An antimeme is an idea with self-censoring properties.*

As we all know, a meme is an idea with self-replicating properties. There is some aspect to the idea, an attribute or chromosome or hook which causes people who have the idea to spread it to other people. Almost by definition, every religion and every political movement and every philosophy has such a hook, as does every scientific truth, joke, urban legend and factoid.

You don't have to believe an idea to spread it. A bad idea can be a meme and you can spread the idea to other people just because you want them to know it's such a bad idea. You can even spread the idea by complaining about it.

And a meme doesn't have to be universally contagious to be a meme. Some people are more susceptible than others to any given contagious concept. A meme doesn't even have to affect a majority of people. Any idea that can be (1) held in a human head and then (2) spread to another human head is a meme to some extent. It is just a matter of strength.

In the same way, an antimeme is an idea with some attribute which prevents people from spreading it. Such as being:

  • Difficult to remember correctly.

    • Too long to remember in full. Tax law, deep philosophy, vast lists of numbers. Smaller parts of the whole may be stronger memes, of course.
    • Too complicated. The quadratic formula. Pointer arithmetic.
    • Too boring to pay attention to. Dates of ancient kings.
    • Counterintuitive. Quantum physics is a great example because of all the books which purport to, and try to, and fail to, explain quantum physics "layman's terms". Even if explained correctly, many people fail to understand it. But more frequently what is explained is a bad analogy or an outright lie.
    • Usually supplanted by a superior, mutually exclusive meme. Or, to put it another way, frequently misunderstood. Every common misconception has an underlying antimeme. For example, "Glass is a liquid" is a meme, one which effectively replaces the truth of the matter, "glass is a solid".
    • Not meaningful. I.e., nonsense. For example, aself8ow4ynr9p2348ylrfukhsdf. Nonsense is by far the largest class of antimeme, although it's debatable whether something meaningless counts as an "idea" per se.
  • Difficult to spread accurately. Even once you've got an idea locked into your head, it may be difficult to explain clearly to other people without distortion. See all of the ideas above.

  • Undesirable to share.

    • Dangerous. Nuclear launch codes, passwords, identities.
    • Secret. Surprise birthday parties.
    • Embarrassing. You did what on the stag night?
    • Taboo. Menstruation. Masturbation. His real father.
    • Offensive. What you really think about black people.
    • Illegal. The drug problem you have.
    • Legal, but illegal to spread. This category includes superinjunctions. Except when they don't work.

Antimemes, like memes, are subjective. Some people are worse at remembering things than others. Some people are better at keeping secrets. Some people are more easily cowed by legal threats. It is still a matter of susceptibility.

Memes and antimemes therefore effectively form opposite ends of a spectrum of ideas, arranged in order of contagiousness. The mathematics of viral infection patterns and population susceptibility can be applied to them. Memes are "dangerous". They can take off and become epidemic, or "go viral" as we say these days. Antimemes do not. Once an outbreak occurs, it disappears, wiped out, suppressed by herd immunity.


Appearing to be memetic or antimemetic has an effect on how contagious an idea is.

  • Obviously-being-a-meme can be a memetic property. For example, if a million people are into something, you want to be into it too. You want to fit in, or see what the fuss is about. This is herd mentality.

  • Obviously-being-a-meme can also be an antimemetic property. If a million people are into something, it is too popular and that makes you stay away from it. You've seen it in a million places, and you don't want to put it in a million-and-first place because that would look unimaginative or lame or slow off the mark. This is the hipster mentality.

  • Obviously-being-an-antimeme can be an antimemetic property. If everybody in the world looks at you strangely when you profess your love for X? It is probably because X is rarely spoken about for some reason. After a little ostracism, you shut up about it and start displaying the same pattern. Or if people get locked up for hate speech, maybe you'll stop preaching the same.

  • And finally and most powerfully (and most relevantly in the case of superinjunctions), obviously-being-an-antimeme can be a memetic property. This thing is offensive? Then broadcast it loudly and you will get a reaction. (Hence, punk.) Everybody is telling you not to spread something? Then you automatically want to spread it. Even more than you would ordinarily, just because. This is called the Barbara Streisand effect.

A critical point: whether something appears to be a meme or antimeme has no bearing on whether it is a meme or antimeme. "The Secret Truth They Don't Want You To Know!" is not, in fact, a secret. Or, indeed, the truth.

Perfect memes

Every idea in all of human creation has been had by somebody, and has therefore been spread by somebody, and therefore has some nonzero degree of memeticity. It must drop onto the graph somewhere, because ideas which cannot spread cannot spread. But the perfect meme is an idea which nobody can ignore. Once exposed to it, everybody keeps it.

There's no such thing. The concept of language itself is the most perfect meme that I am aware of, because every human picks it up, but that's about it. Everything else, no matter how important, can ultimately be ignored.

Human intellect is finite, however, and ideas are infinite. Perfect antimemes are real. Or at least, you can't prove they don't exist. The perfect antimemes are the ideas that are so large or complex or alien or grotesque or horrific that nobody can have them. Or they are ideas which are too large to keep in one's head for more than a moment, or to write down or to pass on.

* A meme designed specifically to defeat another meme is a countermeme.

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