Re: The Status of Memetics as a Science

From: J. R. Molloy (
Date: Fri Apr 20 2001 - 22:04:47 BST

  • Next message: Wade T.Smith: "RE: The Status of Memetics as a Science"

    Received: by id WAA18326 (8.6.9/5.3[ref] for from; Fri, 20 Apr 2001 22:09:47 +0100
    Message-ID: <004401c0c9dd$8d16a200$215c2a42@jrmolloy>
    From: "J. R. Molloy" <>
    To: <>
    References: <>
    Subject: Re: The Status of Memetics as a Science
    Date: Fri, 20 Apr 2001 14:04:47 -0700
    Content-Type: multipart/alternative; boundary="----=_NextPart_000_0041_01C0C9A2.DBF008C0"
    X-Priority: 3
    X-MSMail-Priority: Normal
    X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook Express 5.50.4133.2400
    X-MimeOLE: Produced By Microsoft MimeOLE V5.50.4133.2400
    Precedence: bulk
    Content-Type: text/plain; charset="iso-8859-1" Content-Transfer-Encoding: quoted-printable

    Hi Lawrence,

    Thanks for your reply.

    So you're talking about engineering memes. OK, that clears it up. Others have referred to this as propaganda. I guess any technology opens avenues for misuse and abuse, and perhaps one of the areas in which memetics can benefit humanity is in understanding meme systems which generate abusive and dangerous behavior. IOW, a constructive use of memetics is the study of memes which result in harmful behavior.

    The concern about the advertising industry is justified, I think. However, we might also note that PBS has its own (sometimes ulterior) motives when it comes to selecting programming for broadcast. Advertising which seeks to sell material products seems no more unhealthy than programming which intends to promote ideological perspectives, it seems to me. Capitalism is the worst possible economic system -- except for all the others. (Apologies to Winston Churchill.)

    Best regards,

    --J. R.
      ----- Original Message -----
      From: Lawrence DeBivort
      Sent: Friday, April 20, 2001 1:24 PM
      Subject: RE: The Status of Memetics as a Science

      JR Molloy posed the question of engineering and memetics earlier today: By engineering in this context I mean the conscious design and release of memes for the purpose of achieving a pre-specified outcome. I am concerned that this capability may be abused ethically. Wade in past conversations has disagreed that such engineering is possible; we can only hope that lots of people agree with him and that of these who have nefarious motives take their efforts elsewhere and into less powerful areas of endeavour.

      I watched a fascinating PBS Frontline program last night (April 19 2001) on the entertainment/advertising industry and their efforts to appear "cool" and appeal to kids under 25. They are moving close to memetic-level competence by copying youth trends (rebellion, grunge, outsider dress, music, language and behavior, etc.) and identifying corporate brands with it, e.g. Sprite, Nike, Reebok, The program, having shown how the industry does this, then described a 'counter' effort by teens to promote anti-commercial trends, whereupon the industry embraced _that_, successfully. The narrator of the Frontline program speculated at the end that the advertising/entertainment industry and the kids were in a positive feedback loop: teen trendsetters influence what the industry embraces; the rest of teens embraces the fads shown by the industry, reinforcing the success of the industry, and then the teens start to ape the commercialization effort of the industry, putting on 'shows' of the trend when the industry communications (e.g. MTV channels) are watching. The most hopeful thing the program explained was that the fads and their commercialization are self-defeating: when a trend has been popularized by the commercializers it becomes 'uncool' and the commercializers have to move to new fads. Perhaps the 'Columbine' kids ought to be going after industry execs...

      The program also showed an interesting difference between genders: girls are seeking a conformist approval (via 'midriff' beauty) and the boys are seeking approval via non-conformity (the rebellious grunge-shock look). Of course, industry has no problem embracing both themes.

      The program also pointed out that the industry is not interested in older consumers, finding them more resistant to their efforts to influence them. The teenagers are not only most easily influenced, they are also flush with money given to them by parents who feel guilty for their absence from the kids' lives, and so good marketing marks.

      - Lawrence
        -----Original Message-----
        From: []On Behalf Of Brent Silby
        Sent: Friday, April 20, 2001 12:27 PM
        Subject: Re: The Status of Memetics as a Science

        [Lawrence wrote:"The only danger I can see to memetics (other than that it might be poorly
        done and waste time) is that it might give rise to an engineering application that might be misused ethically or socially."]

        I think this is already happening -- just look at the advertising industry.


    This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
    Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
    For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Fri Apr 20 2001 - 22:13:04 BST