self propagating ideas that take root in the social consciousness
ideas, all competing for a share of our mind in a kind of Darwinian
selection. As memes evolve, they become better and better at
distracting and diverting us from whatever we'd really like to be doing
with our lives. They are a kind of Drug of the Mind. Confused? Blame it
- Richard Brodie
Over the past three decades the Great American
Dream has turned into
nightmare. In order to prop up our unsustainable lifestyle, we have
been systematically poisoning the soil, air, and water with pollutants
and industrial chemicals. Moreover, we have been doing our best
to persuade everyone else that they should copy our way of
life as much as is possible. As Richard Heinberg, author of several books on Peak Oil states, "The reality is that
no country will be able to maintain a quasi-American lifestyle for its
citizens past the first or second decade of this century. Someone must
tell the Chinese to abandon their dreams of owning BMWs, and someone
must tell Americans to ditch their SUVs and start growing backyard
The Great American Dream of
perpetual growth based on never-ending accumulation of material
possessions and consumption of
resources has now become
unfeasible. Furthermore, many Americans are waking up to the
realization that it's no
longer a desirable way to live, even if it could be prolonged.
It's now time for a new universal dream which will enable us to adapt
to and survive in the age of energy descent, global warming, and
over-population. The new universal dream called for at this time is one
of living sustainably and self-sufficiently, cooperation in place of
Darwinian competition, communal solidarity in place of rugged
individualism, and a reassertion of the sacredness of all life--not
just our own.
This transition will require a new set of memes for humanity to live by.
Meme as Cultural Gene
is no generally agreed upon definition of "meme", it can be roughly
defined as any piece of information transferable from one mind to
another. Examples of memes include thoughts, ideas, theories, values,
practices, habits, moods, myths,
dances, and even films.
first introduced the concept of the meme in his classic 1976 book, The Selfish Gene. During his years
as an ethologist, he had observed that cultures evolve in much the same
way that populations of organisms evolve and came to view what he
labeled "memes" as the building
blocks of culture. As Jeff Vail explains in A Theory of Power, "The meme is the
cultural equivalent of the gene,
but unlike the gene we cannot reduce the meme to a tangible particle." Various ideas
memes) pass from one generation to the next. These ideas may either
enhance or detract from the survival of the people who integrate those
ideas into their cultures. This result then affects which of those
ideas will survive for passing on to future generations.
For example, a certain primitive culture may place a greater emphasis
on designing and making tools
than surrounding cultures. Overtime this culture will most likely
prosper while the others fail. This will lead to
a higher proportion of the overall population becoming users of tools
as those who fail to adopt them either diminish in numbers or possibly
even become extinct.
Thus, a cultural belief in the importance of having proper tools (i.e.,
a meme) acts
somewhat similarly to a biological gene meaning that those
cultures/organisms with the best memes/genes will succeed where others
It should be emphasized here that some memes begin to bring about
negative results over time. What once worked becomes a destructive
trait as circumstances change.
The following articles and essays are provided to help the reader
understand memes at a conscious level whereas they are something that
normally operates outside of one's consciousness--yet have a powerful
influence over our behaviors.
American After-Culture: An
artistic vision of life after the Hydro-carbon Age. This artwork
represents a set of new visual
Restorative Power of the Myth by Kelpie Wilson
While this article is about myth it, should be understand that a myth
a type of meme which diffuses through society via story-telling.
Excerpt from Telling Stories:
"A theme of many flood myths is that the deluge was punishment for
failure to respect the gods and their creations. The Old Testament
version speaks of God's desire to end the "wickedness of man," while
the Babylonian version says that the god Enlil was disturbed by the
overpopulation and "noise of the people." From a completely different
part of the world, a myth from the Palau Islands in Micronesia tells of
gods who sent the flood to punish a man who stole a star from the sky.
The stars were the eyes of the gods.
The ancients were inclined to take any natural cataclysm—an earthquake,
a flood, or a storm—as a sign that their actions might be out of
harmony with the cosmic order. The great floods at the end of the last
ice age came just at the time that the earliest civilizations were
forming. The deluge became a powerful image to instill guilt as a tool
for maintaining the social order and to motivate faith in the founding
religions of civilization.
How ironic then, that a past climate change for which humans bore no
blame should inspire such a tremendous sense of collective
responsibility, while the current one, for which we are certainly
culpable, inspires only a mad rush to place the blame on anyone or
anything but ourselves."
To read the entire article on the power
of myths by Kelpie Wilson click here.
articles and resources on memes to come shortly.