SCIOPS 01.20: Infectious Violence
My heart is heavy with the story of the Charlottesville attack this weekend. The white supremacist (let’s give up on the “alt-right” euphemism) who rammed peaceful protesters with his car, killing one and injuring nineteen, is part of a tragic tradition of right-wing terrorism in America. These assaults are consistent in their pattern: lonely, unhappy white men seek purpose through the destruction of whatever they perceive to be alien. It mirrors the car bombings enacted by lonely, unhappy brown men in other parts of the world – Vanilla ISIS, anyone?
But I don’t think that the appeal to Fear Of The Other is a necessary part of the human condition. The current fascist movement sprang from the cesspools of internet culture, from 4chan and reddit and Faceboot. It’s an epidemic. If previous iterations of neo-Nazi and KKK action were like flu outbreaks, we’re about to experience the Black Plague. Between the sorry state of the planet and the instantaneous transmission of poisonous memes, we’ve made the perfect breeding grounds for mind-viruses of hate and destruction.
This week I want to get down to business. Cognitive security is not generic paranoia. We have to do rigorous analysis on the exploits being used to hack our fellow humans, if we want to succeed at deleting them.
###### (click for larger version)
This is The Meme Map. I compiled it years ago from a half dozen books on memetic engineering. This is not your ordinary lolcat or cartoon frog. It’s a meme that’s a map of memes. The Meme Map describes a protocol for reverse engineering of memes, viral media, social contagion, and cultural epidemics. It can be used to deconstruct anything from the fad for fidget spinners to the dogmas of fundamentalist sects.
I think it’s readable enough, but I have been told that my handwriting is a poke in the eye, so let’s traverse it together. At the risk of our collective sanity (remember, you signed up for this), we’ll use the modern American fascists as a case study.
Meme Mapping: Neofascism
### What Kind of Meme is That?!
Neofascism is not just a singular meme. It’s a memeplex: a compilation of infectious ideas, delivered in no particular order, each of which opens doors for others to slide in. Like the Columbia Record Club, once you’ve signed up it’s very hard to make it stop.
The sub-memes of this memeplex include distinctions , like “these 10 ethnicities are ‘white’ and all the rest are not”; associations , like the supposed correlation between the Democratic establishment and an imaginary child-sex-black-magic-pizza-parlor in DC; and strategies , like getting all your buddies together to harass some feminist you’ve never met with threats of rape and murder.
These memes don’t have to be good, true, or even useful. They just have to infect, and replicate. Once you’re doxxing people who disagree with you on Twitter, it’s that much easier to decide to go beat on real live liberals with lit torches. The memes reinforce each other, creating a worldview that is internally consistent and self-propelling.
That’s sort of the taxonomic part of this map. The rest is dedicated to the functional ecology of memes. Within each memeplex, different memes serve different functions. But like any other virus, the whole thing must work together: first to get into your head, then to make sure you replicate it accurately and fruitfully. Go forth and multiply, whispered the thoughtform.
There are three main backdoors exploited by cognitive hacks. The memes have to get into your head somehow, after all, and we’ve each got our own filter bubbles and firewalls protecting us to some degree, but everyone has a weak point. Which one of these works the best on you? Can you tell?
Conditioning is what we normally think of as learning or training. Repetition (and repeated exposure (and redundancy)). This is Pavlov’s dog, where the repetition of the bell sound at dinnertime gets anchored to the tasty tasty kibble treats and the dog begins to salivate just at the ringing of the bell.
This is why it’s so important to the fascists to keep holding “free speech” rallies and “white lives matter” marches. They’re not just spoiling for a fight. They want to get Americans accustomed to their presence, to make a band of torch-wielding bumwads with bad haircuts into an everyday occurrence. Then, just like in dog training, they’ll keep pushing the limit, until we’re all cowering in our houses hoping they only kill the neighbors and leave us alone.
Cognitive Dissonance occurs when our lived experience doesn’t match up to our expectations. There’s a tiny blank-mind moment as we re-adjust our expectations to match reality, and during that moment we’re vulnerable. Any explanation offered during that moment, any option we can take to bring back coherence and reduce the discomfort of cognitive dissonance, we’ll take it. It’s human nature, one of our hundreds of cognitivie biases, and it’s one of the main tools of cognitive hackers.
Ever have a salesman shake your hand in some slightly weird way? Say, clasping your one hand in both of theirs, or a friendly touch on the arm, or a little tickle-the-wrist action with the index finger? This is a classic maneuver – it’s called Ericksonion hypnosis – for inducing a quick moment of cognitive dissonance. While you’re wondering, “Did I make that weird, or did he?”, the salesman is guiding you to the most expensive thing in the store. Really, this is like the first thing they teach in sleazebag school.
And of course, the most famous alumnus of Sleaze U is our reigning Dictator Drumpf. Whole books have been written (and ghostwritten) on the man’s bizarre ability to sell billions of dollars of sheer manure by babbling like a trained bird. The way he speaks, interspersing cogent sentences with half-finished brags and flippant remarks, is a classic paradigm of cognitive dissonance. You’re never quite able to get a handle on what he’s really talking about, because every time it seems to make sense he throws some other inanity in there to muddy the waters. Meanwhile his staff are executive-ordering their way back to the feudal system and no one can keep track of what’s actually happened and what was just bluster.
Trojan Horses are commonly found in the black art of advertising, though as their name suggests they can be hard to spot. Trojans piggyback on our natural human needs and impulses, hiding their payload within a seemingly attractive candy shell. They can be stratified in rough order of effectiveness.
Level 1 Trojans capitalize on the most basic of impulses, the four F’s: food, fighting, flight, and fornication. The widely publicized brawls between fascists and anarchists use our animalistic need for conflict to broadcast their ideologies into the public eye. “If it bleeds, it leads” – and if it leads, it seeds.
Level 2 Trojans work on our social nature. The needs for belonging, approval, and obedience are what draw people into groups like the III%ers or Identity Europa. White people, orphaned from their cultural heritage, are attracted by the feeling of community and shared purpose. This is especially prevalent in police and military types, who have been heavily conditioned for obedience and hierarchy.
Level 3 Trojans activate a sense of crisis or opportunity. Humans are specially time-sensitive creatures, and when we sense a sudden change in the wind we are primed to take new actions and adopt new beliefs. Useful in the ancestral context, where a windfall or a predator might appear at any moment. But in the 24/7 news cycle, we’re constantly bombarded with crises near and far. Every terrorist attack around the globe gives an opportunity for the white nationalists to cast blame on other ethnicities and religions. Level 3 Trojans drove the original Crusades, with their missionary fervor, and the shock doctrine of the new Crusades is further-reaching and more destructive.
Once a memeplex has infected a host mind, it swims in a milieu of all the other memes that host has acquired. It has to maintain integrity, not being dislodged or mutating beyond recognition, if it wants to spread accurately. Fidelity strategies are of many types, but the memeplex doesn’t have to succeed on all of them.
- For instance, the “Pizzagate” meme does not have
- reliability of predictions
- . If you actually go to Comet Pizza in DC, you’ll find that not only do they not have a basement full of stolen children, they don’t even have a basement! But it does have
- ease of imitation
- ease of expression
- , and if it were true it would represent
- contribution to collective fitness
- actually protecting children from predatory adults is a powerfully human thing to do.
Similarly, the idea that people with more melanin in their skin are less intelligent is totally unreliable, but it has exo-toxicity . If you think that people who look different are literally dumber, you’re less likely to listen to them, and thus less likely to be exposed to contradictory memes.
Finally, the memeplex must find a way to spread itself from one mind to the next. Where the infection stage is about the context of the meme’s delivery, the spreading stage is about content. Different memeplexes play on different desires to propagate. Spreading strategies are the most congenial to observation, as they have different epidemiological patterns.
The neofascist memeplex relies mostly on the Adversative strategy: “Destroy the unbeliever!”. In one sense this is a reductive approach, as it calls for the actual death of hosts of competing memes. But it’s also a conversion approach, because people will often choose a toxic meme over pain or death.
There’s also a strong element of Motivational spreading. Your average blue-collar white man used to have way more options and privilege than he does in 2017. Of course, he’s still way at the top of the heap compared to most people around the world, but in relative terms he perceives his quality of life avalanching downhill. It’s easy for the memeplex to convince him that a united front of disaffected good-ol-boys will actually make his life better, so he convinces his bowling league to go hunt some brown people and queers together. In the name of a better life! This dovetails with the Proselytic approach, which holds Spreading the Good Word as a virtue in itself.
So far we’ve not seen a direct application of the Parental strategies, Quantity and Efficiency . Having more children, and indoctrinating those children, are classic tactics of religions and cults. To some degree this has been happening since the Civil War, especially in the South. But so far we don’t have a whole generation of babies raised on the neofascist hatred, and we need to prevent it. Children are much more prone to memetic infection than adults, as they haven’t developed immunities yet, and they’re pretty much always in a state of cognitive dissonance. The fascist creep must be shut down in this generation, and in every generation, lest it metastasize through our species and kill us from the inside out.
Here’s some mindwash to help clear the yuck from your braincage. I hope you enjoyed this introduction to memetic engineering. Let me know if you have any questions, or if you want me to dissect other memeplexes that plague our planet. Or try it yourself, and send me your results!
As always, thanks for reading.
SCIOPS is a cogsec newsletter a cogsec newsletter a cogsec newsletter. Send it to your fiends! It slices, it dices, it solves your problems, be the first one on your block! Don’t settle for the rest, when you can have the best. And don’t forget to tell others – it’s easy to share and it’s the right thing to do. Sign up at tinyletter.com/sciops . Feed it to your kids! SCIOPS is the breakfast of champions. Respond now for your chance to win.