Thursday, November 7, 2013

Importing Memes and Maddness

Japan has a complicated history of memetic imports.  Confronted with a European memeplex which refused to integrate and instead assaulted native memeplexes, Japan gradually reduced imports, limited visitors and then shut itself off from foreign lands in the 16th century.  Suppressing (sometimes executing) hosts and destroying foreign writings and artifacts, the native memeplex launched a multi-pronged immune response to the foreign invasion. 

The European invader was Catholicism.  Often when this story is told it is rendered through European or Japanese eyes, or as an example of a less tolerant, less humane era.  As humans, it's natural for us to tell it from this human perspective.  But to do so, even as non-partisan historians, overlooks the memetic mechanism.

Japan did not remain isolated forever.  An awareness developed that if the rest of the region industrialized and adopted a Western military, Japan would loose autonomy.  Japan was behind the times.  The regional saturation of European memeplexes made bakumatsu necessary for the survival of Japanese memes. This led to treaties, exchange of ideas (gradual adoption of choice parts of European memeplexes), involvement in European politics and eventually a nationalist self-perception which resented US imperialism in the Pacific, allied itself with Axis powers (WWII) and initiated a preemptive strike on US territory.

After defeat in WWII, the peace treaty required economic, social and military restructuring in favor of US interests.  Japan was not a vassal or colony by traditional definitions, but the US presence and authority was felt as the conqueror rewrote political, economic and social memeplexes to neutralize any threat and foster trade.

These changes primed the Japanese market to be receptive to American memetic exports.  With Westernization came the expansion of the middle class, urbanization and the appearance of a traditionally "Western" ailment: Anorexia Nervosa.  The emergence of this illness is complex and the Japanese variant has its own complex emergence.  Is it the result of imported standards of beauty or a hybrid of traditional values of self-restraint coupled with food abundance and urban lifestyles? Or are there variations on the sources of emergence which are unique to specific subjects?  One thing is certain.  It is not biologic agency but memetic agency which precipitates this illness.

Another memetic import which is outcompeting traditional memes in Japan is the idea of clinical depression and the need for pharmacological intervention.  Japanese culture originally had a romantic love of sadness, grief and unease.  These were common human emotions in a warring feudal society and before the development of antibiotics.  Emotional pain was seen as strength of character, evidence of loyalty, a shared, ennobling experience.  Extreme depression was a known phenomenon, but thought to be extremely rare. 

But a culture which comfortably contemplates loneliness and sorrow in theatre, music and ritual is not a receptive market.  To expand and exploit this market, a company must first sell the idea that strong emotions, especially negative ones, are a threat to productivity and social harmony.  The experience of Dr. Laurence Kirmayer gives us an idea of how pharmaceutical companies invest lots of money to gather knowledge and apply it to re-engineer the memes of a market.

[An in-depth academic investigation can be found in the paper: Global Pharaceuticals: Ethics, Markets, Practices by Kalman Applbaum.  Of particular interest is a heading within the paper: "Speeding the Evolution" to Global Standards.]


Continue to The Child And The Meme



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