Re: Machiavellian Memes

Dave Gross (
Thu, 25 Sep 1997 13:02:24 +0800 (GMT-8)

Date: Thu, 25 Sep 1997 13:02:24 +0800 (GMT-8)
From: Dave Gross <>
Subject: Re: Machiavellian Memes
In-Reply-To: <>

Trying to decide whether memes are welcome symbiots or nasty parasites
on a human being means staking out a point-of-view in which "human being"
is well-defined -- pretty tough, in my experience.

If you stick to the gene-based body (itself not a clearly-defined thing),
you're leaving out so much of the ego that most of us think of as "me."

If we hypothesize a body-destructive meme (e.g. Heaven's Gate) infecting
our body, we can also shift our focus and the definition of our identity
and loyalty and hypothesize our meme-destructive genes trying to prevent
us from fulfilling our memetic aspirations (flashy suicide, astral

Our genes, the genes of our parasites and symbiots, and our memes only
care about our body to the extent that that body is helpful to their
reproductive success.

The genes I got from my folks want my body to stick around for a while,
because they have a long-term investment. The genes of the cold I picked
up last week would like me to stick around for a while too so I can help
spread the cold. Some diseases destroy the body in frantic effort to
reproduce, and this works for them just fine. Some memes reproduce best
by keeping the body going and spreading the meme; other memes reproduce
best by sending up the body in flamboyant destruction.

Am I (my body made by my genes) or (my body made by my genes and the
various symbiotic organisms that make my life possible) or (my body made
by my genes, the e. coli in my gut, the herpes virus I picked up, and the
cat I call 'snookum') or (all of the above, the ideas I've developed
and/or adopted, the religion I practice, the personality I have, and the
voice(s) in my head) or (all of the above, the company that hired me, the
family I help support, the tribe I run with, the society that provides
food and medication for me) or what? How far is my perimeter; where is my

It sometimes seems like the concept of a 'self' or 'individual' doesn't
have much inherent worth and is only provisionally valuable. I think this
'symbiots vs. parasites' argument may be one in which those concepts don't
help us much. It seems like an attempt to impose predefined dramatic
personae on artificially bounded entities in what in reality is a very
mushy process.

-- Dave

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