Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Buddhism and Terrorism - Meditation on Memes

The Saints of Otranto

Yesterday Pope Francis canonized 800 victims of a religiously-motivated terrorist attack on Otranto, Italy.

This got me thinking about memes again.  Will the most aggressively violent memes inevitably destroy the gentler and more mystical ones by a process of ruthless natural selection, or can peaceful memes somehow inactivate their virulent competitors?

Meme expert Susan Blackmore has suggested that Zen meditation may be able to 'weed-out' these pathological memes.  

Here are some excerpts from her article  Meditation as Meme Weeding 

"...American philosopher Daniel Dennett has described the process as the ‘evolutionary algorithm’ – a simple mindless process that once the requisites are in place must happen. If you have heredity, variation and selection then you must get evolution or “Design out of Chaos without the aid of Mind” . It’s as simple as that.

What Dawkins explained, in The Selfish Gene, was that this process is not confined to our most familiar replicator, the gene, but must apply to any information that is copied with variation and selection. All around us, he said, still drifting clumsily about in its primeval soup of culture, is another replicator. Ideas, habits, skills, stories, technologies, and artistic creations are all copied by a process that may loosely be called imitation. Copying is not perfect, so there is plenty of variation and recombination, and far more copies are made than can possibly survive. So we have a new replicator, a cultural replicator. Taking it from the Greek for ‘that which is imitated’ and abbreviating it to a word that would sound something like ‘gene’ Dawkins called them ‘memes’..."

"...There are many kinds of meme virus. A good example is an email virus. A typical one shouts “Warning, Warning, news just in from IBM (or Bill Gates or …) terrible virus, warn all your friends immediately that if they open a mail called “bla bla” their hard disk will be wiped clean”. This little collection of words can be called a memeplex – shortened from ‘co-adapted meme complex’; in other words, a group of memes that succeeds by hanging out together and getting passed on together. This little memeplex has a very simple structure. I call it C-TaP. It is basically a ‘copy me’ instruction backed up by Threats and Promises. In this case you are told to pass on the message. If you do you will help your friends (the altruism trick), if you don’t they will get their hard disk wiped (using fear to threaten). The memeplex also uses urgency, status (e.g. IBM), and exploits the fact that passing on an email message to lots of people is quick and easy. And so it is that this stupid little bit of text has been copied around and around the world, infecting millions of computers and still going strong after 5 or 6 years. If you doubt the power of memes to change the world then reflect on this silly little memeplex. It has frightened countless people and clogged up whole email systems. A few mindless words have had obvious and serious effects on the physical world. They have even found their way onto this page. This is the power of the memes. Buddhism is a meme.

I began deliberately with a very simple virus but there are far more powerful ones that use exactly the same structure. Dawkins calls them ‘viruses of the mind’; he means religions.

Dawkins used the example of Roman Catholicism; a collection of basic teachings that are passed on in church, by learning the catechism, and through prayer, singing hymns and saying grace. Beautiful cathedrals tempt worshippers inside and lift their hearts, making them want to spread the memes again. Beautiful music and songs carry the words of God and Jesus to more ears and minds. Good Catholics pass on all these ‘truths’ to their children and are encouraged to have lots of children who must, in turn, marry (or convert) a Catholic and bring up their children in the faith. The reward is everlasting life and the punishment – well it’s even worse than having your hard disk wiped..."

"...Being infected with a religion at an early age is no trivial matter. It shapes your mind, affects which memes you will subsequently accept or reject, and affects everyone you come into contact with. Very few people choose their religion, even though most think their religion is the best. Most are infected in childhood and never throw the infection off. We are seeing some of the consequences of these religious memes in the world situation we face today.

"...Our minds, at rest - alert and open - are like a beautifully weeded garden, bare brown earth where anything might grow. And just as the weed seeds are ready to jump into all that bare brown earth, so the memes are ready to jump into our open minds. If weed seeds find a space to grow, off they go, and soon all that open space is a mass of dandelions, speedwells and rosebay willow herb.

It is the same with thoughts. Think about what kinds of thoughts are the most troublesome. I don't believe many people are plagued in meditation by the sounds in the room, or by images of scenery once observed, or images of walking or jumping, or even flying. In other words, it is not our immediate perceptions, nor the things we have learned by ourselves that are troublesome; it is the ones we pick up from other people. It is all words and stories that cause the trouble; all memes.

"...Meditation is the hoe. Meditation is also, of course, a meme. You would never have invented the techniques of Ch’an meditation for yourself. They have been part-invented and part-selected over thousands of years, passing down from person to person in a long evolutionary path. But all of them have this in common - they are ways of defusing the power of other memes."

Read the full article here

Sudden Jihad Syndrome

Sudden jihad syndrome 
If we accept Churchill's virus analogy - 'as dangerous in a man as rabies in a dog'  -  we will recognise that terrorism isn't a mutant form of 'the Religion of Peace' that is produced by radicalisation. On the contrary, thuggery, hatred and murder are written into the basic DNA of the pathogen, and only need the right conditions to be expressed by any carrier of the disease, see 'Sudden  Jihad Syndrome'.

Kalama Sutra
In complete contrast to other religions, Buddhism had elements of meme-weeding from its very beginning.  In the  Kalama Sutra,   Buddha said that all religious teachings, including his own should...

(1) Not be believed on the basis of religious authority, or 'holy' books, or family/tribal tradition, or even coercion and intimidation by the mob.


(2) Test the methodology by personal experience. Does it do what it says on the box?

(3) Is the philosophy rational? Or does it require you to believe six impossible things before breakfast?

(4) Judge the tree by its fruits. Is it beneficial, or does it tell you to act against your conscience and 'The Golden Rule'.


Could meditation on memes prevent terrorism?
If young men from vulnerable cultural and family backgrounds were better informed about memes and memeplexes, perhaps they could resist this jihadist indoctrination and  recognize these malignant memes for the pernicious parasitic processes that they are, before they took over their minds and turned them into robotic killers. 

One interesting question is whether the meme theory is itself a meme ('The Metameme') and whether its spread could block and give immunity to more pernicious memes, much like the harmless cowpox virus can block out the lethal smallpox virus. 

If you are a sexually repressed teenager, who suddenly realises that the promise of 72 virgins for killing kuffars is nothing more than a mechanism for a mind-virus to ensure its dominance over competing memes, by eliminating their carriers, then you may be less enthusiastic about blowing yourself and fellow passengers to pieces in a train or bus.

Related posts

Buddhism and Islam - Resources

Were the Boston Bombers mentally ill?


No comments: