Myths, Memes, Lies

I read somewhere that there were some indigenous people (the Sea Gypsies or Moken) on an island in the Indian Ocean who knew that they needed to go to higher ground after the water receded before the tsunami. This wisdom, so the article said, was passed down from the ancients. The point was how we (people not indigenous, tourists) have lost touch with the ancients and thus did not automatically go to higher ground.

Not true.

Eliza Griswold in the New Yorker (Jan. 24, 31, 2005, p. 36) writes of meeting some of the Sea Gypsies and asking them about this. “We just saw the wave coming and ran” was the response from a woman named Misia Klah Talay.

Now since the original story was somewhere on the Web (likely a blog), it will spread and be repeated often and move off the Web into our non-digital life. It becomes a meme and part of the larger memetic pattern of the nobility and pureness of indigenous people, obscuring what is the the reality of indigenous life. (Read the piece to understand more of this. Might be at the New Yorker site.)

Another meme making its way through the US memetic network is that the Social Security System is bankrupt. Not true. President Bush is going to spin it hard tonight during the State of the Union Address. I don’t understand why it is such a big issue for them but I do worry that making the changes he suggests (private accounts) will harm the elderly in the future.

Read “A Question of Numbers” by Roger Lowenstein in the Jan. 16, 2005 New York Times Magazine and check out Paul Krugman’s piece “Many Unhappy Returns” at the Times site. (Thanks Talking Points Memo for the Krugman link.)


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