Re: What does the replicating?

Bill Benzon (
Sat, 7 Jun 1997 14:44:25 -0500

Message-Id: <>
Date: Sat, 7 Jun 1997 14:44:25 -0500
From: (Bill Benzon)
Subject: Re: What does the replicating?

Randy Groves says:

>The reason I see this as problematic for memetics, as applied to
>history, for example, is that when we then talk about the greater or
>lesser influence of some cultural ideas over others, the argument
>must focus on the minds influenced by the meme rather than some
>internal mechanism in the meme. In other words, we are back to
>traditional questions of influence where we discuss the historical
>background and everything else we deal with in such arguments. The
>role of memetics doesn't seem to loom very large.

Speaking as a student of cultural evolution but, as one who is at best, a
rather heterodox memeticist, I agree with the first part of this. There is
a tendency, especially in less technical discussions, to talk of memes as
though they were little informatic machines scurrying around in cultural
space, looking for lodging in human brains while seeking to undermine
similar efforts by competing machines. Thus the Protestant Reformation
becomes a successful war of Protestant memes against Catholic memes and no
one wonders why those Protestant memes were more attractive to northen
Europeans than the Catholic memes were. The Protestant memes were more
successful replicators and that is that.

That's a caricature, but it does illustrate an underlying aspect of memetic
causal language.

As for "the historical background and everything else" which doesn't seem
to take much notice of memetics, the question the poses itself to me is
whether or not memetics, or cultural evolution, will provide a way of
accommodating those concerns and putting them on a more rigorous
intellectual footing. For example, I'm quite interested in the relationship
between African American and European American music in the USA. There is a
standard, though not extensively explored, idea that African American music
has had a broad influence which is quite out of proportion to the relative
populations of black and white Americans. So, we have white folks imitating
black music more than black folks imitate white music. I've proposed a
highly speculative account of this phenomenon in non-memetic terms (at: So, can I arrive at a better
answer by translating that answer into memetic terms so that I can then
apply memetic conceptual machinery to the problem?

At the moment it's not clear to me that memetics has any conceptual
machinery which will get me anything I don't already have. However, I think
this phenomenon calls for an evolutionary explanation and that memetics is
a more likely place in which to develop effective conceptual machinery than
traditional cultural history and history of ideas which.

Bill B

William L. Benzon 201.217.1010
708 Jersey Ave. Apt. 2A
Jersey City, NJ 07302 USA

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