31 July, 2010

Fame, Fortune and the Vagaries of Fate

WARNING: Another long one....

I received more comments on my Old School versus New School post than I was first expecting, and the responses from Raven Daegmorgan have really gotten my mind thinking. Have a look at the post and it's comments before reading much further on this one.

To an extent, I agree.

I've often pondered why some people get ahead in life, while others simply struggle away with no recognition at all.

I think the quest for knowledge is a part of human nature (it's certainly a part of my nature), and anything we can't pigeon-hole into our paradigms becomes a mysterious force at work in the universe. Some people use this mysterious force to justify conspiracy theories, some people use it as the foundation of religions, others simply declare the unknown to be a hidden randomness that can never be truly understood.

People are always looking for answers, and devious individuals are always willing to give their interpretations on those answers for a price. Motivational speakers like Anthony Robbins charge a small fortune to impart their keys to success to unwitting dupes who actually believe he might have insights into the fundamental secrets they have yet to learn. Best-selling books like The Secret claim to provide similar keys.

People find it exceedingly hard to admit that there are events beyond their control. If they have money, this is a tangible method of control in a specific economic sense (you can use it to buy things, and to survive...and if you've got enough of it, you can be comfortable), but people are willing to gamble this money on the chance at learning a "secret" that might not actually provide tangible benefits.

Apparently, "The Secret" is simply that like attracts like. It gives heaps of examples about how this works in biological life, social life and other aspects of reality. I've flicked through it in a bookstore. Personally I think it's not true, Opposites attract. On magnets, north poles attract south poles. In chemistry, positive charges attract negative charges. In social circles, bullies are attracted to easy targets. Motivational speakers attract those who need to be motivated. Nature abhors a vacuum and nothingness attracts the presence of something.

If like attracts like it's simply because something different is attracting both of them to a central point.

But how does this help a game achieve success? How does it help a person achieve success?

It doesn't.

Life is more complex than that. Complexity is often designed into mechanisms to overcome randomness, it works as a buffer. But at the simplest state of things, randomness is probably all there is. Whether you choose to believe that this complexity arose through divine intervention, evolution or simple random chance, it's one of the driving forces behind us. Atoms bond into chemicals, which bond into proteins and onward up to cells, animals and us. Instances bond into patterns of thought, which bond into philosophies, religions and sciences.

Do the individual electrons have any choice in how they are swapped between structures as a DNA chain replicates itself?...there is a degree of relation between the two levels of existence, each electron must perform it's ordained duties for the replication process to occur, but the individual electron means very little in the grander picture.

Individual cells can be looked at in the same regard within the animal body. A single cell dies, but the organism remains viable. New cells take over.

It's even been posited that a new stage of existence has formed above us, it first achieved consciousness when we founded our first crude religions (or when we first attained self awareness and formed our first social groups). Like a hive mentality among insects. Each individual becomes subservient to a greater ideal. Proteins become the agents of genes within the pool of existence, and single consciousnesses become the agents of memes within the pool of possibility. Individual consciousness are expendable in the grand scheme of things, as long as the meme survives.

Just as genes combine to form the visible structures of identity within a race or species, memes combine to form visible structures within our society. They combine to form the economic sector, the justice system, the religious orders, the arts and everything that we can't tangibly connect with. Individuals create books and speeches to describe the way they understand these meme structures, but since everyone is imparted with a different set of memes through their parents and upbringings, everyone will connect with different memes and will interpret those books and speeches in different ways.

I don't know if genes and memes are related. Genes are nature, memes seems to be purely nurture. Genes come purely from our parents, memes come from the people who raised us and the situations we have encountered. Through their collection of genes, some people have a predisposition toward certain diseases or ailments, and a resistance to others. Through their collected memes, some people have a predisposition toward certain belief patterns, and a resistance to others.

It makes me think of Raven's recent post Hide it Under a Bushel. Muslim women are indoctrinated through their memes to believe that the hijab is a good thing. For centuries they didn't question it, they hadn't been exposed to opposing memes. Buit now they are being exposed more thoroughly to other cultures, they must consciously choose whether to abandon this aspect of their cultural heritage, or defend it. Their minds fall back on the pattern structures of the other memes they have been brought up with and each individual makes a choice one way or the other.

There is a common thought through Jewish religion that suffering is good. Those who suffer are having their souls tested more thoroughly, and those who suffer the most will be the most ready to enter the kingdom of heaven (this is paraphrasing quite a bit, so don't shoot me too much). Arguably, this could be one of the reasons that stereotypical Jews are always complaining about things...to make it look like they are suffering more than they really are. Regardless of this, it is an ingrained meme in the Jewish culture that they are the ones being constantly tested by the creator, and they are the ones who will reap the greatest rewards when a new age dawns.

Who is to say which is right or which is wrong? Each decision is purely an individual judgement call based on the information available and the ideas that have most successfully linked into solid patterns within the decision-makers mind.

You can provide an individual with new facts, but if those facts don't integrate within the meme structure of the target, they will simply be discarded and forgotten, no matter how much evidence backs them up.

But what does this have to do with success? Or games for that matter?

If a conscious mind is a function of memes, then it's outlook is purely derived from the information is has been provided while developing. A rich kid whose parents spoiled him rotten will develop a very different set of memes to a poor kid who had to work for everything and occasionally had to do without because there simple wasn't enough to go around. The rich kid will probably be a demanding diva, the poor kid will probably be more down-to-earth.

Such memes are passed down through generations just like genes. The children of nobles will be given the teaching of nobles and thus they will think like nobles. The children of peasants won't know any better because their parents have learnt to accept their place and the children are simply told to keep to their station to avoid causing upsets. This is how caste systems maintain stability.

The most successful person for the job isn't the person who has the best genetic capability to fulfil the job. Instead, the most successful person is the one who thinks in a manner similar to those who are already successful. It isn't like attracting like, with both ascending to the top; it's like attracting unlike, with both exploiting the same opportunities.

I saw this when I touched on the corporate world and my memes were reinforced through this.

People who played the finance game were often descended from parents in the finance game, their entire upbringing revolved around meeting other people in the finance game and hearing the dinner conversation with their parents. Financial memes were embedded in their minds. For someone without the financial memes, there would literally be a point where they'd start the game a decade behind everyone else. The new arrival would have to build up the memes from scratch, and probably remove any memes that weren't beneficial to playing in the financial sector.

The same applied to the design department. Those who wanted to get anywhere had to go to the right social functions to establish themselves in the right social circles, they had to attend the right art schools so that their style would match the others already ingrained within the department. It might be possible to bluff someone for a while, but if your memes were attracted to areas different to the people around you....you were considered an oddball and gradually ostracised.

I've got Asperger's Syndrome, I don't understand the nuances of social interaction. But over the years as an outsider, I've learnt to recognise a lot of the patterns involved.

I know my memes are different to a lot of people, and I know that I'll never fit in socially. I can mimic the patterns well enough for a while, but eventually people start to see that I'm mimicking the patterns and this either freaks them out, or they get intrigued and want to learn more.

I've tried to initiate relations with people (work or social) by telling people that I have it, and they treat me like a freak from the beginning. Or I choose not to reveal it to them and play along, but this often leads to suspicion later and resentment that I didn't reveal the truth from the outset. I've lost jobs over it.

The way I now look at it, Asperger's is an inability to accept certain memes in my minds pattern, a resilience to certain memes and a predisposition toward a focused meme set. For me the predisposed meme set seems to be drawing and the nuances of roleplaying. Other memes become obsessions for a while, then fade away.

Because I don't understand social aspects of life at an instinctive level like a lot of other people, it's easy for me to categorise success and failure with social patterns. They are both mysteries to me, so it's easy to say that the two have a chance of sharing a connection.

There might be something to it, maybe you have to know the right people in order to get ahead (that's long been a belief of mine). Maybe it doesn't matter how much work you do, unless you know the right person to give you a head start, you'll never get ahead of the pack. People who are already successful would never admit to this; they want you to think that it was their hard work and perseverance that made them special, or maybe they want you to think that faith in an invisible force will give you the right stuff to succeed. Maybe they honestly believe that they were struggling away and then "their moment came", or maybe they are deliberately trying to hide the truth.

Do I have to personally know Oprah in order to get a million selling book? Where did Oprah get her fame from anyway?

Why does Hollywood keep making the same movies over and over? Is it because the memes in these movies remain consistently linked to those of the studio executives, while new scripts are a bit too different and they just don't want to take a risk?

Why do millionaires get to declare bankruptcy only to rise from the ashes again a decade later? Is it the fact that they are absolute arseholes who know how to work the system? Do they simply share memes with other millionaires and by virtue of continuing to move in the same circles they are welcomed back into the fold with open arms while others desperately struggle week-in/week-out?

Why are some people famous while the majority of us wallow in obscurity? There are performers and actresses with more talent in their little finger than Paris Hilton has in her entire body...but they'll never get anywhere while she has the virtue of fortunate birth and the diva attitude of a rich kid to get what she wants.

Is there any point thinking about this stuff? Does it make a difference? Do I simply choose to struggle onward knowing that my memes are firmly established in my mind, and the chances of success are purely arbitrary anyway?

These are the things I think about. These are the things that get me depressed.
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