### The meme is the thing that is repeated.

Meme , the word, comes from the Latin mimesis , “to imitate”. A meme is a unit of imitation.

The meme is the thing that is repeated.

The gene is also the thing that is repeated. It is from this analogy that Dawkins engineered the word meme . The meme is repeated, not in chemistry, but in psychology. The meme cascades through human behavior, merging and schisming, an avalanche of ideas.

The meme is the thing that is repeated.

Our lives follow cycles. The moon is the thing that is repeated. The sun. The seasons and the generations. Repetition is immanent.

Our minds follow cycles too. Hunger, sleep, moods: anyone who has watched a toddler knows that the human being has a rhythm. We are less in control of our habits than we think we are.

The meme is repeated in our habits. We constantly surf a sea of neurochemistry by small, repeatable behaviors. Feeling stressed? Maybe a piece of chocolate will help. Confused? Turn on the news. We learn these habits from our parents, from school and work and media. Habits are the froth on the ocean of evolution.

The amount of options, of potential behaviors you could exhibit as an Earth human in the twenty-first century is staggering. We are as gods, or at least we could be. We have the knowledge, and the resources, to feed every person on Earth, give them a roof and a bike and a laptop. If the apparatus of civilization were operated by humans for human needs, we would be automating our industries, downsizing our footprint, and stabilizing the climate.

Instead we squabble to establish a pecking order on a dying planet. We burn our giant machines to the most ludicrous ends.

In the bottom of every Emotion Meal is a plastic figurine of a famous comic-book transhuman, which will appease your toddler while they eat their toxic sandwich-shaped chemical cocktail. The food and the toy are both extruded from tubes into molds. They are both designed to stimulate the human child’s brain into feeling Emotion. They are superstimuli: the salt, fat and sugar in the food overload the primate tongue, and the tiny god transfixes the primate intellect. The corporate memeplex hijacks these natural patterns to build a new habit, installing a little pipe in the kid’s limbic system and siphoning some willpower.

Our human power lies in coordination. We’re big ants. We can do extravagant things when we work together. But we’re not alone on this planet. Think of what we do to the ants.

Monsters are squatting our minds. These predatory memes gather humans into their glass-walled farms and watch them work. They pit different hives against each other, trapped within invisible boundaries. They play our habits like the strings of a puppet. We dance at their pleasure.

The bad memes (“toxic memeplexes”, technically) find ways to replicate despite their tendency to kill and degrade their hosts. They prey on our emotional needs. The best priests and the best marketers have this in common: they sniff out the voids in your soul and supplant them with the meme.

Not all memes are bad. Some give more than they take. Symbiotic memes can be simple, like believing that the sky is blue, or they can be complex (like having an ontological axiom about how much understanding a human being can ever achieve about the actual universe, and within that having a meta-belief about using probabilistic reasoning to achieve closer understanding of reality, and then using the probability-based scientific method to come to a high-resolution theory of what an atmosphere is, and what a human eye is, and why despite the problematic metaphysical questions of the subjective experience we call consciousness, which we can manipulate with some regularity, but don’t really understand, it appears to be blue).

You can dissect a meme to find out how it works (see SCIOPS 01.20 ), but just as it’s impossible to know what someone else really sees when they say blue, it’s impossible to truly emulate another person’s memeplexes in your own mind. Even if you can blank your whole personal memory and sense of identity (as some monks, and all Grateful Dead fans, claim they can do), you’d have to assimilate the emotional valences of that person’s life history. Memeplexes have complex interrelationships that humans don’t have the processing power to compute.

Or at least, not with our meat brains. The advent of machine learning, and the spyware megatrons we euphemize as “Big Data”, inflate our power to make inferences about human habit and emotion. We don’t know what those inferences really are, mind you. Even the engineers and marketers at Youtub can’t interpret the reasoning behind the personalized suggestions. It’s not programmed, it’s learned, from huge vats of data siphoned off our every interaction.

Look: this week, Amazno announced they’re teaching Alexa to read emotions (h/t Damien Williams’ Technoccult News ). They claim this feature will only be used to help understand the user better, but we all know what that means. They want more data about your emotional state because it’s the easiest way to control what you do and buy. The behavior modification machine is already operating on its own mysterious intuitions, making people depressed and radicalizing them with fake news. Now it will know when you’re in a buying mood, just by your tone of voice.

But the human mind, too, is a mysterious intuition-producing genie. The algorithms work because they have billions of superficial notes on human behavior. They’re on the outside looking in. We have the advantage of billions of years of evolution. Our emotional resonance, our facial recognition, our voice attunement are of the highest caliber. What is hard for machines is what is easy for humans, and vice versa. We must trust our senses.

You can access your own deep-learning systems with this one weird exercise:

  • Make a list of the things that you repeat. Habits, ideals, patterns of speech and thought and action. List what comes to mind, even if it seems nonsensical. Try to spend five actual minutes just thinking of the people, places and things that repeat in your life.
  • Take a deep breath, paying attention to the way your abdomen rises and falls. Try to feel your organs, your heart and your gut. There are huge bundles of nerves running from your brain to your organs. Your emotions literally communicate to you through your physical sensations, so take a minute to settle into your body.
  • Go back through the list, observing each item in your mind, sensing how your bodymind reacts to it. Mark the feelings next to the item. Use plus or minus symbols to represent the valence of the emotion. Add more symbols, if you want, to represent the strength. Feel free to mix positive and negative symbols if your feelings are mixed.
  • Observe your results. What brings you the most joy? What revolts you? What are you spending your energy on that gives you nothing in return? What delights you that you underappreciate?
  • For further exploration, look for patterns that connect the memes in your list. Can you personify the memeplexes that you host? Which ones are symbiotic, and which ones are harmful? Knowing the name of your enemy is the first step to removing it.

The meme is the thing that is repeated. What tiny gods do you worship?

Thanks for reading,

– Max


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