RE: Stewart tes

From: Vincent Campbell (
Date: Thu 24 Oct 2002 - 11:24:57 GMT

  • Next message: Vincent Campbell: "RE: Meme-physics"

            <Despite this lack of consensus, I think that many memes pass the Stewart
    > test. U. S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said, "I shall not
    > today attempt further to define [pornographic] material but I know it
    > when I see it." (>
            This an insufficiently rigourous test for pornography let alone anything else. There are two problems with this, that apply equally to memes.

            First, comes the problem of differential definition. In the case of pornography how can one legally regulate/censor it when people disagree as to what it means (just as British Customs and the British Board of Film Classification have done in the past, porn films passed by the BBFC for sale have been seized by customs on arrival in the country for breaching the Obsence Publications Act).

            Second, and possibly more important, definitions are directly related to normative judgements and explanatory interpretations. This is certainly true in pornography (e.g. some liberal feminists accept what they call erotica but not what they regard as porn- which debases or abuses women; radical feminists see no such distinction). What did this judge want to do with what he interpreted as pornography- ban it, legalise it?

            For memetics this is major stuff, as the memes in minds lobby (or those that see memes in minds as well as behaviours and artefacts) it allows memes to exist without transmission, it allows religious beliefs to potentially be memes and so on. Whole areas are either opened up or closed off by such distinctions being made.

            The other problem here is one of level: are catchphrases like those you mention memes (in any sense of the word) or must it be the whole of Star Trek? Does memeplex suffice for 'Star Trek' or 'Catholicism'? What, if anything, lies between meme and memeplex?

            So, unfortunately, although I sympathise with the sentiment, I don't see any easy side-stepping of the issue of what memes are.


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