virus: Re : Mementology

Hakeeb A. Nandalal (
Sat, 16 Nov 1996 21:30:43 +0000

Tadeusz Niwinski wrote :-

> A question for the CoV group:
> Based on the following letter -- what do you think of Mementology?

I couldn't agree with Ron Bubard more. I "introduced" the concept of memes to a group of
leftist-progressive "thinkers" on something called the "bad" list. The similarity to the "virus" list was
strong in that they deliberately used a word of negative connotation to identify with, in their
less-than-popular views. Their homepage is :-

Bad Subjects

These are some of the responses :-

Matthias Regan :

Yipes! Look out, the dude's thought infected!
Is a meme like a seme? & what does it MEAN to talk about thoughts as though
they were a virus? Does it universalize? (everyone's vunerable)& what is the
difference--as far as servicing as transport to these little memes--between
a book and a computer? I mean, can you catch these memes by wiring circuits?
ARe they of more than one strain?
Is protection available?
Is it being subsidized by the government?

No offence Hakeeb, but what planet did you beam down from ? I laughed
so hard at this business about memes that for a moment I thought you
were serious.

I dunno Paul, this meme nonsense is pretty cheeky. Okay, so Dawkins
ain't a novelist, BFD. I am not so sure about this stuff anyway, nor
do I feel like I need any enlightening about how we could critically
appropriate this discourse either. I appreciate your point though.
Thanks for clarification.
Amy Ruth Partridge:

Hey Joel,
You wanna co-write a conference proposal on this "meme" crap with me?
We could do a performative investigation. . . Why criticize when we could
capitalize? The master's tools and all that....
Jonathan Sterne:

The tool is worthless to me until you can show me that it solves a
problem -- an IMPORTANT problem -- that I can't solve with the tools I've
already got. I've got lots of philosophical, cultural and political
questions I can't figure out (as do many list members). So the challenge
for you or any other advocate of memes is to show me why I should use them.
What does memetics tell me that I can't learn through other means?


Memetics is not science. It does not follow the scientific method,
it does not verify theories through independent experiementation, and it
does not work toward deriving laws or at least patterns that can accurately
be predicted and will be repeated.

There is only one person who had encountered memetics before. He'd read both "The Selfish Gene" and
"Thought Contagion" and I wish he'd join CoV but he's too busy taking on the imperialists. His name is
Paul Henry Rosenberg (he's the "Paul" that ass Joel referred too).

These was his first response :-

Paul Henry Rosenberg:

I'm afraid Hakeeb's a bit carried away here, but he's not alone. The word "meme" was
coined by Richard Dawkin's in the last chapter of this 1976 book _The Selfish Gene_.
Dawkin's mindset is interesting, as it forshadow's Hakeeb's statement here.

Dawkins book is dealing with the fact of genetic altruism -- i.e. animals will
sacrifice themselves to save others. The question: how is this possible, since animals
that do this should become extinct. Only "selfish" animals who try to save thmeselves
at all costs should survive. The answer is simple: these are social animals. The
genes are widely dispersed. The gene for group defense survives, because the
individual death makes the whole group more likely to surive and reproduce. Selection
takes place at the level of the gene -- gene POOL, actually, since a gene cannot
survive alone -- rather than that of the individual.

Dawkins comes from the British imperialist school of science, which reflexively sees
the world a certain way. "Selfishness" is part of the way they partse the world.
Hence, when he discoveres how genetic altruism works, he immediately refocuses on the
gene and says, "Aha! It's the GENE that's SELFISH!" Hence the title of his book.

His reaction to memes immediately struck me as of a piece with his selfishness
fixation. As I said, Dawkins introduced "memes" in the last chapter of the book, and
concluded by saying that we needed to escape from their influence -- much as Hakeeb has
said. Now, as I saw it, this was yet another expression of Dawkin's worldview, seeing
memes as something foreign, external, threatening to freedom, etc. To be frank, it
seemed so silly I laughed. What in the world does Dawkins think the idea of freedom
is? What is the idea of being free of memes? Dawkin's is trying to escape from his
own mind!

The things about memes is this: Dawkins was writing about one shift of focus: from
individual (genotype) selection to group (phenotype) selection, from the individual to
the genes the indivudal is hosting. Memtics involves another shift of focus from the
individual mind to the ideas the mind is hosting. Just as it would be foolish to think
of a biological individual apart from the genes they are made up of, so it is foolish
to think of a cognitive individual apart from the memes they are made up of. But
Dawkin's, poor soul, is driven to try to do both! Really a rotten meme he's got!

I find the whole idea of memes fascinating, despite the fact that many attracted to it
seem to share Dawkin's naivite in one way or another. Dawkins, after all, only coined
the term, he was not the first to think about the matter. In fact, William James wrote
an article in the Atlantic Monthly back in 1880, "Great Men and Their Environments"
which pretty much got the jump on Dawkins and his followers.

There's a pretty good new popular book out, _Thought Contagion_ by Aaron Lynch, I've
temporarily misplaced my copy or I'd give you a good quick quote, but what's most to
recommend it is (1) It's simple and straightforward. (2) It's ABOUT memes, rather than
discussing them on the way to or as part of something else (3) He doesn't think that
memes are everything. To the contrary, he's interested in pointing out he a study of
memes complements other approaches, where it's limits are, etc. A refreshingly
non-evangerlical approach which is hard to find, espescially in the field of memes. (4)
as a corrollary to #3, he doesn't babble.

Paul Rosenberg
Reason and Democracy

"Let's put the information BACK into the information age!"

BTW, this was my response to Joel :-

Joel (Khmer Ribs <>) wrote :-

> No offence Hakeeb, but what planet did you beam down from ? I laughed
> so hard at this business about memes that for a moment I thought you
> were serious.

That's OK.

When I read the obsolete adolescent leftist bullshit posted here, I laugh too.

That felt good.

I'm still on the "bad" list and it's taking a weird turn : I told them that
their non-scientific background was keeping them from understanding memes.
This turned out to be a very constructive move.

Hakeeb A. Nandalal