TheToxoplasmaOfRage (ThoughtStorms)

Excellent blog post by Slate Star Codex on certain memes as having a life-cycle that involves escalating discord and hatred between groups.

Well worth reading : http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/12/17/the-toxoplasma-of-rage/

Selection courtesy of JordanPeacock on G+ :

> Slate Star Codex:

> If you want to signal how strongly you believe in taking victims seriously, you talk about it in the context of the least credible case you can find. [...] Only controversial things get spread. A rape allegation will only be spread if it’s dubious enough to split people in half along lines corresponding to identity politics. An obviously true rape allegation will only be spread if the response is controversial enough to split people in half along lines corresponding to identity politics – which is why so much coverage focuses on the proposal that all accused rapists should be treated as guilty until proven innocent.

> Everybody hates rape just like everybody hates factory farming. “Rape culture” doesn’t mean most people like rape, it means most people ignore it. That means feminists face the same double-bind that PETA does.

> First, they can respond to rape in a restrained and responsible way, in which case everyone will be against it and nobody will talk about it.

> Second, they can respond to rape in an outrageous and highly controversial way, in which case everybody will talk about it but it will autocatalyze an opposition of people who hate feminists and obsessively try to prove that as many rape allegations as possible are false.

> ...

> The less useful, and more controversial, a post here is, the more likely it is to get me lots of page views.

> For people who agree with me, my angry rants on identity politics are a form of ego defense, saying “You’re okay, your in-group was in the right the whole time.” Linking to it both raises their status as an in-group members, and acts as a potential assault on out-group members who are now faced with strong arguments telling them they’re wrong.

> As for the people who disagree with me, they’ll sometimes write angry rebuttals on their own blogs, and those rebuttals will link to my own post as often as not. Or they’ll talk about it with their disagreeing friends, and their friends will get mad and want to tell me I’m wrong, and come over here to read the post to get more ammunition for their counterarguments. I have a feature that allows me to see who links to all of my posts, so I can see this all happening in real-time.

> I don’t make enough money off the ads on this blog to matter very much. But if I did, and this was my only means of subsistence, which do you think I’d write more of? Posts about charity which only get me 2,000 paying customers? Or posts that turn all of you against one another like a pack of rabid dogs, and get me 16,000?

>...

> It’s in activists’ interests to destroy their own causes by focusing on the most controversial cases and principles, the ones that muddy the waters and make people oppose them out of spite. And it’s in the media’s interest to help them and egg them on.

> ...

> Toxoplasma is a neat little parasite that is implicated in a couple of human diseases including schizophrenia. Its life cycle goes like this: it starts in a cat. The cat poops it out. The poop and the toxoplasma get in the water supply, where they are consumed by some other animal, often a rat. The toxoplasma morphs into a rat-compatible form and starts reproducing. Once it has strength in numbers, it hijacks the rat’s brain, convincing the rat to hang out conspicuously in areas where cats can eat it. After a cat eats the rat, the toxoplasma morphs back into its cat compatible form and reproduces some more. Finally, it gets pooped back out by the cat, completing the cycle.

> What would it mean for a meme to have a life cycle as complicated as toxoplasma?

> Consider the war on terror. It’s a truism that each time the United States bombs Pakistan or Afghanistan or somewhere, all we’re doing is radicalizing the young people there and making more terrorists. Those terrorists then go on to kill Americans, which makes Americans get very angry and call for more bombing of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

> Taken as a meme, it is a single parasite with two hosts and two forms. In an Afghan host, it appears in a form called ‘jihad’, and hijacks its host into killing himself in order to spread it to its second, American host. In the American host it morphs in a form called ‘the war on terror’, and it hijacks the Americans into giving their own lives (and several bajillion of their tax dollars) to spread it back to its Afghan host in the form of bombs.

> From the human point of view, jihad and the War on Terror are opposing forces. From the memetic point of view, they’re as complementary as caterpillars and butterflies. Instead of judging, we just note that somehow we accidentally created a replicator, and replicators are going to replicate until something makes them stop.

> Replicators are also going to evolve. Some Afghan who thinks up a particularly effective terrorist strategy helps the meme spread to more Americans as the resulting outrage fuels the War on Terror. When the American bombing heats up, all of the Afghan villagers radicalized in by the attack will remember the really effective new tactic that Khalid thought up and do that one instead of the boring old tactic that barely killed any Americans at all. Some American TV commentator who comes up with a particularly stirring call to retaliation will find her words adopted into party platforms and repeated by pro-war newspapers. While pacifists on both sides work to defuse the tension, the meme is engaging in a counter-effort to become as virulent as possible, until people start suggesting putting pork fat in American bombs just to make Muslims even madder.

> ...

> The Litany of Jai: “Almost no one is evil; almost everything is broken”. We pretty much never wrestle with flesh and blood; it’s powers and principalities all the way down.


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