ENGL 806 Bib #3 “Memetics—A growth industry in US military operations”

Prosser, M. B. (2006). Memetics–A growth industry in US military operations (Unpublished master’s thesis). Thesis (Master’). doi:http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a507172.pdf

This thesis argues that contemporary warfare will need to involve non-linear warfare tactics, such as the creation and distribution of memes, to influence and combat the alternative ideologies of insurgent groups operating within the 21st century, networked media landscape. Following Richard Dawkins, the author defines memes as “‘units of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation’. Said another way, memes are bits of cultural information transmitted and replicated throughout populations and/or societies” (p. 1). The author argues the military will need to move past traditional models of combat—physical military incursions on the battlefield—and into the realm of meme warfare, if the military wants to succeed in curbing insurgent ideologies. The author argues that ideologies are inherently complex, transcendent ideas that are “difficult to eradicate kinetically” (p. 1). The author suggests that ideologies should be conceptualized from an epidemiological perspective, as a disease that “replicates and spreads” as an adaptive system. Memes, too, function as viral, replicable, adaptive systems that can counteract and persuade enemies’ beliefs in “the hotly contested battlefields inside the mind” (p. 3).

The author provides a case study of how the corporation 3M used an innovation meme to cultivate a culture of innovation within the company, which led to significant gains and financial growth. Although not directly related to military warfare, the author suggests that 3M’s corporate model, where the CEO and leaders of the company promote a meme as a “transcendent idea” that then filters down and influences employees and customers, serves as a useful model as to how meme creation can go on to “infect” stakeholders. The author suggests the development of a meme warfare center that would provide “the most relevant meme combat options within the ideological and nonlinear battle space” (p. 11). The meme center would be divided into internal and external branches. The internal meme center would be focused on generating a desired ideological climate within the military, while the external meme center would be more outward looking, promoting the cultural engineering of societies. Key to this project would be “meme engineering,” which entails “meme generation, targeting, and inoculations” (p. 14). Meme engineering is a complex and sophisticated operation, which the author believes would take an interdisciplinary team of experts in cultural anthropology, linguistics, behavioral science, game theory, cognitive scientists, and experts in warfare. Meme engineering is an iterative process that must include the continual cultural analysis of memes over time, as well as an understanding of how memes can be effectively transmitted and distributed through global media.

Although this thesis was written before the explosion of memes as we know them today, this paper still offers an eye-opening perspective on mimetic power and how memes can be used to shape and reshape ideologies. The author provides complex conceptual models of how ideologies and memes function as adaptive pathological systems. One aspect of global communication and memetic power that has certainly changed is the concept of contact. The author argues, “in the absence of contact, memes are not transmitted, replicated, or re-transmitted” (p. 4). This was obviously an issue back in 2006 when not everyone was globally connected through the internet. Now, even insurgent populations most likely have access to the internet, making contact no longer an issue: through contact, almost any ideology can be spread or combatted through social media. Also, through metadata the tracking of the propagation of memes is much easier. What I am not sure the military foresaw at this time was the bidirectional nature of mimetic warfare, where “insurgent” groups can just as easily spread and combat ideologies online.

The conceptual framework of ideologies and memes offered here will be useful to my research. I am also interested in exploring the concept of logogenesis—the evolution of signs and symbols over time— as it applies to the distribution and redistribution of memes. I find it useful that memes and ideologies are being conceptualized here within multidimensional and nonlinear space. Finally, the author provides a model of how ideologies influence behavior that I would argue is similar to Basil Bernstein’s model: “Memes influence ideas, ideas influence and form beliefs,” beliefs influence political positions, which in turn influence actions (p. 2).

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