Today we’re going to touch on a really phenomenally strange idea that I’ve had recently. This idea is going to be building on The Wisdom of Solomon and the Pieces of Mind series, as well as the two prior Memetics articles (Intro and Engineering), so be sure that you’re caught up. The Will to Order article may also be useful to have read. There’s going to be a bit of metaphysics that I touch on here that will have to be explained in full in a later article, but this should be a good way for me to start moving in that direction. The concept I’m going to be exploring is what I’ll be calling Memetic Identity, that is- a theory of identity that combines the earlier articles into something closer to a coherent whole.
Let’s get it,
Now, as we’ve seen in the first part of the Pieces of Mind series, there are three major layers of the self, the petty ego (thoughts, ideas, opinions, feelings, and other transitory, malleable bits), the Ego Proper (the immutable personality), and the True Self (is-ness, the watcher, the pure observational consciousness that is common among all people). Memes operate generally on the level of the petty ego (which is where we interact with the noosphere), and perhaps, if you’re a human meme, on the level of the Ego proper. Now, of course, a person who does not have the requisite level of self-awareness to distinguish the three layers sees all three as the undifferentiated self.
Some backstory before I run with that- during the time I lived in Fayetteville, NC and was trying to start the waste valet company, I decided to attempt to infiltrate a pyramid scheme. I had just gotten done with my 40 day fast and was shopping for cooking utensils at Bed, Bath, and Beyond, when a dude approached me and started talking about business. I didn’t realize at first that he was trying to recruit me for a multi-level marketing operation, but eventually I figured it out. Anyway, I said “why not,” and decided to play along.
One of the things he gave me for training was one of the many books by Robert Kiyosaki (best known for his book Rich Dad, Poor Dad), called The Business of the 21st Century, which was surprisingly enough a book about (you guessed it) multi-level marketing. I won’t get deep into it, although if you’re interested, a PDF is easily discoverable with a Google search.
You may be wondering where I’m going with this and what it has to do with memes- just trust me, we’re getting there. There’s a phrase that I came up with some time ago that’s appropriate here- “If you want to find what no one else has found, look where no one else is looking.” Por exemplar- there is no self-respecting person looking at pyramid schemes, so that is a potential area that could have some important, neglected gem of insight hidden in the bullshit.
As it happened, there was one beautifully brilliant idea- that of “replicability.”
You’ve heard the phrase “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime,” right? Everyone has. Replicability, however, is the idea of “teach a man to fish and teach men to fish, but also teach those men to teach men to fish, ad infinitum.”
There’s both a perfect parallel and a fantastic segue away from MLM schemes in the old Master-Disciple traditions of mystic religions. Back in the day, it was generally only the priest classes that were literate, and because of this, it was generally only the priest classes that knew the esoteric meanings hidden in the religious metaphors and parables. This system was sustained by impressively long lines of Master-Disciple lineage, known in the East as the Guru-Shishya tradition or parampara (lit. “an uninterrupted row”).
An illustration of a parampara.
The goal of a Master was not only to create another Master, but to make that Master capable of creating successive Master-creating Masters. This was the only way to ensure that the lineage continued and the secret teachings were perpetuated. There are two unfortunate side effects of this system that we’re going to explore in more detail- the dangers that arise when the chains are broken, and the “lossy” nature of the format (think deep-fried jpeg memes).
You can tell when the secret teachings of a religion have been lost when the metaphor is taken as literal (literalization). (I’d argue that all the supernatural elements of religion arise from this, but that’s a controversial idea that deserves a proper argument in its own right, so we’ll leave it there.) For example- if someone thought that having an actual quantity of faith the size of a mustard seed could literally move a mountain, that would be an instance of literalization. Obviously, that’s more of a general statement about believing in your capacity to accomplish what you set your mind to than it is about actual geographic formation relocation. Often, these chains are broken by the more exoteric (also generally larger and more powerful) central churches, similar to how the Gnostics, the Cathars, and the Sufis were all persecuted.
Enough about all that, let’s get into the memetics of it.
The core idea of replicability is the most important of all concepts when discussing memetic engineering. Just as evolution selects for an animal that reproduces and creates strong reproductive offspring, the dynamics that govern memetics select for ideas that are extra spreadable. However, just as evolution only “cares” about what helps the organism survive, memetics only “cares” about ideas that are passed on and retained. In evolution, this means that mutations are potentially useful, but as far as memetics are concerned, it’s a different story.
When we’re thinking about memetic engineering, mutation is actually more likely to be harmful than good. If the meme complex we’re spreading is a coherent philosophy, for example, mutations are almost always going to be making it less coherent. I touched on this in the last part of the series when I talked about the tendency for ideas to morph to fit nootypes. This is avoidable by engineering the meme in advance to fit the nootypic form that the mind desires, so not too difficult.
However, just because the idea fits the nootypic profile does not mean the idea is easily spreadable. One could have a phenomenal religion/philosophy that centers around a vow of silence, and whether or not it’s perfect, no one will ever hear about it. This is where Christianity did so very well- the concept of evangelism and “spreading the good word.” We’ll call this the evangelical imperative, which is going to be something like the memetic engineering equivalent of the biological sex drive. (This may be a nootype.) What the evangelical imperative implies is that we must create a mechanism by which the meme complex compels the host to spread it.
(Interestingly enough, the word evangelism comes from the Greek εὐαγγέλιον, which basically means the reward a messenger gets for delivering good news.)
“Tell the truth, no matter what,” could be construed as an evangelical imperative, although I personally think that becomes parasitic as soon as you get killed for telling the truth, which is not what we’re aiming for here with our philosophy of life. Any philosophy that invites you to die is parasitic, and martyrdom is no goal of mine- be very wary of any man that advocates it.
One aspect that we may be able to use to our advantage here is that the greater one’s alignment with reality and the true nature of the world is, the more successful they will be in said world. This, however, is more of the opposite of the evangelical imperative- it’s a reward for adopting the ideology, let’s call it conversion incentive. Any properly engineered meme complex will have both an evangelical imperative (spread the good news or go to hell) and a conversion incentive (accept the good news or go to hell). Whether those examples are beneficial here is irrelevant, because they work.
I am no utilitarian and not that great a pragmatist, however, so I will avoid using fear tactics- fear comes from ignorance and ignorance is the antithesis of Truth. Instead, we have to figure out how to make an argument that’s from logos, not pathos or ethos. One of the ideas I’ve come up with as far as this is concerned is-
“Be the person you needed when you were younger.”
Everyone can relate to this, unless you haven’t experienced any sort of personal crisis or inner conflict (if so, lucky you). Another I like (as you may have guessed) is “Save the World– Master your Self,” which is something to the same sentiment. The fake Gandhi quote “Be the change you want to see in the world” is also along these lines.
One tempting thought would be to include some kind of requirement for teaching in the meme complex, but not everyone is set out to be a teacher, and many who are not would then be teaching, leading to a much higher degree of lossy transfer (imperfect meme transmission, like continually saving a JPEG).
Here’s where we get hardcore. This is going to be tricky to explain, so bear with me.
In Buddhism, there’s the notion of getting rid of attachments. This involves detachment from everything in the petty ego, and (theoretically), everything in the Ego Proper (which I disagree with because it’s self-abnegation which is life-denial, but I digress). Theoretically, this state would result in a person who is purely Self (the True Self, just is-ness, an empty vessel through which being flows). If two people could attain such a state, we could say that they were identical internally, because the nature of the True Self is the same for all people.
We have a blank human canvas, in a sense. This would be a person without any desire, a perfect Buddha. Now, considering that we are not aiming to escape the world and attain Nirvana, but instead are making a philosophy for living, this is not ideal. Actually, I’d argue that one should strive for this state, because the act of doing so is probably the best means of completing the inner work of self-mastery. I remember reading a quote that said something that the last desire that must be given up is the desire to attain Nirvana itself, and that really struck a chord with me.
A lack of desires is death, and if you can get to the point where you’ve emptied yourself out completely, you are now free to start fresh. Beyond that, I think that the process of letting go of all attachments is a means by which you discover the difference between the petty ego (attachments that can be let go of) and the Ego Proper (core personality traits that cannot be abandoned). If you disagree from some sort of perspective of Buddhist theology, fine by me. Go do nothing and want nothing for the rest of forever and I’ll do this, and we’ll see who has a better time.
Anyway, since we have now gotten ourselves through the deconstructive, disintegrative process of purgation and purification, we can now begin the reconstructive process- this is where we begin to integrate a coherent philosophy into who we are, and that brings us to the concept of memetic identity.
If the True Self is the same for all people, then, barring the individual differences in personality (flavor?), we could theoretically create a meme complex that, in conjunction with the True Self, would be very similar to the concept of immortality.
Imagine a process that any person could undertake, first of self-purgation, then of reconstruction, at the end of which each person would have a knowledge of the True Self filtered through their respective Proper Egos. Despite their individual differences, such people would have an essential sameness- a memetic identity. This is very tricky to understand if you don’t yet have an intuitive understanding of the difference between the True Self and the Ego Proper.
Imagine it this way- you see yourself as [INSERT NAME HERE]. You’re a person, with the identity of a person and all your aggregated thoughts, ideas, beliefs, experiences, personality, and so on. However, your identity is far larger than that.
Your personal identity is the product of a several billion year old series of self-replicating molecules. This chain has been unbroken for the entirety of this time, and should you and your descendants continue to reproduce, will remain unbroken for countless aeons to come. In the light of this reality, [INSERT NAME HERE] is just a brief blip on the surface of this nigh-infinite DNA strand that arises from the nature of being itself. While [INSERT NAME HERE] will inevitably die and fall away to the march of time, the true root of your being, the generative force that produced your True Self will remain.
Knowing this, imagine creating a system for each of your offspring to attain this elevated state of understanding. It involves the shift from an identification with the Ego (both parts) to an identification with the True Self, knowing that even though the Ego dies, the True Self lives on- this memetic identity, if it could avoid lossy transfer, would be immortal, eternally dying and resurrecting.
Above the Temple at Delphi, it was written: