Defining "Antimeme"

post by lsusr · 2019-12-26T09:35:11.906Z · LW · GW · 7 comments

An antimeme [? · GW] is a meme with the following three characteristics:

I call these "antimemes" because they exhibit behavior opposite that of regular memes. The typical response to encountering a regular meme is to assign a truth value to it via rationality. The typical response to encountering an antimeme is to ignore it as unimportant without assigning a truth value to it via reationality.

This is bad because an antimeme is usually a more general[2] replacement that ought to subsume a thriving, more specific meme. This kind of meme-antimeme pair is different from a symbiotic war [LW · GW]. A symbiotic war half-meme encourages you attack its parity inverse as "wrong". The meme in a meme-antimeme pair nudges you to dismiss its antimeme as "unimportant" or invisibly ignore [LW · GW] it altogether.

Here are some example antimemes that best illustrate this definition

Antimeme Meme
Lisp[3] object-oriented programming, design patterns and heavyweight integrated development environments
Chinese history conventional Western history
stream entry the self

Antimemes are often a culture-specific phenomenon[4]. Different cultures have different antimemes. Chinese history, for example, is not an antimeme in China. Hy is not an antimeme in Clojure user groups.

Antimemes usually have small followings. For example, there is a strong, serious community of people pursuing stream entry in its various manifestations. In my experience, this represents a tiny fraction of total meditators and published media. This is one case of how antimemes get little attention from mainstream media, standardized education and authority figures.

Antimemetics [? · GW] is the art of prospecting [? · GW] for antimemes and then not papering over them [? · GW].

  1. I'm deliberately using the word "culture" broadly here. It can refer to anything from civilizations to subcultures. ↩︎

  2. For example, a China-centric history of the world is one where population densities determine the importance of a region. This assumption is applicable to any people in any society in any time period. This Europe-centric history bases importance around late second millennium power projection before the rise of Japan. This model breaks down when applied to the Americas before Columbus. ↩︎

  3. I'm using the word "Lisp" as shorthand for the practical dialects of Lisp. Namely, dialects like Hy, Clojure and ClojureScript that have access to large standard libraries. ↩︎

  4. Edited from "Antimemes are a culture-specific phenomenon" to "Antimemes are often a culture-specific phenomenon". ↩︎


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Viliam · 2019-12-27T21:53:44.434Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Words can't be defined arbitrarily, so I am going to examine your definition first.

First, I am not sure what exactly counts as "mainstream", and why is it even important. What you describe seems like a relationship between a meme and a culture, whether large or small. So you could have "anti-memes of antimemes" as Isnasene describes [LW(p) · GW(p)]. Or you could have a polarized society with two approximately equally large cultures, each of them having their own "anti-memes". Or a small minority, such as cult, that strongly ignores the surrounding culture.

What did you mean by "mainstream knowledge"? It is something most people sincerely believe, or just something they profess [LW · GW]? They may react differently. Sincerely believing people may listen to arguments when they have proper form; but you can't convince a person whose "belief" is simply an expression of belonging to a team.

A symbiotic war half-meme encourages you attack its parity inverse as "wrong". The meme in a meme-antimeme pair nudges you to dismiss its antimeme as "unimportant" or invisibly ignore it altogether.

I am thinking now about "culture wars" where attacking other people's opinion as wrong has gradually changed into "no-platforming". I wonder whether there is a spectrum where sufficiently "no-platformed" opinions change into "unimportant" when the side defending them is completely defeated.


Also, I am afraid that the actual usage of the word "anti-meme" would be to defend ideas from valid criticism. ("You only disagree with me because this is an anti-meme that threatens your ego!")

The example of Lisp is a good one here: we have a decades long holy war where one side shouts "Lisp is superior (and so am I by recognizing this fact)!", the other side goes "where are the libraries? where are the tools? where are solutions to problems X, Y, and Z?", but the former side goes "la la la, I can't hear you over the sound of how Lisp is superior!". Then suddenly someone with a good object-oriented background fixes the usual problems with Lisp, creating Clojure, and -- lo and behold! -- suddenly the mainstream is happy with the result.

That is, focusing too much on how your idea is an "anti-meme" makes you blind to its actual flaws.

Replies from: lsusr
comment by lsusr · 2019-12-29T01:17:49.112Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

These are all good points. By "mainstream" I'm referring to to the information you acquire by being part of a culture [LW · GW]; the stuff you learn just because "that's how it's done". This definition of "mainstream" is necessarily subjective because it can be defined only from the perspective of a specific culture or subculture. To someone growing up Amish, "mainstream" (in this context) is Amish. "Mainstream" is important because holes in this kind of knowledge are uniquely difficult to identify.

I don't think there's a spectrum between "no-platforming" and "unimportant". I think they're opposites in a way that doesn't come full-circle, but haven't thought about this hard enough to be sure. It's certainly worth exploring.

Using the word "anti-meme" absolutely could be used to defend ideas from valid criticism, as illustrated by Isnasene's comment [LW(p) · GW(p)] to a similar post. Lisp is indeed an excellent example here. I think the library problem was its biggest issue and this got overlooked by early proselytizers.

comment by Isnasene · 2019-12-27T01:05:42.330Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
Antimemes are a culture-specific phenomenon. Different cultures have different antimemes.

Because cultures are nested within one-another, it's interesting to posit that anti-memes can have their own anti-memes. For instance ethically-motivated vegetarianism is an anti-meme for (most) meat-eaters but wild animal suffering is an anti-meme for (most) ethically-motivated vegetarians.

Also note that the anti-meme of an anti-meme tends not to be a meme. This is a matter of dynamics. Since the meme culture is the default, a culture bonded to an anti-meme may only exist when the meme culture has not developed a way to dissolve the anti-meme. Thus, anti-memes for cultures bonded to anti-memes must be viewed as useless from the perspective of the meme-culture. Otherwise, the meme-culture would just use the anti-anti-meme to dissolve the anti-meme.

Wild animal suffering is a good example of this. Even though people periodically bring up wild animal suffering caused by plant farming as a talking point against ethical vegetarianism, actually taking wild animal suffering seriously would be far more corrosive to the meme-culture than ethical vegetarianism (the anti-meme culture) would be.

I also think some anti-memes might also be culture-generic. For instance, utilitarianism ideology looks a lot like the anti-meme for pro-social behavior. Even if utilitarianism is discussed relatively frequently (and periodically does get attacked as wrong), it checks all the boxes in practice:

Learning it threatens the egos and identities of adherants to the mainstream of a culture[1] [LW · GW].

Utiliarianism, roughly speaking, equates saving the life of someone next door with saving the life of someone far away (which can easily be achieved relatively cheaply). This radically re-orients how moral virtue (ie egos and identities) would be assigned.

Learning the meme renders mainstream knowledge in the field unimportant by broadening the problem space of a knowledge domain, usually by increasing the dimensionality.

Utilitarianism dramatically reduces the moral importance of being involved in your local community by broadening the problem of morality to people far away who need way more help. Moral circle expansion (in the sense of considering animals more seriously as moral patients) also does this and even renders local communities unimportant depending on their complicity in factory farming and how much you care.

Mainstream wisdom considers detailed knowledge of the antimeme irrelevant, unimportant or low priority. Mainstream culture may just ignore the antimeme altogether instead.

Definitely true of factory farming. Pretty true of global poverty.

Replies from: Pattern, lsusr
comment by Pattern · 2019-12-29T03:25:15.669Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
Otherwise, the meme-culture would just use the anti-anti-meme to dissolve the anti-meme.

This supposes

1) dissolution is easy enough that it can be used that way

2) That the meme-culture would do that - if the anti-anti-meme doesn't get people back to the meme, that might not be done.

3) The ability to identify an anti-anti-meme may require taking the anti-meme seriously, or noticing it, which is made difficult by definition:

The meme in a meme-antimeme pair nudges you to dismiss its antimeme as "unimportant" or invisibly ignore [LW · GW] it altogether.
comment by lsusr · 2019-12-27T06:05:04.903Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I hadn't noticed utilitarianism and ethical vegetarianism check these boxes. I wrote this series hoping for exactly this kind of insight. Thanks!

Your comment on the cross-cultural application of utilitarianism makes this extra insightful. I have edited the original post to acknowledge that antimemes are not always culture-specific.

comment by Dustin · 2019-12-27T00:08:51.217Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
The typical response to encountering a regular meme is to assign a truth value to it via rationality.

This seems...iffy.

comment by TAG · 2019-12-28T12:51:25.265Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

An antimeme is a meme with the following three characteristics: Learning it threatens the egos and identities of adherants to the mainstream of a culture

Antimemes are often a culture-specific phenomenon

If antimemes are culture-specific , they can be subculture specific.

In your previous version, it was carefully explained that LISP isn't that great. Yet you are still enthusing about it. Consider the possibility that you are the one who is clinging to beliefs for reasons of ego. Maybe "LISP" isn't that great" is an antimeme relative to the LISP subculture.