Re: virus: Forwarding: some comments about the concept of memes

David McFadzean (
Tue, 12 Dec 1995 15:37:29 -0700

At 03:01 PM 12/12/95 -0800, Vicki Rosenzweig wrote:
>I got this off the silent-tristero list, and it seems relevant to Virus.

What is the silent-tristero list?

> >Message-Id: <>
> >Date: Tue, 12 Dec 1995 01:53:16 -0500
> >To:
> >From: (t byfield)
> >Subject: words fail me

> >> are to creatures. I suppose it would be churlish of me to point
> >> out that biological metaphors have been a staple of authoritarian
> >> thinking for a long time; at least these particular biological

I don't know if it is churlish but it is certainly irrelevant. Logic
has been a staple of authoritarian thinking for a long time (logical
methods if not premises), but that in no way suggests that we should
avoid logic.

> >> metaphors appeal in a misleading way to whole ecosystems and
> >> not to single organisms with authoritarian "heads". The deeper
> >> problem is that these metaphors are moving in an antihumanist
> >> direction. Do the people who talk about memes really think of
> >> themselves as passive cultural dopes, or as inert media through
> >> which great swarms of ideas pass? Such a notion flies in the

No more than biologists believe that organisms are merely passive
media through which great swarms of genes pass (which is to say,
not at all).

> >> face of the massive work in which many organizations engage to
> >> encourage the proliferation of certain ideas and discourage the
> >> proliferation of others. It also greatly underestimates the
> >> large amount of collective cognition that is part-and-parcel of
> >> group identity among people with shared interests in society --

Memes require this "collective cognition" to survive. It is the very
substrate of their existence.

> >> not least the cyberculture, with its shared "bet" on benefitting
> >> from the outcome of technology-driven social upheavals. At the
> >> end of the day, treating ideas as "memes" is an abdication of
> >> personal responsibility. *You* choose what ideas you think and
> >> say and write, and *you* should take responsibility for them.

I agree we choose what ideas we think and say and write and we should
take responsibility for them. (And, yes, I believe we have free will
as far as I understand this vague concept.) I *don't* think we are
independent of the memes that infect us; our choices are a product
of the interaction of the memetic ecologies we call "I". This doesn't
mean we are passive nor does it absolve us of responsibility.

David McFadzean       
Memetic Engineer      
Merak Projects Ltd.