RE: when is a mem selfish?

Gatherer, D. (
Mon, 16 Aug 1999 11:54:52 +0200

Date: Mon, 16 Aug 1999 11:54:52 +0200
From: "Gatherer, D. (Derek)" <>
Subject: RE: when is a mem selfish?
To: "''" <>

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 is a superset of selfish memes, since it would include neutral memes

Selfish memes would have to be:

- copied by processes of a host
- not copied because it is usefull to the host,
- detrimental to host

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 here is: what is the host? Is the journal the host, the
secretary him/herself, etc. If the journal is the host, then it is not
deleterious, merely neutral ie. calling your secretary and office manger is
neither advantageous or disadvantageous to the journal (unless the change of
title means that the secretary demands a pay rise, in which case it might be
disadvantageous........). If the secretary him/herself is the host, it may
be beneficial to him/her, if it makes him/her feel better and less depressed

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.

I don't see the relevance of the above. The problem arises because we
cannot get a serious handle on the use of the term 'host' in memetics. It's
one of the central crashing failures of our discipline.

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?

By Dawkins B, yes.


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.


Where are the hosts in the above instances? I don't think you can import
the 'selfish' terminology from genetics unless you have a clear notion of
host-replicator. If you can get that clear, then it becomes a
straightforward problem. But nobody ever (not even Cavalli-Sforza) has got
that straight, so I think it may be an intractable problem.

This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)