Re: emperors old clothes

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Tue 25 Mar 2003 - 13:35:00 GMT

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    Related to this thread (from the end of an old article).

         Study of ecosystems usually leads to a great deal of appreciation of the complexity that has been worked into them through evolution. Our actively evolving memetic ecosystem (culture) has been shaped over many centuries by the rise and fall of the replicating information patterns which have come down to us. These memes that make up our culture are essentially living entities. They struggle against each other for space in minds and lives, they are continually evolving. New memes arise in human mental modules, old memes mutate, and many become confined to books. The ferment is most noticeable on the edge of new scientific knowledge, pop culture, and the ever shifting of ascendant political ideas. Western culture is as complicated as a rain forest, and deserves no less respect, admiration, understanding, and care.

         The vast majority of the memes we pass from person to person or generation to generation are either helpful or at least harmless. It is hard to see that these elements of our culture have a separate identity from us. But a few of these replicating information patterns are clearly dangerous. By being obviously harmful, they are easy to see as a separate class of evolving, parasitic, lifelike forms. A very dangerous group leads to behavior such as the People's Temple suicides, or similar cases that dot our history. The most dangerous class leads to vast killings like that of the Nazis in WW II, the Communists in post-revolutionary Russia, and the Kampuchea self-genocide.

        The development of memetics provides improved mental tools (models) for thinking about the influences, be they benign, silly, or fatal, that replicating information patterns have on all of us. Here is a source of danger if memetics comes of age and only a few learn to create meme sets of great influence. Here too is liberation for those who can recognize and analyze the memes to which they are exposed. If "the meme about memes" infects enough people, rational social movements might become more common.

    Keith Henson

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