The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

A parable is a succinct story, in prose or verse, which illustrates one or more instructive principles, or lessons, or (sometimes) a normative principle. It differs from a fable in that fables use animals, plants, inanimate objects, and forces of nature as characters, while parables generally feature human characters. It is a type of analogy. Wikipedia)

Is this a parable or a fable? With Walt Disney’s wonderfully anthropomorphic Mickey Mouse, I think you could argue this one either way. In any event, it certainly illustrates one or more instructive principles, or lessons, or (sometimes) a normative principle.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, like The Emperor’s New Clothes, The Three Little Pigs, and the Wise Men and the Elephant have valuable lessons for us. This one demonstrates quite clearly what happens when something “goes viral”, when there is a”cascade” of accidents or   disasters, when our curiosity or ambition races ahead of our understanding of how to control a new technology and use it safely.

Wiktionary states that:

The adjective or adverb viral and the noun virality may refer to any viral phenomenon, that is, an object or pattern that is able to induce some agents to replicate it, resulting in many copies being produced and spread around. For example, virality relating to social, cultural, emotional and affective contagions that spread through sociotechnical networks.

In medical terminology “viral” means pertaining to a virus.

More specifically, the terms may be used in reference to:

Perhaps my concern about tainted beef products means that I am responding to more than one type of virus, as seen in the list above.

As the winter season approaches, we take vigilant action to prevent the accidental spread or infection of cold and flu viruses.Not entirely, but for the most part these initiatives are successful.

We may not hear about tainted products in our food supply until after we have purchased or even used them. Be careful with refrigeration, cooking, and kitchen hygiene, but know that there are no 100% guarantees.

I protect my computer as well as I can. So far, so good!

A meme  is “an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.”A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other imitable phenomena. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate and respond to selective pressures.  (Wikipedia)

I trust my common sense, intelligence, education, innate skepticism, and attempts to value and use rational thinking … all of these … to protect me against”viral” memes. I think that viral memes have the potential to be especially dangerous.

Isn’t this what we used to call common sense, or a fad, or popular opinion, or the general idea. Isn’t this a part of peer pressure, and of our desire either to conform or resist. What is an “urban legend”, or a stereotype, or a prejudice, if not a viral meme?

How much of my thinking is influenced or controlled by “viral memes” circulated by advertisers and the media to direct me in one direction or another? Is it possible to think truly for myself in this time of media saturation and media manipulation.

Is the term “viral meme” just a more sophisticated way of describing what has always influenced thought and behaviour, but more insidious because of the way it can now spread so quickly, more subtle than even subliminal advertising images, and more powerful than overt proselytising and evangelism?

Cui bono?

Caveat emptor!

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