I had a bad feeling the night before. It wasn’t clairvoyance, insight, or prediction. In another time, it would be misplaced neuroticism. Now, strangely appropriate. A mind-virus, a meme, afflicts vulnerable young males, incubating in near silence like the rabies virus, fulminating to a state of calculated rage.
In Facebook, I wrote,
We begin with reality of the group mind, not as the helpful superintelligence of (Wikipedia) collective consciousness, but of the atavistic human, the crowd run amok, the groupthink of hatred, of awakening the Beast in Five Million Years to Earth.…Facebook is a distributed computing entity with biologic and nonbiologic elements.
Facebook is a cyborg. Long anticipated by science fiction, the dystopian future has arrived. Scores of movies had us choking on popcorn. Now that the rising waters of a dystopian future are soaking the carpet, our responses are loudly indignant, ineffectual, and trivial in comparison with the threat.
There is the mistaken confidence that as sentient, living beings, we cannot be seriously challenged by social media, “computer programs”, AI or otherwise, or combinations of ourselves with such entities. Crucially, we assume democracy will continue to thrive.
Though “mind virus” may seem a literary trope, Audrey Hale, murderer, was infected by such a virus. His access to guns enabled the deed, but the idea of murder with a gun was the proximal cause. This mind virus hijacked his free will, and disarmed his antibodies of social conscience. The disease vector, the entity which transmitted the virus to a new host, was social media.
The mind virus challenges the uniqueness of a package of DNA or RNA which infects cells of a carbon based life form with malicious instructions. The definition of life itself expands. Quoting (Wikipedia) Life,
Alternative definitions based on the notion of life as a phenomenon and a living individual have been proposed as continuum of a self-maintainable information, and a distinct element of this continuum, respectively. A major strength of this approach is that it defines life in terms of mathematics and physics, avoiding biological vocabulary…
This is also a description of immaterial life. Computer viruses approach life as closely as nucleic acid viruses, which is to say, not quite. Both require physical systems to infect; living organisms or machines. The next morph is an immaterial virus that infects a victim verging on immateriality: the mind.
Though Audrey Hale was under the care of mental health professionals, mind viruses are resistant to treatment. Malaria and yellow fever are hard to treat; eradication of the disease vectors — mosquitoes, is paramount. A crucial difference with social media: No one advocates for mosquitoes.
Responses to mass shootings deplore the events, while failing to acknowledge the interconnections between events. “This has to stop” sounds like an argument; there is no arguing with a virus. Statisticians will discover that in the overwhelming majority of shootings, mass media is accessory to the crime. In the minority which are not, indirect connection is likely. No one schemes in a vacuum. Social media is killing people.
Unlike the nearly impossible eradication of mosquitoes, the social media disease vector can be mitigated by statute. Political will is absent. A very old saying predicts a dire future:
A house divided against itself cannot stand.