The “viral model” of how memes/ideas spread is half the picture. The other half is always missed by clever people precisely because they’re clever. So here’s the clue: there is a LOT less going on inside most people’s heads than intelligent people imagine. So if we look at which memes & ideas spread the most, we are highly likely to discover that they all share similar characteristics. They are simple, because simple minds can’t grasp complex ideas. They are expressed simply, because simple minds don’t have extensive lexicons and sophisticated concepts to which reference can be made. And they are repeated, so even the slowest can eventually master them and repeat them faithfully.

“Lock her up!”

“Build the wall!”

“Make America Great Again!”


“Brexit means Brexit!”

“Take back control!”


And for all times and purposes, our classic “Enemy of the People!”

See? These are all simplistic sound-bites that even the most intellectually challenged can absorb. Furthermore they all have emotional resonance. They require no conscious thought, no complex cogitation.

If we add this understanding to the viral propagation model, it’s likely we can begin mathematically to predict and model the spread of various types of rabble-rousing nonsense, as well as the usual human enthusiasms and panics. A great place to start is with the output of Russian troll factories, because they’ve been pumping this stuff out for years now. Their hit rate is low (around one in every 50 memes) but they’ve unintentionally provided a comprehensive data set to which analytical techniques can be applied.

Anyone who enjoys my articles here on Medium may be interested in my books Why Democracy Failed and The Praying Ape, both available from Amazon.

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