I enjoyed hearing Dan Dennett speak, though the idea he talks about is a familiar one. Memes as a powerful, shaping force have long existed, but technology has bestowed them with unprecedented power and influence. What interested me was the idea of competing memes and the lack of utility of judging certain memes as good or bad. My own ideas in this regard are influenced by Spiral Dynamics. To quote Wikipedia “Spiral Dynamics argues that human nature is not fixed: humans are able, when forced by life conditions, to adapt to their environment by constructing new, more complex, conceptual models of the world that allow them to handle the new problems. Each new model transcends and includes all previous models. According to Beck and Cowan, these conceptual models are organized around so-called vMemes: systems of core values or collective intelligences, applicable to both individuals and entire cultures.”
The ideas of Ken Wilber stress this aspect of transcending but including all previous models. This idea resonates with me because human beings are not linear. Our mental, psychological and ideological progression is rarely a straight upward graph. We spiral, and most often evolve differently in different aspects of our lives. Our professional life may belong to (to reference the Spiral Dynamic system) the Orange meme, reflecting ideas that are egalitarian and relativistic, but our personal relationships could be the authoritarian Blue.
Conflicting memes are what make our world interesting and complex, and I agree with the idea that the only way to counter a “harmful” meme is to strengthen the spread of your own self proclaimed “healthy” meme, but in this time of exploding, omnipresent information, it’s become even more crucial to become aware of what memes are “hijacking” us and to what end. Never was this more clear to me than when I was in India this summer and the country was going crazy with the anti-corruption protests. The idea, passion & anger spread quickly and virulently, which was a good thing, but as the demands of the activist spearheading the movement increased past the point where it challenged the constitution and demanded powers that needed to be questioned, the dissenting meme had little power.
Lastly, I’m beginng to realize there are no “good” or “bad” memes, just different stages of evolution. This is not to say that we have to be morally neutral. On the contrary, to have an opinion or belief and stand for it is important, but to be able to hold those beliefs lightly enough and accept that they may be challenged & changed in the course of our personal and cultural evolution opens us up to a lot more possibilities, not to mention interesting conversations. The implacable certitude of the religious fanatic is only matched by that of the immovable atheist and both conversations can be pretty short!