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Re: [evol-psych] My "media" rant

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  • Theodore Seto
    The issue you identify is perhaps worth ranting about. But it is certainly worth thinking about. May I suggest the following possible approach? The key
    Message 1 of 2 , Nov 1, 2000
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      The issue you identify is perhaps worth ranting about. But it is certainly worth thinking about. May I suggest the following possible approach?

      The key question (in my suggested approach) is: What attributes enhance the survival and reproduction of memes? I'm sure there are many. But at least one, I suggest, is relevant here: A meme is more
      likely to reproduce if it is simple. When a simple meme has strong predictive and explanatory value, we call it "elegant." Physics is largely composed of elegant memes. When a simple meme has little
      predictive or explanatory value but spreads like wildfire nevertheless, we call it "simpleminded" and worry about the average IQ of the electorate. Simple memes, no matter how seemingly brainless,
      spread faster than complex memes. As Exhibit A in support of this hypothesis, I cite political television advertisements in the current U.S. election cycle. As Exhibit B, I note that psychology and
      environmental biology, both of which inherently require complex memes, have yet to attain a level of respect comparable to that of physics. As Exhibit C, I note that legal writing instructors, in
      teaching law students how to write arguments that will persuade judges, typically urge that students use language at a ninth grade level or lower. (On this scale, George W. Bush's arguments in the
      first Presidential debate averaged a 6.2 grade level; Al Gore's a 7.4 grade level. Even at 7.4, Gore was perceived by some to be "talking down" to the electorate.) [The numbers are from memory; I
      don't have the reference in front of me.]

      Viewed from this perspective, the "media problem" is not one of fault. Even if one newspaper writes a detailed policy analysis, that meme is less likely to spread to its readers or to other media
      outlets. There is no evidence whatever that punishing the press (through ridicule, ranting, or otherwise) will change this fact. Unfortunately, it is likely that most important political, social, or
      economic issues require complex memes for optimal resolution. The real question is: How can we foster the survival and reproduction of complex memes in a society in which Joe Sixpack is the primary
      decisionmaker? To answer this question, we need further study of the ecology of memes. If we cannot find an answer, there is yet a further question: Are democracies for this reason inherently
      self-limiting?

      Paul Gross wrote:

      > Several correspondents have asked off-list what was meant by my comment
      > (snarl) re: "the media" and presidential politics, embedded as it was in a
      > comment on The New Yorker editors' answer to Slate. I paste here, in case any
      > others were puzzled, this response to one of them.
      >
      > PRG
      > ***************
      >
      > > I guess it's an off-list topic, but I'm curious how you think the media have
      > > gone astray on the issues of the campaign.
      > >
      >
      > They've not "gone astray" on the issues; rather, they've made "the issues" a
      > single issue: what the voters do, or might, think, and how, or why, various
      > tricks of personality, preparation, style, etc., influence what the voters
      > think. The fraction of all media time spent on actual, analytical discussion
      > of issues is trivial. The issues of schooling, for example, have nothing to
      > do with how the voters will respond to 100,000 more teachers in America's
      > classrooms, or to new buidings, or the like, and nothing to do with whether
      > or not the in-state improvements of math scores by Texas minority kids are
      > real, nothing to do with "accountability" as either of the candidates defines
      > that. The issues have to do with how well or badly our kids do at learning
      > what they need to know (dreadfully!) and why; with incompetent teachers
      > (everybody knows that!); with critical cultural factors that affect what kids
      > do at home, and so on. The media discuss NOTHING of those matters and do not
      > ask the candidates the obvious questions. As to foreign policy, social
      > security, and -- especially -- "the environment," the situation is even worse.
      >
      > That's the basis of my derogation of our information-age media and their role
      > in the politics of democracy.
      >
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    • Paul Gross
      In a message dated 11/1/00 12:33:52 PM Eastern Standard Time, ... The general analysis is plausible and helpful (simple memes propagate better than complex
      Message 2 of 2 , Nov 1, 2000
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        In a message dated 11/1/00 12:33:52 PM Eastern Standard Time,
        Theodore.Seto@... writes:

        > The real question is: How can we foster the survival and reproduction of
        > complex memes in a society in which Joe Sixpack is the primary
        > decisionmaker? To answer this question, we need further study of the ecology
        > of memes. If we cannot find an answer, there is yet a further question: Are
        > democracies for this reason inherently
        > self-limiting?

        The general analysis is plausible and helpful (simple memes propagate better
        than complex ones...). I agree also that the *real* question is as given. And
        I know of only one practical possibility (since eugenics will never fly) for
        fostering the survival and reproduction of complex memes. That is the best
        possible education for everybody. Which service is done by three "providers":
        parents; schools; the media. And I have said (in one place or another) that
        all three are shockingly, grievously at fault, especially now. Hence my
        fault-finding. You don't have to teach, or communicate with complex memes
        *only*; but you have to use some, and they have to be intermixed in some
        conscientious way with asshole-fare. That's what is not being done by
        parents, schools, and the media.

        PRG
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