It seems like something from a science fiction novel, a parasite infecting and effectively controlling the mind and behaviors of others. The video illustrates the ant’s absolute loss of control over its body, even sacrificing itself in order to serve a foreign purpose that was implanted into its mind (to ensure the reproduction of more of the lancet flukes). The concept of mind controlling can definitely cause people to feel uneasy but some might dismiss this case since it occurs in species other than humans, however, a disguised perpetrator exists within our society where it is actually welcomed…
Before actually reading through my paper, it might be best to view a TED talk by Daniel Dennett and his discussion on memes (as my quotes through the paper dealing with memes comes from this talk):
After reading Daniel Dennett’s Darwin’s Dangerous Idea in Paul Grobstein and Anne Dalke’s the Story of Evolution and the Evolution of stories course, a very similar account of this “mind control” becomes, I believe, evident. Our systems of beliefs—religion, fundamental values such as freedom, etc.—can sometimes compel us to subordinate our “genetic interest to other interests”. But of course people would certainly take offense to being described as under the control of their beliefs. We like to think oppositely of that, that we choose what to believe and in doing so, still remain the agents over our actions and behavior. The mind controlling agents, according to Dennett would be memes, which are the basic units of culture. Memes range from a vast variety of forms, from abstract ideas such as freedom and liberty, to religion in its entirety, to more modern internet memetic  fads. However, not all memes are benign in nature. While some memes are generally virtuous (such as the idea of liberty) and can, in a way, improve a person’s life, others such as discrimination, stigmas, taboos, etc. seem to only harm others while providing no benefits to the meme’s “host” as Dennett would call it. In a discussion class, it was determined that a meme is a basic cultural unit that is worth replicating. Why would hatred and hostility to other social groups be beneficial and worth replicating? I believe that though the action of discrimination, stigmas and all other forms of condemnation is carried out in order to preserve and defend one’s owns memes from foreign memes.
One social group that I feel strongly about is the homosexual community, and the discrimination that the community faces. In many parts of the world , engaging in homosexual activity (mostly male to male relations) would result in imprisonments and in some cases even death. From the map of “Punishment for male to male relationship”, it can be seen that the punishments exist in mostly Africa, the Middle East and parts of Southeast Asia while the European countries and most of the Americas have no concrete legal punishments for the lifestyle. What really stands out though is how the punishments are in areas which are either considered third world countries or highly religious in nature.
Especially in the Middle East, traditions are entrenched in the countries’ populations. Familial honor is a meme that heavily influences how an individual behaves and acts in public. Honor is a concept of utmost importance, much more so than in the Western world, and it is the highest crime to besmirch the reputation of your family. In Turkey, it is the high tension between traditional familial honor and the growing secular community which can ultimately lead to killings done in the name of honor. If the reputation of a family has been damaged by a member’s actions, the head of the household will severely punish the perpetrator in an attempt to restore the family honor. In one recent case related to Turkey, Ahmet Yildiz  was suspected to have been killed by his father–who traveled more than 600 miles just to do this–for being an open homosexual. Despite being a “straight-A physics student” aspiring to be a teacher and loved by his parents, his homosexuality violated the meme which the family regards as sacred: honor, or at least the definition of it in their specific sense. As Dennett says in his talk, we hold the “vectors of memes that are viewed as a dire threat of [another person’s] treasured memes”. In this case, Ahmet’s homosexual lifestyle was in direct violation of his family’s honor and in the family’s view he had to be punished. Even with his death, his body was not claimed by the family, symbolizing the intensity of Ahmet’s decision of going public with his homosexuality.
Of course homosexuality and the discrimination against it in many traditional cultures is not the only example of this hatred against other opposing social groups. Xenophobia, or an intense dislike or fear of people of other cultures/countries, can lead to the destruction of many different cultures. The fear of other memes potentially infecting one’s own community can lead to highly harmful proactive actions. In the extreme cases, massive genocides can be used as an example of the measures that some communities may use in order to protect the memes that they hold sacred. So again I come back to the question of why do these memes exist? These “toxic memes” that initiate this feeling of hatred are “wiping out cultures, languages, tradition, pratices” of other communities. The infectious attribute of these memes mean that they “can flourish, despite negative impacts” on humanity.
In order to simulate how easy it is for a meme to spread, I found this fun little game to illustrate. In the game, as one particle hits another, more and more opportunities and particles become loose from the mass and would have in turn symbolize a meme infecting another human and eventually populations. This game is to indicate the fear that more traditional cultures have about other foreign memes spreading within their community. Once enough people have adopted the outside meme, it will be inevitable before the whole population alters due to the new addition, thus abandoning the more traditional meme. ***I warn you, this game is a little difficult at first, if you are able to stick through it, eventually the whole screen will be filled with moving particles.
After discussion on social cognition in my psychology class, a psychological perspective can try to explain these actions. We as humans tend to be cooperative beings as evolutionarily this has proven to be very beneficial in our survival. However, with cooperation we developed a sense of “in-group” versus “out-groups” of other communities. An in/out group bias develops where we think about those within our own group much more favorably and tend to believe our own “social group to be superior” (Ziefman, 3/16/11). This categorization of those outside of our own social group to be the “others/foreign/alien” or any other term, distinguishes that they hold very different memes sacred (otherwise they would be part of the in-group). This psychological explanation of the out-group bias provides further reinforcement that these “toxic” and “dangerous” memes were not meant to be harmful in nature, but just as a means to protect and defend a community’s sacred, traditional memes from outside influences.
In the end though, does this explanation in any way justify the harmful actions humans commit against one another? One part of me can see why people will take extreme measures in order to protect what they hold sacred, why death would even be an option if need be in order to defend their own meme. However, another part of me still cannot defend violent actions committed against others. Maybe I hold this perspective because of how I grew up, where my own experiences has instilled a type of pacifist meme in me and in this case am exemplifying the resistance against accepting violence as a means for a solution. In this world where so many complex and distinct communities exist, I doubt that anyone or anything “will [ever] annihilate the germ” that is this “toxic meme”. I guess in this case, I am hoping much like Dennett for there to be an “evolution and spread of relatively benign mutations of toxic varieties" of the memes.
Dennett, Daniel Clement. Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995. Print.
Debra Ziefman. Foundations in Psychology. Haverford College. Spring 2011.