socially selected memes

Raymond Recchia (
Sun, 25 Jul 1999 19:54:36 PDT

From: "Raymond Recchia" <>
Subject: socially selected memes
Date: Sun, 25 Jul 1999 19:54:36 PDT

Reading 'The Meme Machine' I was struck by the discussion on song bird
memes. Blackmore has me convinced that bird songs do constitute memes, but
it also occurred to me that it may be useful to draw a distinction between
memes which are selected primarily on the basis of social trends and those
which are selected for other utilitarian purposes.
Perhaps one could think of a scale with purely socially selected memes on
one end and purely utilitarian memes on the other. A birdsong or something
like the latest trend in hair length would be extreme examples of socially
selected memes, while scientific discoveries would sit on the opposite end.
More social memes are characterized by random drift in their evolution.
Adoption of the meme is dependant upon the degree to which it provides
acceptance within the social group and not upon any utilitarian function.
Likely reasons for adopting the meme are that it has been adopted by a large
majority of the group members or a group member particularly admired by the
For example, I am a lawyer by trade. In my part of the U.S. that means
when at work I must wear a suit, a tie, and a nice pair of shoes. Failure
to wear the proper attire would result in my getting less respect from my
clients and less acceptance from fellow attorney. Trends in suits are slow
moving but they do occur over time and I do have to keep up with them in
order to maintain social acceptability. There is not much utility outside
of social acceptibility in wearing a suit. I would be much more comfortable
in sneakers and the only uses I can figure out for a tie is ease of
lynching. In other parts of the world the same social acceptability might
be achieved through the use of ritual scarring.
By constrast the transmission of scientific meme is largely dependant on
non social factors. While peer review and other socially related factors
are certainly factors in acceptance of a scientific meme, just as important
is the ability of the meme to explain observable phenomena.
Are there any texts out there that have addressed this specific set of
contrasts? I would be interested in finding out what others have had to

Raymond Recchia

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