November 8, 2007 a selection from The Art of Memetics
Marketers, political organizers, and other social engineers are tracking, capturing, and controlling people right now. They track the marks you make, how you vote, the websites you visit, and where you spend your money. They know your timetables, they feed you the media you passively consume. Humanity was captured long ago by the meme of civilization, and ever since civilization has been working on humanity’s domestication. Domesticated animals are treated in a different manner than wild beasts. The emphasis shifts from finding and capturing individuals to managing and controlling the herd. The herders hand down schedules to determine in advance where the individuals will be, and when they’ll be there. They worry about tracking the herd in clusters, and as long as the individuals remain within the bounds they’ve set, they’ll overlook the intricacies of individual behaviors. It is only those who stray out from the edges of the herd that the herders send the dogs after the lone individual, although it’s important to realize in this metaphor that even the dogs the herders send out are domesticated. Domesticated animals are the most predictable of all, as even their strayings are predictable so the herders eventually forget how to cope with the truly unpredictable.
Understanding this as a metaphor for social engineering, we can begin to see that we do have the ability to exploit the conditions of our own captivity. As long as we appear to remain within the bounds of the herd we have a great deal of freedom in which to move, although should we move too quickly, the herders may be afraid of us starting a stampede. Still, so long as we know what signs they use to track us and what patterns they rely on to predict our behavior, we can remain invisible to them as individuals. Finally, should we pick our moment and leave the herd at a time when they are not watching for strays, we can escape the herd.
The Mayan control system is based on the principles of time-binding, based on calendars, festival days, and seasonal changes. Language, or at least the standard languages, are linear methods of time-binding, and increases the memory of a system while also effecting decisions any given system may influence. The high priests knew what affective states people would pass through, and the physical conditions that prevailed. The academic control factors now present rely on lab books for science, logbooks for navigation, ledgers for business accounting, and so on. Power is based in the faculty of prediction, in knowing where something is going to occur and when. Science reads its lab books, spots patterns, and makes predictions. Because the Mayan system was homeostatic the priest always knew what was going to occur, thereby wielding power over their society. We are still subject to this control system of time-binding, as we are still reliant on the clock and we consume media according to a broadcasting schedule. If anything, today’s work world is more finely sliced time-wise than the Mayan calendar ever could have been.
Only through the knowledge of the ruling class has tyranny ever been overthrown. The Jews would have never left Egypt if Moses hadn’t been raised as an Egyptian prince. The techniques of the persuaders and manipulators are needed if we are to free ourselves, if we are to understand how we are bound to the systems, the schedules, and the cast-iron personas imposed by our social roles. Ironically, the way to freedom is to use the tools of control on ourselves. This is why we must spy on our own actions, record our own activities, look at our own patterns, and create our own predictions. We must select and censor what memes we are exposed to, whom we associate with, and learn to control our own behavior.
Of course, looking at life in this kind of metaphor for too long will probably trigger some paranoid ideations. It’s all too easy to fall prey to a ludic fallacy of viewing all of reality as a virtual space constructed by our patterning brains busy assembling fragmented signals and then filling in the gaps between the connections of our associative networks. As our conscious experience lags behind the events and actions of our lives, reality looks like an explanation made up after the fact. However, a certain amount of life-as-game analogy does open up enormous possibilities for triggering change in the world. As a friend of the authors says, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’
When attempting to effect changes on others using memetic techniques, there are many layers of organization you can concentrate on, and many different angles of approach you can use. You could look at the linear causative structure of narrative, or instead focus on the underlying network structure of association. You could work with the cognitive layers of thought and emotion, or instead focus on preconscious drives and desires. You could target the aggregate predictabilities of market segments or the specific peculiarities of individuals. Whatever you are attempting to accomplish, your signal should be fine-tuned to affect it’s audience on the precise layers you have targeted. Obviously, a communication meant to effect the drives and desires of a thirty-something accountant will be totally different from on targeting the style story being told in the teen market.
A meme needs to enter the human system by way of one of the senses. Its instructions must be encoded in a manner the nervous system can digest, and then act upon. For this we’ve looked to the quasi-scientific field of Neurolinguistic Programming and appropriated NLP’s representational systems of visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and olfactory channels. Most communication occurs beneath the layers of conscious thought because people are only able to be conscious of a certain percentage of the total sensory experience of any given moment in any given environment. Therefore, most of the information or input coming in along these various channels is being absorbed by the preconscious mind on a subliminal level.
This knowledge provides a few tricks for tweeking a meme’s capsid to be more easily ingestible and infective. We could begin by changing linguistic or non-linguistic cues to lead the potential receiver through a sequence of sensory modalities, essentially training them in what NLP practitioners term a ‘strategy.’ We could elicit a particular emotional state and anchor it to our message or symbols. We could communicate incongruently to transmit different messages to different parts of a large audience. We could use contradictory messages to trigger a disassociative and suggestible state in the potential receiver. Brainstorming on ways to manipulate or reframe a message can be facilitated through watching how a political candidate or speaker presents their platform to different audiences.
One’s position in an official system of governance is only one measure of that individual’s political power. The totality of that individual’s power can be figured by examining the lines of communication they can access and their ability to predict responses and reactions to their various transmitted signals along those communication lines. The overall political power of the individual then would be an estimate of that individual’s influence over the system of governance as a whole. This amount would change over time regardless of their official position in reference to the signals sent out by that individual or by other components of the system in relation to that individual’s signals. This angle of viewing provides a different account of politics than the textbook depiction of governmental structure given in a civics class, and emphasizes transmitted messages and their reception over institutionalized chains of command.
Personal messages motivate action more than impersonal ones, but what criteria should you use to determine if a message is personal or impersonal? If your message carries triggers for personal feelings and emotional involvement, the receivers may react to it as a personal message even if it is delivered by a broadcast medium such as network television. This explains, in part, the power of someone like Oprah. She communicates the message that she relates to people personally along with every other message she may send, and helps explain why a book she mentions or discusses on her show becomes a bestseller. The message that reaches millions of people feels like the recommendation of a close friend, even thought the vast majority of her viewers will never meet, or even see, Oprah in person.