From: Brent Scofield (
Date: Mon 08 Sep 2003 - 23:59:44 GMT

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    A while back I was taking an undergraduate anthropology course on the emergence of civilization, or more accurately, the emergence of complex societies. For my term paper I decided to try to approach the emergence and development of complex societies from a memetic perspective. It is of course a huge, and exteremely general topic, so my paper just touched on some basic applications of memetic theory without going into any real detail or depth. But still, the application of memetics to the topic seemed to fit so well, and I was hoping this list would be a good place to develop the idea further, or even better, learn about other, more rigourous, applications of mememtics to this same topic.

    With the increase in population density, due to the agrarian revolution, the horizontal transmission of information became increasingly possible, resulting in a much greater potential set of hosts for any given meme. And with that, it became a possibilty (maybe an inevitability), for "meme strongholds" to emerge. A meme stronghold, as I think of it, is a group of people that materially benefits from a meme or memeplex, and therefore acts as a buffer against such basic and inevitable things as drought and famine. It is easy to imagine that, before extensive horizontal transimission, and before the development of meme strongholds, natural disaster could easily wipe out memes completely, since the meme-hosts themselves would be wiped out. The development of a "meme stronghold" class would have allowed for the evolution of a whole new group of memes and memeplexes that perpetuate themselves through two main mechanisms: 1. protecting their stronghold against material hardship and memetic competition and 2. encouraging horizontal transmission, particlarly from the stronghold outwards.

    Almost all of the developments that are considered features of complex societies, such as increased population density, writing systems, monumental architecture, the development of full time "priest" classes, etc., are all clear tools for increasing horizontal transimission (within a generation from person to person) of ideas as opposed to vertical transmission (from parent to offspring) of ideas.

    It is also interesting that this development of meme strongholds and the increase in horizontal transmission could result in memes that were more destructive to their hosts than would have been possible before. Without a meme stronghold, a meme that causes harm to the host is at risk of dying with the host, or simply being rejected in favour of memes that are more personally beneficial. But with a meme stronghold, all that is important to the meme is that the stronghold itself survives to spread memes again another day. Those outside of the stronghold could live very difficult lives, could be sacrificed in warfare to protect or strengthen the meme-stronghold, etc., because their survival is only neccessary in support of the stronghold.

    Well, that is a semi-random smattering of some if the ideas that came out of my simplistic application of memetics to a very large topic. I am really curious about what others think about the idea of meme-strongholds as catalyst for, if not the main fuel for, the development of civilization and the incredible increase in the means for horizontal transmission in the last few millenia. What meme could be more self-perpetuating than one that encourages communication or increases the means for communication? Was memetic evolution the main motiviator of the development of civilization?


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