Search this site!
     by FreeFind

Meme Update #31

In this Issue:
Drugs of the Mind
Virus of the Mind now in sixth printing!
Book of the Week:
     The Psychology of Persuasion
        by Kevin Hogan

Drugs of the Mind

Imagine a biotech company has invented a new drug that is cheap, completely harmless, and induces such a feeling of pleasure that it quickly replaces television as people’s favorite recreational activity. Would you take this drug? Occasionally or all the time? Would you make it illegal? Remember, studies of monkeys with electrodes hooked up to their pleasure centers showed that the monkeys would rather starve to death than stop hitting the button that activated those electrodes. How different are we from the monkeys? We may find out sooner that you might think.

The “War on Drugs” is one of the most controversial public policy issues of the day. On the one hand is one of our most fundamental principles: personal freedom. I have the right to do what I please as long as I’m not interfering with anyone else’s rights. On the other side is the belief that drug use makes life poorer for everybody through increased crime, decreased productivity, and taxpayer-funded medical care for addicts.

I have friends who are passionate advocates for both sides of this debate, and I myself tend to weigh in on the Libertarian side of issues unless there’s a good reason not to. But in the near future this may all be a moot issue because chemical drugs may be the least of our worries. Soon we will have a new fear, both for ourselves and for society: drugs of the mind.

Drugs work by activating pleasure centers in the brain, bypassing the survival- and reproduction- related activities that millions of years of evolution attached to those pleasure centers to ensure the replication of DNA. Some of them work by deactivating pain centers instead, or by deactivating judgment faculties, or by providing exaggerated stimulation that in turn activate the pleasure centers (or sometimes pain centers—hence a “bad trip” on LSD). But the central point is that drugs bypass reality to make people feel good without doing the things that evolution engineered us to do in order to feel good. These things include:

These activities and others trigger our psychological push-buttons and make us feel good. In Paleolithic times, these activities were vital to increasing our chances for survival and reproduction. Today, they’re still vital. Only taking drugs lets you feel good without doing any of this stuff. The problem is, 20 years later, you wake up and realize that your friends who didn’t take drugs are now 20 years ahead of you. It’s tough to catch up.

Drugs of the mind are the same. They aren't chemicals that you ingest; they're activities that you spend your time on, activities that give you the illusion of living but ultimately leave you empty and unfulfilled. The first one that comes to mind, of course is television. Sitting in front of the tube fools the mind into thinking you’re involved in an interesting community activity, fighting wars, getting to know cool people, or pursuing a romantic interest. But you’re not. You’re sitting in front of the tube. And 20 years later, IF you wake up, you realize that your few friends who didn’t watch TV are now 20 years ahead of you.

Even before television there was gambling. Now an enormous industry, gambling takes advantage of the fact that risk-taking can pay off big. Going out on the hunt can produce a kill that feeds a whole village and makes the hunter a VIP! But the gambling industry has harnessed that beneficial drive and attached it to a can’t-win series of exciting, stimulating games designed to waste your time and soak up your money. And they keep evolving better and better ways to do it. It is one of the sick ironies of our society that our own government advertises its lottery on television in an attempt to soak more and more money from the poor people the revenues are intended to benefit.

Pornography is another drug of the mind, and the better video quality technology gives us, the better illusions we can fool ourselves with. Pornography is now so high-quality and so available on the Internet that some people seem to prefer it to real relationships because it's not as messy. But 20 years later, what have you built other than an impressive collection of bitmap images?

With the Internet, the potential for new and more potent drugs of the mind is here. The instant feedback and huge potential for profit in the Internet makes evolution go very quickly there. We can expect the term “Internet addiction” to become more and more prevalent, because one of the key predictions of memetics is that culture will evolve to be better and better at capturing our attention and consuming our time. One of my favorite vices is —a community that provides a variety of multi-player games for free. But for $3.95/month, you can get a little icon next to your name that shows your status within the community. Let me tell you, since I got that icon the temptation is almost unbearable to play for hours and hours just to increase my rank within that hierarchy.

Want to make a few hundred million dollars? Combine mplayer’s ranking idea with on-line gambling—for real money. When your bankroll goes up to $100,000, you get a little Ferrari icon next to your name. When you go bust, you get garbage. I guarantee it will be a real money-maker. Maybe throw in some pornography for good measure (if you don't your competitors will!)

For both types of drugs, the chemical and the mental, there’s only one solution. You can’t pass laws to make people smart. People must be conscious of the lives they are living. Now more than ever, unless we have a clear sense of life purpose, we are all too easily led astray. Consciousness is what it's all about, Oprah...

Virus of the Mind now in sixth printing!

I've been getting calls from colleges around the country who are using Virus of the Mind as a text in classes ranging from sociology to economics. And me a college dropout! What can I say but thanks? And thank you, my loyal Meme Update readers, for spreading the meme meme.

Hint: if you do have Virus of the Mind assigned as a text, buy it at the Memetics Bookstore for 40% off rather than paying full price. Go to for more information.

Book of the Week
The Psychology of Persuasion
    by Kevin Hogan

If you're looking for an overview of how to manip—er, I mean influence people, or Chapter 7 of my Virus of the Mind ("How To Start a Cult") was your favorite, then you won't want to waste a moment before ordering hypnotherapy guru Kevin Hogan's outstanding book on the psychology of persuasion. If reading this doesn't make you hungry for more about NLP, brainwashing, sales trickery, and more I'll be surprised. This is a great first book on persuasion to read, and even if you think you know it all you may be surprised at the perspective Dr. Hogan puts on it.

For more information, browse to

This is Richard Brodie's Meme Update Newsletter. To subscribe/unsubscribe, with "subscribe" or "unsubscribe" (no quotes) in the message body. This is an automated list server, so you must send ONLY those words exactly as written. If you're having trouble, and I'll help.

Meme Central has links to lots of interesting things having to do with self-replicating ideas:

You can order books mentioned here and others through the Memetics Bookstore at

My book VIRUS OF THE MIND is now in its sixth printing! You can read the first chapter on line at

Spread the meme! Forward this copy of Meme Update to others who need to know about memes!