RE: memes and culture

From: Richard Brodie (
Date: Thu 05 Feb 2004 - 07:09:50 GMT

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    Steven Thiele wrote:

    > Memetics understands culture as an expression
    > (phenotype?) of memes, as if culture is an epiphenomenon.
    > This is a 'hard line' because it doesn't leave open the
    > possiblity that culture is a creative phenomenon. Actually,
    > the term culture here is a bit of a problem because it is
    > often used to refer to a particular aspect of social life
    > (such as ways of thinking) rather than social life in all its
    > aspects. The fact that the word culture is used so much in
    > memetics, is, I think, not inadvertant. It presents a view of
    > social life that appears more amenable to memetic analysis.
    > Social life, meaning the complex interactions and organisings
    > within which individuals are embedded, is a creative process.
    > If you want to understand social life you need to examine its
    > constituent interactions and organising in detail rather than
    > assume that they are the products of something else with
    > ontological priority, in this case memes. Insofar as memes
    > are ideas, then they are not the primary creators of social
    > life, but are just one feature of the process of social life.
    > For example, the idea of god does not come first and then
    > religious organisation and practices later as a 'phenotype'
    > of memes, rather this idea is part and parcel of the
    > emergence of religious organisation and practice. All of
    > social life is evolving, not just one aspect of it.

    I may have missed the start of this. I agree it's stretching the analogy too far to say culture is a phenotypic expression of memes. I've said many times memes are one of many phenomena that can fruitfully be viewed as cultural replicators. I happen to think more complex cultural replicators (cults, franchises, chain letters) are more interesting than simple memes.

    Richard Brodie

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