Early in Leonardo DiCaprio’s new blockbuster, “Inception,” he lays down the film’s guiding premise: The most infectious pathogen in the world… the one that can do the most damage… is the “idea.” Once an idea is planted in a person’s head it can take them over. And they WILL spread the idea to others. A powerful enough idea can infect the entire world. It’s pretty neat to see the basic concept of Richard Dawkin’s “memes” being used in popular culture… it, too, is an “idea” that has caught hold and spread. The concept that ideas are replicating, evolving entities, and only the strong or most infectious survive.
Despite being “Beyond Belief,” I believe in the concept of ideas as infectious replicants. Some infect us and are uplifting or empowering. Some become debilitating depressants, dragging us down in circular patterns of self-defeating thought. Some are like white blood cells that defend us from invading counter-memes, and I’ll return to this last category in a moment.
In the movie, the main characters are charged with planting an idea in a person’s mind in such a way that they believe it is their own, and then act upon it. While making that attempt, they are attacked by “subconscious projections” of the mind of the person in whom they are implanting the idea.
I believe I have the concept for a sequel. “Inoculation” DiCaprio is called out of blissful retirement (thus we learn the end of the original movie, no?) and tasked with designing and implanting an idea in popular consciousness that can defeat the “white-blood” cell defense memes of religious indoctrination.
Inception was easy. DiCaprio only had to overcome subconscious projections (i.e. sneaking suspicions that someone was messing about in the dreamer’s mind)… this time DiCaprio faces some of the strongest memes that have evolved over centuries, and which are implanted from birth.
- You have to take it on faith… reason is insufficient.
- The fool says there is no god.
- You gotta have faith! (Damn you George Michael!! A meme AND an ear worm!!)
- The Bible (Koran) is the only source of morality, and so is our ultimate moral “Gold Standard” or foundation for making all decisions.
- You were created specially by God for some purpose, and if you can’t see it, that’s a deficiency in you.
- Knowledge is sin.
- “The Bahble sez don’t look outside the Bahble for guidance.”
These are only a few of the obvious, circular-reasoning defense mechanisms that protect religious belief from critical thought. Surround them with tribalism and Leo is going to get the snot kicked out of him. I think he will not only have to come up with a “meme” that defeats these rationalizations (and is thus “infectious” across older, indoctrinated people), but he will have to find a way to implant the meme in all minds at a very young age, so that it will co-opt and defeat familial religious indoctrination before it can take a deep, strangler-fig-like grip on the mind. This idea will have to be invisible to the wary home-schooling parents doing everything in their power to mold believing offspring.
Scott Adams of Dilbert fame tried to concoct an anti-religion meme in his book “The Religion War.” He came up with, “If God is so smart, why do we fart.” I think Leo’s character (or perhaps Ellen Page will take the lead in “Inoculation”) is going to have to do better. Surely we can do better? I somehow stumbled upon something like an inoculation idea in my life. Apparently I was predisposed to think outside the God-Box, even though heavily indoctrinated into Catholicism, and whatever I caught is not nearly infectious enough. (And let’s not forget that, throughout history, people like me who carry the “critical thinking gene” have repeatedly been purged in witch hunts, inquisitions, pogroms, and killing fields. Killing the carriers is a powerful way of inoculating one’s beliefs from encroachment. It works for Bird Flu, right? I wonder if any Chinese Chickens were critical thinkers? But I digress…)
Contribute your ideas. What idea could we plant in the public sphere that will worm its way into the minds of the most hardened religious believer and undo the damage of our evolutionary careening toward superstition and God delusions, when we just can’t explain or tolerate the life we lead? Should the “Inoculation” meme be a pandemic that immediately wipes out the ability to have superstitious belief, or will it need to be a slow growing, evolutionary thought process?
How about, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is… and that means you, too, God!!” No, not subtle enough. 🙂 Where is the Inoculation Meme?