| up a level
from the viral-dance dept.
The term "meme" was coined by Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book, The Selfish Gene, as "a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation," an attempt to explore the realm of ideas along the lines of genes in biology. Memetics, then, is "the study of memes and their social effects" (Grant, 1990).
I'd never felt the need to study memetics until I'd seen the role that it's come to play in Spiral Dynamics. And then when the subject of eugenics came up in a recent Beast Bay thread, it started me speculating about the potential of the imaginary discipline of "eumemics." While memetics is concerned with the study of memes, eumemics would be the attempt to improve the set of memes operating within the culture.
I think that it's safe to say that for most people (certain distinguished Beast Bay contributors excepted), "eugenics" is a dirty word. Probably the most unsavory aspect of it is the idea of the use of coercion to weed out undesirable genetic traits. This objection might not apply to eumemics for two reasons. First of all, it's usually more effective to let bad ideas die out on their own than to call attention to them by fighting them. Secondly, I would assert that the suppression of undesirable ideas is itself an undesirable idea.
(Nonetheless, since eumemics is a play on the widely-despised term "eugenics," its potential as a meme is virtually nil. I think it's useful for my present purposes, though.)
This of course brings up the issue of what is desirable. While people are going to have different opinions about this, I think we might be able to speak of at least two general considerations in this regard.
The first is tolerance, or respecting the diversity of values. This means, for example, that those pursuing one set of values shouldn't prevent others from pursuing their values, to as great an extent as possible.
A second consideration is the value of sustainability. While it is essential to the preservation of the system that sustainability is pursued and realized, the upholding of this value is not so essential a duty for each individual as is tolerance. That is to say, each of us has a responsibility to respect the freedom of others, whereas sustainability is required of the collective, but not necessarily each individual within it.
Beyond that, the field of values is completely up to the individual. Given that, like-minded people will sometimes associate in groups for the fulfillment and promotion of their values. All this provides a framework for us to explore how we could apply the idea of eumemics to Thelema.
The first thing that comes to mind for me is that there is a distinction between the propagation of Thelema as a meme and the propagation of memes consistent with Thelemic values.
Concerning the former: many Thelemites (myself included) don't want to see everyone become a member of the Thelemic cult. For us, that's not what Thelema is about. This is in contrast to the typical Christian worldview, in which being a Christian implies hoping that everyone will eventually become a Christian.
Thelemites might better be compared to Shakespeare enthusiasts. Shakespeareans don't want the widest distribution of Shakespeare (TV dramas, T-shirts, cocktail napkins, etc.), they want the best. Similarly, the best possible Thelema isn't necessarily the one with the greatest numbers.
At the same time, Thelema does seek universal freedom. This, I think, would form the primary direction of a Thelemic eumemics.
This train of thought leads me to the curious conclusion that the propagation of the meme of Thelema is probably not the most effective way of influencing the meme-pool in accordance with Thelemic values. The Thelemic meme is effective for that small slice of society drawn to it, but its antinomianism, complexity, and religiosity (to name but a few factors) make it a less than ideal vehicle for influencing the culture as a whole.
Since I've only just started considering other ways in which we might generate cultural influences conducive to the establishment of universal freedom, I'd be interested in hearing the views of others on the subject.
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