re: virus: Suicide Meme

Neco and Jeff (
Fri, 04 Jul 1997 08:21:17 +0900

Captain Horatio Pugwash wrote:

> Has there been any discussion of the suicide meme? It seems
> quite a puzzle to me, how such a manifestly autotoxic meme could
> spread. I would hypothesize that it doesn't spread in the form,
> "to kill oneself", but rather as simply the fact that people kill
> themselves sometimes.

Actually I just joined this mailing list and haven't seen Captain's
original message in its entirety. I noticed the above in a reply to the
original, had a few thoughts of my own and thought I'd just jump right
in. Hello to all my new virion friends by the way.

This passage raises an interesting point and it shows exactly why I
think memetics can not be mapped one for one onto the already entrenched
science of genetics but instead must be developed largely as an
independent science perhaps only borrowing occasional ideas from
genetics. Genes propagate because they give their carrier a survival
advantage. If the gene doesn't give its carrier organism some sort of
survival advantage at a fairly early stage in life then there are no
selection pressures either way. That is why genetically related killers
like Alzheimer's disease and the tendency to develop certain forms of
cancer have not gone away.

Memes do not operate in this way at all. A suicide meme can exist not
only in a person's mind but in books, songs, etc. If all of the people
in the world who harbored the suicide meme in any form at all were to
suddenly act on the meme and commit suicide, the meme would still exist.
In fact, its existence would probably be magnified immensely because of
the publicity it would generate. Obviously, if everyone in the world
who had blue eyes were to suddenly die from their eye color, the future
of the blue eye gene would be dismal at best no matter how many
newspaper articles were written about it.

I don't think that the answer is in altering the 'suicide meme' to a
different form or saying that it is a combination of other memes, the
suicide meme should be left as it is. But I think that the thing that is
key here is: by what mechanism do memes propagate? This is the theory
that needs to be developed. Again I'm new to this so perhaps a theory on
the mechanics of meme propagation has been worked out by some genius in
an amazing must-read book that I have not come across yet. If it has
please someone point the way. The method behind gene propagation, on the
other hand, is fairly straight forward. Although many of us have a
tendency to give genes intentionalistic tendencies, genes do not desire
to do anything, their method of propagation can be found in fairly
straightforward and rather impersonal laws of probability. With memes, I
think something much deeper and much more complex is at work here. Any

Jeff Schrepfer      Email: