Stephen Kahn

Let’s go viral

In Good news on April 14, 2011 at 1:21 pm

A virus is an infectious agent that preys on human beings. Usually viruses cause harmful diseases such as colds and influenza. When an illness “goes viral,” it spreads from person to person, causing many people to suffer and even die. Off hand, I don’t know of any “good” physical viruses, though some people argue that viruses used to develop vaccines are good. Or at least can be used for good.

A meme is the social equivalent of a physical virus. A meme can be an idea or an emotion. When a meme “goes viral” it spreads from person to person. Reading Wikipedia (itself a meme) I learn that memes are controversial and disputed. As a superficial and silly person, I conclude that memes themselves are memes, something like quantum theory (which I don’t understand) applied to social psychology, anthropology, and sociology, dubious social “sciences,” none of which I understand.

I suspect (along with others) that religious belief is a meme. Religious belief may be true (I doubt it) or may be an invention of humanity, thereby leaving us confused about where the universe came from.

As a meme, religious belief is sometimes good, as when it provides meaning, a reason to live, and charity and kindness. As a meme, religious belief is sometimes bad, as when it burns people at the stake, inspires genocides, or causes people to blow themselves up in crowds.

Civilization is a meme. Somebody, perhaps Mahatma Ghandi, once said that it was a nice idea and we ought to try it sometime. If you look at our planet from outer space with a powerful telescope, or just perhaps fly an airplane around for a while, you will see large amounts of infrastructure such as cities, roads, farms, dams, and so on, which some people take as signs of civilization.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume:

1) Civilization exists.

2) Civilization is worth preserving.

3) Civilization is in danger of collapsing.

4) There is a possibility civilization can survive.

At the moment, this blog is read by somewhere between four and ten people. The chances of anything I write here, or any comment you make, “going viral,” are about 1 in 100 billion (to be optimistic).

Just for the heck of it, just to give us something to do, let’s see if we can come up with a proposal to save civilization from collapse and make it go viral.

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  1. Civilisation – all of them throughout history and across the entire planet – have constantly had to adapt or face destruction, either through climate change (sometimes brought about by the civilisation itself, as on Easter Island) or through conquest (like the Aztecs). The adaption and changes are happening too slowly for many people (too fast for many others), but as long as the process is constant, I think we’ll survive. We just may not recognise ourselves in 100 years.

  2. I am not yet 100 years old, but I have trouble recognizing ourselves even now. But I’ve always been weird. I’ve often told my wife that she comes from another planet, because she is so weird, but she is becoming more “normal” as she gets older, and I am becoming weirder. So perhaps I am the one from another planet. By the way, Woo, which planet are you from?

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