and appear to be “in the loop” or at least have one interpretation of events which lets us more easily fit into or appear important in our culture. Unfortunately the danger in cascades is that they lead us into a rush to judgment from which our ego makes it difficult to retract without a loss of face. Having rushed to judgment, which is confirmed by similar perception of the rest of the herd we can sometimes be impelled to public or actual lynching of innocent individuals or groups. Information cascades are natural to all animals and while they may save time for humans they may lead us to error in disastrous ways.


Part 4-D Memes Are Changeable Genes of the Mind Section 4-4 Memes Matter An important part of how and why we end up choosing the causes we do is a direct result of the “memes” we pick up from our culture over the years. Memes are basically “mind sets” or cultural information. Examining them provides a useful category for helping us determine why we as individuals and a culture continue to do stupid, as well as useful, things. Memes are relatively long term influences in that they are serious “prejudices” about how we view the world. “Cascades”, both reputation and informational, are shorter term, non-rational, sometimes complex memes, which influences our decisions and the information we pass on. Of particular interest is their frequent use and impact on the political process.4 When one thinks of memes as genes the lexicon of memes is revealing in the various ways that memes are manipulated. The concept of meme finds increasing use as a way to analyze information transfer despite some religionists who object to the propagator of the idea as being anti religion. Part 4-E Correcting and Improving Memes Section 4-5 Criteria for Selecting Problems and the Use of Memes Complex memes direct the actions we take and the causes we select. A meaningful cause should meet the following criteria: •


It should address a serious societal problem or fulfill an important social need. Religions can fulfill social needs, as covered in chapter one; however the finest aspirations of causes must advance the elevation of humankind to less pain, less cruelty, less hunger, and the opportunity for lives of joy. An “important social need” is not attached to the single individual aspirant but to the needs of entire society not just to one of our own tribe or religion. Using these criteria the outreach of religions to help those in need, irrespective of religious affiliation, is probably the purest effort to avoid joining the destructive competition between religions.

Cass Sunstein and Timur Kuran Stanford Law Review 1999.


A meaningful cause cannot be attached to an aspiration which is false per se. The measures envisioned in the cause must be effective and not produce worse effects Abortion, for example is supposed to be attached to the concept of reverence for life but the fundamental truth is that much unwanted potential life has no chance for dignity and fulfillment. Whatever your moral convictions about the morality of abortion most arguments on abortion end up dictating to others how they shall deal with life. A sincere reverence for life means putting more your assets into the lives that are already out of the womb and suffering from our lack of care for poor and homeless children. Another example; the drug war is fought in the name of prevention of pernicious damage to individuals but the spawn of the drug war is prisons filled with the addicted, crime, and terrorism, all of which have a much greater pernicious impact than the personal damage of illegal drugs. In countering the pernicious effects of some drugs it is control and treatment that must be the goal but those desired ends are lost in our current efforts in a “drug war”. The difficulty with avoiding causes which are “false in themselves” is that many erroneous causes are embedded in our everyday thinking, speaking and relating to others in the form of memes.5 The term memes is a very plastic, useful term in helping us to look dispassionately at concepts which carry much emotional baggage. Memes evolved from Dawkins original concept and is used in this work to encompass the shorthand word for a body of concepts which embody an entire


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Meme, (rhymes with "dream" and comes from memetic and memory), is the term given to a unit of information that replicates from brains and inanimate stores of information, such as books and computers, to other brains or stores of information. The term meme was coined in 1976 by Richard Dawkins in his controversial bestselling book, The Selfish Gene. Inanimate sources of information have been termed 'retention systems'. In more specific terms, a meme is a self-propagating unit of cultural evolution analogous to the gene (the unit of genetics). Memes can represent parts of ideas, languages, tunes, designs, skills, moral and aesthetic values and anything else that is commonly learned and passed on to others as a unit. The study of evolutionary models of information transfer is called memetics. In casual use, the term meme is sometimes used to mean any piece of information that is passed from one mind to another. This is much closer to the analogy of "language as a virus" than it is to Dawkins's analogy of memes as replicating behaviors. "The key to every man is his thought. Sturdy and defying though he look, he has a helm which he obeys, which is the idea after which all his facts are classified. He can only be reformed by showing him a new idea which commands his own." — Ralph Waldo Emerson


group of ideas and as used herein as a “virus of the mind” which are passed from one individual to another as a set. Moreover while this type meme is useful, many of these memes are largely unexamined by most of the public, many memes are based on an entire set of false premises which pollute our everyday discourse, thinking and culture. The terms “liberal” and “conservative”, in the context of this book, are memes for there is no such thing as a pure liberal or conservative; the definition dependent on the individual applying it. Meme resistance; Karl Popper advocated a type of meme resistance in the strongest possible terms: “the survival value of intelligence is that it allows us to extinct a bad idea, before the idea extincts us."6 Meme theory addresses this problem more directly. Resistance to adulation of some developments in science and technology has been a common meme (or anti-meme or un-meme) which has guided human cultural and cognitive evolution away from disastrous paths - the US and USSR stockpiled but did not use nuclear weapons in the Cold War period because of an anti-meme on utility. A counter-point meme... Ignorance is considered a virtue in some cultures -- in particular; ignorance of scientific theories or facts which are in conflict with religious doctrine.

6 7

The “cause” should bring honest pleasure to those engaged in the effort. Fun and “Csikszentmihalyi7-like flow” lead one to constant learning and improvement of the effort in which one is involved. This fun and flow make it better for you and those you serve.

The “cause” should enable the participant to live to a code of conduct which recognizes the rights of others. Successful salesmen know that to create a longstanding business both side of the deal must feel like that got a “good deal”. All relationships springing from causes must accommodate this approach. Dictating to others is not a good deal for both sides.

The effects of the effort should produce long term benefits to all individuals affected. Short term solutions which have long term pernicious effects are not rational. One important part of development in children involves learning that short term gains frequently have large long term costs. From watching their contemporaries some teens observe, for instance, that unprotected sex leads to disease and pregnancy. Some adults never learn however that uncontrolled credit card expenditures lead to less available funds in the future.

The primary and all encompassing value however is the answer to the question; do the Memes associated with the “cause” have survival value for

Ibid. Op cit


the culture? Causes based on pernicious or toxic memes are the quicksand of a meaningless or wasted life. “Peace” is an example of a meme which is an end condition of “right action” not an action in itself. It unfortunately cannot be a complete method as a cause; the sociopaths of the world find most useful those who believe that the “peace” of “turning the other cheek” is the answer to all provocations. Those who believe and act on this meme are “free riders” and let other more responsible individuals bear their burden of societal obligations.


Part 4-F Value of the Concept of “Memes” The Utility of the Concept of “Memes” Section 4-6 The concept of “meme’ is useful because it helps explain and reach understanding of why cultures do things; some of these things, when examined rationally, make little sense; things which not only make little sense but actually put the culture endorsing those memes in longer term danger of catastrophe or great loss and destruction. An example of such a historical meme which is frequently mentioned in political discourse today was the perception or paradigm or possibility that appeasement would guarantee “peace in our time” which the major English political establishment held as a meme before the onslaught of Germany’s initiation of the Second World War. The use of appeasement as a social tactic is one of those memes which frequently works person to person but which rarely works in international responses to tyrants. Tyrants are essentially sociopathic people and appeasement simply provides an appetizer for the beast within the tyrant. Somewhat akin to the concept of “meme” is “mind set” or “paradigm” but these and other somewhat similar words lack an essential element in that “memes”, a concept which springs from neo Darwinian scientists, have an additional fundamental element that Richard Dawkins expressed when he coined the word; that is “memes are images or concepts which are passed from person to person and are, like genes, important to the survival and progress of a culture. It is unfortunate that some elements or religion have decided that neo Darwinism is a direct attack on religion; in the cases of some writers on the subject of memes this is indeed true. The problem in using the concept of “memes” is that one cannot escape the argument between secularist and religionist. Because of this I have in this book borrowed some the arguments of the “meme” proponents but applied a particular term of “mind set” in lieu of the more common definition and some time anti-religious tones of “meme”. This allows the adoption of more balance between the secularist and religionist for whether one believes the fundament “faith” issues of religion or not there are great social benefits to some aspects of religion. The Importance of the Concept “Memes” Section 4-7 The best example of the importance of “mind sets” or “strategic” memes in the survival of a culture might be in Jared Diamond’s book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. The Greenland Norse vanished from history because they could not escape from their cattle raising mind set they brought with them from Norway.


The clement fjords of Greenland looked like home but in a few generations their attempt to continue a life in Greenland, with cattle as the base, caused them to cut down all the trees, erode the soil and apparently starve in a climate where native cultures who depended on fish prospered. As a result of a failed “strategic meme” 5000 Norse with their cathedral and failed way of life perished in less than 500 years. Jared’s book finds support and opposition between Cornucopians and neo-Malthusians but the strategic memes of the Norse as well as the memes of the people of Easter Island, who also chopped down all their trees, so as to adhere to a previous environmental meme. Disastrous historical memes provide insights into the importance of evaluating strategic memes; the solutions to the arguments raised by Jared Diamond’s book illuminate the strategic nature and warning of some memes. Part 4-G Memes for A Rebel One Redefinition of “Memes” Section 4-8 The original definition of memes by Dawkins was useful in terms of his subject of evolution but some additions are required to make the concept of memes more helpful in terms of rebels and rebellion. A more restrained and particular view of memes might view them as short hand “mind sets” which significant groups or cultures adopt. These “mind set” memes contain objectives, goals, or attitudes toward action in the national arena. In a democratic society these “mind-set memes” curtail or drive national actions. Memes may be false but beneficial or false and toxic. They can be accurate and helpful to the progress, success, or survival of a culture and its people. Some examples of “mind-set memes” are “environmentalism”, feminism, Christian conservatism. None of these memes or good or bad in themselves and each contain quantities of sub-memes which have different values as well. The point however is that the concept of memes leads us to a way to evaluate those mind-sets which drive “causes” that have direct value and impact on our culture; just as important, evaluation of memes can lead to valuable opposition to those memes which damage our culture. Memes can be represented in the everyday expression of a particular individual such as an extreme columnist who always sings the same tune, a noun, a book, or a general approach. Some individuals are described by the advertising culture as “brands” like Pepsi or Coke because we have a very good idea of the cultural meme they occupy. Effective rebels know what memes they are supporting in the “causes” they pursue. It is not an easy task. Dawkins and Dennett showed that memes are not unlike our genes in theway we acquire them; we pick them up from our culture and for most these memes are not a rational choice but indoctrination from our parents, our friends, our


schools, and our environment. The themes in slogans and music are simple examples of the memes we pick up with little thought. As laid out by Dawkins, and many of the writers of memes who followed, almost any information that is replicated and carried on to other minds and generations is defined as a meme. The memes that are of interest to the rebel and rebellion however are “strategic” memes. “Strategic memes” are those replicated concepts which affect the survival of an entire culture. Artistic memes, while they may improve the quality of life, fall -- in large measure, outside the realm of interest of this book. Even many scientific memes which might have great importance in improving the quality of life may not be “strategic” in nature. Identifying Good, Productive Strategic “Memes” (GPSMs) Section 4-9 Most Memes come to us with implicit values or objectives. Some memes are toxic and others beneficial while others are merely noise. How do we detect memes which are good or productive for our culture? Seven rules seem to best identify Good Productive Memes (GPSMs). The defining question in the terms of the science of organization, cybernetics, might well be: does the meme increase “fitness” in terms of assisting humankind. 1. GPSMs lead to results which enhance potential or survival of the culture. (An example might be a concept for wide spread protection against viruses.) 2. GPSMs assist individuals and the culture at large to make decisions which enhance or lead to the survival of the culture. (An example might be whether to create or enlarge a police force for a new or growing city) 3. GPSMs consider long term impacts balanced against short term impacts of implicit actions. (An example might be the public’s refusal to consider the long term impacts of actions revamping Social Security. 4. GPSMs which include inherent false or toxic sub-memes have overall results which outweigh the impact of the sub-memes. The Social Security argument was primarily driven by the apparent short term perceived impact on older citizens 5. GPSMs recognize the utility as well as the danger of faith based memes and the difficulty of arriving at or owning “truth” and the inherent conflict with other religions. 6. GPSMs can be stated clearly in a fashion which largely avoids indefinable buzzwords. 7. GPSMs have built in resistance to false and toxic counter-memes. 8. GPSMs strive for win-win solutions which lay groundwork for future solutions agreements.


Part 4-H Countering Faulty Memes Countering Faulty “Memes” Section 4-10 Countering-faulty memes requires following some common standards for advertising and argument. 1. Outrage and hate speech make compromise and progress more difficult 2. Money driven propaganda and advertising require similar levels of expenditure. If due to limited exposure minds never receive the message there can be no opportunity for change. 3. The best counter-memes cover both sides of the argument and use conventional rules of argument and persuasion. 4. Those who believe they possess the absolute truth must first have doubts. An attack on the truth of true believers embeds their defense rather than convincing them of the need to rethink their positions. All memes have gradations of belief in the principal meme as well as in the sub-memes. The importance of this is that changing the public’s memes requires working the sub memes as well. 5. All counter-memes should allow for Win-win termination. All intellectual arguments must leave a dignified way to retreat or in possession of some “win”.

Why Some Cultures and People Use Dysfunctional Memes Section 4-11 Manipulation by Others Perhaps the primary reason for rewarding dysfunction memes is the high number of manipulators and Sociopaths in all cultures. The hard fact is that all individuals start life as selfish individuals; many remain so. Some, but not all, with age and education, learn the importance of cooperative life strategies and caring for others. Sociopaths (Psychopaths) are 1 to 3 percent of our population are very smart, frequently successful, and with total disdain for the damage hurt and death they cause. Sociopaths are not crazy. They can be and frequently are leaders in many professions. Many professionals who deal with sociopaths (also called antisocial personalities or anti-socials) say that antisocials are distinguished by being born with total lack of empathy or understanding of others needs.


Sociopaths with high intelligence not only have a sense of superiority but a total disdain for the rights of others, a disdain that they are smart enough to conceal. In fact many con artists are excellent at concealing their total disdain for others and use that ability in memes which exploit others in society. White collar criminals and crooked politicians are frequent examples of this type of sociopath. See Appendix 1 for a Breakout of Questionable Means That Will be Worked on the WIKI


Chapter IV.Corrupted Thinking, Myths, Memes, and Cascades  

A plea for rationality