X-Message-Number: 89
From: Kevin Q. Brown
Subject: A Deathoid Meme 
Date: 26 May 1989

Anyone who attempts to spread the cryonics / immortalist memes should be aware
of the meme pool already in place in our culture, for that is the ecology in
which their memes will thrive, mutate, and/or die.  Recently I was handed a
copy of a popular book that must surely be representative of some popular
memes (for otherwise the book would not be so popular).  That book is:

  "The Road Less Traveled" by M. Scott Peck, MD., 1978
  Touchstone, Simon & Schuster, Inc.

This book does have several sane and sensible comments, but on pages 71 - 72
Dr. Peck makes a terrible, deadly mistake.  He lists some of the "major,
conditions, desires and attitudes that must be given up during the course of a
wholly successful evolving lifetime" the last of which is "the self and life
itself."  Peck then proceeds to justify his last line with the following:

  "In regard to the last of the above, it may seem to many that the ultimate
  requirement - to give up one's self and one's life - represents a kind of
  cruelty on the part of God or fate, which makes our existence a sort of bad
  joke and which can never be completely accepted.  This attitude is
  particularly true in present-day Western culture, in which the self is held
  sacred and death is considered an unspeakable insult.  Yet the exact opposite
  is the reality.  It is in the giving up of self that human beings can find
  the most ecstatic and lasting, solid, durable joy of life.  And it is death
  that provides life with all its meaning.  This 'secret' is the central wisdom
  of religion."

The conclusion above has elsewhere been called "the cult of evanescence", the
belief that lack of permanence is what makes something valuable.  Normally I
would just dismiss it as some blather that somehow got to paper when Dr. Peck
got carried away with his oratory.  (Surely no modern human would really
believe that!)  But the (borrowed) copy that I saw had that particular passage
carefully underlined, as if it had something especially worthwhile and
important to say.  Maybe this meme still has the power to infect (otherwise)
intelligent people!  That is what caught my attention.  Rather than rant and
rave about how wrong and bad this meme is, I will pose several questions about
how it works:

  What niche does this meme occupy?  What other memes occupy this niche?
  What are the symptoms of being infected by this meme?
  How does this meme displace an existing meme to control the host?
  How does this meme reject competing memes and retain control of the host?
  How is this meme transmitted from one individual to the next?
  How can this meme be expelled by competing memes?
  What natural defense mechanisms do we have against this meme?
  How can this meme evade or subvert our natural defense mechanisms?
  What kinds of vaccinations can one get to protect one from this meme?
  Who is most susceptible (resistant) to this meme?
  What "vectors" can be used to inject this meme (or its antidote) into a host?

I have no answer for most of these questions.  I do, however, have a few
comments concerning the last question.

One technique for fighting some types of cancer is to attach a molecule of a
deadly poison to a piece of protein that binds well to a cancer cell, thus
enabling the poison to kill the cancer cell but not normal cells.  I suggest
that Peck accomplished something analogous: attaching a poisonous meme to an
easily accepted meme.  Notice that the key phrase:
  "And it is death that provides life with all its meaning."
would not fly by itself.  It needs the preceding sentences for support, ie.
it needs the preceeding sentences to initiate infection:
  A great lie can ride piggyback on a great truth.
Peck gains credibility by elegantly describing something with which we all
agree (the "great truth" that "the self is held sacred and death is considered
an unspeakable insult").  Then he further establishes his wisdom by saying
something "profound":
  This obvious thing with which we all agree is actually completely wrong.
(Surely he must be a wise man to tell us that what looks horrible to us is
actually quite good for us.)  And, to some extent, he is right.  Any kind of
mental or spiritual growth changes you, which means that the "old you" dies
and is replaced by the "new you."  But suicide, which would certainly qualify
as "giving up of self", can hardly qualify as "lasting, solid durable joy."
We thus have a "great truth" (an easily accepted meme) which helps enable
acceptance of (infection by) a "half truth" (a questionable meme), which,
in turn, helps enable acceptance of (infection by) a "great lie" (a poisonous

  "Don't it always seem to go,
  That you don't know what you've got 'till it's gone."
                                 - Joni Mitchell (Big Yellow Taxi)

                                       - Kevin Q. Brown

Administrivia: I will be gone for CryoFest May 26 - 30 and therefore will not
be able to mailblast any more cryonics mailing list messages until May 30.

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