virus: UTism and Media Memetics (was: FAQ: question (j) - UTism)

Tim Rhodes (
Wed, 16 Jun 1999 13:49:39 -0700

Jim wrote:

>So UTism is a level 2 geneticly based zenophobic memeplex......
>It seems as if the press, pundits, and the pols have exacerbated
>the UTism through there scrutinizations and criticisms. Through
>it's praise and worship. Through its demagogery or damnation.
>Every set of beliefs has it's leader that is used in such a fashion
>as to caricature and distort the groups associated and only
>marginally related groups.

Of course! Look at it from a newscaster's prospective: You have a 1/2 hour to fill, you want to cover a topic of interest for your viewers and you want it to be entertaining as well. (Good ratings) So what do you do? Well, you bring on two people on either side of the issue and have them debate about it. But you don't invite two moderates that might actually agree about a couple things, that's just not good TV. Instead you find the two most polarized on the issue because you know they'll make for an entertaining debate and, in a very real way, that's what the viewers want.

So, by the nature of the medium, most every issue becomes framed by the extremists on either end of the spectrum.

>Are all Christians fundies?
>Are all of the environmentally sensitive chicken littles?
>Are all feminists radical?
>Are all Muslims Shites
>Are all republicans gun-loco and anti-abortion?
>Are all protestants like Bob Barr?
>Are all inmates "criminals"?
>Are all pot smokers lazy?
>On and on and on and on.

This also has a memetic componant to it. Look at one of our favorite caricatures here: the Christian.

(Now when I said that, did you think of the thoughtful, middle-of-the-road, tolerant Christians that make up the majority? Or rather the fundies and hate-mongers?)

The fact is that the middle ground is very complicated and full of subtle distinctions and, well, that's just not best the basis for an effective meme! It's too detailed and convoluted an idea to stick in the memory and even if it does, it's unlikely to retain those qualities as it gets replicated. Each time it will get simpler, more black and white, and easier to spread. And if we can attach a face to it (like Pat Robertson or Anita Bryant) it/they become an icon--a shorthand for the caricature--and an even better meme.

>In the democracies political and social discourses boldly
>insinuate UTism into the issues. It is always in terms of
>an expediant and compulsory FOR or AGAINST. Every
>issue has the voice of chicken little. Pragmatism has little
>or no voice.

It has a voice--it just doesn't carry as well as a shout does.

>There is a thriving business in self replicating polarizations
>and positional absolutism in both social and political war
>zones. No leaders dare budge for fear of losing the
>magnetism associated with the polarization; the votes if
>one does not adhere to the unequivocal clarity of the

Only as long that's what the people demand from them.

I think, here in the U.S., we saw a little of that crumble during the Impeachment fiasco. The people were able to make the more subtle distinctions in that case, so when their representatives couldn't, they voiced their displeasure with them at the polls.

And it's that simple. As long as we reward UTism and polarization we'll only get more of it. As soon as we start penalizing politicans for over-simplification and demagogery they'll change; adapting to their new environment like any good replicator will. We just need to work on skewing the selection pressures toward thoughtfulness and away from simplicity.

-Prof. Tim