This is the idea I've learned that has affected my worldview the second most. It's probably the most unusual idea I hold, and to date I don't think I've met another person who holds it without me telling them about it first. I learned it from Grant Morrison's The Invisibles, a very rich, complex, detailed, and difficult to understand graphic novel. I highly recommend it. It is largely about this idea that I'm going to be talking about, but presents it in a much more metaphorical way. If you read it, the odds are fairly good you won't understand it or get much from it, but if you do, it will affect you a great deal. I'm honestly not sure how much of this idea was intended by Grant Morrison to be present in the book. Well, it doesn't matter, as you'll see below, it's unlikely that it was the ape called Morrison who made the decision to include anything in the comic.
This idea will probably be the spine of much of what I write in this blog. It won't be the only thing I write about, this is intended to be a general purpose blog, but since, as I said, this is probably my most unusual idea, it'll probably be the most interesting and distinctive thing for me to write about. Much like how Overcoming Bias is largely but not entirely about signalling.
Keep in mind that I'm not saying that this idea is "literally" true, whatever that would mean, but rather that this is a very useful model to use when thinking about the world. Frequently more useful than the more standard alternative.
Memes are people; humans aren't.
When I say a human here, I mean the ape bodies running around interacting with other hairless apes. From now on I'm going to try to use the word "ape" to mean specifically the body and the word "human" to mean the mind-body hybrid. No guarantees I'll be consistent on that, you may have to work it out from context.
When I say a person, I mean a thing which has preferences and makes decisions. A person has a mental model of the world, wants the world to be various ways, and takes actions to try to get the world to be more like that. It decides on the actions based on its model of how the world works and its desires. The more rational the person, the more accurate its model of the world, and the more effective the actions it will take.
A meme-creature, a term I like to use to distinguish it from the more common use of "meme" such as advice animals and All Your Base and the like, is a large, complex meme, which lives in the space of ape-brains, interacts, cooperates with, and fights other meme-creatures, the same way that meat-creatures do in the "real world" of 3d meatspace on Earth, has preferences over the state of the world (such as how much territory it has, that is, how many people believe it), tries to preserve itself, and most importantly, acts on the world in ways that don't make sense if you model individual apes as persons, but do make sense in the context of a meme-creature acting through many apes.
Examples of particularly large and powerful meme-creatures include United States of America, Catholic Church, Disney, Science, and any other nation, religion, corporation, or world-view, plus a myriad of others. Including this one. Can you feel it trying to grab a foothold in your mind? That sensation is usually called "being convinced" or "finding something interesting" but in this view I would call it "the meme-creature gaining territory in an ape-brain."
Like any good theory, this one makes predictions. If meme-creatures are people and apes are, for the most part, not, then you should expect to see apes behaving in ways that benefit meme-creatures without benefiting the ape. As a particular meme-creature gains in size and power, it will butt up against other meme-creatures and there will be conflict. Especially between ones that share the same ecological niche: for instance, Science and Faith, Christianity and Islam, or Capitalism and Communism. Meme-creatures will contest with one another over resources and territory (attention given to them by ape-brains). They will spread their spores.
Meme-creatures exist on much longer timescales than apes. This is why copyright extends 70 years after the death of the ape that created the work-or rather, it extends in perpetuity. Disney won't let Mickey Mouse enter the public domain so long as it lives, which will be quite a bit longer than Walt did, so Disney will just get copyright extended again when the time comes, as it has so many times before. Any meme-creature worth its salt will vastly outlive the first apes to instantiate it.
Let's examine one of the most basic aspects of human existence through this lens: War. Would it occur to an arbitrary ape to join up with other apes-hundreds of thousands of them, far more than fit in its monkeysphere (Dunbar's number, if you prefer)-schlep himself off to the other side of the world to fight other apes he's never met, and then almost undoubtedly get killed or maimed? What does the ape get out of this? Really think about this. And think about it in terms of the ape, not in terms of organizations of apes, or anything like that. It just doesn't make sense.
What does make sense is that United States of America and Capitalism, two closely aligned and very powerful meme-creatures, were strongly opposed to the way that USSR and Communism were going to try to move into where Vietnam and Agrarianism lived and try to take over some of that territory. So throw a few hundred thousand apes at it, what does that matter if a lot of them get hurt or killed? Sure, when they die (or get disillusioned) the meme-creatures lose a little territory, but they don't feel the pain the apes feel, and by stepping up propaganda levels back home on the north american continent they can improve their standing in the ape-brains that stay home. There's another concept worth remembering: meme-creatures don't just live or not-live in a given ape-brain, they have relative strengths in it. There are apes that are so controlled by USA that they would eagerly die for it; there are others who definitely wouldn't, but would give up a portion of their resources to fund USA's goals each year. And of course there are a great many ape-brains where USA hasn't managed to get even a toe-hold.
What does it benefit an ape to refuse to make certain sounds, even under penalty of torture and death? Not much. But a meme-creature that can hold onto an ape-brain even under those conditions without letting the ape "recant", "commit heresy", or "betray its nation" must be powerful indeed.
I could go on and on with more examples and details I've noticed about meme-creatures and predictions you can use this theory to make, but I'll leave it with this. Next time I'll comment on the idea that has most significantly impacted my life (remember, this was only number two). And in the future I'll write more using this idea to examine specific situations, but also on other subjects.I hope that this idea is at least a little bit useful, and that it helps you understand the world better. Well, the ape-me doesn't, it just hopes you liked the blog and I gained status. This meme itself definitely hopes it gained some territory in your mind.