A theory of cultural evolutions
relationship with identity.
relationship with identity.
I don't like the idea of a final product.. especially intellectual products. It's only purpose is to monetise it, though at the expense of limiting memetic evolution. In this vain I am committed to both constantly evolving my work and acknowledging the origin of such evolution. Here is a list of contributors, both those who gave feedback on the piece in its entirety and those who contributed expert knowledge on a specific aspect they wished to comment on. On my google sites page I highlight the latest changes and additions with each piece of feedback in red. Thanks for helping!
1. Chris Menning, co-curator of www.knowyourmeme.com and also involved in the online zine www.rocketboom.com.
2. Nathanial white, owner of the co-op Sociocratic Ecological and Economic Development (SEED)
3. Professor Marion Blute, University of Toronto. Her research interest is in theory, in particular evolutionary epistemology,universal Darwinism or multi-process selection theory.
Before I start, I'd like to talk about terminology. Having read Marion Blutes excellent chapter on memes in her latest book (and seen it for myself in forums), I've come to see that memetics is a bit of a dirty word to some people, with different disciplines using different terminology: information exchange, cultural evolution etc. I don't mind what you replace it with in your mind (after all, I read Levy's 'signs' as 'memes'), the important aspect is that it represents a second evolutionary process. Having co-evolved, cultural evolution has taken an ever more dominant part of our identity, something that Dawkins referred to as freeing us from our selfish gene.
I don't know if it is Dawkins himself that triggers such a backlash, or whether it is simply the relative newness of the concept, but people seem to be stuck on such arguments as defining the unit of meme. Yet the same problems exist for gene, as Blute points out. I use the terminology of memetics as a general terminology common, according to Blute, in people in a multi-disciplinary environment. The key is that cultural evolution takes place within the complex system that is human society and that the cultural environment is key in the formation of identity. If you want to critique memetics, fine. But do it by critiquing the italicised sentence (the one without the word meme in it).
I came to this idea of History through the study of the philosophy of cognitive science. My thoughts on the stream of consciousness turned first into an account of the self, then an understanding of creativity and subjectivity before applying this knowledge on the larger scale of a systems based society. It is this new possibility, for reverse engineering a theory of history from the mind up, rather than the other way around, that has given me these insights.
Major thanks to Kant, Hegel, Dennett, Dawkins, Blackmore, Anderson, Levy et al for either inspiring or confirming (at least, allowing me to fully internalise it/be convinced of it's accuracy) this thesis.
This essay is essentially derived from what I called coined in a previous essay Heterohistoriography, after Dennetts heterophenomonology (a method of studying the self using both phenomenology and objective, measurable, scientific data). It is a combination of both regular notions of historiography and a scientific understanding of the human mind as an individual node of a complex network. Complexity theory, Chaos theory, Memetics... these things apply to us as thermodynamics applies to physics; we simply cannot ignore them when studying the humanities (or anything for that matter). One of the nice things about having internalised this following thesis is that in the end it all boils down to physics: mere cause and effect. Heterohistoriography takes as its starting point the human mind, extrapolating upwards and outwards from simple evolutionary axioms to a theory of all-encompassing simplicity and applicability.
The Formation of the Self: This theory of the self is derived from reading books such as Richard Dawkins “Selfish Gene’, Susan Blackmore’s ‘Meme Machine’ and Daniel Dennetts ‘Consiousness Explained’. It is, in my view, entirely compatible within these frameworks…
At some point in our past, we were animals: pure instinct and emotion. Then came communication, eating meat, cooking, communal living and cooperation with adequate memory, foresight, theory of mind (awareness of other minds), imitation and creativity to pass a tipping point. From co-evolving, the two evolutionary processes once again became unbalanced, with cultural evolution taking the fore (Blute). Memes began to accumulate, being passed and mimicked from mind to mind both down generations (as with genetics) but also horizontally.
Replication and mutation of memes equal a whole new type of evolution: the only known force able to swim against the tide of entropy and create ever more complex structures; something that must apply to culture therefore, as well as life. Whilst some animals are known to also exhibit cultural transmission, such as the use of tools and birdsong, it is only with humans that this exponential growth of memetic
We, as body and mind, are now the product of the interplay between two evolutionary forces: Genetics and Memetics. Broadly speaking, genes and our environment determine our potential and capability, whilst memes determine our conscious identity and are cumulatively built into a dynamic, physiological neural network we know as the self. What we see is the but the surface, a simplified user-interface for the most complex machine in nature and one that can function instinctively in a dynamic environment. As Professor Marion Blute said via email, "
The interplay of emotion and reason, gene and meme, creates an emergent 'self' from a complex, chaotic system (giving rise to creativity). Each persons exposure to memes is unique, defined by the continuity of existence in space and time, and held within the memory and subconscious of the individual. This means that each person's data-set for use in the analysis of any new input is unique to that person (creating subjectivity). This model of the individual mind scales-up to the complex, chaotic, systems-based network with emergent properties that we know as society. This scaling up is a crucial feature of natural complex structures, offering different appearances at each level. Until recently, we had been privy to just the emergent phenomena of society that we call History... yet trying to determine the rules of History merely from the narrative is like determining the nature of a bird merely from the overall patterns of the flock. As with any complex system with hard to explain emergent properties, the local nodes (us, in this case) work upon surprisingly simple axioms...
Axioms of human behaviour:
All that is needed for this thesis is three axioms which I think you'll agree make both evolutionary and intuitive sense.
· Fear the unknown
· Do not waste energy fearing the known
· Defer to authority
As with the Hamilton effect (innate favouring of genetic kin), so to do our shared memes create a bond through this acceptance of the known. Just as familiar, every-day surroundings do not generate a flee response, neither should familiarity of mind, it being a mere extension of our environment. Thus, the more memes you share, the more you can relate and empathise with each other and the less there is to fear. The cumulative total of experienced memes within a lifetime is our identity, memes that are both new and very, very old.
Blute, together with my first forays into the basics of this discipline I didn't know existed (Sociocultural evolution), has made me realise an important distinction I need to make here. Our identity isn't a single entity, it is about as impossibly complex as it can get. But there are some aspects that are, for the most part, universal through time and space by virtue of our being the same species. The supposedly 'primitive' cultures described during the enlightenment were shown by early 20th century anthropologists to be just as complex and rich as anyone else, a level of social identity common to us all. Then, however, there is what Benedict Anderson called the imagined community. It is this imagined community that I wish to talk about, since it is this element of our identity that has grown together with communication technologies and that exhibits the kind of large scale, historical, phenomena that we learn about today in our classrooms.
When memetic production is held as a monopoly by ruling elites, be it through exclusive literacy and use of force, class-division, censorship and self-censorship etc, then the meme-pool through which individuals travel and construct their identity on is solely the minorities view imposed on the many, a la the Nazi's.
This vertical transmission of memetic-production from the few at the top to the masses below has been a constant throughout history thus far.
That then is all there is; there is no intrinsic or independent 'good' with which to defend ourselves against such a situation. We are what we think we know (I say 'think, since much of the memetic input remains in the sub-conscious and remains hidden). That which we are conscious of, that which we rationalise our identity with, is both limited and likely-as-not ontologically inaccurate. The meme producers produce identities: a simple method of creating social bonds in the mold of the most successful memetic producers, our modern day equivalent of the strongest, or fastest, or biggest animal being at the top of the hierarchy.
Those people who do not share memetic similarities, or who are unknown to, represent the 'other' whom those meme-producers in power use to scare people, maintaining the social hierarchy. I am not suggesting a conscious effort to use unfounded fear, not until the arrivals of real-politick anyhow, merely that it would have been the most successful tactic to gain power and so the one most likely to succeed time after time (that’s evolution for you). They do this through degrees of memetic production monopoly which at various points in history created identities which saturated all future cultures to come:
The Three Spheres of Identity: This theory of Identity is beautifully espoused by Pierre Levy in his book ‘Collective Intelligence' in which he presents a model of the historical progress of identity much as I had envisioned it. Combined with the above theory of the self, I here describe how and why such identities arose, expanding Llevy’s idea from observation to universal theory…
Levy observed that there have been three classes of identity through the progress of homosapiens: Cosmos, Territory and Commodity. Each have, at some time, dominated human life to the point of saturating culture, securing an unbroken lineage of existence within language and artifacts which contributed to future generations identities. This was only possible once language evolved and was secured independently to human memory (thankfully for us, thanks Greece) when memes were written down and formed as art. Rather than starting afresh each time, memes could be passed on meaning that identity did not die with the original proponents. Instead it was successively built upon by future generations exposed to the cultural artifacts and replicating them further. This is the basis for what Benedict Anderson describes in ‘imagined communities’, something I read after telling someone about this idea and being pointed in the right direction. The best way to explain this fully is through a historical narrative of identity.
A historical look at the formation of the three spheres of identity In the appendix I have included a matrix of identities with the historical structures associated with each combination. Since I only started to construct it this week and is still pretty speculative, I have put it in the appendix as something I think is interest.
N.b Since I wrote this essay, I have expanded upon the process of historical progression. See this blogpost for a more in depth look and a table showing our one identity transplants another as a populations dominant imagined identity: http://grimeandreason.blogspot.com/2011/01/some-predictions-for-humanities.html
In the beginning, the bond we feel to the known, and the fear inherent in the unknown, created power structures through the search for, and the proclamation of, divine knowledge (and the fear and respect that such a claim would provide). The world needed explaining to minds that had evolved to rationalise ones own environment, and explaining it derives the authority that we evolved to defer to. Imagine the questions and answers that would arise to explain natural phenomenon such as eclipses or extreme weather events! Thus started the cosmic identity, where preacher and leaders would monopolise 'spiritual' (unknown/unknowable?) knowledge and transmit an identity which, with high fecundity, would infect the many. This would create immense shared memetic structure and an immense bond. This, together with climate fluctuations of 7 degrees Celsius every 100 or so years in Northern Europe, could explain the reason why it is us who survived and not the Neanderthals (bar the trace genes many of us have through interbreeding).
Cosmos (proto-religion) based identity became territorially based when disparate cosmic beliefs were bound together by expanding, conquering states. Through myth and legend, man replaced or served Gods borrowed and reformed from numerous belief systems. Strict authoritarian rule defined this age, as did stagnation of knowledge since doctrine defined identity and so creativity and subjectivity were limited to an extreme. Territory beget commodity as urban areas encouraged specialisation and trade, with individuals traveling through numerous meme-pools collecting data-sets and cognitive dissonance that allowed for independent thinking, hence the Greeks bringing us out of the Bronze age.
At this moment commodity was still a fragile basis of identity and was almost wiped out, were it not for the knowledge it produced being kept alive by the Muslim world. The Dark Ages represented a throw back to that pre-Greek time of cosmos/territory rule (divine kings) until that seed was replanted in Europe through Moorish Spain and the Renaissance. The printing press was invented, we gained common vernaculars and memetic evolution went nuts. This generated enough cognitive dissonance from both the religious (reformation) and the commodity (science) spheres of identity that Church and State split to be replaced by the seeds of a new tyranny, that of the marriage between territory and commodity. Today we call it capitalism, and it's increasingly nearing a similar fate to that of the divine Kings...
Breaking Memetic Monopolies: Reason and Cognitive Dissonance: This section was influenced by a TED talk I watched very recently as it happens, all about 'patternicity'.
What is reason? I suggest it is the conscious rationalization of the memetic world, directly akin to how genetic created a brain to rationalize our sensory environment. Our brain is a pattern-finding machine of awesome power. The input that our brain is constantly dealing with is roughly equivalent to the entire global Internet network of today. All the while, it is confabulating what we perceive to be a seamless reality when the truth is that much of it is inferred (we only actually ‘see’ a 3 degree arc, we are unaware that our eyes constantly flicker around, retaining information into a collage-like whole). I see no reason to think that we do otherwise with memes.
Our memetic world is highly subjective however. Whereas everyone basically shares the same systems for ‘rationalising’ vision, audio etc (yes, I know about the philosophical zombie argument but for the sake of sanity we will take our universal physiology as proof enough), everyones' memetic make-up is entirely unique. This results in greater and lesser data-sets being used in the rationalization of the memetic world. I use the term data-sets because, as with any inference or rationalization of inputs, the greater the data-set, the more accurate the final synthesis of information will be. Someone may have encyclopedic knowledge of all things divine and be a grand-master of religious rationalizing, but that would represent but one, tightly defined area of the greatest possible data-set. This would screw up the results of any experiment, be it in your head or in the lab.
We have evolved to see danger, to be able to infer cause and effect and to see patterns. Yet memetically we can only make judgments and find patterns using our own sum of knowledge, our own memetic make-up. If monopolies gain control of memetic production then they shape the very identity of those subjected to it, so that the only memes available are those that directly favour the meme-producers. This, as with any bias data-set, can only be rationalized toward a false conclusion.
However, due to the nature of humanity’s spread across this planet, no one monopoly was ever large enough to dominate all of mankind. For this reason, memes were always able to eventually seep into areas of memetic monopoly. What happens when you get a data-point outside of your usual area? Well, one meme (or data point) might be rationalized away by a brain intent on patterns and accustomed to the known.. maybe even a few. After a while however the rationalizations have to become ever more stretched, ever more unlikely in the face of this new, emerging set of data until there comes a time when the conclusions have to shift in order to seem rational. Evidence of this is seen in the generational divides apparent the world over where the young, not as invested and indoctrinated as their parents generation, allow these new data points to form a part of their identity as well.
Interestingly, recent research has shown that we are better pattern recognisers when we feel more in control and inversely are much worse (leading to conspiracy theories, pseudo-sciences etc) when we feel we have no control. It has also been linked to dopamine, explaining the creativity found in a lot of dopamine enhancing drugs. It also, I propose, explains why identities shifted from cosmos to territory to commodity at all. Imagine, the cumulative build-up of knowledge derived from the onset of language, writing etc would have slowly increased humanity’s capacity to rationalize for themselves. This would have created a feedback loop whereby our increasing knowledge led us to more ontologically true rationalizations, which would have made us feel more in control whilst also increasing our knowledge. It makes sense when you think of the villager in Medieval England resigned to the fates of the Gods… why even look for patterns when people are explaining for you why the crops failed, or why the plague swept through. How does one see patterns and make connections memetically when your data-set consists of nothing but evil spirits and witches? The difference in the sense of control of our world between us and that peasant is, I think, one of the greatest difference between humans of our age and that.
Globalisation has taken communication and made it global, beyond borders or geographical cultures. It is democratising memetic production and in doing so democratising our identities. As individuals, particularly in the west, we now have the opportunity to develop with global memetic influence, not simply from the few to the many. As this sea of memes begins to grow, it comes up against the nationalistic nature of 'official' memes, as traditionally espoused the state, and the profit driven nature of the memes produced by the commodity sphere. Yet, despite the power and influence both of these meme-producers wield (now increasingly of the same voice as illustrated by the shared, ever-shallower sounding vocabulary they each use), their monopoly is breaking.
The broader our collective knowledge, the better we become at perceiving patterns, the greater the cognitive dissonance between the ‘truth’ and the doctrine of the ruling elite. Thus we get Hegel’s thesis/antithesis/synthesis, a self-fuelling cycle propelled along by the cumulative and untamable nature of memetic transmission. Now that our identities consist of global memetic influence, our moral sphere is growing: as we come to know the previous 'other' better, the unkown becoming the known, we come to empathise with it.
Capitalism, the marriage of territory and commodity into one minority memetic monopoly, is killing itself as it seeks to connect the world for increased profit. Since the only reason it managed to keep going and avoid Marx's predictions was by outsourcing the exploitation and thus staving off cognitive dissonance, it required the kind of memetic control (through education systems and official media) that is necessary for any such unjust system to continue. As global identities begin to form, the exploitation becomes known and so becomes unsustainable through ever increasing cognitive dissonance. Now that the monopoly has broken, cognitive dissonance will increase as the actions of the few become to seem ever more egregious in the now visible light of the impact it has on our now fellow humans.
The New Fourth Identity and Linked Data: This is derived largely through Levy and Ray Kurzweil. Linked data was introduced to me by Tim Berners-Lee's TED talk (a man who, in my opinion, will one day be celebrated as the giver of the greatest gift to humanity). It was also my own inevitable conclusions from what has come before.
The answer? Religion represents one hope (at least in giving us time to progress), in that it can wield its’ still influential assets in identity to act as a balance toward the other, merging, two. At best I feel, it may mitigate any further damage by leading a call for the separation of business and state, much as they themselves were subjected to and give time for the new hope: the emergence of a new form of identity formed not by what we believe, where we live or what we do, but by what we know. It's important to note here that I am not advocating a Freidman wet-dream of unregulated capitalism. Quite the opposite. With capitalisms vested interest in communication technology, such a situation would lead naturally to the complete monopoly of memetic production by the commodity identity, a fate far worse than the current status-quo (especially for us in the west, since the exploitation is already apparent in the developing world through our simply buying the leaders). No, what I mean is that the three identities must keep each other at bay in a system of moral and regulatory checks and balances between church, state and business. Whilst the few of each identity still hold the majority of memetic production in their grasp (priest, politician, CEO), the fact that they have to compromise denies them the self-fuelling, destructive cycle of being able to dictate the terms of discourse and their own identity. The Bush administration showed the danger of that in the vocabulary of the War on Terror during the grab for memetic monopoly by the military-industrial complex. Look at that phrase... it might as well read territory-commodity identity complex. By providing balance, it gives the greatest possible freedom for synthesis and new knowledge to occur since ideology, that bastion of close-mindedness, is held at bay. We need more of this.
The information identity is the ultimate in universal identities since it does not purport to be based on the subjective, but the objective. It does not impose imagined communities vertically, from the few to the many, but horizontally, just as with our real communities. It recognizes the multitude of other people with whom they are intimately connected through the shared creation of memes, the shared creation of each others’ very identity. When peoples identities form through the collective influence of global proportions, then our empathy and moral sphere will encompass all humans, possibly all life, as our identities are democratised and made for the people, by the people. This is crucial, since this idea of identity answers the question post-modernism asked: is objectivity possible if it is relative? The answer? If, through technology, identities came to be composed of equal and democratic influences, directly from people the world over (note that does not mean the same, quite the opposite: it means the greatest possible diversity), then the large average spread of data-points would create a world of people for whom their imagined identity is not Christian, not British, not shop-keeper but human. Once we identify ourselves first and foremost as that common denominator we all share, we will all have a subjectivity relative to humanity as a whole, resulting in a practical objectivity derived through a complete understanding of and concern for all others. I know it's hard to envisage such a utopia. It's been a fundamental task of the democratic system to ridicule such notions or to fear them. Does it not seem the strangest thing to be scared of, someone speaking of peace and understanding? Yet that is the status-quo, and it is the jobs of our politicians to maintain it.
Instead, choose to merely look at the trend. For Millennia, our leaders have used us against each other in order to scare us and control us. Now they just do it to get your vote. That in itself is progress of sorts, but it is still capable of annihilating this planet (and nearly did). How many people could today be fooled that 500'000 'communists' deserve to be killed by a vicious dictator in Indonesia using U.S and U.K weaponry and support? Communication technology allows us now to both explicitly, and unconsciously implicitly, come to know that these 'communists' are simply repressed poor people in thw way and that it is real-politick that is the true enemy. We are on the right trend, and what's more that shit was only in the 1960's. Our moral sphere is growing exponentially alongside the exponential growth of technology. This is only going to continue with the new emergence of 'temes' (technological memes independent of humans: Blackmore) and is going to radically change our world.
The imagined community of the fourth identity will be qualitatively different to any before. Rather than vertically imposed identities maintaining the status-quo of the ruling elite, we have to ability to forge our own on a scale that outstrips even the most dominant of power structures. The infrastructure this identity is built on, the web of communication technology, is about to get hectic. An example of this is the concept of a semantic web, web 3.0. Tim Berners-Lee spoke about 'linked data' in a TED talk a couple of years back. He envisions a semantic web capable of answering questions never before answered, through the large scale linking of online data. From a memetic point of view, this is a massive revolution in the creation of new knowledge. In the past, we have had to rely on fate imparting knowledge of A, B, and C into the hands of one individual, be it directly or indirectly. With the semantic web, this reliance on fate is disposed of: if different people individually know A, B, and C, then AI will be able to link and present them together, at once. All we will need to do is think the question and if the knowledge is out there we will get the answer. Heaven knows what the consequences will be in terms of cognitive dissonance, or the attempts at control our former memetic masters might try to employ. This is just one example, though a significant one, of the ways in which technology will change humanity utterly.
The struggle between Corporations and the New Fourth Identity. This section is the subject of the latest revision. Having decided to start reading into the history of corporations (only fair since I'm hardly their greatest fan in this essay), I came across the excellent book by Joel Bakan called 'The Corporation'...
Here I want to make a distinction. The villains in our story thus far are those ruling meme-producers that shape the identity of the masses. When it comes to the ruling commodity elite, I want to make clear that I mean those elements of capitalism that have co-opted or simply corrupted the authority of the state and the mainstream media: the corporation. As for the rest of capitalism, well that’s just us if we think about it. We are all, in the west, a part of this system. It’s in our memes. That’s why capitalism has a chance to change, indeed has changed dramatically in the west in the last 200 years though only through the outsourcing of the worst of the exploitation to the 'other'. We were lucky, as early recipients of technologies power, in that we could grow and bond and fight for our rights visibly, waves of dissonance recorded and replayed, creating lasting changes. For those at the top however, they have not changed at all. They take on fully the identity of the corporation and whilst they occupy that role they are duty bound to act on behalf of this psychopathic 'person', legally bound to abide by nothing but the bottom line. They are still in the monopoly of their own making, and all the more crazy sounding and dangerous because of it.
Joel Bakan clearly gets it. Here are a couple of quotes I found that I could have written myself...
From Page 1 (!)...
Talking about corporations... "They determine what we eat, what we watch, what we wear, where we work and what we do. We are inescapably surrounded by their culture, iconography and ideology. And, like the Church and Monarchy in other times, they posture as infallible and omnipotent, glorifying themselves in imposing buildings and elaborate displays. Increasingly, corporations dictate the decisions of their supposed overseers in government and control domains of society once firmly embedded within the public sphere"
From Page 134...
"The corporation has essentially replaced the Church in terms of who you are," says Edison Schools financier Michael Moe. It wants the same thing as the Church, he says: "obedient constituents that... pay [their] dues and follow the rules." Human nature is neither static nor universal. It tends to reflect the social orders people inhabit. Throughout history, dominant institutions have established roles and identities for their subjects that meshed with their own institutional natures, needs and interests: God-fearing subjects for the Church, lords and serfs for feudal orders, citizens for democratic governments.
And now passive consumers who don't care about sweatshop workers in India, or even New York City where over half of all clothing factories are sweatshops, many employing children on a $1 or 2 an hour. Bakan is simply the latest to have identified corporations as the continuation of religious and political identity creators, a triptych of manipulative wealth hoarders we now have the chance to break free from.
However misguided the ideology, I still believe that some of the rationalizations for capitalism are correct, namely that it is better than it was before (for us), it is freer, and through the empowerment of the majority of the population has greatly advanced knowledge. There is nothing inherently bad about the notions of free markets and personal choice, it's just that we are coming to realize that that isn’t actually what we have got. Imagined communities have battled over these utopian ideals of free-markets and it's supposed alternatives without ever realising that it has to be gradual, that’s the nature of evolution. It is a bit like a chicken and egg scenario whereby you need sufficient contradictory memes to create cognitive dissonance whilst needing cognitive dissonance to create contradictory memes. Hence why it happens slowly, over generations. Revolutions are like earthquakes that erupt into violence when the tension builds too high which, given that such a chicken-egg like scenario would lend itself to exponential growth, makes perfect sense when you consider the containment measures imposed by authorities in order to maintain their power.
It is the ownership structure of capitalism, the emergence of amoral corporations and the memetic production it monopolises with wealth that is the problem. Capitalism, more so than religion or state, has the capacity to change since it is infused with the notion of individuality and is free from a centralised power base and dogma. Through breaking the assymytries between consumer and producer by giving people meaningful political and moral controls in an integrated and symmetric feed-back loop, there is no reason why just commerce and trade within a monetary system should be impossible. It would however mean trusting in the view that humanity as a whole, equal, can be a force for good... something those at the top are indoctrinated firmly against. Their resulting arrogance in rejecting this view will place them firmly in the firing line.
Imagine if you were to split up every chain into business of not more than 3 stores. The pyramid structure of power and wealth would be flattened and broadened immeasurably, the wealth gap between rich and poor would be vastly reduced, our relative happiness greatly increased. Make everything a sociocratic co-op overnight and you create a much better world without changing the monetary system itself. There are too many myths about capitalism, be it about the need for competition, growth and the ludicrous trickle-down effect. We need to remember it is ownership that is at issue here. We need to be in the game together and not at the mercy of the big-kids who own the game and can tell you to go home if you don't like the arbitrary rule-changes only they get to make.
One of the important things inherent within the fourth identity is an emphasis on personal experience and evidence. When we identify ourselves according to information, we are eschewing the ideologies and doctrines of the previous memetic monopolies. The involves coming to understand our own selves as social constructs and, from there, learning to take control of that construction. An important way of doing this is through the use of what I call 'memetic apps'. As with an app on a smart phone, memetic apps are tools which, once 'downloaded', can be used to process incoming data (memes) in order to make best use of it.
For example, logical fallacies have been known about for some time. A good working knowledge of all the logical fallacies represents something more than your average meme. Once learned, they can then be used to evaluate all future memetic input, with emphasis on treating all input to the same critical criteria. Because it attempts to objectify ones judgement through the use of logic, it gives two advantages. One, the conclusions you draw from memetic input will be less effected by ideology and subjectivity. Two, it means that one can listen to arguments from both sides of a debate with equal logical objectivity by catagorising logical errors. These 'apps' result in a far more rational synthesis of arguments, with consensus at least possible due to the recourse to shared reality and evidence.
Hegel was right when he said that History is the narrative of mankind becoming aware of himself. Where he and other enlightenment thinkers went wrong was in assuming that their own insight was a glimpse of some pure reason that was attainable by anyone. Rather, they were fortunate to have a life not dissimilar to what is possible today, lots of study from wide range of memetic influences. Rather than a concept of pure reason, we are heading toward a universal reason, the reason of the many influencing the many, creating wide-ranging data-sets in each individual for interpreting new data. This means a more objective, universally inclusive reason that holds as it's judge universal values, not the doctrinal subjective view of the few.
Marx was also right in saying capitalism was unsustainable. What he didn't appreciate was the link between memetic production and the formation of identity and the lack of cognitive dissonance due to the outsourcing of exploitation through colonialisation and then globalisation. He will have the last laugh however, as we come to know that which has been presented as the fearsome unknown. When we are all connected, when technology allows the whole world to seemlessly communicate... who will those in power be left with to present as the unknown? That's simple.. the new information generation. They represent the threat to the status-quo, those who do not identify themselves in the language of the meme-producers, that of socio-economic status or what car you drive. These people identify themselves with people, all people, and since capitalism in it's current form works upon the exploitation of people, it can either tighten it's grip until the dissonance explodes or it can evolve alongside it.
To my mind, the most significant conclusion is what this essay says about the age we are currently entering. For tens of thousand of years, humanity as been culturally evolving. As technology developed, imagined communities grew ever larger, enabling the kind of historical events we are lucky enough to study. Yet for all the revolutions, for all the 'progress' that we have apparently made, the mode of memetic transmission in creating an imagined community as been vertical, from the one or few to the many. This imposed identity has been abused by those in power, with the quietly growing 'unofficial imagined community' providing enough dissonance to create Hegel's thesis/antithesis/synthesis progress of the imagined community. I like the thought that this is analogous to a non-linear equation, with the result being fed back into the beginning of an equation, leading to complexity and chaotic, unpredictable consequences, rather like history itself.
I have just read Mark Ward's book Universality, 2001. It is a great book, the title of which does not purport to encomapass everything, merely that within certain complex systems this feature of universal connectiveness emerges, extending to the system as a whole. It is a feature that can give rise to chaos if too much input is fed into the system and one that can dissapate, along with it's potentials, if input is decreased. It is apparant in the myriad of fractal patterns and beats that nature has discovered in order to reach complexity from the greatest simplicity. It shows how we as a species may have benefited from evolving to the edge of order, reaping the emergent benefits of collective intelligence, a historical dialectic of push and pull, power and curiosity, maintaining the complex system of cultural evolution as the safety net of communication infrastrusture drove spikes of recorded, cumulative knowledge into the high-water marks of the historical swash.
This book came at a good time for me. Since the death of Mandelbrot last week, I have been pondering fractals often, sure that they, along with other phenomena such as chaos and synchronicity, were fundamental to the very fabric of reality. Not simply on an arbitrary scale such as the plank length of the diameter of the universe, but on all scales at once, a Metaphysical Theory of Everything. This book is a call to arms not just to the scientific community but also a clarion call for arm-chair philosophers like me. It gives motivation in the thought that the aacademic world, though filled with great minds, is driven to speciality and expertise in narrow fields. Universality shows that in studying small pieces of the canvas, many people are unable to see the big picture staring them in the face. The internet is driving like-minded individuals in all disciplines to act on the very simple premise that maximised communication, larger conceptual data-sets, are the key to success. Whilst they are still realising that, you and I are free to use this wonderful invention to wallow in a multitude of specialities, see connections the experts cannot; all from the comfort of your sitting room, or on a bus, or walking in the countryside. It really is an exciting time, this whole new digital generation soon to be snapping at the heals of the established ways.
But I digress. The reason that it can help explain, at least philosophically for the time being, reality at any scale is because complex systems exist at all scales and complex systems share the same emergent characteristics. By focusing on this emergent dynamic, instead of the particulars of any one scale, we can gain a very complete picture of the forces directing us both as individuals, as societies and as a tiny speck of dust in the cosmic carpet. It is part and parcel of coming to understand ourselves as human beings, as Hegel said. Many of the worlds ills: organised religion, fundamentalism, nationalism, racism, all sorts of 'isms', they all share what seems to be a group-think inspired gross ignorance of their own flaws or how humans actually function. It is apparant every time some Republican tells us that bombing them is the only way to stop them bombing us.
Now we face a revolution like no other before it. Until recently, horizontal memetic transmission had only been possible at a local level, the result being the kind of community identity common the all of mankind. Our imagined community has always been vertically derived, one-way and passive. Now, with the internet and the democratisation of memetic production (which will stand alone in history as the most significant democratisation in all of history), we are witnessing the emergence of what Seth Godin on TED calls 'Tribes': Autonomously derived, horizontally transmitted imagined communities which are interactive rather than passive. This is an entirely new development, an inflationary event for 'unofficial' memetic production which will, if allowed to continue, undermine the role of religion, state and commerce in creating our imagined community. At some point, the imagined community they espouse will come to seem anachronistic and morally wrong since it will represent the view of the few, trapped in a wealthy meme-bubble, desperate to maintain the status-quo. This was highly evident in Mubaraks seemingly complete disconnect with the Egyptian protestors. The rest of us will be busy democratising our identities and getting to know each other, only to realise that we are much the same if only we are allowed to realise it for ourselves.
N.b For a more complete description of the power of horizontal networks in creating new identities, see this blog post on the role of wikileaks and twitter in the recent Arab uprisings: http://grimeandreason.blogspot.com/2011/01/cultural-evolutionary-function-of.html
It also seems the Buddhists have had it largely right all this time. We are individual parts of a greater whole, that of the memosphere. The self is an illusion, a surface, emergent trick that evolution found useful. Old measures of cosmic identity have secured in the West a deep notion of a separate soul and this has caused untold cognitive dissonance. We use it to cling to free will in order to apply responsibility onto the individual. Yet this is both immoral and wrong! It ignores our part in creating other minds and societies role in producing the opportunity for criminal and scarred minds to come to pass. If society were to function according to these principles, it would look a hell of a lot different. Our prison system is the utter opposite of what this theory says is needed. Education from textbooks is completely anathema to the reality of our evolution. The sooner we can come to realise our responsibility to each other, the sooner the injustice of the selfish individual as a self-sustained being can be relinquished, to the betterment of all.
Having started to watch Tibet: A Buddhist Trilogy, I was immediately struck by how their culture has instituionalised and habitualised a system of democratic memetic production. In monestries, all of the monks partake in creative arts and debate equally, submersing themselves in a culture of extreme memetic evolution. OK, so it's just men but it is fully democratic within the closed structure of the monestry. Rather than enduring thousands of years of top-down, few-to-many memetic doctrine, Buddhism has experienced thousands of years of many-to-many memetic transmission aided by a recognition of it's purpose. By this I mean that Buddhism does not reject the fourth identity, that of objective knowledge, the natural product of many-to-many memetic transmission as value and validity become both important and relevant.
The combination of western science and eastern philosohpy is, I feel, on the verge of a fruitful synthesis. Both have come to a consensus that the self is an illusion. Understanding who and what we are took a great leap with post-modernism, but I really feel that it had to wait for science to catch up and start to tell us what we could only previously speculate. This thesis represents such a radical shift from the status-quo of pandering to false intuition, such a universal theory that I believe that it can shed light on any human-centered subject, from any angle. It is an immensely powerful tool that, I believe, represents the next great multi-disciplinary revolution. Not only that, through internalising it I have found the kind of contentment that Buddhists speak of. I believe it to be one and the same.
I've thought about this everyday for three years, analysed all incoming data according to this framework and everything fits. All the time I hear common-sense sayings, contemporary research, exciting hints that other people are getting it. Everything seems to either expand or confirm what I think. This lack of cognitive dissonance and the contentment I feel is, I think, qualitatively similar to the buddhist concept of enlightenment... though kudos to them, they do it primarily through introspection. How can we deny their long held belief of the illusory self.. when we in the west spend no time actually introspecting on our experience?!
As an appendix, I have tried to map the different identities memetic power structures to determine the links between the emergent, large-scale behaviours of human civilisaiton. I haven't included it here as yet since it's still fresh in my mind and may need adjusting and amending. Comments are of course encouraged!
Matrix of identities of minority rule
This matrix shows the emergent properties of the various imagined identities when they combine or assume dominion other the others. Obviously this is a mere simplification and created as an illustrative guide. Takehome lesson? Any one identity gaining dominion is terrible, two together, either explicitly or co-optingly, pretty bad. The ideal scenario is checks and balances between all three.
Evolution of power structure's identity, correlate with communication technolgy (i.e exponentially evolving)
This is a table showing the progression of the dominant power structures as they move through time, and therefore through the evolution of the three historical imagined identities. It also attempts to extrapolate into the future to predict humanities progress. The essay it was written to accompany can be found here.