There is a strange human fascination with the idea of being “turned into” something else, or being “cured” of something. It’s like there is some quality, like gender, that is somehow a) binary, and b) able to be changed, even if only by God or other such metaphysical power.

I was at a recent 2x20 talk[1] and one of the presenters enacted a Nez Perce creation story in which a coyote meets a buffalo bull and asks him to make coyote “like him.” The buffalo eventually agrees and tosses coyote into the air, and when he comes back down to earth he is also a buffalo bull. Later, the new buffalo bull meets another coyote who in turn asks to be made like the buffalo bull. The buffalo obliges, but when he tosses the second coyote into the air, he does not change, and the buffalo changes back into a coyote. Laughing, the second coyote calls the first a faker, and they both run off together.

The reference “she turned me into a newt” comes from the film Monty Python and The Holy Grail. A young woman has been arrested under suspicion of witchcraft. Sir Belvedere, a knight, played by Terry Gilliam, asks the mob of medieval villagers how they know she’s a witch. John Cleese, playing a villager, calls out, “She turned me into a newt!” Belvedere, incredulous, asks, “A newt?” to which Cleese replies, famously, and apologetically, “I got better.”

What can all this mean?

I suspect, of course, that some sort of memetic explanation is in the offing. It seems to be iconographic in nature. If I say something like somebody got turned into a newt, or think about how it might be neat to be a chick rather than a dude, or that lead could be turned into gold, these are all obviously ridiculous statements, and yet they are all accepted at face value.

We Live in Memeplexes, not in Reality

The problem is that people don’t think. They have simple ideas of what things are, or at least as simple as can be, which is most cases is pretty simple. It’s not so much that people get all shocked by things like being told that there are really six genders, not two, but that they didn’t really have any “construction theory” for how there were two genders in the first place, hence, there is no way for them to just add more.

Yes, yes, supermemeplexes are conservative systems, but that’s maybe not the right tack for this issue.

People in Glass MIAOplexes

Two genders, or newt-ness and non-newt-ness, are both sets of MIAOs. As such, as we know from MIAOs, they are highly iconic, and also have an enormous number of memes attached to them, indeed, MIAOs and MIAOplexes are the foundation for most supermemeplexes.

This is problematic on a number of levels.

First, it’s far easier to talk about changing into another gender, or into an animal, or into a pillar of salt or gold than it is to contemplate adding another gender, or splitting one. Why? Because then we don’t know which of our familiar memes need to be attached to which old MIAOs, or to new MIAO. We’re creating new MIAOs and elevating them to the status of time-honored old MIAOs.

From a memetic standpoint, male and female may be more about one going to war and working and the other caring for children and keeping house, and one picking the other one up in bars than it is about the real difference, i.e., that one actually has children and the other doesn’t, and really nothing else. Aside from that, either gender can do any and all of the other things, but not in the world of supermemeplexes. The first wave of the women’s movement in the USA probably had much more trouble, and a more frustrating time winning support, than the transgender rights movement is having now. In memetic terms, it was terribly upsetting for the “female” MIAO to change, to be detached from some memes and attached to some new ones. Even more upsetting perhaps, was that the “male” MIAO undergo similar transformations[2]. Even women switching to short hair has caused a huge uproar.

This may shed some light on why even highly respected journalists[3] interview transgender folks and ask them in gruesome detail what their genitalia look like. That’s the most important thing, apparently. We have to assign someone to one MIAO or the other. Similarly, gay people[4] find themselves grilled about the details of their sexual practices.

Summary and Conclusions

The idea that we can accept the idea of “turns into,” even as a joke, is very odd indeed. It suggests that we have a MIAO inventory, an inventory of icons, that we may freely pick from, and that takes precedence over any knowledge or experience we have as to how ridiculous these things are. We find ourselves delving very deeply into what it means for lead to be lead and gold to be gold, and how far down the rabbit hole you have to go before male and female start to get close to being the same thing to convince ourselves it’s impossible.

So where does that leave us?

Trying to mess with the existing MIAOs head-on, or to carelessly create new ones to go alongside (or replace) the old ones, may be a fool’s errand. This is the new discovery here, and it raises more questions — changing MIAOs is disturbing. Why? Because there is a lot of stuff attached to them, and they relate to other MIAOs. But why is it upsetting? Because memetic agents (two-leggers) see it as the potential loss of the set of memes, which they have learned, and for which they can garner rewards by enacting.

This of course dovetails right into the problem of removing racism[5]. It’s not so much that people are evil racists[6] and cling to their horrible ideas out of sheer evilness, but that they have learned a large inventory of racist memes, and live in a large cohort, and they fear losing that inventory of connections to their fellows, and there is nothing on offer to replace it.

One problem is that if you don’t memetically engineer things beforehand, you are “speaking the language of the oppressor,” i.e., talking to him using his own MIAOs and insisting he change them. You don’t want to strengthen and legitimize the old MIAOs by using them combatively with a group that knows them better than you do, and you don’t want the inured opponent to be the one to create the new MIAO, at least not alone.

Plan for where you want to get to. If we want to have six MIAOs for gender instead of two, design them, and then inject them with care into the target cohort. Going in with no plan, no design, is a plan for failure.

[1] In Moscow, Idaho

[2] And this transformation is no doubt still decades behind

[3] Such as Barbara Walters

[4] The very term “heterosexual” was invented so that homosexuals could be put into another box.

[5] disinuring the racism supermemeplex

[6] Well, they kind of are, but that’s beside the point of this argument