The Sacred Activist – Scientists, Placards, Memes and Revolution

So I was reading this article this morning:

Published on Tuesday, October 29, 2013 by New Statesman
How Science Is Telling Us All To Revolt
by Naomi Klein

and it got me to thinking, what is the best way of conducting a revolution? I’ve just read ‘Les Miserables’ and I’m not sure we are at the level of desperation that requires building barricades and futile deaths.

Nor do I think that protest marches with placards actually achieve very much other than a picture on the TV news, and a perception that those who march with placards are from the loony left or right.

Certainly there is an element of ‘rent-a-crowd’ in any demonstration, and then there are always those ones up the front who have a grudge with the police and are spoiling for a fight. That’s what ends up on the TV news, not the thousands of ordinary people who obeyed orders and dispersed when directed.

There are far better and more effective ways of changing the status quo, but it requires very large numbers of people to pass the message on – it needs to be something which will ‘go viral’.

And here we come to the concept of ‘memes’. I ran across this concept at university in the days when the internet was a collection of bulletin boards, and the first text based multiplayer games has just been developed (I got killed by a duck in the first room and never played again). I remember expounding on meme theory to a room full of non-plussed fellow law students who didn’t get it, but were kind enough to say it was ‘very interesting’. Nowadays it’s an easy concept to explain – just google ‘Grumpy Cat’!

A meme though in a more technical sense is an idea which is self-replicating, that is, it propogates from one person to the next, generating versions of itself, but staying whole in essence. Christianity is one such meme, democracy is another. It spreads like a virus and will adapt itself to local circumstances, becoming less disruptive as it goes.

So to create a meme which will disrupt the status quo, it really has to serve the majority of people. It needs in a way to reinforce what they already know to be true. And a groundswell will only happen when a critical mass of people believe it is time for change.

Now that belief can be disrupted by a small group of vested interests with deep pockets who choose to advertise in favour of their world view which serves their own monetary interests. Hence the ridiculous climate change denial stuff, the medication for heart disease alongside junk food ads, the weight loss pills alongside car ads.

Social Media and the Internet are for the moment outside these controls. And it is here that effective coalitions of truth seekers can have disproportionate power. Since I can now get advice from scientists who don’t live in my home town, since I can post pictures of environmental problems and broadcast them to the world without censorship, since I can write any article I choose and have it published to the circulation of my Facebook page, the game has changed.

Already I get most of my news from amateur Facebook pages on matters that interest me. Long before an issue hits the mainstream media, I will have been alerted via these groups. They are loose coalitions of interested people (mostly unpaid). The pages each have a number of admins who collect and distribute information. And the advantage is, it is fast. So much so that politicians are left scrambling to catch up to a much better informed public.

Information is flowing from other countries in this way as well. Internationals used to be able to ruin a country with a particular process and then move on, trusting to the language barrier. Now a protest about the exact same company using the exact same techniques in Poland will be winged to my desktop as it happens and can then be used as ammunition in the fight here.

The Internet genie can’t be put back in the bottle, and we simply need to keep ahead of the multinationals in our use of it. For most scientists that shouldn’t be much of a problem. So let’s think of a different way to create a revolution. Let’s think outside square placards, marches and the same old chants.

Let’s have a science-led Brave New World.

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