Re: virus: Meme Update #29: Copycat Shootings

Sodom (
Thu, 17 Jun 1999 15:25:00 -0400

Richard, It seems like you have given this some thought, here is my question to you. How are copycat shootings or suicides or whatever any different from most other types of learned behavior. It just seems to be a lot more basic than the press spreading the info along. If one child sees another playing with matches and burning his hands, despite seeing the pain, I'll bet the kid still will pick up the matches and proceed to burn himself. The only difference I see is that the media can spread the word faster. I think all I am saying is that if an idea is glorified in any way, others copy it. The message is irrelevant other than a short and simple message is probably more effective than a complicated one. I don't think the media is naive - I do think that their reasons are good ones - I simply think that they don't weigh the costs to humanity against the benefits cash. Lets face it, people want to believe and to be led - they want to think that what the professor, teacher, preacher and news man (or woman) are telling them is the truth. People like to think that a Judge or News person, celebrity have some sort of insight we regular people lack. I don't think I can make the proper logical connections so the next statement is pure speculation: I think that "self respect and/or self confidence" plays a large role in copy cat behavior due to a lack of self trust when confronted with information that is glorified. Many of us have an almost knee-jerk reaction to ideas that don't seem reasonable on the face of things, and that our self confidence helps us to question what we are told helps and to protect against copy cat behavior.

Bill Roh

Richard Brodie wrote:

> In This Issue:
> Copycat Shootings
> Level 3
> Copycat shootings
> Sometimes people object to my using the term "virus of the mind." They think
> that it is too negative a term to describe something that is neither good
> nor bad, but simply a force of nature: the spread of ideas through culture.
> But I don't think anyone will object when I use the term to refer to the
> latest outbreak of shootings in schools. To understand it, let's go back a
> few years.
> Way back in 1774, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe published a book called "The
> Sorrows of Young Werther." It was about a young man who, in existential
> despair, committed suicide. Well no sooner had this book been published than
> several kids, reading the book and identifying with the central character,
> killed themselves. This is the purest form of meme infection: simply copying
> someone else's behavior. But those copying mechanisms in the mind don't care
> whether the behavior is real or fictional. Either way, it gets copied. As
> Goethe said, "Just as I felt relieved and lighthearted because I had
> succeeded in transforming reality into poetry, my friends were confusing
> themselves by believing that they had to turn poetry into reality, enact the
> novel and shoot themselves!"
> Well, social scientists naturally became interested in this phenomenon, so
> they started studying it. They looked at the incidence of suicide both
> before and after a well-publicized suicide. As you would expect, following a
> big news story about someone who committed suicide, there were more suicides
> than before it. But the shocking thing, and the thing that validates the
> theory of memetics, was that these weren't just suicidal people triggered
> into performing the final act at that time. These were actually NEW suicides
> who statistically wouldn't have dome it if they had not heard the publicity!
> This gruesome phenomenon came to be known as The Werther Effect after
> Goethe's character.
> The naivete of journalists about this continues to sadden and disappoint me.
> The same people who make their living charging companies big bucks to
> advertise then turn around and say that the CONTENT of the news is in now
> way responsible for harming the people who watch it. Please explain to me
> how watching a commercial for Coke can statistically increase Coke
> purchases, but watching violence on the show surrounding it won't increase
> violence. It makes no sense.
> So it was no surprise when there followed several other schoolyard shooting
> incidents in the wake of the highly publicized mass murders in Littleton,
> CO, on April 21, 1999. The Werther Effect predicts that not only will that
> happen because of the publicity, but that some of those copycat shootings
> will be NEW shootings, ones that would not otherwise have happened if it
> weren't for the publicity.
> It's even got so that as soon as a violent incident occurs, like the
> Littleton, CO shootings, the experts immediately predict a wave of copycat
> shootings. They predict them, but they can do nothing about them, because
> the news media considers itself above responsibility. They hide behind
> freedom of speech, behind saying they have a duty to report the news, behind
> claiming they are just giving people what they want to see. And that is the
> secret weapon of the virus. You see, viruses of the mind work by making what
> they do seem right, seem fun, seem natural in the short term. They
> capitalize on our human desire to know the news of scary events. Most of us
> never give a thought to the notion that immersing ourselves every night in
> stories about shooting, bombings, and rapes might have a negative effect on
> our lives. And likewise, most news reporters never give a thought to the
> violence they are perpetuating by giving such stories prime exposure to the
> millions.
> So what is to be done? Kill all the reporters, right after we kill all the
> lawyers? I don't think so. As with so many questions about life, the answer
> lies in each of us living as consciously as we can, identifying our purpose
> in whatever we do and understanding as best we can the effects our actions
> have on others.
> --------------------
> Level 3
> Since Virus of the Mind was published, people have been asking me for
> clarification of what I mean by "Level 3" of consciousness. I've written a
> short essay on that point which is available at
> -- please let me know if you
> find it valuable.
> All the best memes,
> Richard
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