Re: Memetic parasitism and "progress": a letter

Bruce Howlett (
Sat, 08 Nov 1997 01:06:35 +1000

Date: Sat, 08 Nov 1997 01:06:35 +1000
From: Bruce Howlett <>
Subject: Re: Memetic parasitism and "progress": a letter


I hesitate to rush this debate as I see there are many insights to be
had from this interaction. I expect that over the next few posts I will
backtrack and clarify a few points. I also would like to try to
maintain a holistic approach, as I believe that many perceived problems
relate to reductionist treatment of knowledge and systems. I also note
Arel Lucas has joined this thread, welcome Arel.

My interest in memes grew out of my interest in culture and how culture
impacts on change phenomena in organizations. I thought that the meme
theory had some significant potential in explaining the process of
culture. Gene Belinger on the SUN list questioned my perception of
culture as a process and an outcome, which I explain with the analogy of
acting. ie, the process of acting can not be separated from the product
or, if you like, a piece of acting. I feel that the meme concept may
throw some light on the how and why of the emergent processes involved
in culture sub-systems.

I would also like to point out that I am not particularly interested in
agreeance per se. Many listserver participants seem to be trying to
convince all to agree with their view/logic/perception. I think that
there is more to be learned from the creative conflict that enables
multiple perceptions. Which leads me to your latest post:

I was not suggesting that de Bono’s statement, especially as it was not
in context, was a truism. What I should have said is that if the
perception was that this generally is a natural tendency, then if
probably feels natural because it is meme controlled. If that is the
case, what is the benefit to the meme and or the host? I agree that de
Bono’s statement is subjective and difficult to support, but his
intention is to create meme challenging thought patterns by short
circuiting the usual opinion - justification - rationalisation process
that most of us use when confronted with a new idea. Having said that,
I do appreciate the explanation of the psychology of the mediocre norm.
Thank you.

OK, the “given process” is natural selection. How does a meme, which
has no cognitive process of its own, existing as a code unit on the
substrate of the brain (I have been following the other thread on this
list), get selected or de-selected? There must be a process, I can not
see how we could be born with memes unless there is a physical dimension
to memes that has not been discovered.

I accept your point about the privileged class. It is easy to accept as
normal a privileged position, as in non-pecuniary rewards that require
communicated symbolic meaning to have value, the novelty wears off in
about two weeks. We have a long way to go to establish fair and
equitable living conditions for all humankind, if this is even
possible. Maybe memetics has a contribution to make in this direction.

The final point of your last post is a bit more scary. Thought police?
Pull over driver, we want to check your memetic parasite burden. If
you’re over 0.05 you will be detained for a compulsory meme-ectomy.

Regards :-)


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