Discover more from Layman Pascal
The Spirit of Anti-Memetics
Q: What is “antimemetics” and how is it related to spirituality?
To familiar ourselves, in my typically dense and nonchalant manner, with this disturbingly obscure question, let’s briefly hop back to the 1990s:
Back then, my close friends at Parklands High School were always trying to “help” with my (to them) egregious pop music deficit. I normally listened to the soundtracks of cult classic films interspersed with self-produced compilations of odd song fragments culled from late-night, avant-garde radio programs of the most peculiar and mind-destroying variety.
Clearly, I wasn’t going to be easily persuaded to form opinions about the “top 40 hits” of dominant American mainstream media but — they reasoned — I might be more susceptible to their personal favorites from among so-called Alternative Music and various hip, smart, emerging bands.
So it was in this general mood that my chum Andrew sat me down on his mother’s sofa — forcing me to watch the music video for Just by Radiohead.
The narrative scenario of this video is still burned deeply into my memory.
The sphinx-like protagonist — a la Patrick McGoohan in The Prisoner — refuses to divulge his motivation for lying motionless in the street. This lack of “access to information” drives the community into a desperate frenzy. Quick explanatory data is not forthcoming! A vacuity of thwarted knowledge shakes their souls and reminds them uncomfortably of their implicit existential position.
And when this doomed prophet of obscurity finally agrees to articulate his mute message, it produces the only possible result: the entire community is now forced to embody the noncommunicable motivating secret for which they were tragically unprepared.
It verges on religion.
Sacredness vs Memes
Antimemetics (see TJ Richards here) is the study of the utility & attractiveness of those information patterns to which you do NOT get easy, direct access. It is the hypothetical science that explores a “something” that is the opposite of mainstream journalism, social media posts & marketing.
Populist forces are trying to rapidly infect you with efficiently assimilated perspectives and readily communicable memes. Yet there are also many important structures of information that are seductively reluctant to share themselves.
Memetics is a half-science typically imagined as an extension of genetics. Like genes, the memes are patterns of data that “want” to virally replicate. The memes that accomplish this purpose are therefore fine-tuned to create very efficient pathways of capture, affirmation and transmission within human brains. They piggyback on our biological responses and surf the flows of anxiety, desire, fear, vanity, hunger and habit.
We find memes so charming or urgent or compulsive that we voluntarily serve their evolutionary attempt to spread and multiply. Memes (and networks-of-memes) flourish by being catchy. It is in their interest to have a low barrier to accessibility.
But sacredness is too cool for that shit.
Holy and profound information frequently opposes the quick animalistic responses upon which memes thrive. Sacred information even goes out of its way to prevent itself from being simply comprehended and easy to communicate.
The very figure of the ancient priest, steeped in years of study, practice & exegesis, suggests that YOU will probably not be able to access the pertinent patterns within the Sacred Text. The holy-of-holies is concealed within the inner sanctum. God and Soul are themselves withdrawn from view. Koans actively repel our ability to render them intelligible.
Yet it works. We pass these patterns forward precisely because we sense something important in their failure to quickly capture us. Their survival strategy involves the experience of a frustrating lack in the human mind. Antimemetics. And “spiritual” and “religious” and “wise” people are notably well-disposed toward the imitation (mimetics) of transmission-thwarting information patterns (antimemetics).
These sorts of cultural agents get turned on precisely when it turns out that Christ’s tomb is mysteriously empty…
The Social Allure of Anti-Revelation Through the Ages
Like pungently exotic cheeses or sour candies, the uncanny intensity of prehistoric shamans was mysteriously compelling to our tribal ancestors.
Those archaic progenitors of all artists, philosophers, priests & magicians were certainly useful to the tribe (in terms of their visionary suggestions, complex tactics, improvisation of social rituals, facillity with the collective unconscious and attentiveness to ecological details) but they were also — deliciously vexing.
Ground zero for exploring the link between antimemetics & spirituality is found in the impression that the mutant shamanic caste made upon the other linguistic primates. Consider the open question of how these strange, introspective and deviant inner explorers cultivated status in so-called “barbarian” and “savage” cultural niches.
Fragile modernistas have a suspiciously narrow view of tribal might-makes-right but it should be expanded to included a variety of styles of emotional-muscular intensity displays that negotiate for the right to distribute chunks of the spoils (from raids, competition, hunts and foraging) within primtive community tribes.
Certainly the braggadocio of the powerful hunters — recounting their legendary exploits — earns them a place of honor on the totem pole of the plunder economy. However, so does the angry nostalgic outburst of the old chief and also the wild, unfair public accusations of the disgruntled matriarchs. There are many variations. And these variations include the interpersonal performances by which the neuro-diverse psychonauts taught early human beings to honor the incomprehensible.
The archaic “inside outsider” does not merely return to the village after deep meditation but appears dramatically with wild eyes, decorated in charnel ash and muttering cryptically about immense unknown powers and nonhuman intelligences beyond the knowing of the social mind.
Out there, somewhere, wherever the unseen ancestors live on, resides the most potent taboo-breaking, taboo-making, Bersker of all — and no one else has the magic to survive that encounter.
Therefore the shaman will also need a prime haunch of the gazelle meat...
For thousands upon thousands of years, the social value of these sacred technicians was closely linked to their public invocation of important information that cannot be readily accessed or understood. So there is a long history of signalling the presence of wisdom-power through the medium of antimemetics.
Our modern wisdom-ancestor, G.W.F. Hegel supposedly tells us that “the mysteries of the ancient Egyptians were mysteries to the ancient Egyptians.”
This may sound strange to post-Protestant culture (in which we are supposed to be able to read our vulgar Bibles and affirm our self-cognized beliefs) but it would not seem terribly peculiar to the majority of historical participants in Catholic or Eastern Christianity. Those illiterates could not read their own beliefs and frequently joined religious rites conducted in languages they did not speak.
The social organization of religiousness typically revolves around information that does not flow into us like a marketing jingle or a implified thesis statement. Some sects of Mohammedans refuse to depict their prophet and the ancient Hebrew priests taught their tribes about the Unspeakable Name. The highest Hindoo principle (Atman) is vexingly cancelled in the Buddhist formulation of An-atman. No go.
But are there other reasons for the connection between religion & antimemetics that go beyond merely proposing the high value of our genitals by concealing them at the beach (i.e. increasing the tribal status of the sacred by treating it like a rare treasure that isn’t for everyone)?
I will make three additional suggestions:
(1) Signalling the Counter-Marginalization of Normal Negative Affects
Many people raised as pseudo-rational individualists in the age of liberal bureaucracy have been taught to associate religion with a conformist superficial adherence to irrationally positive social ideals. This is also part of the reason that moralistic social fads (e.g. WOKE, MAGA) are often dencounced as crypto-religious. I slightly disagree.
My take is that this indicates normal social recapture of authentic religion. When the social politics of the village take ascendancy over the forms of living dharma then religion is reduced to merely another mouthpiece for the superficial social anxiety that wants cheer on the positive symbols and evade any disturbing affects.
This is psychologically, biologically and sociologically unhealthy. It represents a tragically common, anti-survival, anti-thriving modality. Health has to produce a counter-movement.
Whatever normal experiences are marginalized (typically mortality, sexuality, inner struggle, irreverence, grief, grotesquerie, scatology, the pathos of distance, fecundity, uncanniness, ambiguity, etc.) need to be presented & protected under the reign of self-stultifying, self-calming, lopsided, conformist positivity.
So the signal that indicates access to renormalizing affects must occur both as a dangerous invitation to the counterculture AND as a proposed “loyal inversion” inversion of the truncated positive symbolism.
Thus have the Illuminati worshipped Baphomet in “advertised” secrecy...
The gargoyles of offputting anti-symbolism (from Satanists in Christian communities to flag-burners among the avant-garde artists of mortidinal nationalism) are making evolutionary health and strength available in the form of an invitation to social participation outside of the normative social grid — and in opposition to the fixated (idols vs icons) symbolic values.
So that is a variant of antimemetic religiosity.
(2) The Koanic Limit.
Sacred antimemetics can also be preserved and promoted because of the potency made available in paradoxical and mind-limiting conditions of contemplation.
The strange cases (“koans”) of Zen — as well as many other styles of meditation that involve persistently feeling into the boundary condition of what we can perceive, cognitive and render intelligible for ourselves — are highly potent.
This is not a form of passive no-mind experience in which we release ourselves into a comforting relaxation apart from all effort. Instead, these are forms of effortful engagement that significantly increase the likelihood of both peak experiences and an unusual kind of competence in action and decision-making.
Therefore it is sensible that human lineages would want to keep this possibility close at hand by protecting and replicating “access to the information we cannot access.”
(3) The Integration Surplus Model
That term names my proposal for a way of retroactively explaining the variety of historical spiritual practices and affording ourselves the possibility of improvising viable new practices for emergent environments.
Of course, words like “integration” and “harmony” are easy to misuse. They are suspiciously attractive to certain cultures — and understandably suspicious to others. The point here is merely that overtones, constructive interference & the production of gestalts are ways of thinking about cultivated coordinations that exceed the capacity of the parts.
My hyper-Gurdjieffian assumption is that we can produce self-cultivating experiences of excessive coherence (“being”) through the splicing, hybridizing or temporary supercoordinating of various subjective subsystems within the human being.
Here’s how that works with antimemetics:
Each internal system (e.g. intellect, emotion, neuromuscular intelligence, left brain, right brain, words, images, memories, conscious, subconscious) can be thought of as a memetic network. These sensitized neuroelectic webs consist of self-replicating information patterns linked by association. I see a spider and it triggers my fear of spiders. I hear a word and it reminds me of a similar phrase in a pop song. I hear someone mentioning “race” and I immediately think of the horrors of racism — whether that is appropriate to the situation or not.
These internal information systems favor highly efficient pathways that result in their rapid emergence from the unconscious whenever they are triggered. The result is that my inner life consists mostly of cascading chains of self-similar interlinked signifiers provoked by external happenstance.
So the “motive” of each system is to reinforce its own memetic chains and NOT to constructively interfere with those chains using data from other internal memetic networks.
Thus any attempt to intentionally intersplice these networks to create a higher degree of generalized inner coordination will meet with resistance.
The idea of “2+2” readily evokes the idea of “4” because they belong to the same internal class of information. The same network of memes.
Yet if I ask you which type of bird (or which shade of blue) is most appropriate for “2+2” — well, this data is not immediately forthcoming. The question itself might even feel obnoxious to many people because it has the flavor of antimemetics.
The self-work of installing connectors between our internal memetic networks requires patience, self-control, self-awareness and other intentional metacognitive skills needed to productively overcome the sense of hesitant data. It involves the feeling associated with recalcitrant data.
Yet this possibility of unusual resonant linkages between types of memetic networks is postulated both as the generator function for creative insights (see: Koestler’s Act of Creation) and the methodology for the production of deeper qualities of “being” (see: Beelzebub’s Tales to His Grandson).
So the sense of a troubling information lag may be taken an indicator of the availability of novel understanding, peak experience and maturational-existenational satisfaction.
This is another "spiritual” reason why our species would favor antimemetic patterns.
The Magician Makes You Dumber When He Reveals His Tricks
Many bozos have asked: Is Scientology a religion or a cult?
There is, of course, no straightforward answer. Any social movement is a field of divergences than can break in either direction. However, it is telling that people always raise this question. It points to a general suspicion that the post-Dianetics movement is insufficient or misguided as a contemporary religious opportunity.
L. Ron Hubbard’s books and introductory manuals frequently feature a warning not to read past any word that you do not understand. Even very trivial multisyllabic words are often carefully explained in elaborate footnotes. Why? Obviously, they want make sure that you “get the message” and “follow the logic” rather than straying into gaps of ambiguity…
Perhaps that is a bad sign?
People who feel as though they adequately understand — and can readily repeat — the principles of a sacred organization seem lean in the direction of cults (in the negative sense) rather than toward transformative wisdom communities.
From the secluded occultism of the Oracle at Delphi to the cryptic Zen utterances to the unspeakable name of the qabbalistic Deity, the more seemingly deep and profound religious are often overtly inscrutable. All of their words are unexplained!
This sense of information that cannot quickly become your own is part of a useful signalling process to the general population as well asto the potential priest-sages and witches who, in this barred sign, sense a pathway to the unfolding of actual living dharma.
Amen. Whatever that means.
Anyone who might like to join TJ Richards and myself in a live discussion about the nature, role & transmission of concealed, self-concealed, quasi-intelligible & secret information should let me know. It might be a conversation worth having.
Until then, enjoy your invitation to limited access: