Monsters & Memes (Perceptual Warfare pt 6)

“As the nation mourns the Newtown victims, a number of additional threats and shootings have been reported since the massacre. A Newtown church was evacuated on Sunday after police responded to a threat against those inside. An Indiana man equipped with a 47-gun arsenal was arrested on Sunday after allegedly threatening to kill children at a local elementary school. Oklahoma police arrested an 18-year-old high school student on Friday who was allegedly planning a school-shooting massacre. In Newport Beach, California, an alleged gunman was arrested after reportedly firing 50 shots in a mall parking lot. In San Antonio, Texas, two men were reportedly injured in a shooting at a movie theater Sunday night.”
—Amy Goodman, “Democracy Now,” Dec 17th 2012

It’s a common enough belief that such crimes as depicted in We Need to Talk About Kevin and which occurred at Sandy Hook school, Connecticut, in Dec 2012 (and their depiction by the media), whether in “factual” or fictional form, can and do replicate through imitation. This is what Loren Coleman calls (in his book of the same name) “the copycat effect”: If events and/or reports are shaped to create a more or less standardized narrative (in this case, alienated teenager or teenagers shoot school children and teachers for no apparent reason); and if intelligent writers and filmmakers, et al., swallow this narrative whole and incorporate it into their own works, adding extra nuance and depth, an awareness of psychology, and so forth; this all helps to establish the false narrative — now a meme — in the collective awareness.[1]


A meme can be loosely defined as a mind virus. A meme is an idea, belief, or set of values that, like a mini-culture, spreads through society. A meme isn’t necessarily destructive, any more than a virus is necessarily hostile to its host. Yet there does seem to be a relation between how poorly an idea is understood and how contagious it is. Christianity, for example, only became “viral” once the Roman Empire had adopted it and distorted it to its own ends. A meme spreads through infection, and an infection that’s untreated spreads fastest. The lack of understanding — and the refusal to understand — that surrounds an event like Sandy Hook is like a fog that prevents any kind of forward motion. Calling for wrong-headed solutions (such as the call in the US now for armed guards in school) instead of seeking to understand the problem causes these incidents to proliferate. While half the population lobbies to ban guns and the other half gets busy stockpiling them, the root cause is ignored, and the problem grows.

In the case of an alleged “gunman” like Adam Lanza — or his fictional counterpart, Kevin — the focus is always on the surface. (Not literally, however: scientists are currently examining Lanza’s DNA to locate the source of the “evil,” presumably hoping to eradicate the problem this way.) When people react in horror to an alleged killer’s “aberrational,” “monstrous,” anti-social behavior, they are emphasizing his difference from themselves. When they focus on superficial influences such as video games, or seek “easy” solutions like gun control or policing the schools (less guns, and/or more guns for the right people), they stop short of questioning the social values that have created a demand for these things to begin with, not to mention all the alienated youths and “aberrational” behaviors. They stop short at bringing the focus to the one place it really needs to go: themselves.

Even when attention is directed towards social conditioning, it’s usually in a superficial way that blames the parents for the child’s acts and then views them as monsters also (as depicted in Kevin). There is almost never a willingness to question the dominant social structures, or the discreet government agendas, that have caused the violence, because these are values which everyone adheres to, and without them, there is only an abyss. These are also the same values which concerned parents and caregivers everywhere are trying to “instill” into their autistic children. The belief is that more culture, more socialization, is what’s needed to reduce the problem. In fact, it’s culture and socialization that’s at the root of the problem.

With so superficial (because prejudiced) a reading of events, it’s no wonder they seem incomprehensible. It’s like trying to understand how a car works by looking at the marks on the seat leather or trying to find the midget inside a TV set: it’s primitive thinking at its worst. The incomprehensibility of such occurrences is less to do with the events themselves than with an inability to think coherently about them, a prevailing blindness and a willed refusal to understand them (and to look closely at the facts surrounding them). This combination of denial, ignorance, and (self-)deception on the part of socialized adults is perceived by young people, rightly, as hypocrisy. That perception can only increase their sense of alienation and hostility towards all authority figures, from parents on up. The counter-response is when young people, in a piquant fit of rebellion, insist that violent action is at least as normal or healthy as this hypocrisy, and that it is an appropriate response to it. In a sense, they are right. All the shaking of heads and clucking in horror of adults, and the resulting moves towards gun-control, increased armed protection, DNA-analyses or “early interventions,” is doing little or nothing to protect their children. Why? Because children need protecting, first and foremost, from these self-appointed protectors.

As already described, the “school shooter” stereotype does coincide with a certain type of young person, the social misfit or disaffected rebel type, whether an autist, artist, introvert, or daydreamer. This “type” is already feared and distrusted by society, because it is strange and largely incomprehensible to it. Since it’s human-animal nature (never mind social conditioning) to fear what’s unfamiliar, partly because of this fear and mistrust, many young people do feel hostility towards their parents, authority figures, peers, and society as a whole. Why wouldn’t they? The dreamspace (that false view of reality) widens the gulf between the misfit and society and slowly reinforces the specific dream-roles that are being set — that of self and other. In the process, the necessity of competition, and finally war, between them steadily increases. The strangeness, alienation, fear, and mistrust of the one for the other, instead of being reduced through understanding and communication, becomes intensified and magnified through misunderstanding and mis-communication. Eventually, what is unjustly feared becomes a real threat, justifying and validating the fear.

[1] The assumption is usually that “works of art” (or entertainment) are only reflecting reality, never that they are helping to create it, and if movies are accused of inciting acts of violence, it’s never the “socially conscientious” kind like Kevin or Elephant. YetI think it is these that are the most responsible, precisely because they ask to be taken seriously as accurate representations of reality. The movie Alpha Dog, based on a true story (Jesse James Hollywood, though I can’t vouch for how closely the film stuck to the true facts), comes much closer, I think, to depicting the teenage sociopath type, and (as the title suggests) the kids in the film were anything but outcasts. The film’s critical reception was unenthusiastic, however, unlike the response to Kevin.

4 thoughts on “Monsters & Memes (Perceptual Warfare pt 6)

  1. you said “The belief is that more culture, more socialization, is what’s needed to reduce the problem. In fact, it’s culture and socialization that’s at the root of the problem.”

    I refer to our “culture” in America as an “anti-culture” because it’s anything but. At least my understanding of what a culture is. Maybe this is delusion on my part, but let me explain. I believe in Permaculture as the main answer to humanities problems…and I mean all of them. “Permanent Agriculture” is what the acronym stands for, but “culture” is extrapolated out of it usually. That is to say that it is as much about culture, if not more so, than it is about agriculture. In this case it’s a good “culture.” So I guess what I’m saying is that there can be good culture (and there should be) as well as bad, and that a good culture would help heal many of the problems that we are seeing.

    I have Aspergers, I don’t do well in groups of people. I attended a “permaculture in action” class last spring and summer. We got together on the weekends in the mountains of Asheville NC and installed permaculture designs on peoples property. There were about 30 of us. It was meaningful activity that helped heal the land and it acts as an antidote to our civilizations insanity. For me, just being a part of it was healing, even though I’m not in touch with any of those people now. My point is that Permaculture is indeed a culture, and it’s one that is healing and good for all people..imo. It’s meaningful activity that people do together. That is what the seed of culture should be. The art social interaction that comes from that make the broader culture.

    What we have, is an anti-culture. It is indeed the root of the problem.

    Also, were you inferring that these killings are becoming a meme? If you are, it’s an interesting question to ponder. Probably likely at this point. What do you expect when raised in an anti-culture that is not worth caring about?

    • I don’t think we are talking about an anti-culture but the inevitable end point of culture. Magnify a virus and you can see what it’s actually doing. Face it, agriculture is the start of culture as we know it today. If we want to try and imagine a positive culture then we’d probably have to predate agriculture and return to a Nomadic lifestyle. But that wouldn’t work either because the Nomadic lifestyle – like any lifestyle – was a result of a different form of consciousness, not the cause of it.

      The problem is that social grouping inevitably leads to violence, either external (other-directed) or internal. If we’re talking about working models for co-existence, the closest I get to imagining it is a community with a common focus besides agriculture & sheer survival (tho if the conditions are adverse enough, then that could keep people from killing each other). That focus has to be something that is neither the self nor the group, because neither individualism nor collectivism works, probably because the group identity is as bogus as the individual identity.

      My point is that Permaculture is indeed a culture, and it’s one that is healing and good for all people..imo

      Wouldn’t you need to have several generations to put that claim to the test? What is different about permaculture? What is the focus?

      Culture pertains to imitative or mimetic behavior, as opposed to alignment with our true nature. It’s both the product of the ego and the environment in which egos flourish. That’s why it always leads to violence (partly).

      Dermott: Sirius, that was back in the day when I talked about stuff i didn’t understand, things picked up from books and teachers and movies and all the rest. At this point I have to say, I don’t have a clue about Sirius.

  2. ok jake…..i beleive intuitely and syncronistically that sirius is helping me but i also beleive i have to help myself …you know the lord helps those who help themselves intellectually robert temple the sirius mystery will stimulate your left brain…namaste` derm


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