Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Payloads and penetration

Following up on my description of Hofstadter's reduction of memeplexes into co-memes, I think we can identify some more useful co-memes.

To recap, Hofstadter proposed an interesting meme classification scheme, involving groups of memes known as schemes - which contain cooperating memes, which are now commonly called co-memes.

The common types of co-memes are usually considered to be:

  • bait - attractive incentive to adopt the meme;
  • hook - promoting replication - being "hooked" is all about passing it on;
  • threat - of punishment, to assist hook execution;
  • vaccime - innoculation to protect against rival memes.

I think this list can be usefully expanded upon.


Memetic hitchhiking notes that some kinds of content can be divided into two parts - a delivery mechanism, and a payload. The delivery mechanism contains all the elements designed to do the propagation, while the payload is the deliverable cargo - part whose transmission is the true purpose of the message. It is usually some form of advertising.


In organic biology, pathogens often contain mechanisms designed to bypass host immune defenses. The malaria parasite uses a mosquito's hypodermic penetration equipment to get inside its host. Many other pathogens rely on being eaten by their hosts - since the body's defenses in the digestive tract are weaker. They work rather like Trojan horses. For example many flukes get past their host's defenses in this way.

In the domain of culture, schemes may contain elements designed to lower host memetic immunity before infection takes place.

"Trust us" is a simple example. "I'm on your side" and "let me help" work similarly.

Sometimes a one-two punch technique is used - first the host is softened up with emotional imagery, and then the target message is delivered. So, many religions have a history of using young ladies to make their converts. "Booth babes" are a more modern example of a similar technique.

Reducing host immunity seems to be a concept which is mostly distinct from Hofstadter's concept of bait.

Immunosuppression is the most common technical term for reduction in the effectiveness of the host's immune system. Immune evasion is the most common technical term for pathogens evading the host's immune system. I want an umbrella term that includes both types of technique. Immune penetration - or just penetration for short - seems to be the most suitable term to me.


Schemes may also contain free-riding memes and memetic junk.

Agner Fog in Cultural selection

Another classification scheme has been proposed by Agner Fog in Cultural selection (1999):

  • Bait
  • Hook
  • Indoctrination
  • Protection against rival meme complexes
  • Reward and punishment
  • Taxation

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