21 May After Texas School Shooting, How Can We Inoculate Ourselves Against the Next One?

May 21, 2018

By: Glenn Harlan Reynolds

Source: USA Today

We’ve got a problem, and it has to do with memes.

No, not those photos of cats, or the American Chopper guys, with amusing text superimposed. Real memes.

Geneticist Richard Dawkins coined the term meme to describe self-replicating information that passes from one person’s mind to another. Genes are self-replicating information — a human is your DNA’s way of making more DNA — and so are memes. Memes are just ideas that “infect” someone who then spreads the idea to others. Genes use your body to make more genes — and, for that matter, viruses are self-replicating information that uses your body to make more viruses. (There’s even a book about memes entitled, aptly enough, Virus Of The Mind.)

Memes can be about anything, from popular jokes all the way up to big complexes of self-replicating ideas, like Nazism, communism and most religions. People believe them, and spread them, and become increasingly resistant to entertaining critical thoughts about them. Some are benign and even beneficial — like many of the germs that live in our body, they may even help protect against more dangerous memes. Others are dangerous, and can ruin or even end the lives of those infected by them, or the victims of those who are infected.

Which brings me to the topic of school shootings. While these mass shootings aren’t increasing and are even trending down, they seem to be becoming almost a ritualized form of behavior: Bullied/ostracized kid arms up, targets his/her school and kills people, often starting with the tormentors, leaving social media manifestos behind.

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