Monday, April 18, 2011

Memetics and the Thinking Horseman


It makes us dress like this

M
emetics:  The study of thought contagion

Years ago, Richard Dawkins wrote a treatise (The Selfish Gene) based on Daniel Dennett’s theory of thought as a living thing that could be transmitted from mind to mind without the active participation of the thinkers involved.  Like a virus, the theory states, thoughts can migrate and become a social force that requires the creation of additional “memes” (units of contagious thought) to destroy or derail or disenfranchise.  Many, many books and articles on the subject are available, so feel free to chase this philosophy until it’s fully fleshed out in your mind.  This site is a good starting place.  

What does this have to do with you and your horse life?  Pretty much everything.  Breathes there a horse owner with soul so strong that never has been dragged along by a viral thought?  

Do you subscribe to the idea that you, as owner, are also herd leader?  That’s a meme created by one of the many Famous Trainers that have touched your brain (and possibly your wallet) with sets of instructions, and I bet you don’t remember which or when.

Do you stand at the rail at a show (or planted safely on the sofa in front of the TV) and opine on the style and ability of the riders as they sweat past?  Where did you get the information you’re using?  Has George Morris crept silently into your belief system until anyone not wearing full-dress English suitage is somehow automatically unacceptable to you?  Have you ridden with a trainer (or would-be, fake-trainer-know-it-all at your boarding barn) who has repeated some mantra that had embedded itself in your reality?  Is it really wrong in some elemental way for the rider in question to be humming the theme from Star Trek as she rides by?  

Are you someone who changes feeds/saddles/boots/styles/management techniques/catch phrases based on actual research gleaned from reputable sources, or do you find yourself subject to sudden urges—fugue states during which you are incapable of using your own brain—to make changes?  Do the urges keep you awake at night until you fulfill them?

Do you believe that you “can’t be too thin or own too many silk blouses”?

Okay, that last one is actually true, but that’s all memetics in action.  If your preference for a particular horse breed or discipline can be traced to a friend or a local organization or an ad in a magazine, or a TV commercial that includes the words “Now I’m on a horse”, then someone else inhabits your brain, right there alongside your mother and the teacher who told you you’d never be fully functional as a human if you didn’t learn to love Shakespeare.  That someone is contagious, so you’ll need to isolate the infection and hurry and find a cure before you pass the disease on to someone else.

Where this is leading in the horse world is through another door to unhappiness.  Sure, many memes are what might be considered “Good Infections” by their originators.  In the Old Days, Mom exposed me to my brother at the height of his chicken poxiness in hope that I’d catch it and become immune.  That was standard practice before pox vaccinations became commonplace.  If you drag the worst horse-keeper you know to an event like Equine Affaire so that perhaps s/he will pick up something in the way of common sense to apply later, you are consciously spreading what you consider a positive infestation.  A “Good Infection”.  A positive meme.

How sure are you?

How sure are you that your chosen infection is a good one?  Have all of your friends become bored with your endless paean to your Chosen Breed?  Are you one of those people who can name your favorite saddle maker and do so whether or not anyone has asked (like muttering down the aisle at Wal Mart)?  Are you sure what you know is a real rule and not just something you picked up and couldn’t put down?

Unhappy owners make unhappy horses and vice-versa.  Bad information makes unhappy owners and unhappy horses.  Ergo and ipso facto, you are not helping the situation if you are passing bad vibes through the neurotic network.  Meme-based eating disorders have nothing on meme-based horse-owner craziness, I assure you. 

Here’s a meme that I’m going to attempt to infect you with:  It is best to preface every unsubstantiated horse-related statement you make for the next week with, “I don’t know where I heard this, but…” and answer at least half of the questions you’re asked with “I have no idea”.  You will become the sanest horse owner in your coffee klatch.   Trust me.  I’m the Meme Queen, and I wouldn’t lie to you.

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