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Notes on Memetics – A Growth Industry in US Military Operations

Bullet points from this Marine Corps paper on memetics. This is from 2005, seems like some of these ideas have been incorporated into the latest FM.

Thesis: Tomorrow’s US military must approach warfighting with an alternate mindset that is prepared to leverage all elements of national power to influence the ideological spheres of future enemies by engaging them with alternate means—memes—to gain advantage.

Conclusion: Cognitive scientists, cultural anthropologists, behavior scientists, and game theory experts must be included as professional meme-wielding-gunfighters on future battlefields. The US must recognize the growing need for emerging disciplines in ideological warfare by ‘weaponeering’ memes. The Meme Warfare Center offers sophisticated and intellectually rich capability absent in current IO, PsyOps and SC formations and is specifically designed to conduct combat inside the mind of the enemy. Memes are key emerging tools to win the ideological metaphysical fight.

The author includes discussion points in the Executive Summary which highlight sections of the paper.

The paper opens up exploring ideologies and their importance on beating the enemy. Ideologies are VERY difficult to deafeat with force. (People don’t like to have ideas beaten out of them – especially non-combatants).

Characteristics of ideologies:

  • difficult to eradicate kinetically1
  • highly dynamic
  • garner support for often undetectable reasons
  • contain both intangible and tangible attributes
  • generate visceral enmity
  • compel noncombatants to take up arms
  • influence strategic, operational and tactical relationships and in the simplest form present a daunting challenge for most conventionally trained military forces

Memes are bits of cultural information transmitted AND replicated. Memes are metaphysical, intangible entities, transmitted from mind to mind, either verbally, with actions, music, or by repeated actions and/or imitation.

Meme propagation flow chart

Memes influence ideas ➞ ideas influence and form beliefs ➞ Beliefs generate and influence political positions, feelings, & emotions ➞ which finally inform and influence behavior

This entire process is needed for memes to propagate.

The value of understanding memes lies at the heart of accepting nonlinear thinking and extrapolating it into a warfighting ethos.

Memes are an opportunity to enter the hotly contested territory in the new battlefield of the minds of both enemy combatants and non-combatants.

Like it or not, military ops create memes. Some memes are intended, some not. Both of these memes create 2nd and third order effects.

Controlling 2nd and 3rd order effects is very difficult.

Without contact, meme propagation is brought to a halt.

Author argues that IF you acknowledge memes are real, THEN meme engineering should fall to a department or organization in the military. As of publication, meme warfare was not recognized as legitimate and did not roll into any org.

The author now pivots into memes and the comparison to disease.

The clinical disease analogy for the spread of memes infers a further metaphorical connection to the development and spread of ideologies.

Using this metaphor, the author builds the case that ideologies can be combated much like a Doctor treats a disease.

  1. Analyze disease properties, proliferation method, and conditions for favorable propagation
  2. Methodically construct substances to inoculate hosts

Okay so now apply to this metaphor to ideologies…

  1. the ideology must be acknowledged as the disease and memes the proliferation method
  2. to amplify this disparity, there is a nexus at the crossroads of sociology, anthropology, cognitive science, and behavioral game theory that can help us to intentionally persuade (inoculate) large audiences (or hosts) through subtle or overt contact (remember memes can only propagate through contact).

A central component of future warfare must consider how to confront the complex adaptive system of an ideology. … Targeting the source of the ideology is perhaps a blinding flash of the obvious, but the tools and methods for combating ideologies require a sophisticated nonlinear approach

A central component of future warfare must consider how to confront the complex adaptive system of an ideology. … Targeting the source of the ideology is perhaps a blinding flash of the obvious, but the tools and methods for combating ideologies require a sophisticated nonlinear approach

On the proposed MWC – Meme Warfare Center I lost interest at this point. The paper turns into a proposal for the development of a MWC.

The author goes into detail about a proposed MWC would operate and where it would roll up organizationally. If you are interested in further details, dig into the paper. It details how the private sector has used memes to create marketing campaigns and to influence corporate culture. And later goes into details about the proposed MWC org.

This closing quote was pretty interesting, from Donald Rumsfeld:

“Our enemies have skillfully adapted to fighting wars in today’s media age, but for the most part we, our country, our government, has not…. the violent extremist[s] have established ‘media relations committees’—and have proven to be highly successful at manipulating opinion elites. They plan and design their headline grabbing attacks using every means of communications to intimidate and break the collective will of free people.”

And finally the last two sentences are icing on top.

The emerging tools to win the metaphysical fight are memes. Managing, employing and leveraging memetic power is key for the US to shape and win on future battlefields.

  1. I think this is an interesting point, and also quite obvious. It made me think about the principle of blowback. I first heard learned about this from Dr. Ron Paul. Lew Rockwell wrote this short piece about Blowback and credits Dr. Paul for bringing this topublic discourse.   ↩︎