I hope I have not been misleading in my use of the term “public semiotic,” which I probably coined.
By public semiotic, I mean a semiotic or bundle of semiotics that most people within a culture recognize. A meme is a narrowly focused public semiotic. The reason I use the term public semiotic is there are many sorts of public semiotics that are broader or vaguer than sharply focused memes.
One of them is “white males commit a disproportionate number of rampage killings,” as Michael Moore implied shortly after the Rodger rampage killing in California. A simple check of rampage statistics in the USA reveals that “white males” commit rampage killings at slightly less than or about the same as their percentage of the US population.
Another false public semiotic is that “guns cause America’s high murder rate.” Moore implied that one, too. Why do people who have a loud public voice not even bother to check with the science before speaking? Here is a short, recent study by eminent criminologists that refutes Moore’s claims about guns causing violence: Would Banning Firearms Reduce Murder and Suicide?
The answer is no. Surely Moore can read studies like this one (and there are many of them) that refute his emotionally charged errors before pontificating yet again on this subject.
If it were only Moore who made mistakes like this, I might not have bothered to write this post. But Mayor Bloomberg himself, arch foe of gun ownership, actually makes two major mistakes in this short video: Bloomberg Doesnt Know SemiAuto from Auto.
The Mayor is wrong about how semi-automatics work and he is wrong about the meme that legally owning a gun makes it “statistically 22 times more likely” that a family member or friend will be shot with that gun. Read the study above for a complete refutation of that falsehood.
How can two of the most prominent anti-gun spokespeople (don’t get me started on Dianne Feinstein) persist in making such elementary mistakes in their oft repeated comments? Is it any wonder the public does not trust them and hardly listens anymore?
False public semiotics are usually deliberately employed emotional statements that sound convincing because they are frequently repeated.
Fortunately, the American public is better informed than Moore or Bloomberg on guns. But there are so many issues it is hard to keep up. Notice how often emotional public semiotics are at the forefront of the side that is lying, whether it be to start a war in Iraq, reduce internet freedom, permit violations of the Fourth Amendement, and so on.
Normal socially-defined communication—business, school, professional, etc.—operates within known limits and terminologies. Skill is largely defined as understanding how to use the system without exceeding its limits, how to play the game.
Many other forms of communication must be imagined. That is, I have to imagine what you mean and you have to imagine what I mean. This is so because the rules of communication are not well-defined.
In many cases of this type I will imagine that you are normal to the extent that I am able to imagine what normal is. And I will imagine that you imagine me to be normal. As I imagine you I will probably assume that your sense of what is normal is more or less the same as mine. This is probably what the central part of the bell curve of imagined communication looks like. People in this group are capable of imagining and cleaving to normal communication standards. If you reciprocate, we will probably get along fine.
If my imagination is better than normal, I will be able to imagine more than the normal person or given to imagining more. If this is the case, I will tend to want to find a way to communicate more than the norm to you. If you reciprocate, we might do well communicating. If you don’t, I might appear eccentric to you or distracted.
If my imagination is worse than normal, I will have trouble imagining or understanding normal communication. I won’t have a good sense of the cartoons we are required to make of each other and will probably appear awkward or scatterbrained to most people. If you reciprocate, we might do well communicating and find comfort in each other.
Normal communication, even when imagined, is based on something like cartoons. I see myself as a cartoon acting in relation to the cartoon I imagine for you. If my cartoon fits you well enough that you like it and if your cartoon of me fits well enough that I like it, we have a good chance of becoming friends.
A great deal of normal imagined communication is cartoon-like, and being normal, will take the bulk of its cartoons from mass media—movies, TV, radio, and, to a lesser extent today, books and other art forms.
People still read and learn from books and art, but normal communication has come to rely heavily on the powerful cartoons of mass media.
The big problem with our systems of imagined communication is they are highly idiosyncratic, messy, and ambiguous. We have to spend a lot of time fixing problems and explaining what we really mean.
It’s good to have idiosyncratic communication, but we have to find ways to understand each other on those terms.
On this site we have claimed many times that words and semiotics are held together in networks. We have further hypothesized that “psychological morphemes” are also held together in networks.
A “psychological morpheme” is the smallest meaningful unit of a psychological response. It is the smallest unit of communication that can give rise to an emotional, psychological, or cognitive reaction.
Of course word networks, semiotic networks, and emotional, psychological, and cognitive networks all intertwine with each other.
FIML practice is designed to help partners untangle unwanted emotions from these intertwined networks. FIML practice focuses on psychological morphemes because they are small and thus rather easily understood and rather easily extirpated from real-time contexts (when partners are interacting in real life in real-time).
The hard part about FIML practice is it is done in real life in real-time. But the easy or very effective part about FIML is that once partners learn to do it, results come quickly because the practice is happening in real life in real-time. It is not just a theory when you do it in that way. It is an experience that changes how you communicate and how you understand yourself and others.
In FIML practice partners are mindful of their emotional reactions and learn that when one occurs, it is important to query their partner about it. They are mindful of psychological morphemes and as soon as one appears, but before the morpheme calls up a large network leading to a strong reaction, they query their partner about it.
This practice leads, we have claimed, to a fairly smooth and effortless extirpation of unwanted psychological responses. This happens, we believe, because the data provided by the partner that “caused” the reaction shows the partner who made the FIML query that the psychological morpheme in question arose due to a misinterpretation. Seeing this repeatedly for the same sort of neurotic reaction causes that reaction and the psychological network that comprises it to become extinguished.
A fascinating study from the University of Kansas by Michael Vitevitch shows that removing a key word from a linguistic network will cause that network to fracture and even be destroyed. An article about the study and a link to the study (pay wall) can be found here: Keywords hold vocabulary together in memory.
Vitevitch’s study involves only words and his analysis was done only with computers because, as he says, ““Fracturing the network [in real people] could actually disrupt language processing. Even though we could remove keywords from research participants’ memories through psycholinguistic tasks, we dared not because of concern that there would be long-term or even widespread effects.”
FIML is not about removing key words from linguistic networks. But it is about dismantling or removing psychological or semiotic networks that cause suffering.
Psychological or semiotic networks are networks rich in emotional meaning. When those networks harbor unwanted, inappropriate, or mistaken interpretations (and thus mistaken or unwanted emotions), they can cause serious neurotic reactions, or what we usually call simply “mistaken interpretations.”
We believe that these mistaken interpretations and the emotions associated with them can be efficiently extirpated by revealing to their holder the “key” psychological morphemes that set them off.
My guess is the psychology of a semiotic network hinges on repeated reactions to key psychological morphemes and that this process is analogous to the key words described in Vitevitch’s study.
Vitevitch did not remove key words from actual people because it would be unethical to do so. But it is not unethical for consenting adults to help each other find and remove key psychological morphemes that are harmfully associated with the linguistic, semiotic, cognitive, and psychological networks that make up the individual.
Most serious thinkers have realized for many years that genes play a major role in how individuals behave and how cultures and societies are structured. Most American anthropology departments have for as many years largely denied those facts.
In his recent book, A Troublesome Inheritance, Nicholas Wade makes a strong case that “human evolution has been recent, copious, and regional.”
In this essay, What Science Says About Race and Genetics, which is a short synopsis of his views, Wade uses the Chinese, the English, and Ashkenazi Jews as examples of groups that have “recently” evolved “copious, regional” traits that set them apart from other cultures that have found it difficult to copy the institutions that arose with and developed out of the industrial revolution.
Wade’s argument is largely genetic and needs to be said. Yet he seems to see the salient genetic traits as being sort of abstract. Nonviolence, literacy, thrift, and patience for the English; literacy and high IQs for the Ashkenazim; and conformism and authoritarian rule for the Chinese.
Wade’s book is a breath of fresh air in the small room of “race is a social construct and nothing more” (and the only way to deal with the evidence of genetic differences among humans is to ignore it).
That said, Wade is leaving out an important factor in gene expression—how genes for sociability and group-formation may or may not combine with genes that affect behaviors toward out-groups (aggression, for example) and favoritism toward members of the in-group (selective altruism, for example).
There is as much evidence that groups of overseas Chinese greatly favor their own as there is that Chinese in general carry genes for conformism and authoritarianism. Similarly, there is as much evidence of aggressive Ashkenazi ethnic networking as there is for high Ashkenazi IQs. (See this for one example: The Myth of American Meritocracy. And this for a second one: Reflections on Some Aspects of Jewish Self-Deception.)
It is good to see Wade’s book being widely read and discussed. I hope an even larger discussion will continue and that it will include a fearless examination of all of the factors—genetic, social, and genetic-social—that influence human behavior and the behaviors of the social groups to which they belong.
They were private conversations.
EDIT 4/16: A similar issue just happened in another part of the country: NH police commissioner hit for racist Obama slur.
The commissioner in question, Robert Copeland, was overheard in a restaurant while engaged in a private conversation. The woman who overheard him wrote to town officials. Copeland refused to apologize.
The video at the link above shows a large group of town residents demanding Copeland resign.
More than 100 people packed into the meeting room at the Wolfeboro Public Library, where librarian Joyce Davis said she can’t remember an issue in 40 years that has sparked so much emotion and outcry. Many of the people wore on their shirts handmade stickers saying, “Resign,” directed at Copeland. (Source, same as above)
“…Davis said she can’t remember an issue in 40 years that has sparked so much emotion and outcry.”
Over a bad word uttered in a private conversation. Only two people at the meeting had the courage and decency to defend Copeland.
With the NSA spying on everyone and video cameras and recorders everywhere, it’s time to remind that lynch mob in Wolfeboro that what people do and say in private is their business. I know for a fact that there is not one person at that meeting who, if we reviewed everything they have said in private, would not have uttered many embarrassing statements. We honor privacy and freedom of speech in this country for a reason.
The Sterling and Copeland cases are excellent examples of the dangerous power of semiotics. As librarian Davis said, she “…can’t remember an issue in 40 years that has sparked so much emotion and outcry.”
The notion that some men are “alpha males” comes from faulty studies on wolves that got wrongly applied to dogs which led to faulty “dominance training” for dogs and by extension wrong-headed “dominance strategies” for wannabe alpha males. Or at least that is one explanation.
That the falsity of the alpha story is still lost on many men (and women) illustrates well what terribly “good” story-tellers we humans are.
The alpha story became a meme and thus simplified still animates many subcultures within the USA. The more people believe it, the more they act on it, and the more they act on it, the more it appears to be true.
Stories like that can be understood as massive oversimplifications that operates at or near the core of what motivates us or how we think about ourselves. There are many stories of this type, and nearly any explanation of anything can be transformed into a similarly absurd reduction of truth that leads people into ridiculous behaviors.
Years ago, legions of men believed that “whoever speaks first loses.” This phrase, or slogan, came from a sales strategy, but it morphed into a cultural meme that sometimes forced groups of men to stand together in complete silence. Those men were the spiritual fathers of the alpha male wannabes of more recent years.
Simple stories make up most of what most people take to be news. They constitute almost everything seen on TV. They are what most people think of when they think of the “history” of their own ethnic group or the history of their historical ethnic “enemies.”
Our addiction to simple stories is what makes propaganda and advertising work. It is why “false flag” military operations start most wars.
I do not believe any of us is entirely immune to entertaining and acting on stories that are so simple they cannot be true, but we should be able to identify many of them if we try.
FIML practice was designed, in part, to halt the formation of false stories about the people we care about most. FIML queries are designed to place reason and fact in front of our very strong tendency to accept simple assumptions as real when they are not.
An article on dominance training in dogs can be found here: Why Won’t Dominance Die?
Isn’t it amazing that some humans can come to wrong conclusions about wolves and then use that false model to understand themselves? If you look across the globe and through time, you will see nothing but an abundance of examples of one culture after another forming and acting on beliefs based on nothing more than almost random stories.
I think the main reason we do this is the ways we normally use language and semiotics are too crude for our brains when engaged in interpersonal relations. In other words, our brains are capable of much better and more accurate interpersonal detail than we are normally able to obtain through language.
And that causes us to use simple stories and explanations in place of good data and actual facts. The stories fill in the gaps where our brains want more detail but are unable to get it through normal interpersonal communication.
FIML practice upgrades interpersonal communication by helping partners replace crude generalities and simple stories about themselves with real data they both agree on.
EDIT: Here is a link to a site that promotes alpha male tactics. In larger and smaller ways, I believe most people practice tactics or subscribe to stories about themselves and others that are harmful to all concerned. The alpha male thing is a glaring example of a story/analysis based on poor research, but there are many other techniques for controlling, guiding, or manipulating people to get what we want from them. I believe people act this way because they do not know any other way to deal with the inevitable ambiguities of interpersonal communication. Having no other options, people adopt cartoon-like roles for themselves and impute something similar to others. This is tolerable (barely) in the office or in professional settings, but it a disaster in close relationships.