Friday, May 31, 2013

Meme Expression

Genes hang out in gangs. genes come in packs. Genes are parts of a whole strand of DNA, Chromosomes, Cells. They just sit there, on a long bench until they need to do something to survive. At this point, I'd recommend you read 'The Selfish Gene' by Richard Dawkins, because I'm not a biologist, nor even a scientist and am going to grossly oversimplify everything.

So genes are what are the unit of selection for natural selection, and as a result you got all kinds of genes that hang out in your DNA that at one point or another allowed you to survive some environment or another.

And you may or may not have this gene MOA-A, 'the warrior gene' that may or may not be a cause of psychopathic behaviour. The warrior gene seems to correlate with individuals that when their wife leaves them for another man, tend to dismember their wives and wear their head around the house, as opposed to to just getting upset and crying into a beer.

The thing is, there are people who have the MOA-A gene in their DNA that go their whole lives without dismembering anybody. The other aspect of the theory of the warrior genes link to violent and antisocial behaviour is 'gene expression' it's suspected that for somebody with the MOA-A gene, it only 'expresses' itself when you undergo experiences of abuse. For example, child abuse. Conversely genetic psychopath candidates who grow up in loving, stable and secure environments wind up just being regular arseholes.

Now, what to do about psychotically violent individuals? We have two possible solutions.

End child abuse is one. Address the environmental factors that might bring about the warrior gene's expression in vulnerable children. I think it's fair to say, that in a number of societies around the world, this undertaking is underway already. And not just with the motif of making sure MOA-A gene's are dormant and unexpressed in people. And whatever the feasability issues, the relative lack of success in this possible solution, it's fair to say that trying to eradicate child abuse is a noble pursuit, worth adopting no matter how slim the chances of success may seem.

The second is eradicate the MOA-A gene. We may hope for example, that it will simply get bred out of existence as being a violent psychopath becomes more of a reproductive liability than it is a survival advantage. But suppose science makes it feasible to simply eradicate it, I don't know anything about designer babies, and I know even less about gene therepy, but suppose technology becomes such that through a vaccine or genetic screening or some little pill, we can begin ensuring babies don't have the MOA-A gene transmitted in the same way it has become possible for a mother to not transmit the HIV virus to her baby.

Some things to note, neither of these solutions to the problem of psychopathic behavior are mutually exclusive, one is eradicating the gene, the other the gene's expression. It is also fair to say that while both solutions implicitly recognise that psychotic violence is bad, only one recognizes that child abuse is bad.

But this is a very different thing than saying 'child abuse is bad, BECAUSE it can trigger psychopathy' Child abuse is bad for a whole number of reasons that apply to every victim of it regardless of their genetic makeup. The issue of child abuse is distinct and separate. One solution, or course, of action isn't necessarily superior because it addresses two wrongs, in fact it could be wielded in such a way as to make it worse.

This hasn't happened, because as far as I'm aware, there isn't a debate as to what to do about psychopaths, there's no either/or dilemma as yet. But humour me. Psychotic behaviors are bad, particularly the violent ones. As much as we may feel sympathetic to the cuckolded there are reactions that are acceptable, reactions that are even admirable (forgiveness, moving on, self-betterment) there are reactions that are unacceptable, like psychotic reactions. Learning that this is caused by the presence of a gene, and that due to childhood trauma's it may not occur to that person that there are better ways of dealing with it, might take the edge off the outrage we feel, might increase our compassion for the child that they were. I hope you agree with me, that it never makes what they did, acceptable.

Sam Harris' talk on 'Free Will' (you can find it, and several versions of it on Youtube) is well worth checking out, and he makes a non-gene based argument that is much the same, but much much better.

I've sidetracked a bit, but here is the thing, child abuse is a problem, and the gene IS a problem. And it's a problem for the people that have it. Our society is civilized now, there is a 'rule of law' that even if it fails to protect numerous children as it's supposed to, will still punish children who develop into adult psychopaths based on being threatened and abused in childhood.

There is a fallacy to be made, say for some reason a debate does come up, should we invest all our energy into stopping childhood abuse (stop gene expression) or all our energy into stopping psychopathy (stop the gene) or both? And say there's a group that advocate addressing gene expression only. Feeling that we may disable future generations chances of survival if we eradicate a gene that could be useful (say in a societal collapse). Personally I don't think that argument carries much water, but this group urges tolerance and compassion for MOA-A gene carriers, and points to the majority of gene-carriers that never express that gene, saying the 'real' problem is child abuse.

Here is the fallacy, this view fails to recognise that an abused child without the MOA-A gene is still better off than an abused child with the MOA-A gene. Because much as that child has been treated horribly and at a huge psychological disadvantage for entering adult life, they at least wont have the further disadvantage of becoming a psychopath as well.

It is thus perfectly valid for people to construct a case that says 'we should try and eradicate this gene from the gene pool' if there is such a thing as the psychopath gene, it is probably one of the most persuasive arguments for reducing the genetic diversity of the human race.

So, here's the thing. It currently isn't feasible to eradicate MOA-A gene. As far as I know. And as far as I know, the link between MOA-A, gene expression and being a psychopath isn't confirmed. So there is no debate. There could be. Why then did I write at length this whole thought experiment out in a blog post, a blog post called meme expression?

Meme's tend to cluster. For example, if you know somebodies stance on abortion, you probably have good chances of knowing their stance on capital punishment. Another place outside of people's heads that meme's tend to cluster is in books. Some books contain their own 'physics' meme, or metaphysics. Robert Jordan's the wheel of time contains a bunch of memes that set up rules for how magic works that are very different from how the wizard of Oz treats magic.

Suppose you have a book that contains two types of memes. The first type we'll call an 'authority' meme, the second type we'll call an 'instruction' meme. If the authority meme manages to successfully replicate in a persons mind, then the fidelity of which it does can be tested by how closely or literally that person then carries out the 'instruction' memes. It can be fairly said that if none of the authority memes copy over into the mime, then you would expect none of the instruction meme's to be active, or if they do, it to be entirely a coincidence.

I could have lost you in the quick transition from genes to memes, and if I know nothing about genes, I know less about memes. So I must disclaim that I am going to completely oversimplify and say that meme = idea. The use of the term meme is to think about ideas in the same way we think about genes in the framework of natural selection.

So we have 'instruction' memes that's survival is dependent in part on the survival of the authority memes it hangs around, and to an extent vice-verse. Now say you have an instruction meme that instructs a person to behave in a violent and anti-social way. Let's call it the 'extremist' meme. But the thing is that while most people who carry this extremist meme around in their head, never act on it, in a violent and anti-social way.

The key is that the extremist meme only expresses itself in situations where the person lives or comes from a warzone, that has a lack of economic opportunities and access to education. Then the extremist meme can activate and the person commits some act of violence.

Now, there's two possible ways of addressing the problem of anti-social violence. Without looking at the feasibility, you can attempt to eradicate poverty, improve education and broker peace (address meme-expression). Or say that through rational discourse, public discourse, policy and education, you could work to actually eradicate or stop the transmission of the extremist meme. Say you could 'vaccinate' future generations with some kind of 'anti-extremist' meme that makes their minds impervious to the transmission of the extremist meme.

Now, once again there's a fallacy to be made, both solutions recognise meme-driven violence as a problem, but one also recognises the problems of inequality. Poverty, lack of education and war are bad, but they are bad in and of themselves, regardless of the memes present in the people effected by it. Furthermore, there's no need for a dilemma between tackling both the meme-expression and the meme.

But here, a lot of well meaning people make the mistake of not recognizing that a war ravaged, impoverished and uneducated person is better off without the 'extremist' meme, disadvantaged and cruel though their life may be as a result of the war, the poverty and the ignorance. They aren't helped, nor do they help anyone else by having the extremist meme in their head.

But it's wrong for these well meaning individuals to say that we should exclusively address the environmental factors, much as it may eradicate the problems that arise from the extremist meme. It's wrong for them to attack people who are trying to eradicate the extremist meme, and or, promulgate 'anti-extremist' memes, meme-vaccines etc. And it is especially wrong to be an apologist for the extremist meme and respect it's right to exist and be reproduced.

I hope by now, you can make the connection. As uncertain as I am of my genetics, the good thing about memes is that unlike the intensive process that needs to be gone through to determine that the MOA-A gene 'tells' people to wear a hookers skin around their house, an instruction meme is really easy to read and understand for example 'thou shall not suffer a witch to live' is pretty easy to connect with behaviour, because memes either are coded in the very language we speak or very easy to translate into a language we understand.

An authority meme that says 'the instructions that follow are absolutely correct and beyond questioning' is very easy to understand, and gauge the impact of, even for somebody who is not an evolutionary biologist or even geneticist.

So even if you have the same cluster of memes presented to people in different circumstances, such that a person who is well educated and affluent winds up saying 'the authority meme clearly doesn't instruct us to follow the instructions literally, but to contextualize and interpret them' whereas somebody impoverished and uneducated says 'these instructions are perfect and meant to be carried out literally' would demonstrate that tackling meme-expression may produce desirable results.

But it also indicates perhaps, that the former person has been successfully vaccinated against the authority meme, but this vaccination unfortunately doesn't eradicate the extremist meme, but winds up protecting it.

Thus when Sam Harris says agnostics and atheists are at a disadvantage, because they don't understand what it means to actually believe what people say they believe, he has a valid point. And apologists do us all a disservice by defending a bunch of antisocial memes.

So I'm starting to get fucked off at people equivocating acts of violence and injustice carried out in war zones and regions that don't have established 'rule of law' by members of civilized non-warzones as the same problem as individuals committing willful acts of anti-social violence because of memes they are infected with. * Even when the death tolls are disproportionately stacked in the warzone injustice's detriment, the extremist meme is worth attacking because it remains a problem.

There is also a meaningful difference between anti-social violence generated by a gene, that appears almost randomly in a population and anti-social violence that is systemically generated by the spread of memes, even one that requires meme-expression.

Some of the advocates of attacking anti-social memes, have advocated interventionist wars, but always to achieve the goals of peace, economic opportunity and education. To my knowledge, none of the advocates of addressing the meme side of the problem advocate continued war and poverty and ignorance, but conversely many of the people advocating the meme-expression side of the debate advocate that the meme itself stop being attacked, that meme carriers are not identified as dangerous.

Nobody that thinks psychopaths are psychopathic by nature, thinks that they therefore should be free to roam the neighborhood. Just as nobody recognizing that bears by their nature are dangerous to humans thinks they should be free to roam through urban areas. But a psychopath should not be tortured or killed because of a gene they carry and a childhood they couldn't control. A bear should not be killed for wandering too close to a suburban development.

But if you could change a persons genes so that they would seek therapy instead of revenge, and change a persons ideas so that they would converse instead of riot. We should. What we shouldn't do is insist that a person carrying the MOA-A gene (or whatever gene it turns out to be) is genetically identical to people who don't.

Thus I suggest watching Sam Harris on Free Will:

and reading

Richard Dawkins' 'The Selfish Gene'

*if you feel this statement needs more defense I will begrudgingly oblige. But hopefully you can imagine many of the differences.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


There's a classic mistake. Ageless, impervious to learning and knowledge. How indeed do classic mistakes even exist?

A finemost example might be the Monty Hall problem. Try it out, I bet you like me, will make a classic mistake.

I think classic mistakes are generally able to exist because they are hard wired into our brains. They are something quick and dirty that work most of the time (eg. counting our options and dividing 1/n to figure our chances of success) but under certain circumstances lead us astray.

Now there's a rule of thumb in the business world that says 'if you are standing still you are shrinking' that is you have to constantly react and respond to the market just to maintain the status quo. It is generally speaking a very good idea to always be innovating.

The thing is, that I think a classic mistake is that a lot of industries, yes, whole industries attempt to innovate when they should be consolidating.

And for that I dredge up an old argument I'd just about put to bed. My ongoing struggle to say music is objectively worse than it used to be.

Why have I suddenly become plucky again? Well consider the closure of Ford Automotive's manufacturing, clearly industries can get worse, can end. The times change such that companies once axiomatically dominant  can look at the books and decide even with handouts they are better off not operating.

The automotive monoliths made their products better in every objective sense as well, and nobody could download their products for free via the interwebs either (although that may change with 3d printing). Cars got lighter, stronger, safer, faster, more responsive, more efficient, more powerful, shorter stopping distances, more comfortable... and the companies still failed.

What then of music? The music industry deals in a product much older than automobiles, one that has been exposed to technological innovation throughout it's entire existence. The great organists of the mighty cathedrals were buried by the more portable harpsichords, the harpsichord manufacturers slaughtered in turn by the more versatile piano forte, the pianola was a technological misfire, then the gramophone really shook things up, along came the wireless which created the teenager demographic, guitars got pickups, amps drowned out classical, synths expanded horizons, as did computers... a lot changed before the advent of internet piracy in an ongoing story of innovation. (Movie posters used to be commissioned paintings for visual artists back in the day, until printing resolutions made photographs and stills the norm.)

Nevertheless, you had these monoliths, two in particular that reached their peak influence in the early 90's. Radio Stations and Record Labels. These two industries were effectively the gatekeepers, they got to decide what we the plebs listened to. These two monoliths are seldom described as 'despotic' even though really that's just what they are. The reason being, that just about every company everywhere is despotic in nature.

It was the despots occupying these lofty perches in the 90's that saw the emergence of the mp3, the digitisation of information that paved the way for a bunch of industry shaking innovations - napster, bittorrent, youtube the providers of 'free' content the new Caribbean of internet piracy, you saw the ipod, iphone, itunes, spotify etc. that allowed people to collect and collate more music than they are ever going to listen to in their lifetime and thus dispense with the radio. You saw garageband, protools, autotune, fruityloops and any number of software platforms that allowed anybody to DIY their own music studio into a laptop, you saw myspace, soundcloud, bandcamp etc. that allowed anybody with a laptop to distribute and promote their own sound. You saw facebook pave a way for bands to promote their gigs with 0 agent fees or promotion budget.

Now virtually all these emergent industries are hailed as 'democratic' that is, by implication that they threatened the despots stranglehold, their gatekeeper status as to what we listen to, when we listen to it, who gets to make it. etc.

And if you are a despot, and watch the water sucked from between your toes on your private beach and see all that water of yours dissappear out towards the horizon, your natural impulse is to decide you need to move, and fast. The thing is, is that if you don't actually try and understand what is happening, then you are going to run with the tide and try and grab up all the fat succulent fish left exposed by the receding waters. 

The correct thing to do is retreat to the higher ground. Consolidate. This is what the monoliths did wrong. Not that they didn't move, as monoliths are almost always criticized for, but rather that they do move, instead of digging in, hunkering down. 

hopefully if you've read this far, you don't really need a recap of what all the democratizing forces in music have done to radio stations and record companies. I offer just one example - in the mid 90's through to the early 2000's triple j ran the 'unearthed' program, if you don't know what I'm talking about, click the link. 

Now that program used to go to regional areas, and solicit demo tapes from bands that couldn't feasibly get to the big smoke, play enough gigs to get heard and followed and attract the attention of a record company to promote and distribute them. From the 2000's though this program was made virtually redundant by myspace, facebook, bandcamp etc. 

picture if you will, a king riding in a carriage meandering around the land creating a scant few opportunities for a luckier few than normal. It's slow, it's inefficient, but it IS something.

Nowadays the unearthed program is a website, and that's all I'll say about that.

Here's what I want to say. If you are GOOD at BEING a DESPOT, stick to what you are good at. The thing is that while programs like triple j unearthed, request fest and even the hottest 100 have had their value eroded, it wasn't the core value radio stations provided. And while distributing and promoting physical records had value back in the day that was virtually erased if illegally over night. But in neither case was this the core value of these monoliths.

The core value, was and is, that they have people filter through a whole heap of potential music and decide what was worth listening to. And that might sound unappealing, despotic and tyrannical, an usurpation of our rights to determine what we listen to.

But you are wrong, and I'm going to take this in two diections and I don't know which way is the easiest to go with first.

So arbitrarily first, here's the thing. How many hours do you spend trawling through bandcamp, soundcloud or myspace to avail yourself of the explosion of musical options to determine finally, purely and truly what music you want to hear. I'm going to hazard a guess and say in your case 0. And you are somebody who has read my blog post thus far. 

How many reality tv show contestants did you vote for in the past decade? how many of their albums do you own (digitally or physically)? how many of those albums would you rate in your top 10 of the last decade? or of all time? Have these democratizing technologies actually produced better results? The best that can be said, is that if you remove any subjective bias (if you youtube the Carpenters 'Georgie Girl' you will find 'I remember when music was real, not like the crap they listen to these days' comments that are identical to the one's left on every other video from every other decade) the best you could say is that the new technologies have produced the same results.

And even that's worse, because those that succeed today can't live off the fat of album royalties, or even advances. They get the fame but not necessarily the fortune. Unless they tour.

Consider on this first side by analogy, the stock market. In the late 90's brokerage got democratised by the same technologies that democratized music. The market went digital, and you could buy and sell shares on the internet. And for all the lauding of this simply improving the markets efficiency and the theoretical framework behind it, what it did was give a lot of autonomy to people who didn't know how to determine the value of the shares they were buying and selling. They gave autonomy to moron's and the effect this had was to hand instituational investment from the artists, the people that looked thoroughly at the companies they were buying and selling, to the quants who studied the mathematical fluctuationality of the market in what, as of 2007, has been practically proven a pseudoscience, less effective than the intuitions of the old school analysts.

And just as an old school investor, or thoughtful philosopher can outperform the most tech-savy investment fund with noble recipient risk-experts, and can certainly outperform a mom-and-pop investor on their laptop, and old school record exec I imagine is going to be much better at picking and finding talent I like, than I am as the autonomous head of my own record label, and autonomous station manager of my own radio station.

And that's the second angle. Just because music appreciation isn't understood in say nueroscience, or evolutionary theory, or philosophy, and is a domain generally regarded as subjective, it doesn't mean expertise doesn't exist around picking talent.

I hand you a card that says '780' and ask you to come up with a large number, you will probably come up with a 3-4 digit number. If I hand you a card that says '7,820,465' and ask you to come up with a large number you will at least come up with a seven digit figure. That's called priming. 

If a person's job entails listening to music all day, talking about music, talking to musicians, seeing bands perform, even trawling the social media wastelands for bands, they are going to be primed to pick much better, more interesting bands than I am listening to music while commuting on bicycle.

And that isn't to say they will gear towards the alienating avaunt guard shit on the fringes of the cutting edge. What I mean to say is that somebody who has listened to 1000 female solo folk guitarist acts is going to probably come up with somebody better than the 7 I hear a year. And if they don't, in my case that's luck, not in the exec's case who listened to 1000 to come to the same conclusion.

When people talk about the bleak future of record companies, and even radio stations, I feel they disregard the thriving industries of interior design. Because that still exists despite people having always had the complete freedom to decorate their homes any which way they see fit. Despite the knowledge that each customer has the exact same access to stores and materials as the interior designer. But they pay somebody with taste and expertise to pick out interiors that they like more than if they picked it out themselves.

Yes! This is actually the kind of despotism that saves us from ourselves. An investor with little more than a newspaper and a telephone can still outperform many of the most subscribed to managed funds. I believe a radio station dj or record exec can still outperform the most subscribed to social media.

But what have they done instead? The classic mistake, of imitating the attention grabbing style of the new industry that has yet to produce any substance. The result: the monoliths lost a lot of substance.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


was received really well. I think if you're an artist, and are always struggling to produce 'real' art, you get caught out by what of your output people really like, and how much they really like it. In many ways the colour exhibition was smaller, less organised, less pieces, less promotion. but only slightly, and it was still a big success.

But the thanxhibition. the part I didn't have to do, and almost didn't but did, that was what pushed me closer to being who I want to be. People really dug the free art. And I was prepped to do it, even if it undercut my own sales (it didn't), and I felt like the disparity in qualities would go noticed and thus, they wouldn't be appreciated. But people were really into it. Really excited about getting a free piece of my output.

I would recommend to any artist doing a thanxhibition.