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Terrorism and branding

Terrorism and branding

On the day that I was about to get the last pages of Brandlife edited, Friday, November 13th, 2015, a couple of terrorists took 129 lives in 6 simultaneous attacks in Paris. For those familiar with my branding conceptualization, it is at least transparent that there is a connection between branding and terrorism. For the rest of you, here is the short version.

From fear to rationalization

For a start, let’s take into play the multiple-draft. Branding’s view on any phenomenon, including terrorism, is only one of many. Parallel to such an intellectual view and far more critical is the one that happens on the individual level. Though infected by intelligent memes/viruses, it instantly occurs as a pure limbic reaction: at the same time, fear and compassion with relatives and friends of victims. Fear about the unknown is, by time/accommodation, replaced by intellectual/cortical reflection, from limbic reaction to unknown to cortical reflection about known.

Humans cannot avoid having emotions. Emotions cannot be wrong. They are always right. While one cannot be wrong in feelings, one can easily err in attempts to conceptualize events that trigger feelings. Branding provides some mental tools that make such conceptualizations easier[1], even in cases of terrorist attacks.


Brands start (and finish) with values. Values are significant sources of energy for any brand. While genetic phenotypes source energy from metabolism that transforms acids, proteins, fats, and so on, human memetic structures get their fuel from values. Unlike genetic phenotypes, values come as inputs and outputs. Values do not come only as fuel but, as a result, energy itself.

(In the 2023 upgrade of this post, and since I have introduced memetic fields to memetics, it is easier to see that values define the direction of vectors in each memetic field. Memes get a direction from a memetic field they become part of. A meme of wine has a different direction within Muslim value fields than within Christians. Values play as a fuel, as a vector potential of a meme, but at the same time, values come out of intersubjective memetic activity as a reduced or enlarged memetic filed potential; memetic filed curvature speaking in the language of special relativity.)

Such a dual nature of values has essential consequences for branding and terrorism. Some values stick together, and some repel. The harmony (at input and exit) thus comes as harmony or hate. This simplifies since there are many more modes of how values attract each other, but this extreme case should be done for this purpose.

Values and brands

Values with the described property of attraction or repulsion constitute borders between memetic fields. As much as cells have borders, so do values and complex structures of values as brands. Brand borders are an invisible gravitational field that keeps brands in a safe distance so that their fields do not merge. Such fields that attract or repel brands from each other could be measured, like gravity in physics.

The story about memetic fields gets more interesting because brand memes[2] cannot but be attached to some physical entity. Artifacts are abused in this respect, but human brains as well. While brains are meme vehicles, some memes force memetic energy from memetic fields, brains, and bodies to do this or that.

Complexity matters

The importance of such a value field becomes more apparent as we climb the ladder of complexity of bodies to which those brands are attached. The individual appears more or less united with his set of values (brand). He can eat various foods, but the body, apart from aging, does not change its identity. On the other hand, such a man often changes his brand, values, and story expressed through his brand meme.

But already on the next level of complexity, a family, not only meme-complexes change but also bodies (family members) change. How do they change? With marriages? Marriages are strict procedures for digesting new values (meme-complexes brought into the family identity) together with a new body (bride or groom). While an individual can only change his brand, families change their brands with the intake of new bodies with their own set of values.[3]

Values fitting

Whether a new body will fit into the existing family memetic field is always a question. And by the way, another name for a memetic field is culture. Families, though, make mistakes and, from time to time, misjudge their memetic intake, but are still flexible enough to expel such intake after recognizing that values do not fit together.

It is not difficult to see that the more entities are complex, the more difficult it is to expel individuals and artifacts that do not fit. We should be aware that more complex entities do not annihilate individual cultures but only allow them to form a web of connections with a higher attraction level than aversion.

The melting pot concept does not work in theory or practice. The United States does not contradict this thesis. The conception represents a true melting pot. A zygote of a future human melts a sperm and an egg heritage, but only at conception. In that sense, the US melted at the conception until the now-known USA was conceptualized (concepted) through the first Constitution. After that, there could only be an illusion of a melting pot, an illusion that created the immigration problems of today.

The so-called identity of more extensive, complex bodies like villages, tribes, nations, or even races rests on the fragile and slight difference between repulsive and attraction forces. The larger the body’s mass (better the complexity of the body), the more values that form and protect such a body have to be unanimously shared, understood, and lived.

One World Utopia through branding

A wish that there would be one culture shared by everyone living on earth is similar to a wish that there would be only one brand of beer, car, or holiday resort. It is a wish shared by all totalitarian regimes. Until such totalitarian utopia happens[4], one can still not avoid tensions between cultures like one cannot avoid clashes between Pepsi and Coca-Cola. All are of the same memetic structure. Go to Pepsi’s CEO and ask him to tolerate Coca-Cola memes. You will not have to wait long for what you deserve.

Memetic drafts are by nature multiple, as mentioned at the beginning and as profoundly explained by Daniel Dennett. One can thus easily see unfortunate Paris terrorism events as moments where highly complex bodies carrying heterogeneous sets of values reached a state in which repellent forces between values got stronger than attractive.

Politically incorrect solution

While the solution is evident for many, it is not for intellectuals and is thus politically incorrect. One can add force to counteract repellent forces, but this cannot be an evolutionary stable strategy since it rests on the unsustainable use of energy. Remember: values come as fuel and as a result. To add energy to lower the tension between result values is like adding energy to a room with open windows when the outside temperature is very low. All but intellectuals would close the window.

Brands do well on safe distances. They do not merge by force into one superbrand. If they do join, they usually use unsustainable large quantities of energy; despite that energy, they sooner than later fall apart. Cultures should do well at a safe distance. Cultures are precisely because they can not come together on a memetic level. Bodies attached to different cultures and value-driven memetic fields should do well at a safe distance. Laws of nature and humans are still integral parts of nature.

The power of monetary values

There is one more lesson to be learned from the branding point of view on the 13/11 Paris attacks. One of the main characteristics of values is that they are always on the market. We always buy and sell them on extremely different markets, with one exemption only: there can be no exchange between repellent memetic fields as powered by values.

This does not mean that trade is not possible between cultures. Values that can get their common denominator in monetary value cannot be repellent. Memes themselves are not repellent per se. Values are exchanged when agreed. The consent rests on a common language of two parties that exchange values. Common language is yet another expression for a memetic field. Goods as artifacts can be exchanged across cultures based on their perceived monetary value. Material memes, as a part of a particular memetic field, have no monetary value. Where there is no common language or memetic field, values come as repellent, and there can be no integration.

That is why friends with values that attract each other can bond without the help of monetary values. But when two entities do not share values and if they do not trade, they should be kept apart. Or better, monetary values safeguard the distance between memetic fields (cultures) that conflict with each other. It is not capital that causes crisis and terrorism; it is a lack of a common capital denominator that causes them.



[1] A warning should be stated here: that you understand something better does not necessarily relieve stress caused by emotions. Nevertheless, there are instances when better rational understanding reduces it. After rationalizing the risks attached to nuclear power plants and measures taken by those running such plants, we are relieved from a heavy emotional burden. On the other hand, sometimes it is better not to understand specific risks, especially those on which we have low or no influence.

[2] Please note that memes are at the same time quantum-like properties as strategic memes, but fractals as material memes. The size of the meme does not matter when they are fractals. The brand ‘Tesla’ is a »large« meme and it behaves just like a »smaller« meme ‘electric’ or a parallel meme ‘Musk’. On the other side, the size does not apply to strategic memes since quantum-like properties do not have a size in the sense that we use this term.

[3] I do not want to enter the issue of arranged marriage traditions here, but I hope that evolutionary rationale (and branding rationale as well) for arranged marriage is more than clear from above conclusions.

[4] Although we still have a vivid recollection of the failures of Stalinism, Fascism, Nazism, and similar utopia-driven totalitarian regimes, it is pretty clear that the totalitarian memetic field remains potent. It affects entering memes; it changes their polarity. Take, for instance, ‘tolerance’. If ‘tolerance’ acts as evolutionarily beneficial in a non-totalitarian memetic field, it becomes harmful in a totalitarian memetic field.


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