Defining “Antimeme”

An an­timeme is a meme with the fol­low­ing three char­ac­ter­is­tics:

  • Learn­ing it threat­ens the egos and iden­tities of ad­her­ants to the main­stream of a cul­ture[1].

  • Learn­ing the meme ren­ders main­stream knowl­edge in the field unim­por­tant by broad­en­ing the prob­lem space of a knowl­edge do­main, usu­ally by in­creas­ing the di­men­sion­al­ity.

  • Main­stream wis­dom con­sid­ers de­tailed knowl­edge of the an­timeme ir­rele­vant, unim­por­tant or low pri­or­ity. Main­stream cul­ture may just ig­nore the an­timeme al­to­gether in­stead.

I call these “an­timemes” be­cause they ex­hibit be­hav­ior op­po­site that of reg­u­lar memes. The typ­i­cal re­sponse to en­coun­ter­ing a reg­u­lar meme is to as­sign a truth value to it via ra­tio­nal­ity. The typ­i­cal re­sponse to en­coun­ter­ing an an­timeme is to ig­nore it as unim­por­tant with­out as­sign­ing a truth value to it via reation­al­ity.

This is bad be­cause an an­timeme is usu­ally a more gen­eral[2] re­place­ment that ought to sub­sume a thriv­ing, more spe­cific meme. This kind of meme-an­timeme pair is differ­ent from a sym­biotic war. A sym­biotic war half-meme en­courages you at­tack its par­ity in­verse as “wrong”. The meme in a meme-an­timeme pair nudges you to dis­miss its an­timeme as “unim­por­tant” or in­visi­bly ig­nore it al­to­gether.

Here are some ex­am­ple an­timemes that best illus­trate this definition

An­timeme Meme
Lisp[3] ob­ject-ori­ented pro­gram­ming, de­sign pat­terns and heavy­weight in­te­grated de­vel­op­ment en­vi­ron­ments
Chi­nese his­tory con­ven­tional Western his­tory
stream en­try the self

An­timemes are of­ten a cul­ture-spe­cific phe­nomenon[4]. Differ­ent cul­tures have differ­ent an­timemes. Chi­nese his­tory, for ex­am­ple, is not an an­timeme in China. Hy is not an an­timeme in Clo­jure user groups.

An­timemes usu­ally have small fol­low­ings. For ex­am­ple, there is a strong, se­ri­ous com­mu­nity of peo­ple pur­su­ing stream en­try in its var­i­ous man­i­fes­ta­tions. In my ex­pe­rience, this rep­re­sents a tiny frac­tion of to­tal med­i­ta­tors and pub­lished me­dia. This is one case of how an­timemes get lit­tle at­ten­tion from main­stream me­dia, stan­dard­ized ed­u­ca­tion and au­thor­ity figures.

An­timemet­ics is the art of prospect­ing for an­timemes and then not pa­per­ing over them.


  1. I’m de­liber­ately us­ing the word “cul­ture” broadly here. It can re­fer to any­thing from civ­i­liza­tions to sub­cul­tures. ↩︎

  2. For ex­am­ple, a China-cen­tric his­tory of the world is one where pop­u­la­tion den­si­ties de­ter­mine the im­por­tance of a re­gion. This as­sump­tion is ap­pli­ca­ble to any peo­ple in any so­ciety in any time pe­riod. This Europe-cen­tric his­tory bases im­por­tance around late sec­ond mil­len­nium power pro­jec­tion be­fore the rise of Ja­pan. This model breaks down when ap­plied to the Amer­i­cas be­fore Colum­bus. ↩︎

  3. I’m us­ing the word “Lisp” as short­hand for the prac­ti­cal di­alects of Lisp. Namely, di­alects like Hy, Clo­jure and Clo­jureScript that have ac­cess to large stan­dard libraries. ↩︎

  4. Edited from “An­timemes are a cul­ture-spe­cific phe­nomenon” to “An­timemes are of­ten a cul­ture-spe­cific phe­nomenon”. ↩︎