On some level, I wholeheartedly embrace the study of memetics. I’m fascinated that there exists within the world of science a branch or theory that is devoted to the study of how cultures grow and evolve.
So when I discovered the book, I was anxious to dig into it, and see what it reveals. It makes total sense to me that there are cultural ideas, concepts, attitudes, etc. that inform my beliefs, and therefore actions I take on a day-to-day basis. When I first picked up the book, I gravitated toward Richard’s examples.
That said, as I started reading the introduction, I found myself feeling more and more irritated. Why call this ‘new science’ memetics? Why create a whole other layer? Is it really necessary? Why don’t we just call these unconscious “drivers” what they are? Beliefs, attitudes, etc. that we have accepted without thinking about them. Why not just shine a light on those, instead of creating a whole new layer called Memes, and then diving deep into the memes to discover those same unconscious “drivers”? Is some kind of gimmick or tactic?
I hope you’ll forgive my cynicism here, but I decided that when I began participating in this blog my intention was to be honest with our readers and myself. Perhaps anyone else reading who may have a similar reaction, will know they’re not alone.
I have always been a strong proponent of choice. I believe that we can develop an awareness muscle that allows us to see clearly what beliefs and attitudes are informing our lives. And once those bits of information become clear to us, we can use that information to make conscious choices, and change the direction we are headed if we so choose.
I’ve also been noticing lately that I’ve been a cultural rebel of sorts throughout much of my life. I’ve rarely followed the masses, and often eschewed cultural traditions and blazed my own trail. Much of my coaching work evolves around helping my clients empower themselves in part by identifying places in their lives where they are unconsciously living by rules defined by others, and helping them reveal what they might choose instead if they were creating their own path. So perhaps those tendencies have added to my skepticism in embracing the label of memetics.
I don’t disagree that “cultural viruses” exist –perhaps cultural ideas that replicate unknowingly, (cultural viruses) run rampant in peer pressure that causes some kids to join gangs or take drugs. Could those same “cultural viruses” be what prompt others to start a local orchestra for kids in inner cities?
I’d also like to invite us to scrap judgments of positive or negative, and realize that those are labels that we each create based upon our experiences and perspectives. What I may see as a positive, someone else may see as negative. And I may see something as a negative one day, only to be incredibly grateful for the same thing some number of hours, days, or months later. Perhaps it’s the rebel in me that wants to encourage each of us to be open to seeing what is true for you.
As I was considering the introduction of Richard Brodie’s book again, I became drawn to a passage about paradigm shift that spoke to me, as a call to openness.
He invites “The trick to learning a new paradigm is to set aside your current one while you’re learning rather than attempt to fit the new knowledge into your existing model. It won’t fit!” (p. xv)
Busted! So while I experience resistance to the whole “label” of memes, I realize that I can choose to set aside my resistance and experience instead, this new paradigm, and see how it fits for me. Instead, I will choose to consider, “What if this science of memetics does reveal an entirely new paradigm? What might it look like, and how might it change things?”
As Richard continues to highlight 4 building blocks of memetics that he covers in the book, I’m also struck by one other block of text that resonates deeply within my soul. Whether I choose to embrace this science as “memetics,” or scrap the new label and deal with the inner components, I do love the question he poses:
“Will we allow natural selection to evolve us randomly, without regard for our happiness, satisfaction, or spirit? Or will we seize the reins of our own evolution and pick a direction for ourselves?” (p. xvii)
That question reflects back my own belief that as we understand why we do what we do, we can consciously make new choices. As we journey through this book, I intend to ask questions, perhaps confront my own ideas as well as the ideas of others as I embark on the journey to dig deeper into revealing my own truth. Join us on this journey, and please share your thoughts and questions!