RE: From the moderator: Decision about Joe Dees

From: Vincent Campbell (
Date: Mon 15 Dec 2003 - 14:14:00 GMT

  • Next message: "Re: quite amusing memetics article"

            <It seems to me that the burning issues of the day can stimulate
    > us to consciousness of the memes that are carrying us along in their
    > grasp.>
            With virtually every post Joe now sends the topic is only about how the war on terror/Iraq is justified, and/or includes a link to a piece on the same topic, arguing the same point. How is any of that consonant with discussing memetics?

            <Personally, I'm not so much offended by anything people say, but
    > I am somewhat offended by people being offended.>
            It's not about being offended, it's about being irritated by someone using up bandwidth with stuff well off topic. I'm a libertarian leftie, I don't believe in censoring people on the grounds of offensiveness, which is precisely why I said he should stay on the list as long as he stays on topic.

            <Maybe it would help for some of you more practiced memeticists
    > to define or at least describe what memetics is, how you look at
    > things in terms of memetics, then an example of a news story or
    > current interest item analyzed along memetic principles. I suggest you do
    > this without mentioning any names of memetics pioneers or popularizers,
    > and without pointing to texts and saying go read this or that.>
            Speaking personally, I'm an academic, a social scientist at that, so it's in my nature to recommend people read other things if they're trying to understand a concept. Incidentally, if you're a university student, as a comment later in your post suggests, guess what- reading stuff might help you pass your degree, hell you might even learn something too. Anyway, you could look at the list archive for repeated efforts to offer definitions and descriptions of memetics from most list members at one time or another. Still, if you insist:

            Memetics is a theory of culture that suggests that the transmission of culture is subject to evolutionary forces acting on units of culture which are called memes. Significant disagreement arises around exactly what constitutes a meme, although there are two main camps- one that regards memes as ideas, beliefs and other mental/conceptual states of mind, the other that regards memes as external cultural practices, behaviours and/or artefacts. There are variations on these including people, like Joe incidentally, who argue that memes both of these things.

            Such disagreements significantly effect how people interpret cultural trends, and what they examine when attempting to study memes.

            A recent phenomenon that has appeared in the news that probably interests memeticists of all camps would be flash-mobbing.

            <If memetics is truly and approach or discipline, and not just a fad or a fan club, then the principles can be described in the vernacular and comprehended without allegiance to or dependence on authority.>

            When bandwidth isn't being hogged by Iraq talk, this is precisely one of the key questions of the list- is it a "proper" emergent discipline, or a red herring fad.

            <What can we do with an understanding of memetics that we
    > cannot do so well without it?>
            Again, when the list is on topic, this is another major area of debate with plenty of people on the list past and present very skeptical as to its benefits as a model of cultural transmission. One possible argument is that it potentially takes away the notion that culture is either a) ultimately determined by evolutionary pyschology, i.e. that cultural trends can only be understood in terms of adaptation to environment, and therefore are largely unconscious processes, or b) entirely a product of conscious choice, a social construction under people's total control. A) falls down with cultural trends that are apparently non-adaptive, and b) falls down when trends are contradictory, irrational or evidentally detrimental to people.

            <It's not like anyone freezes your eyeballs forward and makes
    > you read a particular message. I think I understand what 'open' means
    > but I'm a little clueless on how 'informed' can 'but' against that.>
            To clarify- informed in regard to the specific purpose of the list, meaning that at the very least you have to make some kind of tenuous link to memetics in the stuff you post; joe stopped doing that ages ago in relation to his iraq ravings.

            <I already know what I know, I am more interested in finding out
    > about what I don't know, understanding that this will lead me
    > into interaction with people whose values or lack of same I find
    > frightening or disconcerting.>
            What about having your own values challenged? Are you open to that, or if the thought of alternate value-systems frightens you, are you only looking to have your prejudices confirmed, or only for an outlet to express your prejudices? This is the other sense of informed I meant- informed as to the nature of true discussion and critical thinking necessary to further knowledge and understanding in a topic. This isn't always easy in mailing lists, BBS' or chat-rooms unless there is collective effort to prevent flaming, trolling and topic drift, and so far for the most part this list has worked really well in these regards, particularly the first two. Topic drift often occurs, but Joe's stuff is taking the piss.


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