RE: playing at suicide

From: Richard Brodie (
Date: Fri Jan 11 2002 - 14:33:12 GMT

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    Subject: RE: playing at suicide
    Date: Fri, 11 Jan 2002 06:33:12 -0800
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    <<give me an example
    of a meme that is NOT a tool.>>

    I suspect your definition of "tool" is broad enough to include everything,
    but given names are a nice example of memes that spread without much regard
    to their utility to the host.

    <<This is the key to my concept. It is not the memes that are selfish – it
    the person, the brain, the individual who is using them.>>

    This is the key to your lack of understanding of memetics. Nobody needs a
    new theory if they think culture is developed solely consciously by humans
    through gradual improvements in their ideas and artifacts. That explains
    some of culture but not nearly all. Why the rise in televangelism? Have we
    all decided that's more useful than other religions, or no religion at all?

    << We choose the
    tools/memes from the store that is available to us based on how well they do
    the job we are trying to accomplish with them.>>

    If by "we" you mean yourself, you are a member of a very small and
    enlightened group of people who consciously choose their mental programming.
    Most people just order whatever beer they've seen their friends order, or
    they've seen lots of TV ads for.

    << The older we grow, the more
    we have available. We see someone use a tool to get something and we try to
    use it. If it doesn’t work as we expected, we listen again and try again
    until we can use it, or we discard it. There is a limit to the number of
    sounds we can handle in daily conversation, for example, so we settle on
    those that are most useful to us and drop the rest.>>

    Then why do I know the names of 20 brands of cigarette but not 20 words of

    <<People are the controlling
    factor in the evolution of culture in all of its plurality and scope. It is
    not memes deciding what we will inherit and add to the pool, it is we who
    make that decision with the choices of tools we use.>>

    But only a very small portion of it is conscious choice. Therefore certain
    memes have properties that make them preferentially accepted and spread over
    others. Such properties are ease of understanding, danger, reward, status,
    celebrity, and so on. These are not necessarily correlated with utility to
    the host.

    <<Genes, on the other hand, do influence that decision. They produce the
    chemicals which cause us to make emotional choices about who will inherit
    our genes and who won’t. Lust, anger, fear, jealousy, and other emotions
    are the product of chemical responses to our environment and are dictated by
    the gene mix that guided our construction.>>

    Memes influence all those same emotions.

    <<It can be as simple as a hand gesture. The ‘high five” started with a
    of blacks as one of many hand signals they used for establishing homogeneity
    as a group. Most of the signals they used are no longer remembered. The
    "Gimme five!" spawned the high five. The high five spread throughout black
    society, along with the popularity of sports figures who used it, and today
    you’ll find it being used among people in every segment of American society.
      The uses to which it is put have also grown. It now carries connotations
    of success as well as solidarity. It has spawned further variations such as
    the “low five” which may or may not grow and multiply.>>

    Why does high five have more utility than a wave or a handshake?

    <<Right now people are
    pointing in all directions and calling all sorts of things memes without
    agreeing with others trying to define the concept. I think I have a

    Don't confuse the off-the-wall postings on this mailing list with a lack of
    agreement on the definition of meme. Everybody in the field understands that
    memes are cultural replicators. The selfish-meme concept is the cornerstone
    of memetics. If you don't understand that you have missed the point

    This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
    Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
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