Save the Meme

We all know the meme meme. Even if you are not familiar with memetics, you have probably been infected by it. I find that to be part of its elegance, as memetics is a system subject to its own rules, not above them. Therefore, just as the meme meme itself has longevity, frequency, and fecundity, it also mutates and plays piggyback to other memes. Since meme and memetics are successful memes–part of the same memeplex–abuse of them as memetic devices should be expected.

Here are a few ways in which I’ve found them to be abused*:

  1. Expanding memetics into standard models of learning and memory. Classical conditioning (drooling when you hear a bell) and operand conditioning (acting based on reward and punishment) have nothing to do with imitation/memetics.
  2. Taking analogies with genes too far. The concept of memomes comes to mind.
  3. Taking analogies with viruses too far. You can’t infect me with a meme by speaking magic words or injecting me with a serum (though each could soften my memetic defenses).
  4. Hijacking memetics to support hare-brained, new age, cosmic theories willy-nilly.

However, instead of finding this disagreement and distortion of memetics as evidence against it, I find it satisfying, if tautological. Any successful meme will accumulate freeloaders; the meme meme is no exception.

Is the meme meme dying? Can it survive its own selection? If it dies, does memetics go with it?

If these questions are of concern to you, there is something you can do to help! Yes, the meme meme has conjured within me the following message: mind your meme meme.

* Even–no, especially–if you disagree, my point is made.

3 thoughts on “Save the Meme”

  1. eric– are u bating me? and no, i don’t mean baiting. i mean bating, like a hawk launching itself from its handlers fist, only to be pulled up short by the jesses, and hang spinning and furious upside down.
    imitation? memetic transmission occurs by replication or transformation. operand conditioning? i have not heard that confused with memetic transmission. perhaps u r mistaken.
    here is an excellent resource, Luigi Luca Cvalli-Sforza, Cultural Transmission and Evolution. published in 1981.
    for something more modern, razib’s fav, Dan Sperber, Explaining Culture.
    i’ll own up to genome/memome. But why the objection? If a genome is the aggregate of an individuals genes, can’t a memome be the aggregate of an individuals memes?
    E. O. Wilson called them culture genes, the smallest discrete unit of cultural inheritance.

    perhaps in the colloquial sense, meme has lost its meaning.
    but it is still useful for those of us interested in the origin and evolution of cultures. 😉

  2. Bating? You mean am I excepting you? Tanning your hide? (oooh, sounds fun) I’m not getting the hawk reference, sorry.

    Replication of a meme requires imitation. Transformation is merely an independent operation, an intermediary step during replication.

    I am not against memetics as a plausible model for culture. I fully recognize its utility in explaining cultural evolution. I just avoid inventing new terms that provide no additional explanatory power.

    Whether you agree or have witnessed the abuses I listed is irrelevant. The fact that you have or haven’t is fully in line with my proposition that the meme memeplex has picked up freeloaders with varying survival rates.

  3. do i care what the petit bourgeouise and the twodigit class do with or to memetics?
    im scient. *wry grin*

    “that the meme memeplex has picked up freeloaders with varying survival rates.”
    survival of the fittest.
    hmmm…perhaps i’ll make a wiki of it. infection model.

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