when is a mem selfish?

Hans-Cees Speel (hanss@sepa.tudelft.nl)
Mon, 16 Aug 1999 11:12:38 +0200

From: "Hans-Cees Speel" <hanss@sepa.tudelft.nl>
To: memetics@mmu.ac.uk
Date: Mon, 16 Aug 1999 11:12:38 +0200
Subject: when is a mem selfish?
Message-Id: <E11GImw-0003BO-00@dryctnath.mmu.ac.uk>

Dear memeticians,

I am working on my thesis and came across a little problem. I do
not know of a workable definition when a meme is selfish. This is
what I came up witth, but I would like comments and solutions to
this problem others have come up with in the past:

A gene that is selfish is for instance a gene that lets parents take
care for their offspring: this is not good for the parents, but for the
genes only. This is the classical reason why we need the gene eye
view to explain what organisms do.

Other cases where it becomes a problem is when DNA is actually
part of a virus line: the DNA is not selfish, but parasitical for a line
of viruses.

But if DNA just replicates inside a cell, more then other DNA, it
can be called selfish. Porblems with this definitions arise of course
when DNA could be part of a virusline, but needs not, or has been
in the past, but is not anymore.

So the definition is that you use the copying process of a host,
which (probably) harms the host, or is neutral to the host, but then
of course is positive to the gene. This means that you can only
explain the replication of the gene by referral to the gene as unit of
interaction with its own interest, and not by referral to the interest
of the host.

With memes we could define in the same way, by saying that a
meme is selfish if it is
- copied by processes of a host
- not copied because it is usefull to the host,

This means that selfish memes are for instance:

Concepts that are used to describe things, that are used because
they sound good (we call a secretary office manager, because we
like the ring of the word manager, and she does too).
Concepts that are used because they are around in a great
abundance. If all journals have a managing editor and you also
want one because of that, and not because you need such a
function because things are going badly.

The problem arises I would say when you do not know if a concept
is chosen because it sounds good, or because it is pushed by
people that want to use the concept for a specific puspose. It could
be that the management wants to have office managers, qand not
secretaries, because it is in their job description and contracts that
these can be fired more easily. If the management wants to be able
to get rid of people more easily, they can use the force of the
meme 'office manager' to get what they want.

The question thus is if you can still call such a meme selfish? After
all, the meme that says that suicide commando's should kill
themsleves for the good of the nation is also devised to get them
that stupid. We call that a selfish meme, or shouldn't we?

Also i am wondering what processes their are by which selfish
memes can force theirselves inside the human mind. A short brain
storm gave me:

- social groups that want to be alike or have an identity tend to fear
the scrutiny that is needed to get rid of selfish memes. Political
parties for instance tend to take a long time to reform their official
line of thought, even though reality has caught up with it.

- People that have something to loose will in general not scrutinise
the basis of what they would have to loose. For instance
government parts will not reform if they have grown too big for

- when there are a lot of copies of a word going around, or when it
is new and on the rise (?), people tend to copy it more.

Are there any more?

hope you all rewat to this,



With memes however, we

In memetic

Theories come and go, the frog stays [F. Jacob]
Hans-Cees Speel
Managing Editor "Journal of Memetics Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission"
http://www.cpm.mmu.ac.uk/jom-emit submit papers to JOM-EMIT@sepa.tudelft.nl

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