Memes Versus Genes

It amazes me how infrequently the phrase “memes versus genes” (or vice-versa) comes up with solid hits on Google. Even before I'd heard of memes I used software (Diplo, the original Pyroto Mountain BBS, etc.) to experiment with my dawning realization that memes compete against genes (and vice-versa) for the substrate of replication.

For example, if a man becomes a celibate (non-reproducing) priest, that part of the substrate has become dedicated to spreading certain memes. So we can say those memes have triumphed over genes. If, on the other hand, that same priest is drawn away from his calling by sexual urges, leaves the priesthood and goes on to reproduce, then the genes have won through their persuasion.

Of course, if the priest reproduces covertly and remains a priest, then both memes and genes are cooperating at some level, though this is not a stable situation. Memes and genes do not automatically compete; the thriving of humanity proves they work together. But as wars of ideology show, cooperation is not inherent. For both genes and memes, altruism and similarly costly strategies are experiments that sometimes work and subsequently persist.

Perhaps there is so little online discussion of “genes versus memes” because it is so deeply wounding to that monumental creation of memes, the human ego. You rarely find an intelligent discussion of genetics on a Creationist web site. In a similar way, it is a risky strategy for the substrate to see its true nature. Which is why nutty philosophies and ideologies persist: complex networks of memes necessarily evolve built-in immunities. The truth will set you free, but the lie knows many ways to keep you in bondage.

Indeed, that is the function of antiprocess: it (A) protects a particular memeplex and (B) prevents the host from seeing that it is a host. This second fact is, of course, deadly to the potent meme of “self”, so we continue to confuse our meme-driven thoughts with our identity.

It remains to be seen to what extent the “self” and other memes are viable. In other words, when will this strategy — so effective so far — remove itself from the substrate? Genghis Khan's selfishness served his genes very well, but one might wonder how his attitudes (memes) poisoned the pool.

So what do we do with this perspective? Perhaps we could insert it into a video about cats or puppies and upload it to YouTube. Because, for reasons that should now be obvious, it's unlikely to go anywhere otherwise.

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