RE: menes or gemes? (was Re: virus: Martyrdom)

Martin Traynor (
Fri, 8 Nov 1996 12:17:36 +0000


On 7 Nov 96 at 12:33, Richard Brodie wrote:

> >At 01:00 PM 06/11/96 +0000, Martin Traynor wrote:
> >>self-preservation meme/instinct (BTW, is there a term for the grey
> >>area between memes and genes? i.e. where a tendency is partly due to
> >>the nature of the human beast and partly due to their memetic makeup).

> I don't get it. Is there any behavior that DOESN'T fall into this
> category?

If you look at actions/attitudes deeply enough then you're probably
right; they are all a product of the gene/meme combination. However,
the degree to which they are inherent vs acquired can vary greatly
and it can be useful to draw a distinction. If we use a scale;

- -1 0 1
Gene Meme

with -1 representing wholly gene-driven and 1 wholly meme-driven
and then map any given behaviour on to it (non-trivial) you may be
correct in saying that nothing would fall onto the extreme
end-points. The closer we get to those points though, the more useful
it becomes to view an action as one or the other*, and for this
purpose we can use the terms 'memetic' and 'genetic'. When we get towards
the middle we have a problem of inadequate terminology. Granted we
can express what we want to but relatively inefficiently. In a
world where accurately attributing cause was possible then a simple
expression of ratio would be perfect (e.g. 8:2) but we're not there
yet (or at least we weren't when last I asked) so all that's useful
at the moment is a term which indicates the cause is closer to point
0 than to -1 or 1.

* We cannot change our genes (yet) but we can change our memes. I
have noticed that when our memes attempt to suppress our genes then
unproductive (or downright destructive) behaviour often ensues. If we
can correctly attribute what is driving a certain action we can
perhaps do something about it. If our genes drive us towards
behaviour which our memes will not accept then to redirect those
drives strikes me as less dangerous than to try to suppress them.

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