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The War on Terror pits the large conventional units of the U.S. against small, agile, and adaptable enemies around the world. The post modern world of warfare is characterized by a threat which can raise funds within the boundaries of the country it wishes to attack, train and acquire equipment within those same boundaries, and then ultimately execute its mission.
The response of the U.S. to this unprecedented challenge is embodied in the 2006 revision of FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency. This counterinsurgency (COIN) manual is a significant improvement over its predecessors. It recognizes how non-military aspects of the environment bear significantly on shaping insurgency and fueling terrorist movements. It devotes significant attention to recognizing these factors, and provides frameworks for analyzing and addressing them. Two such frameworks are ASCOPE (areas, structures, capabilities, organizations, people, and events) and PMESII-PT (political, military, economic, social, information, infrastructure, physical environment, time).
While the revision of FM 3-24 is a significant improvement over its predecessors, it does have short-comings. As insurgent movements continue to evolve, the most successful operate in complex urban terrain, receive indirect support from criminal activities and external agencies which reduces their need for popular support, and have an ideological appeal grounded in religious fundamentalism. The new manual devotes only a single paragraph to this environmental change indicating that urban insurgencies are "difficult to counter" because they require little or no popular support. (1) Even more significantly, the doctrine of breaking up the rich tapestry of a society into bite size pieces is an attempt to apply a reductionist mindset to a complex adaptive system. The predicable end result is that the symptoms of the insurgency are treated in the hopes that the insurgency will go away, while the actual root causes-pathogenic memes, or viruses of the mind-are never addressed. This leaves open the possibility that in time, the insurgency will reconstitute itself, requiring the U.S. to intervene once more at the cost of additional lives and other resources.
This article will explore how an emerging subfield of psychology known as memetics can be used to identify and target the specific root causes of insurgency and other challenging social problems such as youth gang violence, the welfare cycle, or the deterioration of the public school system. (2) Finally a practical model for constructing and propagating benevolent memes in theatre, at the brigade level, will be presented.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines a meme as "an element of culture that may be considered to be passed on by non-genetic means, especially imitation." In his landmark book, The Selfish Gene, author Richard Dawkins coined the word meme to describe cultural replicators which spread through the social body akin to how genes spread through the biological body.3 Memes form the invisible but very real DNA of human society. A meme is essentially an idea, but not every idea is a meme. In order for an idea to become a meme it must be passed on--or replicated to another individual. Much like a virus moves from body to body, memes move from mind to …