This part of the Memetics series is primarily going to be building on what I talked about in Memetic Identity (and possibly some of Contagion as well, we’ll see where it goes). This is one of the articles that I came up with the title for before I started writing it, because the idea of the Weapon of Fate is too cool not to write about. On that note, what I’m going to be discussing here is a collection of theories that I have regarding the nature of the noosphere and how it shapes and produces ideological hosts who can act in the world- memetic possession.
One thing I’ve observed is that life seems to present individual with a long series of choices long before we’re conscious enough to realize we’re making them. When we’re young, we discover that either people like us or they don’t through socialization, so we learn something about ourselves and abstract out a rule regarding how the world works. I’m not going too far into the developmental psychology angle of this, so let me clarify things a bit with some personal examples.
There are a handful of moments in my childhood that, despite being fairly unremarkable, I remember very strongly because they influenced my worldview. One such moment (or perhaps a collection of moments that got compressed into a simplified takeaway) was in my fourth grade math class. My teacher would give out these ridiculously long packets of problems we had to do on the weekend, and I remember sitting at my desk in my room, staring out the window at perfectly nice weather while I was stuck doing math. Ever since then, I’ve always hated math.
Now, we could imagine that event as some kind of isolated incident, but that’s not how I look at the world. Let’s extrapolate out from that.
This took place at a public school. If you’re familiar with the origin of the educational system that most of the western world uses, you’ll know that it’s based on the Prussian model, designed to train soldiers and factory workers. There’s very little emphasis on creativity, and a lot of subjects are unfortunately divorced from any sort of practical application. (For a spectacular alternative educational, check out the Van Damme Academy, who I’ve been a fan of for nearly a decade.) Math, especially, is a subject that’s almost entirely isolated from practical application- when was the last time you actually had to calculate when two trains were going to pass each other?
So we have the large picture of the Prussian model, combined with socio-political pressures that lead to compulsory education, on top of a fairly disjointed system that teaches subjects as isolated systems rather than complementary and synergistic tools. Now, I obviously didn’t know any of this in fourth grade, but the important thing here is that you don’t have to know it to be affected by it. This is how memetic possession begins to operate- we didn’t even get into the fact that there are ideological and political ideas being disseminated via the educational system as well. Even simple tweaks in an English class reading list can be a powerful mechanism for memetic dissemination.
The most important thing to understand here is that most people are not operating at a high enough level of metaconsciousness to plan this sort of thing out on the largest levels. For most people, they’ll just think to teach a book that resonates with them, or to use examples they can relate to while teaching. Hanlon’s Razor applies here (as with most places)- “don’t assume malice when ignorance will suffice.” Most people are not actively pushing an ideological agenda with the intention to indoctrinate their students, although this is potentially more prevalent in higher education.
What you have to do to really understand what I’m getting at here is imagine that (as I’ve discussed in a handful of these articles) the entirety of the culture is like a singular person- when the culture is sick, this is a person whose thoughts are at war with itself (re: politics and the culture war). In the same way that an individual person’s beliefs are formed largely unconsciously throughout their life, so are the culture’s beliefs propagated largely unconsciously. Most people don’t watch movies and then have in-depth discussions about the underlying themes of the film- they talk about how the movie made them feel.
I mentioned in one of the Real Talk articles that there’s a process where competence is developed- unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence, and unconscious competence. This is the means by which we learn how to do basically everything. First you don’t know that you don’t know how to do something (like read the ideological undertones of a movie), then you realize that you’ve been missing stuff the whole time. After this, you have to force yourself to analyze what’s really going on, and eventually you reach a state where you can do it without exerting effort- intuitive, reflexive understanding developed by extensive practice.
Now, just as practicing a skill (like playing guitar) is in some sense the application of conscious intention and the exertion of Will over the mind, so does the cultivation of conscious intention as an actor in the noosphere begin to increase the amount of influence one has. In “The Wisdom of Solomon,” I mentioned the theory that the mind is actually comprised of a number of competing circuits that all vie for control of the individual. In the same sense, people in a culture vie for control of the overarching cultural metamind. For example, just as a person with a binge eating disorder is possessed by the hunger circuit, so are single-issue voters possessed by a memetic circuit.
More simply- there is no separation (or at least, very little) between the attainment of an understanding of one’s own mind and the understanding of the cultural metamind that operates in the noosphere, because the metamind is constructed from individual minds. For example- if you have a Windows computer that you understand, you’re probably also able to understand a network of Windows computers running on the same OS. The only difference would be the communication protocols involved. When this comes to people, the communication protocol is understood via memetics, social psychology, ideology, politics, and philosophy (in no particular order).
Now, it’s essential to note that because “we can only understand others to the depth and in the manner we understand ourselves,” we have to first seek knowledge of Self and then extrapolate the principles we observe in ourselves to begin to understand others. If you have the ability to see how you’re able to be influenced by a group, you’ll likely gain some insight into how others are influenced by groups. This is only possible if you’re honest with yourself, because if you don’t believe you can be influenced, you’re certainly not going to learn how you’re vulnerable to being influenced.
It’s also important to remember that unconscious influence is felt intuitively with emotions. People resonate with a demagogic politician because they speak in such a way that they stir up emotions in the hosts that are in the audience. Those who have developed a level of rational detachment can resist, or at least be aware of what’s actually going on in the ideological, memetic content of the rousing speech being given. This ties back into why I don’t talk about politics– politics operates on an almost completely emotional level, hence the very low quality of discourse in the west today.
Emotions seem to be a byproduct of internalized decisions (like my extreme aversion to math is compressed into an emotional distaste for the entire subject), so if one were to try and convince me to not hate math, you’d have to figure out how to address the root childhood experience of me being forced to do packets of problems that were entirely useless to my life, rather than telling me logically that “math is important, it’s not stupid.” I know that, rationally, but my aversion is emotional. When you realize this and the implications within it, you’ll understand why it’s impossible to change political opinions on the level of political opinions.
You have to go deeper.
If you aren’t conscious of the effect that memes and ideologies have on you, you are controlled by them. As Jung said (and I quote this all the time), “until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” This is the impact of unconscious incompetence- if you don’t understand how gravity and the Bernoulli principle work, you’re not going to be able to understand how a plane flies. In the same sense, if you don’t know the series of situations and experiences by which you arrived at your belief system, you’ll be unable to question it.
Now, let’s look at what happens to those who are not yet conscious of their ignorance. This is where memetic possession begins, (which is basically equivalent to the term ideological possession). A person possessed by an ideological memeplex will be effectively equivalent to any other person also possessed, because of the fact that the nootypal action forces conformity– dogma and peer pressure to agree. This works because the possession is based in emotions, and also because true defiance of the possession is an action drawn from the rational part of the mind. If you’re going to beat an emotional argument, you have to have the calm detachment of a better argument. However, this rationality has to begin from the individual- you will never convince a memetically possessed individual with rationality, because their possession is not based in it.
This is why we begin with philosophy- most people (whether or not they’re capable of it) will not change very much (consciously), simply due to the nature of the cultural metamind. Ideas and memes move from the top down, just like a company is directed by the CEO and board of executives. What’s important here (and actually pretty inspirational, if you think about it) is that the more you become conscious of yourself and the mechanisms by which the system operates, you will grow in your ability to influence it and will naturally rise towards the top of the hierarchy. Competence is almost always rewarded, except in truly broken systems.
Now for the fun part.
I’ve touched on in both the AION series and “A Philosophy for Eternity” that I’m convinced of an overarching purpose to the nature of the universe- that life is the compensatory force for the loss of usable energy. Now, we’re not going super deep into the metaphysics here, so don’t worry about that at the moment. The important takeaway is that if the universe has a true nature, and if someone could then understand themselves and align their nature with that of the universe, then we’d have something immensely powerful…
The Weapon of Fate.
I’ve done a lot of reading in my time into the Yogic traditions of the East. One of the ideas that they discuss often is the process of emptying oneself out of attachment. It’s a movement from ignorance to Truth, or from the unreal to the real. We’re born in ignorance and delusion, but we have the means to approach the Truth of reality with the implementation of conscious effort. As we become conscious, we become competent, as we become competent, we move up the hierarchy.
Now, it’s important to understand that the hierarchy of the noosphere goes far higher than simply the living humans who are in power in the world. The noetic hierarchy includes great men of years past, philosophers, deities, old religions, prophets, and so on- anyone who became sufficiently emblematic of a powerful meme or memeplex. It’s critical to understand that even the long dead still influence the world- Jung influenced this article in both the form of the quote I used, but also in the sense that I have a fairly deep understanding of his approach to the psyche. Immortality (or at least a sort of extremely long life) is possible in the noosphere, but only so long as you retain “competence” by representing a useful means of thinking or operating in the world.
This is a really fascinating concept to play with. Let’s combine this notion with that of the Expanded Self. By virtue of these seemingly invisible forces that influence our development, one could say that the very nature of human society produces the forces needed to alter it. Just as a totalitarian government’s abuses of power will inevitably create the very opposition they wish to suppress, so will the state of the noosphere create the kind of person required to rebalance the world.
Let’s simplify this idea with another example from my life.
If I could have any job in the world, I would like nothing more than to design bathrooms. Yes, I acknowledge that’s a pretty dumb thing to do, but I’ve been a huge fan of good design for most of my life. I remember reading about Dieter Rams, Jony Ive, and Frank Lloyd Wright at length, and I’ve taken a lot of my approach to design from them. One thing I noticed is that, while most design is pretty bad, almost all bathroom design is bad. It’s an afterthought for architects, and if supply and demand dictates the nature of the market, there’s almost no supply and a huge demand.
However, I have some kind of internal barometer that forces me to operate in such a way that I’m compelled to work on things that I see actually improving the state of the world. This is the same inner force that led me to hate math, as well as to be dissatisfied with college and to start this site. If I’m not working on something that feels meaningful, I start to lose my mind. There’s a great Zen story that represents what I’m getting at here:
A hermit was meditating by a river when a young man interrupted him. “Master, I wish to become your disciple,” said the man. “Why?” replied the hermit. The young man thought for a moment. “Because I want to find God.”
The master jumped up, grabbed him by the scruff of his neck, dragged him into the river, and plunged his head under water. After holding him there for a minute, with him kicking and struggling to free himself, the master finally pulled him up out of the river. The young man coughed up water and gasped to get his breath. When he eventually quieted down, the master spoke. “Tell me, what did you want most of all when you were under water.”
“Air!” answered the man.
“Very well,” said the master. “Go home and come back to me when you want God as much as you just wanted air.”
This force I’m describing is the same as what the master is looking for- all the best creative types in the world have some kind of innate compulsion to produce their work. “You have to do whatever you can’t not do,” is along similar lines.
So what’s the Weapon of Fate, then? The Weapon of Fate is a person who has done two things: understood their innate purpose, and aligned that purpose with the overarching purpose of the universe. You’ll know these kind of people when you hear about them- MLK’s oratory ability, Steve Jobs’ understanding of upcoming technologies, Frank Lloyd Wright’s intuition in regards to how architecture could look. These are the sorts of people who can revolutionize an industry, start a massive political movement, or even develop new religions. These are the people whose entire being represents the solution to a social problem.
There’s a concept called “flow” that describes the ideal state of action as being exactly the right balance between something we’re good at and something we find challenging. The continual pursuit of this state is what drives people to become excellent, as the bar continues to raise itself. You’ve probably experienced a flow state when doing an activity that puts you in “the zone.”
Now, imagine a flow state that’s defined by the culture- a meta state of an absolute need presented in the culture and being exactly the right person to solve it. This is basically my theory where the “great men” of culture emerge- we only see those who are the right answer, and we forget those who are the wrong answer. Ironically, it may seem like fate for those who are the “right” person, but it’s only because for them, it is. Much of what we call fate is a backwards rationalization for what happened in our lives, so I use the term with a touch of irony.
That being said, it’s hard to argue that someone like George Washington wasn’t fated to lead the American revolution- he spent more time fighting wars on the continent in his youth than basically anyone else by the time the revolution began. I wonder whether it isn’t the cause of some revolutions failing and other succeeding because the “right” person either chooses not to participate or to fill their “fated” role. Maybe there’s an American bathroom design revolution I should be fighting right now, when instead I’m more concerned about the cultural revolution I see coming?
At the end of the day, this is one of those choices that each of us have to make independently. There is something in the world that you have the capacity to be the best at, or at the very least, to completely dedicate yourself in a way that will make your life more whole, and perhaps in the process, the world will become more whole as well. If you’re like me, you’ll have no choice but to follow the pull of that inner force in its direction. Sometimes all it will tell you is what not to do- like math. (Obviously I’m not saying don’t do math, but I certainly won’t be doing any. Spreadsheets are alright, though.)
Free yourself from the possession of someone else’s memes- overcome imposed ideology and become the Weapon of Fate in whatever revolution looms before you.