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Powerful self propagating ideas that take root in the social consciousness

Memes are contagious 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 on memes.
                                                                            - Richard Brodie

Over the past three decades the
Great American Dream has turned into a global 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 gardens."

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.

The Meme as Cultural Gene

Although there 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, songs,  dances, and even films.

Scientist Richard Dawkins 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 (i.e., 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 fail.

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.

North American After-Culture: An artistic vision of life after the Hydro-carbon Age. This artwork represents a set of new visual memes.

Telling Stories
The Restorative Power of the Myth by Kelpie Wilson

While this article is about myth it, should be understand that a myth is 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.

More articles and resources on memes to come shortly.

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