Ophiocordyceps are a kind of fungi that take control of an ant’s nervous system, and use it for locomotion in order to find a new location to start a spore-releasing unit. Of course, this happens with memes too! Certain memes (“…If you don’t retweet this, then you hate women!” ) attempt to regulate a user’s self-perception, so as to make regurgitating that meme necessary. Call it cordyception. The straight-forward kind of memetic cordyceps are obvious enough, because they include a recipe for their reproduction:
- Retweet this.
- Read this, make sure you understand why you were wrong, then tell us what you learned.
- Anybody who think they’re my friend will believe X, and make sure their friends believe X.
…and, of course, chain mail: “If you don’t forward this to 5 people you WILL DIE in 7 days.”
It would be wise to keep cordyceptic memes to the strict definition of something that actually hijacks a host to elicit specific behavior. Contrast this with what might be called entry memes:
- Don’t even talk to me about X unless you’ve read Y!
- Yeah, I love that idea, I feel like A really gets that, you should follow/read/talk-to them.
- Well, I think X really breaks up into two categories: Y & Z. I like Y, but Z is problematic.
While I have a fair bit of scorn for cordyceptic memes, I want to make it clear that (a) that’s a personal belief because of the kind of discourse I believe should happen and (b) memes are not just weapons, they are tools for communicating. In fact, the weird fact is they’re not just tools for you, you’re also tools for them, hence the idea of “memetic wars” where the memes that are adopted by everybody “win” the game of natural selection. Whether you want anthropomorphize memes or not (and personally, I do), it’s undeniable that they reproduce through human discourse and that ones that transfer quickly and find continued use end-up being used more and for longer periods of time. Since new memes are only ever a few steps away from old memes, the memes that are very good at reproducing have undue effect.
Consider the entry memes above: they require you to engage with certain content in order to engage with the user whose engagement you were originally after. In many cases this makes sense: if you want to discuss a certain global event, both sides should have a basic understanding of the information the other side is leveraging. But it’s interesting that if you read the content given and accept it, you’re increasingly likely to use the same kind of meme the next time someone wants to talk to you about the subject. The notion of “prerequisite to engage” enshrined in entry memes is adaptive, because for those who choose to continue engaging the prerequisite will continually need to be communicated. However low the percentage of acceptance of the underlying content, the growth will exponentially capture the population of people who would accept that content.
What happens when that population is saturated? The more people who accept content and use it as a “prerequisite to engage”, the more the entry meme will be used upon the same people in the population bordering the in-group, causing increasing pressure to pass on the meme. If the subject fades, the content may fade with it—but the entry memes can be applied just as well to the next prerequisite to engage that comes up, and will be easier to reach for due to familiarity
- Cordyceptic — Describing something, especially a meme, that contains direct instructions for reproduction of that meme, which one is required to follow if engaging with it as legitimate.
- Entry Meme — A meme or schematic that describes preconditions for further engagement with the host.
- Prerequisites to Engage — The actions that must be completed in order to engage after being handed an entry meme.