Monday, March 13, 2006

Memetics

It's great that I have an excuse to write about memetic, too bad it is a political defense.

Watching documentaries is becoming a favourite past time. (Past times are becoming increasingly important.) I recently took in Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. A good watch, I recommend it. However there was a 2 second reference to memetics that shook me a little. The reference was rather to Richard Dawkins' book The Selfish Gene, the memeticist's bible. 'Enron' says that this book was a favourite book of Jeff Skilling, ex-Enron CEO. They say the book is about 'how human nature is steered by greed and competition.'

I find the ideas of memetics very useful in dealing with many complex problems. While selfish genes is a central theme to memetics, selfish people is only a minor theme and greedy people as a theme that is neither mentioned nor relevant. In fact, one of the major achievements of memetics is to explain selfless behavior found in nature. Something strict Darwinism could never account for was why some animals would sacrifice themselves for anything other than their offspring. Yet it happens and Dawkins explains it by serving the selfishness of the genes (and memes) common to the benefactor and the beneficiary.

While I think some ideas should be marginalized, they should be marginalized because of the nature of the idea, not because of its associtions. Dianetics should be marginalized, for example, because they don't produce any results desirable to its practioner or the community to which he belongs. But Dianetics should not be side lined because L. Ron Hubbard is a bad man.

Even Darwin's Origin of Species was almost never published for fear of the blowback from the church. Memetics has been a growing science for 30 years now. They are powerful ideas that should be valued by what they can do, not by the misinterpretation of one man.

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