Omar de la Cruz (
Sun, 08 Jun 1997 09:48:07 -0400

Message-Id: <>
Subject: Memeism
Date: Sun, 08 Jun 1997 09:48:07 -0400
From: Omar de la Cruz <>

This post is a caricature, and therefore, it should not be
taken seriously. It doesn't pretend to describe actual people,
anywhere, or even give a well proportioned portrait of some
imaginary persons. So, I hope nobody will be offended;
but if that happens, I apologize beforehand.


I call `Memeism' the belief that memetic evolution can explain
phenomena in cultural evolution. According to their degree of
belief in this hypothesis, people could be grossly classified
in the following types:

1) The Full-Fledged Memeist:

This person believes that *everything* in cultural evolution can
be explained in terms of memes. Not only do memetics explain
all phenomena in culture, nothing else does. For him, individual
people are just the transient receptacles of all-powerfull long
lasting memes, and that besides the basal biological drives, the
psychology of a person can be fully explained in terms of the memes
of which he is host. The Full-Fledged Memeist tries to explain
Beethoven's 9th Symphony as the product of minor melodic particles
created by nobody but evolved over the centuries, which happened
to coincide and amalgamate in the head of a guy who happened to
be called Beethoven. Or that numerous random symphonies are
created spontaneously by different people, and the 9th survived
because it had a good `survival value'. For this kind of memeist,
anybody who doesn't believe in the omnipotent meme must be an
Inquisitor or an Ignoramus (see below).

2) The Optimistic Memeist:

This person considers that Memetics will become a tool of great
value in the study of culture, providing complementary insights
in many disciplines, and even providing a unifying frame for a
big part of social sciences. He believes that Memetics can be
applied to both theoretical and practical problems, and considers
urgent to create a set of rules regulating the use of "Memetic
Engineering" in order to reap the immense benefits of the ethical
use of meme manipulation, like memetic vaccines, memetic education,
memetic entertainment, etc., while avoiding the horrors of evil
abuse of the same techniques, like designer evil cults and pyramid
schemes, memetic weapons, memetic terrorism and memetic demagogy.
The Optimistic Memeist recognizes that there are limitations
to the aplication of meme related conceptual tools in many areas
of social science, but at the same time considers that people using
traditional approaches could probably be missing the chance to
solve their problems by using the wonderful memes.

3) The Skeptic Memeist:

This person acknowledges that some social phenomena can be atributed
to the evolution of self-replicating bundles of information, including
urban legends, jokes, faxlore, chain letters and, up to some point,
computer viruses. He is open to the possibility of the influence of
more important and long lasting memes on the evolution of human
culture, but he is waiting for proofs. In general, he doesn't see
enough reasons to hold the views of an Optimistic Memeist, and he
sometimes predicts the collapse of the whole Memetic Program. One of
the reasons for his skepticism is the lack of a precise definition
of meme: until he sees a clear cut, formal, unambiguous, crystal clear
definition, that can be expressed in the language of mathematics
and is at the same time operational and philosophically satisfying,
until then he regards any talk about memes as so much nonsense.
The Skeptic Memeist sees weakness both in the fact that the origin
of memetics is a metaphore with genetics and biological evolution,
and the fact that the analogy is not perfect. He fears that researchers
commited to the Memetic Program could be wasting their time trying to
apply the memetic categories to problems that could be solved in
the traditional way. But he sometimes also fears that a tendency
to Full-Fledged Memeism could imperil time honored theories and
methods of analysis which are very valuable.

4) The Inquisitor:

This person considers the sole mention of the word `meme' a heresy.
Curiously, this group is polymorphic: it comes in at least two brands,
coming from the two extremes of the political spectrum.

On one side, of course, we have the Religious Fundamentalist. He, who
thinks that the theory of evolution is a direct attack on everything
that he considers sacred according to his religion, is not surprised
to find out that the agents of the devil have a theory of evolution
to explain religion itself. This person has chosen religion as one
of the central forces driving his life, so any attempt to put religion
as a product of natural forces, with no divine intervention whatsoever,
makes him understandably mad. However, since he doesn't believe in
the theory of evolution, a "science" based on a metaphore with that
theory makes no big impression on him. The Religious Fundamentalist
will usually save his artillery for the theory of evolution itself,
so the memeists are spared most of the fire.

On the other side, we have the Monolithic Dialectical Materialist (MDM).
This character has transformed a useful tool of inquiry in social sciences
into a dogma, giving a bad name to serious dialectical materialists.
For this person, any memeist is a Full-Fledged Memeist, trying to
drag the social sciences back into the mire of the *Idealism*, word
that he pronounces with repugnance and scorn. For him, Memeism is
the belief that humans and institutions are puppets of these ghosts
out of Plato's cave, with no regard whatsoever to the economic
infrastructure of society. On the other hand, mentioning evolutionary
theory and social sciences in the same sentence implies, for the MDM,
an evil plot by the international bourgeoisie to establish `Social
Darwinism' as a dogma in social sciences, and thus justify the luxurious
life of the aristocrats at the expense of the death of the coal mine
workers as the `survival of the fittest', and teach this in the school
to make the proletarians happy with their "biological role".

As usual, the two extremes have more similarities than differences.

5) The Ignoramus:

He has never heard about memes. He can even be a very cult person, but
by memetic chance, he's never been infected.

I put myself somewhere between the Skeptic and the Optimistic Memeist.
And, fortunately, I think that all the people in this forum would
fall somewhere in that same interval. However, I think that some
of the misunderstandings in the discussions can be traced back to
people misplacing other people in this scale.

And finally, let me stress again that this post was conceived not with
any bitterness but with a smile, since I have, to some extent, sometime
or another, been through each one of these categories!


Omar De la Cruz C.
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