virus: review: Virus of the Mind

David McFadzean (
Tue, 07 May 1996 20:01:51 -0600

_Virus of the Mind_ by Richard Brodie is the first popular book
on the market exclusively about memetics, the study of infectious
ideas. I've been looking forward to it since I first heard
rumors of its existence in alt.memetics almost a year ago. It
was worth the wait.

I have to confess that at first I was disappointed with the
presentation style of the book. It seems to be aimed at
an audience with a high-school reading level; key points are
highlighted in boxes and illustrated with cartoons featuring
Eggbert, on oval happy face with spiky hair. Later I came to
the conclusion that Brodie is probably capable of a more
sophisticated writing style, but consciously chose to give
it wider appeal in a deliberate act of memetic engineering.

In fact Brodie takes many opportunities to apply the techniques
he discusses in the book which serves not only to lend weight to
the theories, but should also theoretically increase books sales. :)
For example, he named the book _Virus of the Mind_ rather than,
say, _Introduction to Memetics_ because it will catch more
people's attention due to their association memes. (I, of
all people, certainly can't fault him for that!)

It is difficult to discuss memetics in depth without veering
off into deep philosophy. Everything that exists, everything
with a name, everything we know corresponds to a meme including
memes themselves. What is truth? What are we? What should we
do? The new science of the meme sheds light on all these
questions and Brodie doesn't shy away from tackling these
issues head on, but always remaining practical and open-minded.

The book covers a great deal in its 230 pages. Starting with
general definitions, it goes on to describe how memes are like
biological and computer viruses and how they evolve in their
respective mediums. One chapter introduces evolutionary
psychology (the subject of Robert Wright's excellent _The
Moral Animal_ which will be the topic of my next review),
and how the ancient memes of "sex" and "danger" are still
very much shaping our culture today. Another chapter covers
how we get programmed (infected by new memes), and how these
techniques are used by governments, corporations, cults
and religions. (I paid special attention to the chapter
on how to start a cult :)

It was refreshing to see how charitable Brodie is towards
religion, even after describing in detail how it is really
a cultural power virus, evolving to take advantage of the
natural "push-button" memes of its adherents including
"security", "sex", "belonging" and "crisis" through memes
like "tradition", "heresy", "evangelism" and "repetition".
He concludes that despite all that religions are still very
useful because they give purpose to otherwise meaningless
lives (sound familiar?).

I suspect even someone already well-read in the area of
memetics will find new insights in _Virus of the Mind_.
Brodie is obviously a bright guy who has thought a lot
about how to teach people about memes in order to create
a future by design. _Virus of the Mind_ should be on
every Virion's reading list, I've already put it in my
Top 10. (

David McFadzean       
Memetic Engineer      
Church of Virus