Bemeficent Society Chpt 1 (rev)

June 10, 2015

GETTING SET UP

 Our temporary chairman, Darren M., called the meeting to order, welcomed our visitors, and urged their participation in our new Society. (Note; given the understandable hesitancy that many had expressed regarding their association with the organization, it was agreed that only first names were to be recorded in our materials.) Darren  thanked our kind host for the use of the hall and, in passing, took note of the open bar he had thoughtfully made available.

An election for president was held and won by Silvia S. who pledged to merit the members’ confidence by doing everything she could to get the organization up and running.  As her first official act, she  paid tribute to our stalwart “gang of five”—as our founders had become jocularly known.  Silvia then proposed that, for the sake of tradition, we adhere to the founders’ practice of meeting monthly on the second Wednesday of the month.  Her motion was seconded and promptly agreed to.

Next on the agenda was the determination of a name for our new organization.  In the foregoing discussion, the word “memes” came up in connection with the kind of ideas the Society planned to explore—that is to say, the societal ideas passed down from one generation to the next.  Pallavi E.’s contribution of the dictionary definition—i.e., “the cultural counterpart of genes,”—helped illuminate the term’s applicability to our cause.  At that point, Dierdre T. offered an example she thought might be helpful for those still uncertain of the Society’s objective:

Mankind, she said, evolved in tightknit, family groupings within which cooperative behavior was the order of the day.  Outside the family groupings, however, it was a different story;  there savagery toward strangers ruled.  It’s easy to imagine, then, that trouble would have arisen when hunters and gatherers began to migrate into agricultural communities taking their inbred hostility to outsiders with them.  If these new farmers were to coexist peaceably among themselves, it was essential that their unruly dispositions be kept at bay.  And what better way of doing so than inventing spiritual beings who reputedly would reward good social behavior and punish bad, twenty-four-hours-a-days-seven-days-a-week without asking a penny of pay?  Thus it was that mankind’s emotional makeup, over the ensuing millennia, came to embrace religion.  The critical support this adaptation furnished is attested to by the fact that no human cultures survived into the modern era without a strongly held system of beliefs.  Put another way, it seems unlikely that the human species could have advanced beyond the hunter-gatherer stage had it not been for its adaptation of religion.  Little wonder then that this deeply-rooted meme has held onto its grip of the human spirit despite today’s drastically changed circumstances.  Dierdre said she looked forward to the Society’s appraisal of this now controversial, but still powerful, meme.

Timur’s interest in the Society rested on what he regarded as an more urgent matter.  He pointed out that the hunter-gatherers’ hostility to outsiders did not disappear with the advent of religion.  Rather, goaded on by callous, self-centered leaders, it sublimated  into the pernicious meme that haunts us today, war.  Whereas leaders throughout the world profess to deplore the very idea of war, they nevertheless devote prodigious efforts on military preparations and that these, without a doubt, present an existential threat to civilization itself.  Timur said he dearly hoped the Society would address what he called the dreaded “Mars Meme.”

Silvia S. thanked Dierdre and Timur for their comments.   Their examples, she pointed out, were just two cases of a large category of memes that were, for the most part, insulated from criticism despite the threat—not to say the possible mortal danger—they posed to mankind.  She contrasted this inattention with the tendency of the media to artificially arouse excitement over the issues of the day.  Nor were public officials of any help in this regard.  As far as they were concerned, hazardous memes represented the third rail of public opinion and, on that account, were best left untouched.  And where one might expect to hear independent viewpoints in academia and literary circles, only occasional protests were heard and these muffled by political correctness.

Thanks to its distorted viewpoint, society rendered its judgment of issues on the basis of public opinion as if were the last word on the subject—no one bothering to inquire as to what  really was the last word and what dictated it.  Never questioning how the public arrived at its opinion?  Never noticing the power behind the throne.  Maybe, Silvia lamented, if the expression were changed from ‘public opinion’ to ‘meme opinion’ more issues would be resolved sensibly.  Putting an end to these observations, she quipped, with a smile, the Society had its work cut out for it.”

With that, Silvia resumed her conduct of the Society’s affairs.  With everyone now comfortable with the term, “meme,” the decision was made to incorporate it in the society’s name.  And from that decision, the phrase, “Better Memes for Tomorrow” evolved to sum up the organization’s purpose as directly and succinctly as possible.  It’s acronym, the “BeMeFicenT Society” suggested by Harold B., was agreed to by a show of hands.

The Society next took up the formulating a mission statement.  The chief contributors to the discussion that followed were our founding members who briefly sketched how they decided to start the group to begin with.  Sean acted as their spokesman.

“As a professor at a public university, I feel nothing but repugnance toward the politically correct attitude that permeates campus life.  But, thanks in large part to my contact with friends at our monthly luncheons, I grew to see political correctness as but a manifestation of a larger, more insidious, more pervasive evil in our intellectually-repressive society.  Whether in academia, the media, government, the literary field, the cultural arts, or, for that matter, corporate boardrooms, no one dare utter an independent thought or even venture outside the zone of accepted wisdom, lest he be pounced upon by some lurking, ghoul-like meme.

It gives me great pleasure, then, to be associated with an organization devoted to stamping out this evil and making the world safe for ideas.”

With these inspiring words in mind, the Society members crafted the following:

It is the opinion of the Bemeficent Society that the populations of the world have inherited an assortment of memes—some inordinately beneficial, and others clearly disruptive of our ambitions.  The former need only mankind’s inherent self-organizational principles to enjoy unhindered growth.  On the other hand, the latter, even in their most innocuous form, distort our priorities and, at their worst, create a deadly mix of ancient animosities with modern weaponry.  The Society is committed to exposing these bad memes and recommending new ideas to replace them.

The mission statement was seconded by Urlich and passed by a unanimous vote.

Now that she had these requisites of official business out of the way, Silvia felt we deserved a coffee break after which she called on Martin.

 FORMING A GENERAL STRATEGY

 Martin began as the cool, soft-spoken engineer we had come to know, but, as he went on, his delivery grew more emphatic seldom missing an excuse to employ his arms and hands to reinforce a point.

“The last few weeks, our luncheon group and Darren have been trying to formulate an approach that would enable the proposed Society to meet its coming challenge.  To tell you the truth, the problem, at first, seemed insurmountable.  Bad memes were too prevalent, too widely disbursed, and too deeply embedded in the public psyche for the Society’s limited resources to cope with.  As Todd put it, the effort seemed comparable to trying to fight off swarms of mosquitoes in the black of night.  The Society might be able to vanquish a number of particularly vulnerable memes, but what lasting good would it do?  There were always enough special interests on hand to resurrect the status quo.  Let us say, for example, we produced a detailed, 500-page report on reforming the U.S. Post Office.  Chances are that, before it saw the light of day, it would be trashed on the whim of some White House flunkey.

“Such thoughts led us to the conclusion that if we were to have any impact at all, we had to go after the institutions in which ultimate authority lay.  Moreover it was at this level where the bulk of bad memes congregated thanks to a symbiotic relationship between the two.  Bad memes gain respectability from institutions and institutions benefit from the memes’ ability to rationalize their failings.  It made sense, therefore, for us to go after the unholy bastions of power.  Owen noted that our decision could be corroborated—if not necessarily autheticated—by quoting the noted philosopher “Slick” Willie Sutton who robbed banks because that’s where the money was.  Just as clearly, institutions was where the bad memes were.

“If any doubts lingered as to the wisdom of attacking institutionalized bad memes, the ancient Hindus hit the nail on the head when they reasoned that the earth rested on the back of a huge tortoise.  Nevermind that in the following millennia, the tortoise’s torso was squashed flat by the weight of mankind’s fervid productivity; its legs valorously continued to prop up the world and, in time, were transmuted into the institutions of economics, sociology, political science, and religion.

“Silvia, the meeting is yours.  Tell these good people about your plans for the Society.”

 THE ACTION PLAN

 “Thank you, Martin.  I’m happy to do so,” said Silvia.  “First, can I see a show of hands in favor of Martin’s strategy of addressing the bad memes associated with our institutions?…Good!  Everyone’s aboard.  Then let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.

“Here’s what we’ve come up with.  First, we break the Society’s membership up into five committees: four, for the purpose of reshaping our institutions and a fifth to assist the other four’s research and coordination.  So here’s what I’d like everyone to do.  When the meeting adjourns, there will be tables set up for you to volunteer on the committee you’d prefer to be associated with.

“Bear in mind, joining a committee need not entail a commitment of time or effort on your part.  That will be entirely up to you as time goes on.  We do, however, want to get everyone affiliated with one committee or another.  There are thirty of us, so to even things out, please be flexible enough to make sure that every committee ends up with six members—the size working groups experts say tend to be the most efficient.  We can always do a little shuffling later on to keep everybody happy.  All right?

“Darren has told me that our five founding members were a pleasure to work with in setting up this first meeting.  It seemed to him, they had all the qualifications we would want for our committee chairmanships.  I haven’t had as much contact with them as he has, but its been enough for me to be impressed as well.  So it gives me great pleasure to announce the appoointment of Sean to the economic committee: Todd, to the sociology committee; Martin, to the political committee; Owen, to the religion committee; and Angela to head up research and coordination.  I know you’ll find them as agreeable to work with as Darren and I have.

“Please give them a hand…”

“Good.  Our plans are to allot the next six months for the committees to put together their recommendations.  Naturally, the Society could not expect them to prepare exhaustive studies of the institutions being investigated.  Six month’s time is not long enough for  any group, no matter what its size, to get its arms around these sprawling entities.  A lifetime might not be long enough for all I know.  But, hopefully, our committee’s reports will put to rest enough bad memes to shake the institutions up a bit and start them down the road of reform.

“While awaiting the committee’s reports, the Society’s next six monthly meetings will be largely unstructured.  I’m sure the committees will find ways to use the time constructively.   At the conclusion of this period, each of the following four general meetings will be turned over to one of the committees.  First, the economic committee will present the results of its study.  Next will come the social committee, then the political committee, and finally the religion committee’s report will wind up the series.

“I hope you’ll enjoy the experience of taking part in what I expect will be a meaningful exercise.  It might not save the world, but, who knows, perhaps it will inch it ahead a bit.  At any rate, it seems worth trying.

“I’ve asked Angela to add a few inspirational words and then we’ll let  you go.”

 AFTERWORDS

“And our thanks to you, Silvia, for getting us off to a great start,” said Angela.  “I’m as caught up in the excitement and novelty of launching a new organization as you people, but,” said Angela, ” I must confess I’m a little apprehensive as well.  So I thought it might be a good idea to step back a bit and try to take a realistic look at our endeavors in the overall scheme of things.

“The first thing that comes to mind is, ‘boy, do we have any idea of what in the hell we’re letting ourselves in for?  We’re picking a fight not just with anybody—which in itself is not a good idea to begin with—but with the colossi of the world.  We’re convinced, of course, that our efforts are well meant, but it is unlikely the institutions will agree.  Why should they be concerned if the pillars of their counting houses are encrusted with bad memes?  It emphasizes their traditions, their respectability, their very legitimacy.  So what do you think their reaction will be when we show up with scrub brushes, ladders, and buckets of meme removal?

“They’ll fight us tooth and nail, that’.  I can picture them calling the cops, furiously stacking up money-bag barricades,  summoning special interest auxiliaries, and activating every trick—fair or foul—at their disposal.  In short, we will be outspent, out numbered, out maneuvered, and out gunned.  The bottom line, my friends, is be prepared for a fight.  A tough fight, you may be sure.  But it will be a fight we will win.

“We will win because we will have an ally bigger than the institutions put together.  An ally who is no more happy with the status quo than we are.  An ally with whom we are bonded together by common principles and aspirations.  I am speaking, of course, of divine, invincible nature.  I call her ‘Gad.’

In our victory, Gad will restore to us what the institutions have prevented  us from enjoying.  As one of nature’s authentic biological systems, don’t we deserve to function organically as much as do colonies of bees, flocks of birds, and schools of fish?  You bet we do.  It’s our Gad-given right!”

 

Angela stepped down and Silvia took her place.  “We’ve got the Bemeficent Society underway and given it its marching orders.  That’s a good session’s work,” she said.  Thank  you, my friends, and good night.”

 

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