Published on: 2020-01-27
A short rant on personal memetic hygiene
I wonder why people don't protect themselves from memes more. Just to be clear, I mean meme in the broad memetic theory of spreading ideas/thoughts sense.
I think there's almost an intuitive understanding, or at least one existed in the environment I was bought up in, that some ideas are virulent and useless. I think that from this it's rather easy to conclude that those ideas are harmful, since you only have space for so many ideas, so holding useless ideas is harmful in the sense that it eats away at a valuable resource (your mind).
I think modern viral ideas also tend more and more towards the toxic side, toxic in the very literal sense of "designed to invoke a raise in cortisol and/or dopamine that makes them more engaging yet is arguably provably harmful to the human body. Though I think this is a point I don't trust that much, speculation at best.
It's rather hard to figure out what memes one should protect themselves from under these conditions, some good heuristics I've come up with is:
- Memes that are new and seem to be embedded in the minds of many people, yet don't seem to increase their performance on any metric you care about. (e.g. wealth, lifespan, happiness)
- Memes that are old and seem to be embedded in the minds of many people, yet seem to decrease their performance on any metric you care about.
- Memes that are being recommended to you in an automated fashion by a capable algorithm you don't understand fully.
I think if a meme ticks one of these boxes, it should be taken under serious consideration as harmful. Granted, there's memes that tick all 3 (e.g. wearing a warm coat during winter), but I think those are so "common" it's pointless to bring them into the discussion, they are already deeply embedded in our minds, so it's pointless to discuss them.
A few examples I can think of.
- Crypot currency in 2017&2018, passes 2 and 3, passes or fails 1 depending on the people you are looking at, => Depends
- All ads and recommendation on pop websties (e.g. reddit, medium, youtube). Obviously fail at 3, sometimes fail at 1 if the recommendation is "something that went viral". => Avoid
- Extremist "Western" Religions, passes 1 and 3. Usually fails at 2. => Avoid
- Contemplative practices, passes 2 and 3, fails 1 depending on the people you are looking at in the case of modern practices, doesn't fail 1 in the case of traditional practices. => Depends
- Intermittent fasting, passes 2 and 3, very likely passes 1 => Ok
- Foucault, passes 3, arguably passes 1/2, but it depends on where you draw the "old" line => Depends
- Instagram, passes 2, fails 3 and arguably fails 1 => Avoid
- New yet popular indie movies and games, pass 2 and 3, arguably fails at 1 => Avoid (pretty bad conclusion I'd say)
- Celebrity worshiping, passes 2, kinda fails 3, certainly fails 1 => Avoid
- Complex Analysis, passes 3 and 1, very easy to argue it passes 2 => Ok
Granted, I'm sure there are examples where these rules of thumb fail miserably, my brain is probably subconsciously coming up with ones where they works. Even more so, I think the heuristic here are kind of obvious, but they are also pretty abstract and hard to defend if you were to scrutinize them properly.
Still, I can't help but wonder if it "safety measures" (taken by the individual, no political) against toxic memes shouldn't be a subject that's discussed more. I feel like it could bring many benefits and it's such a low hanging fruit.
Then again, protecting ourselves against the memes we consider toxic might be something we all inherently do already and something we do pretty well. So my confusion here is mainly about how some people end up not considering certain memes to be toxic, rather than how they are unable to defend themselves from them.
If you enjoyed this article you may also like: