RE: Papers critical of memetics

Richard Brodie (
Sun, 7 Feb 1999 18:40:36 -0800

From: "Richard Brodie" <>
To: <>
Subject: RE: Papers critical of memetics
Date: Sun, 7 Feb 1999 18:40:36 -0800
In-Reply-To: <>

Aaron Lynch wrote:

<<The "The Bible of Memetics" thing is not presented as a joke on your
pages. >>

Well it's not a joke. Or maybe the joke is on you. You keep misquoting me by
the way. The word "bible" with a lower-case "b" refers to a definitive,
authoritative, or seminal work on a subject, which my promotional material
claims Virus of the Mind to be. Obviously that irritates you.

A sense of humor involves more than laughing at jokes. It is a mature
response to stressful situations such as perceived threats to one's status
in the social hierarchy. I learned that in the psychology course I took at
Harvard before I dropped out.

<<Those groups have high birth rates per capita, not just per married

Really? Unmarried Hassidim have high birth rates per capita? That will be
news to my Rabbi, I'm sure. No, cuckolding would make their DNA happier than
following the mores. The memes have won.

Group birth rates have nothing to do with my statement that following mores
can cause INDIVIDUAL persons to act in a way that does not maximize
replication of their own DNA.

<<Many of the sexual mores have spread by causing their hosts to have and
raise more children. >>

I would take a broader view of religion as a self-perpetuating virus of the
mind. The mores are just one thread in the fabric. Your theory of memes
spreading by increasing reproductive fitness of their hosts does not make
much sense except in very tight, homogeneous groups where children have very
little exposure to outside culture (such as some of the groups you mention).
But even then, the mores must be accompanied by strong admonitions to marry
and to reproduce.

<<Yes, I have read it [GEB]. More importantly, I have read the whole book
skipping sections.>>

That IS important -- congratulations! Is that your first time?

<< He discusses Zen, but I think Hofstadter would cringe at
seeing his book classified as a Zen book. >>

Again, you're worried about people's reactions. Is that the cornerstone of
your life? What could you accomplish if you were free from that anchor
around your neck?

Hofstadter is probably not up there with R.H. Blyth when it comes to being
an important Western perspective on Zen, though he's well enough known to
have warranted a frustrated mention by Cleary. But you miss the point. I
recommended it, along with Pirsig and Cleary, to readers of Virus of the
Mind who wanted to know more about Zen.

<<"A metaphorical fugue on minds and machines in the spirit of Lewis
will of course bear a connection to memes--and especially as it goes so
heavily into self-referential systems. Yet he does not actually discuss
memes directly in GEB. >>

As I said, it is interesting further reading for people interested in memes.

>Translation: "I can't bear the thought that anyone would honestly think
>someone else wrote a better book than Aaron Lynch, so I'll assume there has
>to be some hidden agenda going on." Give it up, Aaron, give it up.

If this were true, then you would find me assailing the high endorsements
attained by Blackmore, Balkin, and others. You would flatter yourself to
suppose that hidden funding agendas and (mistaken ideas of how to obtain
funding) do not play a part in the actions of scientists. You have been
avidly mentioning your early 1980s relationship with Bill Gates, and this
is the very first thing you say about yourself on your 1996 dust jacket. I
infer that you do this to get special treatment for yourself and your book,
regardless of how you might try to deny a name-dropping effect behind
favorable treatment after you get it.

I don't know what you mean by "special treatment." I would say, in fact,
that academics as a group have been more guarded than other folks to endorse
my book, and understandably so, since I am kind of a "loose cannon" and
don't play by academic rules. But that's also why I was willing to publish
the first book on memetics, this outlandish theory. I didn't have an
academic career to risk. I applaud the courage of people such as Dr.
Blackmore who are literally staking their careers to endorse this worldview
as a fruitful one.

I don't understand your problem with the blurb. What do you think the
purpose of a blurb is? Readers want to know who the author is and what the
book is about. Well bucko -- that's what I tell 'em. "Name dropping?" You
only wish you had names to drop.

And you don't really seem to get this no matter how clear I try to make it.
My work is not targeted at the academic community. I am trying to reach the
general public. I'm flattered that you compare me with Carl Sagan, as Dr.
Moritz did, but Aaron, I'm not Carl Sagan. I'm Richard Brodie. I write as
effectively as I know how. For you to deign to tell me that you know better
than I do how to write and market books-- what justification could you
possibly have? A friend of mine who was a professional baseball umpire used
to tell me that most of the grumbling about ball and strike calls came from
the players who couldn't seem to get a hit. They would strike out, then
complain to the umpire about a called third strike. Do you know what my
friend used to tell them? "Get a hit, then mouth off."

<<I do not see any reason to disclose names of people who have approached me
privately with funding or employment problems. However am including
endorsements made on the web, usenet, listservers, and elsewhere. >>

As I said, I've had a very enthusiastic response from established academics.
I'm glad there are even more endorsements than I was aware of, although I
wish you could communicate in a less irritating way.

<< Regardless of how
the lion affects the average web surfer, it registers poorly among scholars
and scientists>>

I'm shocked to learn this. Do you have any evidence or is this more

<<--unless separated into a "lighter side" section, as you have
now agreed to do.>>

I have NOT agreed to do anything. May I quote myself: "That's another good
suggestion." I like to point out when you have a good suggestion as
sometimes they are difficult to pick out from among the bodies of your

>You've been in academia all your life? Like Alyosha, the youngest Karamazov
>brother, it might be time for you to leave the temple and go out into the

Translation: Get out of memetics and let me market VOTM as "The Bible."

No, The Brothers Karamazov is actually a very good book and I think you
would like it. Frankly, Aaron, you don't have the power to "let me" do
anything. Even if your book were successful, I wouldn't consider it
competition; when people enjoy a subject they read many books about it.
Virus of the Mind IS the seminal work on memetics and you can't change that.
Everyone interested in the subject reads it. They enjoy it. They recommend
it to others. It's a book that opens more questions than it answers, and is
designed to stimulate people's thinking and promote the use of memetics for
positive change.

The point Dostoyevsky was making, I think, was that although Alyosha was the
only one of the family who wasn't a complete screw-up, and although he was a
model student and did everything right, he was stopped in his growth by the
fact that he had never immersed himself among regular people.

>I test marketed it and found that it sold much better in the science
>section, where Barnes & Noble places it. Borders puts it in the Psychology

I doubt that your test market took into account the kind of audiences you
would be sending to read it, such as Oprah viewers.

I guess I could give you a primer on book marketing, but it might be a bit
off-topic for the memetics list. Briefly,

1) An appearance on Oprah sells more books than ANYTHING else.
2) If people know which book they want, it doesn't matter where it's shelved
because they go in and ask for it by name.
3) Your own book is mis-shelved (at least at Borders, where today in Seattle
I found two unsold copies of the paperback next to one unsold copy of the
hardcover) in the "Western Philosophy" section. I bet it would sell better
in the Science section. You should call your established publisher and ask
them to tell Borders to move it. Leave a message on your editor's voice
mail. It's possible they'll do it. They may even return your call.

<<Basic Books leaves blurb requests up to its authors, or at least did so in
my case. They try to maintain a reputation of intellectual integrity. >>

It's a good imprint. Of course 99.99% of readers neither know nor care who
published a book. When was the last time you heard someone say, "Wow, Random
House...they make great books! I'm going to buy everything they have!"
Warner sent my book (Getting Past OK) out to several of their self-help
authors and got a few good endorsements in addition to the ones I got for
myself. I don't think they really do much to sell the book, not compared to
TV appearances.

<<As far as I'm concerned, more constructive and less destructive includes
not deflecting attention from works that research scientists and
grantmakers need to read--works that do not necessarily appeal to the most
general audiences. We want to avoid needlessly damaging the flow of funding
and talent to empirical research in memetics. >>

I'm not sure who "we" is. I don't consider anything you've written to be
essential reading. I think you are a mean-spirited, uncooperative,
ineffective self-promoter. I haven't been approached by anybody doing
empirical research in memetics. I am occasionally queried by benefactors who
are looking for scientific work to fund, and I do give them my honest
opinions when asked.

Richard Brodie
Author, "Virus of the Mind: The New Science of the Meme"
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