Thursday, February 24, 2005

A Virus in the Blogosphere : How a Thirty-Year-Old Idea Forced Out Eason Jordan

In his 1985 book Metamagical Themas: Questing for the Essence of Mind and Pattern, Douglas Hofstadter (best known as the author of Godel, Escher, and Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid) talks about ideas floating in what he half-jokingly refers to as the ideosphere, where they self-replicate by planting themselves in the brains of others, through song, the written word, story-telling, etc. Much as genetic material ingrains itself in the biosphere, if an idea provides psychological benefit to a great part of the population, the idea can spread as fast as it can travel.

In the age of the Internet, that's very fast indeed. Richard Dawkins, in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, is credited by Hofstadter as planting the self-replicating idea that ideas self-replicate into the ideosphere, with the concept of the meme. Memes may or may not have a basis in fact; in some cases, it may suit a person's ideology (i.e., the other idea viruses, or memes, he has caught) to believe in something despite evidence to the contrary, much as an atheist sees the faith of believers (the atheist's belief itself forming a meme about the meme of religion - you see how this stuff can go on and on).

I submit that four memes, all of which suited a sizeable portion of the brains exposed to them, ultimately led to Eason Jordan's downfall. The first was the meme of WMDs. It was so logical that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction that most reasonable people took it as proven fact; when intelligence agencies received reports from dissidents that indicated their presence, it only served to reinforce the idea. Remember that precious few, regardless of their 20/20 hindsight on display now, doubted that Saddam had the weapons; the pre-war debate was mostly over what to do about it.

Despite my support of the war, and the resulting halting steps towards democracy the Iraqis are undertaking, it seems clear that without the WMD meme, the war could not have been carried out (is that also a meme? Oh, my head...). Meme number two was the meme that the U.S. is often guilty of the same human rights abuses we accuse others of (the most contagious carrier being one Noam Chomsky, who should probably be quarantined for safety reasons). Obviously, this meme had infected Eason Jordan.

Number three is the meme of liberal media bias (remember, a meme may or may not be true; by saying the idea infected large amounts of us we are not saying there isn't truth to the idea). This meme is the source of the alertness (the lefties would say overeagerness) the bloggers on the right display when evaluating the MSM (the very acronym a meme of its own - Ay, Caramba!).

Number four, the one that wrapped the other three up in a nice little wrapper, is the meme that Eason Jordan accused our troops in Iraq of cold-blooded murder. We should note that some memes counteract others, and often replace them - i.e., the geocentric galaxy model replaced by the heliocentric. Had the Davos tape been released, or an accurate transcript, perhaps this meme would have similarly been overthrown. In the absence of a countervailing idea, and with a swiftness rarely seen before, the virus-idea-meme spread throughout the world, and became accepted wisdom.

And that's the story of why Eason Jordan resigned.

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