It's not easy being Buzz Aldrin

The Dark Side of the Moon

Twenty minutes in, Christina starts her hand motions. Wrap it up, Buzz. It would be a lot easier if he just had a canned presentation, a little motivational speaking for the people, dream the impossible dream, reach for the stars -- normal hero stuff. But that is not Buzz. He is a man of science. He has important space concepts to share, beseeching mankind to understand. He's delivering the speech he would to serious space-minded politicians and science foundations thirty years ago, but now the audience has morphed into Trekkies and Star Wars hobbyists.

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The Toxoplasma of Rage

This is a long walk, but it's pretty great:

Replicators gonna replicate.

What would it mean for a meme to have a life cycle as complicated as toxoplasma?

Consider the war on terror. It's a truism that each time the United States bombs Pakistan or Afghanistan or somewhere, all we're doing is radicalizing the young people there and making more terrorists. Those terrorists then go on to kill Americans, which makes Americans get very angry and call for more bombing of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Taken as a meme, it is a single parasite with two hosts and two forms. In an Afghan host, it appears in a form called 'jihad', and hijacks its host into killing himself in order to spread it to its second, American host. In the American host it morphs in a form called 'the war on terror', and it hijacks the Americans into giving their own lives (and several bajillion of their tax dollars) to spread it back to its Afghan host in the form of bombs.

From the human point of view, jihad and the War on Terror are opposing forces. From the memetic point of view, they're as complementary as caterpillars and butterflies. Instead of judging, we just note that somehow we accidentally created a replicator, and replicators are going to replicate until something makes them stop.


Imagine Moloch, in his Carthaginian-demon personification, looking out over the expanse of the world, eagle-eyed for anything that can turn brother against brother and husband against wife. Finally he decides "YOU KNOW WHAT NOBODY HATES EACH OTHER ABOUT YET? BIRD-WATCHING. LET ME FIND SOME STORY THAT WILL MAKE PEOPLE HATE EACH OTHER OVER BIRD-WATCHING". And the next day half the world's newspaper headlines are "Has The Political Correctness Police Taken Over Bird-Watching?" and the other half are "Is Bird-Watching Racist?". And then bird-watchers and non-bird-watchers and different sub-groups of bird-watchers hold vitriolic attacks on each other that feed back on each other in a vicious cycle for the next six months, and the whole thing ends in mutual death threats and another previously innocent activity turning into World War I style trench warfare.


(Also, wasn't The Toxoplasma of Rage a Public Enemy song?)

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