Archives for category: memetics

Increasing numbers of people look upon our world as dominated by “curated reality” — not reality itself. So much of what we think of as true is determined not by our stable appraisals, but by our acceptance of frameworks established by others, by factoids paraded as facts, fantasies doing all the heavy lifting, and narratives told by the gifted storytellers, and perhaps also by conspiracies among some or all of these players.

There is something to this perspective, and the big questions regarding it would seem to be

  1. how much of reality curation is individuals “competing in the marketplace for memes”;
  2. how much is orchestrated meme production and distribution out in the open and
  3. in secret; and
  4. how much is “rational” or “irrational”?

The scare quotes because rationality is a contested concept.

Ray Scott Percival’s essay in Scott Adams and Philosophy: A Hole in the Fabric of Reality (Open Court, 2018), along with several essays by David Ramsay Steele, addresses some of these issues. Scott Adams is one of the most important current advocates of the curated-reality concept, promoting the notion that hypnotism defines much of our human experience, where “the facts don’t matter” (just like on Whose Line Is It, Anyway?). Though I have only just begun reading it, Percival’s essay “Biases Are Rational!” provokes thought — and reminds me of notions I mulled over years ago. A trouble with the Daniel Kahneman/Amos Tversky approach to biases is that by focusing on neoclassical economics’ rather narrow definition of rationality, it suggests that people are error-prone at a very fundamental level, and thus scuttles a more “invisible hand” (emergentist) understanding of human action. Percival takes this on directly:

“Biases,” Percival writes, “can be adaptive to our circumstances.” This view of the cognitive biases Gerd Gigerenzer calls “ecological rationality.” It strikes me as familiar. Did not Armen Alchian advance similar ideas? In any case, Percival argues that we are rational in how we manage our biases — adapt them in light of experience. Here I am reminded of Herbert Spencer’s version of praxeology, human choice and action being defined as “actions adjusted to ends.” But we have to extend the adjustment process to “ends adjusted to means” by trial and error, and standards and routines adjusted in due course.

One of the things I encountered years ago reading F.A. Hayek is the notion that rationality in the French sense, constructivist and very clean and sterile — “Spockian,” you might say, referencing Mr. Green-blooded Pointy Ears — is not a very useful guide to actual human acts and interactions. One of Hayek’s distinctions in this regard was to distinguish teleocratic from nomocratic behavior — that is, purposive from rule-following. While to many theorists teleocratic explanations tend to boil down to a simple ends-means matrix, capable of simple mathematical formulation and calculable in Thorstein Veblen’s parody as “lightning-swift,” actual human action has competing goals as well as scarce means, often radically insufficient information to make any sure calculation, and an almost kaleidic shifting of all these elements (divergent ends, competing scarce means, uncertain knowledge and even a vast scope of nescience); pretending otherwise is foolish. Hayek believed that people use rules of thumb to make manageable the complexity of our actions. No matter how goal-oriented we are, we use rule-following habits to navigate the sheer booming, buzzing confusion of life.

My rap, back then, was that every purposive being did not just ration scarce means towards his ends, but also had to ration rationality itself. That is, the technical proficiency of ends-means calculations is always circumscribed by habits of thought and action that are learned behavior, and pertain to a tacit dimension of our reality. (I confess, I got this view from Julian Jaynes, whom I read long before Herbert Spencer, whose view of the human mind was also a matter of modularity and learning over vast spans of time, by natural selection, or “survival of the fittest”; you may note a tip of the hat to Michael Polanyi as well.)

What does all this have to do with a possibly curated reality? Well, we cannot conceive of reality without curation, or at least mediation by more than just pristine symbols. We are not robotic inquirers proceeding to adjust our mental maps of the world in a one-to-one, crisp-and-nifty rationalism. We human beings use a number of tools that are not just thinking with a limited set of concepts and fact/non-fact propositions, tested and perfected. Among those tools include myth and metaphor. These are crucial to our ecological rationality.

And because our complex of routines is so complex, it is quite possible to manipulate ourselves and others to scuttle the best use of those routines. Indeed, one way to curate another person’s sense of reality is to use rhetoric and mythic thinking but not acknowledge it, keeping the methods sub rosa. Thus we witness, in our time, people who pretend that they are Just The Facts, Ma’am thinkers, while they are almost wholly controlled by ideologies that gain their power from fantasy and myth more than from any careful calculation.

The notion of curated reality undermines simple appeals to “the facts.” Nietzsche’s challenge is pertinent here: There are no facts, only interpretations. But even more basic than that is the idea that we act and judge actions by conjectures often so outlandish that they might as well be called fantasy, and that our understanding of choice depends upon hypothesized counter-factuals, the “roads not taken” with every choice we make. Those are the costs of our actions. And they are necessarily “metaphysical” and not simply factual.

The complexity of the phenomenology of human choice lands us in a realm that simple accounts of rationality — especially low-brow materialist accounts, the kind you tend to encounter among engineers and science-fiction readers and stand-up comedians — simply cannot comprehend. Because of this, the very model of rationality as a Spock-like discipline leaves its proponents open to manipulation by people who understand that this model is necessarily insufficient. As James Randi was fond of saying, the easiest people to fool by stage magic are scientists. There is a reason for that.

Thus the curated reality of our time finds its biggest marks amongst those I call “the moderate brights,” who — unknowingly committed to grave error — repeat stock memes and thereby reinforce our present irreality.


N.B. I hope to report back on these issues after I finish Ray Scott Percival’s contribution to Scott Adams and Philosophy, and perhaps the great David Ramsay Steele’s several essays as well. This post is merely my rehearsal of old ideas dimly recalled from back when I read economics and choice theory in a near-scholarly manner. Oh, and also: facts do matter. They just do not amount to “all that is the case.”

Chanting “follow the science” is such a coward’s move, and so unscientific. In science, leadership and oppositionalism count. Followers are insignificant.

Not true of scientism, though. There, the science groupies really do provide extra oomph — the extra oomph needed to send people to involuntary vaccination lines, re-education centers, concentration camps, and gas chambers.

Technocracy is the political expression of scientism, and perhaps its raison d’être.

It pretends to be a logocentric endeavor, “logical” and “scientific” and all very Spockish, but that is belied by its required extremes of coercion and the always-present love of coercion.

But that violent streak needs its halo, some mythic power. In a word, “science.”

Repeat the word for its special magic, acolytes.


States without lockdown orders, or mask mandates, are not doing spectacularly worse than those with them. Indeed, it ranges from “better” to a wash.

Which makes the policies inexcusable.

So why are these edicts being promoted and followed?

For the same reason politicians send us to war and we go. For the same reason there is war fervor and excitement. For the same reason crowds shout in triumph upon the death of millions elsewhere.

The State with its claim of sovereign authority tempts everyone, and it encourages us to be reckless, bloodthirsty, moralistic, self-righteous, and worse . . . out of fear, first, and some imagined advantage, second.

This similarity between war and the lockdown orders is fairly clear, is it not?

The “moral equivalent of war” is immoral, and we, like sheep, almost always go astray to the bad shepherd that is the State.

The State’s a mind-trap. It messes with your heads. It takes your fear and makes you do crazy things, like think prohibiting people from engaging in commerce and normal human interaction because some even peaceful interactions play against what is said to be the general welfare. But obviously, in the case of the threats that start most wars and the menace that is this pandemic, the “cures” are worse than the disease — in part because our benighted species has been infected by a far worse virus than SARS-CoV-2: that worse infection is statism. Political messianism, in other words.

Thinking that salvation comes from authoritarian force.

It is amusing how rarely anyone brings up the First Amendment; the freedom to peaceably assemble, one of would have thought, was something to be protected, not squelched. But oh, how politicians lust to squelch freedom in any form! It’s in their memes and maybe their genes.

And give them an excuse . . . well, don’t.

The proper response to a pandemic is caution, courage, curiosity and conscientiousness — all within the field of persuasion and property rights. Not state edict.

And by the way, “edicts” are not laws, in some jurisprudential theory, and the distinction is understandable. I won’t go to one local store that put up a sign mandating masks because of “Inslee Law.” Inslee’s our idiot governor. He cannot make law. Ascribing law to him is a kind of heresy to republicanism. I’d rather play anarch than subservient swine to Inslee’s edicts.

But maybe we can avoid accelerating our grimace. When I hear a person chide Trump and Trumpians for breaching the “rule of law” but in the next breath insist upon the need for lockdowns, I do indeed laugh.

Yet, should jackbooted thugs with badges come to take me off to the gulags my leftist friends seem itching to create in their drooled-about “Truth and Reconciliation” re-education camps, from my mouth may come bitter, not mirthful, laughter.

But of course the peace-lovers will no doubt gun me down instead. You know, “for the public good.”

Which they cannot explain on rational grounds. For this epidemic does not justify tyrannical proclamations and a general totalitarian response. Not even plausibly.

But add in fear and subtract sound judgment, and of course: anything goes.

As long as it is statist. That parasite meme is firmly running people’s brains now.


You’re on, Costanza!

It seems like a nifty analogy to me. But the big differences between the two situations are several:

  1. if bombed, survival was, shall we say, not likely, but most people who catch the coronavirus weather through just fine;
  2. the more people who survive the virus, the less of an epidemic it is, since we reach the herd immunity threshold — but the more people bombed and survived had no similar salutary effect for the non-bombed;
  3. what if masks are more like venetian blinds at full open, and they would only diminish the risk by a little, thus giving people false confidence so they would be less likely to go into a shelter when the sirens skirl?
  4. while lights-out was good for manned bombing runs, it made no difference with V-2s — so what if SARS-CoV-2 is more like a V-2 than a bomber run?

There are probably many more, but I think this meets Mr. Alexander’s request for debate.


Each new day I hear yet another call for “opening up the economy,” and my annoyance level rises.

Not because I do not want the lockdown orders removed, however. I am annoyed because “the economy” seems unexceptionable but is not. It is an extremely deceptive term. It induces people to think of a Thing that can be shut off and on like a light switch. It suggests that it’s about money and organization and is generally ancillary to our lives. But it isn’t an existent “it” in the singular, much less in a mechanistic manner, it is an emergent order of people producing and trading. “The economy” is people doing the things that allow us to live. It is, in a sense, living.

It is “making a living.” Shut it down and you make death.
When you prohibit people from commerce, from producing and exchanging, you are cutting off the life blood of the civizilization. When we worry that “the economy will suffer” we mean “people will suffer.” And some will die.


George Henry Lewes Painting; George Henry Lewes Art Print for sale
G. H. Lewes, The Study of Psychology: Its Object, Scope, and Method.

I often quote the highlighted sentence:

“Ideas are forces: the existence of one determines our reception of others.”
A meme/joke passed around on Facebook.

I have a different take on this, as I have tried to explain before: while gender is said to be a social construct, the very idea of gender is an ideological construct, and I reject the groundwork ideology on multiple grounds. We can pretend there are four genders or a thousand, and it doesn’t matter. What matters is sex, and how we handle this biological binary division.

If you admit the official definition of gender, though, you cannot then decisively state that there are only two. The word you are looking for is sex.

But because we were all timorous/obnoxious children once, we tend to wince at that word, or blush, or guffaw. This we have unthinkingly let ‘gender’ gain ground as a euphemism, wreaking havoc on thought and culture.

Still, marginally funny joke. But of most interest as a sign of the times.


Trump’s last name is almost magic, in that it defines his political style: he plays trumps and takes tricks.

I confess to marvel at the synchronicities and/or entelechies at play these days, and also how people almost never talk about it. It is like witnessing a miracle and then being blasé and dismissive, like Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction.

Other names of presidential candidates have punning meanings. But none so impressive.

Biden as in bidin’ his time . . . taken too long?

Sanders isn’t a bad name for an extreme egalitarian, a ‘leveller.’ Sand the rough places plain; grind down the mountains and fill in the valleys.

A warren is where we grow domesticated rodents. I do not know what to make of that.

Bloomberg? Made mountains of wealth, made his fortune ‘bloom.’ Berg means mountain in many Germanic languages, no? I do not see the magic of his name helping him much, though.

Gabbard sounds like it might be grounded on gab, but Tulsi does not appear to be overly talkative. Of course, it could refer to someone barraged by gab — she was gabbar’d, I tells ye.

Buttigieg . . . I won’t go there. You can fill it in.

Yang seems like a joke word for a penis — and it is the word for the male force in a bivalent world: yin and yang. I haven’t heard anyone make quips in this manner. Perhaps because Yang does not come across as particularly masculine. And his UBI notion is all yin and no yang.

Trump’s magic is more potent than any of these.

And it drives many people mad.

The sheer silliness of the House Democrats’ “impeachment” of President Trump was raised to another power by Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s sequestering of the impeachment bill, not sending it on to the Senate for trial. Some say that makes it not an impeachment at all. The most profound thing I’ve heard so far is from Scott Adams, who predicted an impeachment wouldn’t change Trump, but that Trump would change impeachment. I wonder how the Speaker feels to have fulfilled a prophecy by the creator of Dilbert and Loserthink.

What a nadir she has reached in her roller-coaster career.

But not every comment needs to be profound.

66.666% of all impeached presidents….
See also memevigilante.

Pepe is back!

Last Friday, when I was helping Paul Jacob with his weekend wrap-up (This Week in Common Sense), I had only heard rumors about Pepe’s appearance on the streets of Hong Kong,* so I asked Paul if he had heard anything. He hadn’t. But . . . The New York Times has come to the rescue, with “Hong Kong Protesters Love Pepe the Frog. No, They’re Not Alt-Right” (August 19).

“To much of the world, the cartoon frog is a hate symbol,” the blurb expands. “To Hong Kong protesters, he’s something entirely different: one of them.”

The article, by Daniel Victor, confronts how jarring it may seem for Pepe to appear as “a pro-democracy freedom fighter in the Hong Kong protests, siding with the people in their struggle against an authoritarian state.”

Well, jarring if you are a Gray Lady reporter. For was it not major media folks who repeatedly characterized Pepe as “alt right” and a “hate figure”? So, what if that’s just their story? How they want us to see the symbol?

To participants of the online trolling that erupted in the election of Donald Trump, Pepe was not one thing, but all over the map. He was, as I suggested to Paul, an anti-authoritarian Trickster, more Bugs Bunny than a cruel cartoon of Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle.

And the anti-authoritarianism of Pepe was directed against our Establishment, in part as embodied in Hillary Clinton . . . and in the news media.

But the Times cannot quite confront that. 

Pepe in Hong Kong.

So we encounter, instead, a very different explanation. We are told how Pepe’s creator Matt Furie’s pre-troll conception of Pepe has survived, innocent as a lamb — or even as “Hello Kitty!” — in the former British colony . . . at least as scribbled and spray-painted on subway walls (and tenement halls).

A bit self-serving? The Times’ narrative almost begs for a response . . . in the form of a Pepe-like wink-and-leer.


* The other day I repeated the rumors, and the images that seemed to back them up, in my “Baizuo Blues” post. There I was dealing with a Medium essay so outrageous I was not sure it wasn’t some bizarre form of post-irony. And, in the back of my head I mulled over this unsettling worry that even the photos might have been doctored. These worries did not diminish when the Medium piece almost immediately vanished from the site. Which is why I was still wondering about the truth of Pepe’s reëmergence later in the week.