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Notes from Meme Warfare

How to Overthrow the Powers that be On a Low Budget

Great read on meme warfare. Foundational.

This articles describes memes, memeplex, how memes spread, how the memeplex gets and holds power, memeplex vulnerability, and how to subvert current memeplex.

Let me first level set what you’ll get out of this. You WILL walk away with an understanding of how power is derived and the power of memes. You will develop an understanding of how memes propogate1 and how to develop your own memes.

What are memes and memeplexes

Nature is everywhere and everything.
Within nature, we can classify all things into two categories: replicators and non replicators.


Replicator of SelfHuman cell, it builds itself.
Replicator of OtherRobot on assembly line, it builds others
Non ReplicatorsRocks, they don’t replicate!

Human brain is both a replicator of self and replicator of other. This is because humans make babies and build things.

Self replicators are subject to evolution.

Important the process of replication requires instructions, consumption of resources, and a new host or object it is made of.

Resources are scarce, therefore self replicators are in competition to survive and to propagate.

Errors and mutation can occur with self replicators which can mean the self replicator dies or evolves into something new.

I think this is an important point and want to quote the author:

A self replicator’s future is determined most by its instructions. Instructions that lead to successful acquisition of resources and greater opportunities to replicate out compete instruction sets that lack these qualities2. Indeed, the survival of the self replicator’s instructions is what drives the process of evolution. Consequently, the survival of the instruction set is primary. Memes exist, first and foremost, to perpetuate themselves. Therefore, the long term survival of any specific instance of a self replicator is secondary to the reproduction of the self replicator. The instructions concern themselves first with copying themselves into the next generation and secondarily with the survival of the host.

This tells us that self replicators that are the most successful are most concerned with propagating itself than the survival of itself.


  • meme – a mental construct that copies itself from mind to mind. It reproduces by inducing its carrier to engage in behavior that causes the meme to copy to other minds. Memes exist, first and foremost, to perpetuate themselves. It is a mental construct conjoined with a set of instructions which compel its host to engage in activities that increase the probability of the entire instruction set being copied from a host’s mind into the minds of others.
  • memeplex – a complex of mutually supporting memes.

Meme Transmission

  1. Imitation
  2. Conversation
  3. Printed Language

The most obvious is imitation. You see someone doing an action and you try to perform that action.

Another method of transmission is through conversation. The author states that this is through conversation between 2 or more individuals. This is when a someone describes behavior that is induced by the meme, the instructions of the meme are relayed, and the recipient copies and carries out the instructions. (The author does not explicitly say if this is for verbal conversation. I assume it could apply to written word like a irc chan or Tweet thread.)

The third method is through printed language. This would be through books, websites, graffiti, tv, and radio. I think a more appropriate description that captures all this would be 1-way conversation.

Sometimes, complimentary memes will aggregate in order to improve their chances of propagation and survival.

Thus, just as DNA found advantage in aggregating into complex aggregations of genes, some memes find advantage in aggregating into complexes of memes. This more complex form is called the memeplex.

Memeplexes control society. Most people are unaware.
Humans are slaves of the memeplexes and memes they host. This is why meme engineering and meme warfare is so powerful.

Most people think power is derived from the state, but it in fact is derived from the obedience of the constituents. Sometimes the beliefs and behaviors of constituents are against their own best interests, however the memeplex and supporting memes of the state are so strong that the hosts continue to propagate the memes. This is Stockholm Syndrome3 writ large.

If memes are self replicating like genes, then memeplexes are more parasitic like a virus. They exploit the mental and physical behavior of their hosts in order to propagate themselves. Memeplexes are not only interested in the propagation aspect but longevity is important.

Memeplexes take resources in order to survive and propagate.

In order to trick the individual into believing that the overhead of the memeplex is worth the sacrifice(or resources), the memeplex carries a payload which justifies the memeplex’s existence by convincing the individual that he or she benefits from the memeplex through the preservation and forwarding of the goals of the state, dictator, corporation, organization or institution to which the individual is a subject.

In regards to the state or world religions, these complex memeplexes carry instructions that demand the host surrender their liberty to the memplex and interferes with the hosts ability to realize they are losing liberty and/or sovereignty.

It is common belief that successful revolutions are aggressive attacks against the ruling party, but you must destroy the rulers memeplex in order to achieve the most change.

We do these things because we are slaves to the memeplex. The memeplex controls our behavior, our thoughts and our lives. Unless we recognize that our understanding of reality is shaped by memeplexes, there is little hope that we will, as a society and as individuals, make rational4 decisions. We cannot rule ourselves until we play an active role in determining which memeplexes we will host.

Hosts defend memeplexes. Fighting against the effects of the memeplex are futile because you are targeting the wrong thing.

When a single supporting meme of a memeplex is challenged, the host rejects it because it goes against their belief system. Hosts will call ideas that challenge the memeplex as utopian or idealistic or unrealistic.

Since memes are akin to genes and memeplex to DNA, we now look to ways to subvert them. Viruses are replicators that alter the host, so too can viruses subvert the memeplex

What’s Meme Warfare?

  • Meme warfare is the subversion or destruction of a memeplex by means of memetic engineering. Meme warriors design memes targeting existing memeplexes. Such memes are intended to infect an existing memeplex, hinder an existing memeplex, or form a part of a competing memeplex.

Parasite is the best analogy fore meme warfare. Parasites infect hosts but don’t kill them.

Some of the most successful parasites benefit their hosts by making their hosts desire to maintain a relationship with the parasites. The same is true with successful memes. Memes are more easily spread and retained if their hosts enjoy them. Those memes which induce entertaining behaviors5 are more likely to be adopted by hosts and are more likely to consume the hosts’ resources (e.g. time, money, energy) than those which provide no immediate reward. Unless a meme is consuming resources, it is not doing anything. Therefore, the meme warrior, whenever possible, should design memes that the targeted hosts will willingly foster and cultivate.

Here is a very important characteristic of memes that support the very nature of them.

In all cases, memes must exploit human behavior. They may exploit linguistic behavior, sexual behavior, social behavior, individual behavior, creative behavior (e.g. art), antisocial behavior (e.g. defacement of property), or any other form of human behavior. Memes are not memes unless they induce their hosts to behave in a way that executes the meme’s payload and/or induce others to copy the meme.

Example Meme

An example of a linguistic meme is the use of the name “Bush” as a pun. “Fuck Bush!” “The Only Bush I Trust Is My Own,” and “Trim the Bush!” are all perfect examples of this kind of meme. The meme exploited both sexual desire and the desire for entertainment to induce its hosts to carry the message.

This is basically a fancy way of describing political shit talking. Linguistic memes are spoken and utilize sex and entertainment in order to propagate.

Memes evolve and thus there is a danger in meme warfare. One may release a meme that evolves to oppose its originator.

Memes are a subtle subversion of self interest that compels the host to work in the interest of an idea.

Subversive actions attract antibodies.

Based on the year this was written, many of the meme warfare tactics described involve the physical world. Real protesting (with nudity always gets coverage), bumper stickers, and graffiti are referenced.

The paper wraps up without a clear gameplan but gives a great overview of how what memes and memeplexes are.

  1. Propagate especially popular among Bitcoiners because it propagate or propagation describes how bitcoin blockchain grows. ↩︎
  2. if you think about this in the context of Bitcoin, this is really interesting. At it’s core, Bitcoin is core. It is a set of rules. It is a great self replicator because of positive feedback loops. I touch more on this idea in The Bitcoin Memeplex. ↩︎
  3. Stockholm Syndrome has been defined as a condition in which hostages develop a psychological alliance with their captors during captivity. ↩︎
  4. when I saw the word rational, it made me think about “How Persuaders See the World” by Scott Adams. In this epic piece, Scott describes the 3 kind of people. Rational People use data and reason and are “mostly imaginary”. The article is short and worth a read. It talks about how Persuaders control Word-Thinkers. Don’t be a Word-Thinker. ↩︎
  5. Entertaining behavior is a great point. What better way to propagate than through entertainment. I got to thinking about signaling with posting screenshots of stacking sats. This does many things but it’s worth noting a few. It signals the hosts belief systems “Hey I’m a Bitcoiner”, it is easy to perform and replicate because you can buy a very small amount of Bitcoin and simply post the screenshot. You also get a hit of dopamine whenever you stack sats which is quite entertaining. ↩︎