Re: memetics-digest V1 #37

TJ Olney (
Thu, 19 Mar 1998 02:04:16 -0800 (Pacific Standard Time)

Date: Thu, 19 Mar 1998 02:04:16 -0800 (Pacific Standard Time)
From: TJ Olney <>
Subject: Re: memetics-digest V1 #37
In-Reply-To: <>

Yes! I find it both bothersome and understandable. On the one hand, a
flaw with memetics is that it for the average person it seems to be a "so
what" idea. When, however, you spice it up by connecting it to virus, now
that's something. It seems that at the level of how all types of ideas
spread and mutate, memetics has little appeal to the common person because
after all, it means that their thinking is merely a product of the memes
to which they have become host. This can be quite threatening. Think
about how strongly folks hold on to religious ideas. Now, clearly
memetics as presented every where I've seen it, posits that various
religions and religious practices are memetic in nature.

The problem seems to be the semiotic problem of not being able to
transcend the explanatory system. When you deconstruct one mythic frame,
you necessarily find youself subscribed to another. When you accept the
meme of memes, you lose much of the security that those religious memes

Notice, however, that even accepting the meme of memes does not
necessitate giving up ones religion. But it does require that you
find a way to accomodate your religion in a new way.

I heard Richard Dawkins speak recently on the illusions of charlatans. It
was interesting that while he went around debunking astrology as totally
absurd, he never once conceded that people pay attention to it for reasons
that are good for them. (At minimum the daily horoscope can serve as a
sort of verbal self-reflective rorshack test, helping people to think
about the conditions of their lives.) All in all I was not impressed. I
was struck by his worship of rationality, much as economists that I know
are continually amazed by the "irrational" behavior of so many people.

Rationality is in fact a meme. It has proven to have survival value for
the species. One of those memes that increase partly because it increases
the survivability of those who accept its premis and work through problems
with it.

The belief in the efficacy of prayer is also a meme. I would argue that
it also while wholly irrational, has survival value for the species. To
keep this argument at the scientific level, I need do no more than produce
survivability evidence, no need to invoke divine intervention or any other
religious ideas. There is a mounting body of evidence that indicates that
somehow, people who pray and hold memes about a benevolent god, live
longer happier lives than those who do not.

As to Brodie's book, yes, he understands memetics. He understands it so
well that he has purposefully used it to do exactly what you suggest, to
engineer a meme or set of memes. As a marketing professor I am finding it
harder and harder to think of my field as anything but memetic
engineering, each company involved in the design of memes that will more
effectively capture new hosts and in the process have those hosts agree
that they are better off than they were before.

***Question: Has anyone developed a hierarchical taxonomy of memes that
meets the critera of consistency, and which also covers all cases? Are
the memes of hierarchy, or classification even appropriate for
understanding memes?

On Thu, 19 Mar 1998 wrote:

> memetics-digest Thursday, 19 March 1998 Volume 01 : Number 037
> From: <levy@Oswego.EDU>
> Date: Wed, 18 Mar 1998 20:39:14 -0500 (EST)
> Subject: The "mind virus" meme
> I notice a trend in a lot of the brief introductions to the "meme" memes
> that the "mind virus" meme is emphasized, rather than the more general
> definition of memes as a "second replicator". Does this bother anyone
> else? I suppose my main objection to this is that it does not easily lend
> itself to the possibility that memetics is evolving into a discipline
> which could unify the social sciences. Instead it seems to imply
> (assuming that not much more thought or research is done by the casual
> encounterer of the "meme" meme) that memes are nasty little constructs
> that we may or may not be susceptible or vunerable to. In other words, it
> lends itself more easily to urban legends, exclusively among those sci-fi
> or paranoid enough to contract such memes. I read a book called "viruses
> of the mind" which was definitely geared toward the same audience that
> reads "megatrends", "chariots of the gods", and other light popular
> philosophy books. It was a fun read though. Has anyone encountered any
> literature on memes as acausal connectors, or memes as organizing society
> into particular organic patterns? I suppose convincing arguments could be
> made that memetic engineering of culture is possible and that a science of
> influencing the memetic evolution of society is possible.
> Rob

-- TJ Olney Western Washington University - Not all those who wander are lost.

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