Friday Anti-meme

In the course of repeating a game the other day, I mentioned that I don’t like meme-talk, and pointed to an older post that, among other things, gives a short version of my reasons for saying that there are no such things as memes. Thing is, in that post I said I was giving the argument short shrift, and said I’d probably come back to it later—and then I never did. Since (1) I had cause to mention it lately, (2) a commentator recently prodded me on my abbreviated version of the argument, and (3) in memoriam of Rox’s last Random Ten—a fun weblog game unfortunately mislabeled a meme—I’d like to make good on that at last. Consider this the Friday Anti-Meme, if you will. Rox may not be continuing to spread a fun idea for talking about music anymore, but by God you will get a cranky philosophical disquisition that spends too much time talking about how we talk about silly web games. (It’s not that I have anything against people who use the word meme to describe the ideas for posts that they spread. At worst it’s a bit of an offense against my prose aesthetic. But I do have reasons for hoping that the word will meet a swift and ignominious demise; and if this contributes to it, well, so much the better.)

So what’s all the fuss about, anyway? Well, we’re not just talking about weblog posting games where you encourage others to join, of course. What is all is the notion of a meme supposed to encompass? Here’s how Susan Blackmore, quoting and explicating from Richard Dawkins’ original discussion in The Selfish Gene (1976), puts it:

At the very end of the book he asked an obvious, if provocative, question. Are there any other replicators [besides DNA-based genes] on our planet? The answer, he claimed, is Yes. Staring us in the face, though still drifting clumsily about in its primeval soup of culture, is another replicator — a unit of imitation.

We need a name for the new replicator, a noun that conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation. Mimeme comes from a suitable Greek root, but I want a monosyllable that sounds a bit like gene. I hope my classicist friends will forgive me if I abbreviate mimeme to meme.

(I, for one, won’t forgive such a clunker of an attempt at cutesy neologism. But let’s move on.)

As examples he suggested tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches. He mentioned scientific ideas that catch on and propagate themselves around the world by jumping from brain to brain. He wrote about religions as groups of memes with a high survival value, infecting whole societies with belief in a God or an afterlife. He talked about fashions in dress or diet, and about ceremonies, customs and technologies — all of which are spread by one person copying another. Memes are stored in human brains (or books or inventions) and passed on by imitation.

In a few pages he laid the foundations for understanding the evolution of memes. He discussed their propagation by jumping from brain to brain, likened them to parasites infecting a host, treated them as physically realised living structures, and showed how mutually assisting memes will gang together in groups just as genes do. Most important, he treated the meme as a replicator in its own right. He complained that many of his colleagues seemed unable to accept the idea that memes would spread for their own benefit, independently of any benefit to the genes. In the last analysis they wish always to go back to biological advantage to answer questions about human behaviour. Yes, he agreed, we got our brains for biological (genetic) reasons but now we have them a new replicator has been unleashed. Once this new evolution begins, it will in no necessary sense be subservient to the old (Dawkins, 1976, 193-4). In other words, memetic evolution can now take off without regard to its effects on the genes.

Well, Dawkins and Blackmore are certainly right to knock their colleagues’ heads together if they insist on trying to find some way to tie every widespread cultural phenomenon to some sort of adaptation for genetic fitness (except in the very broad sense that human intelligence, as such, allows for such phenomena through its extreme versatility, and human intelligence is itself adaptive). Good for them. Unfortunately, the alternative they offer is on no better grounds. What they are claiming to do is to introduce a new technical term and a new theoretical framework that will give us interesting, useful, and accurate accounts of a huge array of cultural phenomena. Let’s keep in mind just how various the facts they’re claiming to explain are; they explicitly include:

  1. the popularity of tunes and catch-phrases
  2. fashions in dress
  3. cuisine
  4. the inculcation (and adaptation) of customs and etiquette
  5. styles of art and architecture
  6. the spread of ideas and beliefs
  7. religious belief, evangelism and conversion
  8. the rise and fall of scientific theories
  9. the adoption of technologies and useful inventions
  10. the preservation of key elements of (1)-(9) in the form of literature, story-telling, articles, blueprints, recipes, etc.
  11. the adaptation, modification, and sometimes disappearance of (1)-(10) over time

If you really could come up with a unified science to take all of these phenomena into account, then it truly would be a discovery of Newtonian (or Darwinian) proportions. Dawkins and Blackmore think they have got it: the concept of self-replicating information patterns, and a research programme based on investigating the selective pressures at work on the replicators. Just as research into the selective pressures on genes can do the heavy lifting to explain the vast biodiversity of our world, the idea goes, research into the selective pressures on bits of culture can offer the basis for a Grand Unified Theory of cultural development and human diversity.

If the parallel between selfish genes and bits of culture can be drawn, that is. But that’s easier said than done. For that parallel to hold, and for memetic accounts to do any explanatory work from it, we’ll need to say something about what it means for tunes, catch-phrases, superstitions, religious beliefs, scientific theories, poems, weblog games, customs, and more to be fit, and what the selective pressures on them in a given environment are. In order to draw a good parallel, we need to cash out fitness like we do in evolutionary biology—in terms of reproductive success, i.e., the replicator’s shot at making copies of itself. The whole research programme, then, depends on an account of what it means for tunes, catch-phrases, superstitions, religious beliefs, scientific theories, poems, weblog games, customs, and more to replicate themselves. So what is the account? Well, Dawkins says, it’s jumping from brain to brain; memes replicate when they spread to another person. Or, to be more precise, when one person spreads them to another.

And that’s the problem. To talk about how bits of culture replicate, you need to talk about the reasons people have for spreading, or for taking up, an idea, belief, device, etc.

Yet memetics can’t get us one step closer to understanding these reasons. The whole point of memetics, as a science of culture, is supposed to be that it can give us accurate and interesting explanations of cultural phenomena from the standpoint of selection of the fittest. But there’s an important disanalogy here between evolutionary biology and the study of culture: organisms can, and the astronomically large majority of organisms do, replicate their genes blindly. That is to say, they can replicate their genes without intending or desiring to do so; since of all the species in the known Universe only one understands how babies are made (let alone population genetics), most genes are replicated this way. There is usually a causal link between an organism’s interests or desires or choices and the replication of the genes that may determine or influence them, but there’s no conceptual link; you can spell out what makes for the replication of a gene, and what makes a gene fit, without any essential reference to the interests or desires or choices of its vehicle. Not so for memes; the link between the fitness of a idea, belief, device, game, etc. and the reasons a person does or doesn’t have for passing it on or taking it up is not just causal, but logical. Those reasons may be very simple: you hum a song you heard on the radio because the melody is nice; you tell your child not to bite you because it hurts. Or they may be very complex: scientists begin to adopt the Alvarez theory of the K-T extinction because several complex geological findings tend to support it over other plausible candidates; Dada Anti-Art flourishes in the world of visual art and art criticism because of an intricate knot of political, aesthetic, and philosophical influences including the devastation of the Great War, a perception that the possibilities for modern painting had been exhausted, and the modernist ethic of rebellion against stale convention. But whatever the reasons are, it is essential that there are some reasons; otherwise what we are discussing is not a part of culture, but rather some kind of acquired tic or reflex.

That leaves memetics in a nasty bind. Since there is no way to give an account of the replication or fitness of spreading bits of culture independent of facts about their hosts’ reasons for spreading them, memetic explanations of cultural diversity don’t have the explanatory ground to stand on that genetic explanations of biodiversity do, and must fall into one of two degenerate patterns:

  1. They could fall back on some understanding of people and their reasons for accepting and spreading ideas—making the account accurate but completely vacuous. The explanation here depends on the selection of fit over unfit ideas, but the criteria for determining whether an idea is fit or not depends on entirely on understanding acts such as giving evidence, drawing conclusions or committing fallacies, weighing alternatives, informing or deceiving, manipulating, explicating, misdirecting, ignoring, revealing, confusing, and all the other things that people do when they talk with one another. But that just means that the memetic explanation is entirely parasitic on explanations drawn from other disciplines—logic, for example, or rhetoric, or psychology. If those other explanations are good ones, then you may really get an explanation of why an idea has spread so well; but in that explanation memetics will be contributing nothing more than argot. The notions of memes and selective fitness and the rest will just be along for the ride, as terminological placeholders for the non-memetic analytical categories that are doing the real explanatory work.

  2. If, on the other hand, they try to offer an explanation that doesn’t refer, either overtly or covertly, to people’s reasons for accepting and spreading ideas, then the meme-terminology will indeed do some special explanatory work of its own; the problem is that it must issue in conclusions that are obviously false. In order to do real explanatory work a memetic account would have to spell out some factor that makes an idea, belief, etc. fit in terms that are independent of facts about hosts (that is, us) and the reasons that we have for adopting or rejecting it. But you can’t do it, and if you tried to, the degree to which your explanation invoked terms that have nothing to do with the person’s reasons would be the degree to which you were treating the object of your study as something other than a cultural product. (If your explanation for a person falling to her knees five times a day has nothing to do with her reasons for accepting and acting on the idea that she ought to, then you’re not explaining a ritual; you’re explaining a repeated fit.) Any non-vacuous memetic account has to be false, because it attempts to explain by irrelevancies.

A would-be memeticist might try to avoid the dilemma by claiming that my second horn depends on an overly rosy view of the average human being’s rationality. Is it really wrong to say that a lot of customs, slogans, etc. aren’t the products of reason? But that would just be a cheat: there’s a difference between explaining a cultural product by reference to bad reasons people have for adopting it, and explaining it without reference to any reasons people have for adopting it. Among the things I said you have to understand in order to understand how some beliefs and ideas spread are things like deceiving and confusing and misdirecting. It’s certainly true that there are some beliefs—superstitions, for example—that persist because people adopt them for bad reasons. But a memetic account that refers only to the bad reasons that a person might have for adopting a belief is no less vacuous than a memetic account that refers to all the reasons they might have had; it’s still entirely parasitic on our understanding of people’s reasons for spreading certain beliefs. The only difference is that it is also less charitable, and so more likely to be false. In fact, this precise confusion seems to be at the root of many if not most memetic accounts: since you can’t intelligibly give an account of cultural practices under option (2), but the memeticist wants to avoid explanations that are obviously entirely parasitic on an understanding of logic and psychology, they try to cheat their way into (2) by restricting the range of reasons that they’ll consider to the bad ones. I think this goes a long way toward explaining, for example, the common memetic explanation for widespread norms for altruism by appeal to the likelihood that people who get the meal will listen to the sermon, or that mutual back-scratching will benefit the scratchers. It’s certainly true that these may be part of the reason why people exhort others to be nice, and listen to others who so exhort them. But why not also explain the widespread norms by reference to, say, the notion that humans can see it’s true that they have a duty to be generous and not cruel? The past century of psychoanalysis and secularism notwithstanding, the fact that an explanation of human behavior is ennobling isn’t always a good reason to regard it as false.

This may also help to explain why memetics talk rarely progresses beyond some appeals to elementary folk psychology concealed under cutesy pseudoscientific mumbo-jumbo. Smuggling in the folk psychology keeps the account from being false or simply unintelligible—as in (2)—and imposing the flashy argot in between the real (logical, rhetorical, psychological) explanations and the audience directs their attention away from the degree to which—as in (1)—the account is, where it gets something right, entirely parasitic on some non-memetic explanation of human behavior.

Omar K. Ravenhurst argued, in reply to my previous post, that the dependence of memetic accounts on other disciplines might not pose any problem for memetics as a science. Thus:

I don’t know if I follow you here. Physics can theoretically explain the whole of biology. Even if we could do this in practice, it wouldn’t destroy the usefulness of biology as shorthand.

Actually, I’m not at all sure that it’s true that biology is reducible to a complete physics. But if it is, that certainly doesn’t mean that biology is useless. Fair enough, but that doesn’t help memetics. If memetics is entirely reducible to the other human sciences, then it is failed at what it set out to do. It’s not at all clear to me that memetics could do what it is supposed to for the other human sciences (that is, provide an over-arching theoretical framework that will do what evolutionary biology has done for the study of paleontology and ecology) if it is merely a shorthand for them, but even if it could, why bother? If biology is merely shorthand for a complete chemistry and physics, it is still useful because the chemical and physical processes involved in a single organism are orders of magnitude more complex than anything a human being could comprehend in one survey. But are facts such as People often pick up catchy tunes they hear on the street or Scientists tend to pick up on scientific theories that elegantly explain recent findings and solve outstanding problems in the field or Sometimes human beings believe things without enough evidence if it makes them feel better about the future complex facts that need a shorthand? If not, then why bother making up a distracting shorthand—much less a shorthand based on a systematic attempt to turn attention away from the very facts about people and their reasons for doing what they do that you ultimately need to refer to to make sense of the account?

It seems, in all cases, that memetics is nothing more than pseudoscientific mummery; the notions of memes and memetic fitness, and any research based on these notions, depend on a conceptual misdirection. We are told that we’re going to find out something about how ideas or beliefs spread, but the memetic terminology is supposed to turn your intellectual attention away from the very facts about meme hosts (viz., us) that actually explain why we do or do not accept ideas, and why we do or do not pass them to other people. But that’s nothing more than a conjuring trick, and a pernicious one at that. The reasons that we have for picking up or putting down ideas, beliefs, theories, bits of culture, etc. are what make us who we are: rational animals who relate to one another in an intelligent community. Memetic explanations are so often uncharitable because they insist on trying to explain facts about human actions, human ideas, and human communities in a literally dehumanized way. The sooner we stop that, the better.

As far as the weblog games go: if the word meme deserves to die, then what should they be called? Well, what about the good old word idea? As in: Here’s an idea that I got from Rox Populi. I’m passing it on here because [I think it’s fun / I’m hard up for material / I want to start a discussion / I want to rant about memetics / etc. etc. etc.]

Take responsibility for the contents of your own mind! Écrasez la niaserie!

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11 replies to Friday Anti-meme Use a feed to Follow replies to this article

  1. Gabriel Mihalache

    Finally! At last, a taste of common sense! I have nothing to add, but I just wanted to say, keep up the good work!

  2. Martin Striz

    In an interview with Jaron Lanier (found here: http://www.nyu.edu/classes/neimark/evolution.html), Richard Dawkins had this to say about memes: “I agree with most of what you say. But if you look at my original suggestion of memes, they were really almost a rhetorical device for telling people that in spite of what they’d just read about the selfish gene, DNA was not everything.”

    They are a rhetorical device that has become an urban legend among the faux-educated. More accurately, memes are sometimes a useful quick and dirty analogy for what you want to say, and I have no problem with people using the term in colloquial exchanges, but most of the time they aren’t.

    Unlike memes, the genes and viruses that they are often compared to have internal structures that determine their mode of transmission and the selection pressures that can act on them. Memes have no internal structures outside of the brains that instantiate them. Their structure depends on neural ensembles, and so it’s cognitive neuroscience and human psychology that must be understood in order to elucidate the nature of their trasmission.

    In a discussion about memes someone argued that numbers were also merely concepts in the brain without an external existence of their own, to which I replied: numbers are a USEFUL abstraction; memes are a bad analogy.

    But in arguing against the existence of memes, you are also arguing against the power of culture to shape people, because then you must realize that culture itself only exists in minds (or as the product of the output behaviors of minds), and so they aren’t infinitely malleable by it. It simply isn’t adaptive to respond to everything in the environment, so genes build brains that respond in predictable ways to specific parts of the environment. Genes control the range of responses, while the environment refines and specifies those responses. There is no gene for speaking English, but their are a set of genes that allow language acquisition, and your environment (living in an English-speaking country) specifies the output. Of course, the brain with it’s higher order reasoning capacity has a broader repertoire of outputs (choices) than other species (Dennet’s “Freedom Evolves”), but we aren’t infinitely adaptable either. Burgeoning fields like evolutionary psychology and decision theory reveal just how our observations are full of biases, our reasining is full of simplifying heuristics, and so forth. A GREAT article on that point, that culture is defined by psychology and not vice versa, which EVERY academic, especially in the humanities, should read, is found here: http://www.tyronepow.com/misc/TheAdaptedMind.htm

  3. Martin Striz

    I don’t know if I follow you here. Physics can theoretically explain the whole of biology. Even if we could do this in practice, it wouldn’t destroy the usefulness of biology as shorthand.

    Actually, I’m not at all sure that it’s true that biology is reducible to a complete physics. But if it is, that certainly doesn’t mean that biology is useless.

    Technically, all of chemistry is a special case of physics. The rules of chemistry can almost entirely be derived from the valence shell properties of atoms. Likewise, biology is a special case of chemistry: those chemicals that are capable of self-organizing and replicating. So technically biology could be described with physics, and no that wouldn’t be useful, but I think that’s what his point was. He was suggesting that memetics is a useful way of describing cultural transmission. But it is THAT with which we don’t agree.

  4. Omar K. Ravenhurst

    I mentioned that Special Relativity seems like a better example, except that it sounds arrogant. Memetics doesn’t seem new, so much as ignored.

    I think this goes a long way toward explaining, for example, the common memetic explanation for widespread norms for altruism by appeal to the likelihood that people who get the meal will listen to the sermon, or that mutual back-scratching will benefit the scratchers. It’s certainly true that these may be part of the reason why people exhort others to be nice, and listen to others who so exhort them. But why not also explain the widespread norms by reference to, say, the notion that humans can see it’s true that they have a duty to be generous and not cruel?

    Certainly people have their own reasons for beliefs and actions. But if encouraging niceness hurt the culture, would this encouragement exist? Or would pro-niceness cultures have lost out to others?

    We know that historically, warlike memes tend to benefit from a large population of warriors who will fight for the meme. We know that for this tactic to work, the meme needs both a lot of people and a lot of control or ‘successful transmission’. (If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear. Deu 21:18-21) We know this can lead to exclusive focus on controlling the behavior of warriors (notice that quote says “son”.) All this seems trivial, in a way. Yet people still ask why tradition attacks homosexuality, and suggest that the ancients must’ve had a good reason. Now, if I replaced the word “meme” with “culture” in that explanation — or worse, “nation” — it would introduce strong emotional connotations. That last word in particular blurs the distinction between memes and hosts. Until recently, memes have enjoyed (so to speak) more rights than humans. I think this has discouraged humans from thinking rationally about them.

  5. Martin Striz

    But why not also explain the widespread norms by reference to, say, the notion that humans can see it’s true that they have a duty to be generous and not cruel?

    Because it begs the question, why would people arrive at such a conclusion if it hurt their reproductive success? In fact, most primitive people throughout history (and many still today!) didn’t behave generously to anyone outside their kith and kin (those who shared the closest genetic make up). The expansion of the moral circle to all of humanity, and even non-human animals, is a relatively new phenomenon, and certainly belies the genetic determinism account of human nature, but there are no serious genetic determinists anywhere in biology, or psychology. They are a myth as overblown as the caricatures invented to defame feminism. That being said, there have been enough failed social engineering programs to suggest to me that the human mind isn’t as malleable as we wish it could be, which is why I’ve come to the conclusion that politics alone will not eventuate the kinds of radical social outcomes that we desire (re-wiring the brain will be necessary — and quite possible within a century). But to get back to the subject, let me just conclude that Hamilton was able to demostrate mathematically why altruism is adaptive almost 40 years ago. He makes for an interesting read.

· February 2005 ·

  1. perpetua

    Hooray! Someone at last has addressed this issue—seeing the word meme used so carelessly in blog postings was troubling. Thanks for insistence that we use words as they were intended. Moreover, thoughtful dicussion about Blakemore’s interpretation of Dawkins.

  2. voracity

    The use of the term ‘meme’ (instead of idea) on weblogs is itself a meme :) One that has caught on because it is trendy, not because it is useful.

    The main problem you seem to have with memes is that they are dehumanising —- which presumably means that memetics requires that you stop thinking about culture in terms of individual humans. Indeed, it does require you to think of culture in terms of the frequencies and reproduction of memes —- which are non-sentient, non-emotional, non-reasoning units. So …?

    I am not interested in whether an area of research is dehumanising (in contrast to politics or personal life). I am only interested in whether it is useful: can it make it easier to find new knowledge. I’m not very familiar with the research, but it seems memetics hasn’t made much progress yet. But it’s still quite young (and ridiculed) and evolutionary theory had similar problems in its early life.

    I do think your criticism of memes being redundant because they depend on human psychology (i.e. reasons, etc.) is completely unfair. 1) In natural evolution, the evolution of a particular species depends completely on its genetic and biochemical makeup and the way these are expressed in a varying environment. If you do not believe this a problem for evolution, than why hold memetics to a higher standard? 2) Human intentions and reasons are very probably part of the same causal fabric as everything else (perhaps statistically causal, but still causal). As such, 3) We can model humans statistically based on evolved behaviour and/or current culture. This is already done in psychology (as you note). Using this information, we can (to take the analogy with evolution) treat humans as the environment in which memes replicate. You can model these ‘human’ environments in as detailed or as simple a fashion as you like. But they undeniably have properties that are in direct analogy to natural environments.

    As such, memetics is not an incoherent theory: it is self-consistent, and agrees with simple observations. The real question is whether it is useful (in producing new knowledge).

    Now, while it’s difficult to prove the argument that memetics is useless (because you have to prove it is useless in all cases, known and knowable), we can set conditions for when memetics is useful. One way is to find a case in which memetic analysis leads to new, independently verifiable knowledge that is either 1) not possible via other means or 2) harder via other means. Perhaps such a case already exists (as I said, I’m not familiar with the research). If it does not, we should try hard to think of one. My suspicion is that, if such a case exists, it will be mathematical and unintuitive, yet still empirically supportable. If we fail to find a case, we can regard memetics with reasonable suspicion.

    My tone in this comment has been somewhat critical. However, I’m inclined to agree that memetics is dressed-up folk psychology. The difference is that memetics is actively researched, and has a chance at being axiomatised (or at least semi-formalised), while folk psychology will remain amongst folk.

  3. Discussed at blog.monjo.com

    The Monjo Blog:

    Me me me me Meme

    I suppose the question is what is a meme? In the weblogging community it is a term given to give relevance to a posting idea. I do not much care about these posting memes, though I have do

· July 2005 ·

  1. jn

    ??

    man your argument is really sloppy. 1: why should we stop with dehumanising accounts of humans? shouldnt we have grasped to us, then, being created by God? (And you have been born into these atheistic times so dont proport to understand how “dehumanising” e-theory and atheism is). Dehumanising because when you learn it it asks you to take a different view of yourself than you had this morning… thats not dehumanising thats discovery. What makes it “true” to be nice to people? isnt that a massive leap over millenia of constant ethical and moral debate? OF course agents are referrenced in Memetics - the analogy doesnt break you didnt read it right: genes are meaningless when not referrenced to phenotypes and environments. it would just be random fluctuation. the kind you seem to see in memetics. A person has a reason to spread a meme,or an idea. the idea provides it: your anti-meme arguments provide you with reasons to express them - as does your emotional disposition (to not have an emotional disposition would be to have no action - definately not enough to write something out). you care about this issue in a certain way, and your emotional obligations are apparent. this, along with the justifications found in your arguments provide you with the reason to open your mouth. and you want us to believe you. you want us to be drawn into the idea, you want the idea to be with us, and to rule over our thoughts of the matter. why write here if that is not the case? it’s at this point where memetics becomes interesting. when you look at the behaviour of a single idea, such as your refutation, and it is suddenly given another level of complexity, of purpose, another wedge to sink teeth into. Psychology as an account would offer the human reasons, but leave out the idea as an object. It is an object: i am responding to it as i do not know who you are. And your words are in my head, but will i tell anyone about your ideas? you want me to, or the ideas want me to - want me to pattern an army of minds all carrying a uniform pattern - all chorusing your wisdom. Thats the point of it, it makes a jumble of stuff make sense in a new and interesting way. your not going to change the world - you’re not even entertaining philosophy (i guess ineloquent calls to maintain the status quo never are). The words are alive, they want things. they are moving.

    You have an anachronistic conception of what you are, its dull, your “common sense”, the truth is stranger than this, stranger than all of this. and stranger theories will come - you cant fight them forever. God is dead.

— 2006 —

  1. Stephan Kinsella

    I also hate the word and concept “meme,” and its overuse. I also dislike the unfair, politically-correct attacks and unfair accusations of bigotry etc. against one’s betters, namely Professor Hoppe.

  2. Rad Geek

    Stephan,

    I’m inclined to say that meme does not even designate a legitimate concept. (The definition often given — self-replicating information pattern or something of the sort — is extensionless if taken literally, since information patterns don’t replicate themselves; they are copied by people or by other describable processes. If it’s taken metaphorically, on the other hand, then the legitimacy of the concept depends on the aptness of the metaphor, and I think that the metaphor is worse than useless for roughly the reasons I explain above.)

    Anyway, I am not at all clear what Hans Hermann Hoppe has to do with anything at all in this post. I’d ask you to explain more, but really you ought to do so in a post that has something to do with Hans Hermann Hoppe, not here. Cf. for example GT 2005-02-08: Hoppe and Churchill: On the Justice of Strange Bedfellows.

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