I often write as though for others; I know, however, that I am writing for myself, as my way of becoming more conscious about this aspect of my experience. It just so happens that my long habit of preaching (as though my thinking were for others) remains my best path to seeing for myself what I do see, on the way, hopefully, to knowing what I know. So...
Even though my writing often shifts to third person, as though it were about others rather than myself, this is in fact untrue. I trust that a reader will forgive this habit of projection and see back through my words to me; my notions, seen as mine, may then be used as mirrors for seeing and examining your own experience more clearly. What rings true? What seems false?
All these notions are thus confessional. Each section first appeared (to me) as a page in my journal. Those sounding more "objective" probably reflect issues I was just beginning to see "at a distance." I have, of course, done some editing and re-arranging their order, since my approaching this subject has occurred over several years.
For clarity I have separated my ideas into 5 parts: 1) Overview, 2) Seeing Memes, 3) Theory, 4) Pragmatics, and 5) Confessions. The first four are a bit more objective--that is, noted at a greater distance from myself, while the last is obviously more subjective.
Reading may be done by simply scrolling down this page, or by selecting chapters from CONTENTS in the left frame.
The manuscript is copyrighted and may not be reproduced without my permission.
Imagine a hurricane which is not only invisible to the human eye but also unmeasurable by any instrument, such as, a wind gage. With no warning whatsoever such a hurricane could, at any time and place, strike land with devastating force, uprooting trees, moving houses, destroying property. This is what a meme is like; it is an invisible force not subject to detection by eye or instruments, yet capable of wrecking havoc in any social situation or personal life. Unseen and therefore unpredictable, a meme can, for instance, "move in" at an unsuspecting moment in a human relationship--a family, friendship, or marriage, and do extended, sometimes irreparable, damage. Of course memes, like hurricanes, can also have positive effects (like pruning trees, cleaning out swamps, etc.). More about these later, but first I focus on the inherent dangers in any meme.
The problem arises, not because there may not be useful values in memes, but because when they are unrecognized they operate completely outside of any individual human's reason or "sense." Again, like hurricanes, they may appear at the most inopportune times, "right in the middle of a parade" or other delightful times in one's life, causing irrational effects and even dire consequences.
The point of attempting to see and name memes is to bring them into the arena of consciousness where some small degree of reason may be applied, where one may have a bit of personal choice in responding rather than simply reacting to such a force. Once a meme is recognized, the fragile human capacity for "making sense" instead of simply acting irrationally can be brought into play. Such "thinking" cannot erase a meme, any more than knowing that a hurricane is coming can dissolve its force; but once either is brought into awareness, certain preparations for "landfall" can be made. In the case of memes, unlike hurricanes, "sense" may even be used to divert if not dissolve the power of any particular one. Once I know about a meme, I can anticipate its appearance even if I cannot control its coming, and I can make preparations for protecting myself and acting in ways which are less destructive to others or to my relationships. In time, I have also discovered, I may even be able to diminish, if not erase, the power of certain memes which were previously not subject to any influence by me.
Now to specifics: mother is a meme; female breasts are memes to men, while cosmetics ("make-up") are memes to women. God and nudity are memes for most everyone; so is fuck, the American flag, and the Bible (on which we swear). Each of these and innumerable others which I point out and explore later, is a constellation of real forces centered around a certain human perception (seeing, for example, a breast), a word (such as, fuck), or an object (like a flag or Bible).
Definition: a meme is an invisible power which becomes operative in the presence of human perceptions--things sensed (seen, felt, smelled, heard, or even thought of). Power, by definition, is "that which moves" or "makes things happen." Power is a force, a collection of energies which cause effects in human experience. If I say fuck or fire in a crowd of people, most everyone who hears me will be moved in one way or another by these memes. Just saying these words, since they are also memes, "makes things happen." Once when I was growing up (a long time ago!) a friend of mine got a spanking for saying "pregnant" in front of his mother. In fact we had heard this meme (back then) voiced by a girl on the school bus and both wondered what it meant. My friend innocently asked his mother and only then discovered its power as a meme (long before this name or my study had come to be).
A meme is like a social gene; just as the name gene represents a constellation of forces in the body (actually a segment of DNA in a chromosome) which are invisible to the human eye, not subject to "reason," and operate regardless of what we think, so memes are powers outside the body, "out there" in the social world rather than "in here" inside my skin. They too exert their powers apart from the "reasoning" of any single person; they need not "make sense" in order to function. Although they may in fact be reasonable and useful for the group (country, community, family, etc.) as a whole, they are often dangerous and even destructive for individuals within the group where they operate. A meme, like a gene, can "make things happen" which are totally undesirable at the time. Just as genes can make long noses and green eyes when we may prefer shorter noses and blue eyes, or attractions and erections when we'd rather not be bothered, so memes can cause unwanted, unreasonable, unexpected, and often dangerous effects both in relationships as well as private life in any society.
Also like genes, memes are just now beginning to be studied by social scientists, while genes are being explored and named by physical scientists. Previously they have simply remained operative, like genes, mostly without human recognition. Not that their effects have not long been known; but that they have remained unnamed and unexamined in the mind's eye. We have always lived with memes, like genes and hurricanes; but have not tried to bring them into the light of consciousness through names and analysis (as I am attempting here). Certainly individuals, probably everyone, has "tried to figure out" and "make sense" of these seemingly irrational forces; but such private efforts have seldom, so far as I know, been brought into the public arena. We have been taught about genes in school; but who has had a course in memes?
The exploration of memes faces another difficulty. Unlike the case with genes, where we recognize that we all stand to win with scientific advancement, such as, the development of medicines to counteract some of the negative effects of certain genes, memes have an opposite problem. The fact is, memes operate better in the dark; they, if we personify these forces, "work better" for society when they are unrecognized, not brought into mind space. When we are not conscious of the existence of any meme, we are more easily and certainly dictated by its existence. For instance, patriotism is a social meme in most every society. Citizens more easily go to war for their country when this meme is blindly accepted. Bringing it into the light, as began to occur in the 60's during the Vietnam Conflict, can be disruptive in enlisting persons to "fight for their country."
But on the other hand, especially insofar as individual, if not group, well-being is concerned, looking into memes is the only way I know for carving into the dictatorial power which they otherwise hold over us. Thinking about them doesn't make them go away, but only when I "look at" a particular meme do I begin to have any degree of choice in regard to my reactions to its presence. Otherwise, as with an unexpected hurricane, I can only deal with the often devastating effects of its appearance.
I am a fragile construct
Two paths are open to me:
When I choose the first path
Only seeing myself as "good
Less often, when I dare the second course,
But when my nerve is up I embrace my gift
Firmly rooted in earthy instincts for
And in such awesome moments when I succeed
To be myself, in reality, is to exist as a fragile collection of forces in the midst of powerful genes and memes, both of which comprise the substance of who I am. "I," literally, am but a grammatical abstraction, a language device, for holding these personified forces in conscious awareness while I act or attempt to communicate with other such abstract illusions. Otherwise, when I am not being myself, the rampant powers of genes and memes are in continual conflict or collusion between cradle and grave, unmediated by the potential powers of "I" which are inherent in my enskinned/social "self," yet to be personified through the accepted gift of human consciousness.
On the surface these two constellations of powers, names here as genes and memes, are in continual conflict; like men and women who embody them, they seem at first glance to be "from different planets"--that is, diametric opposites of each other. The major directives of genes--to survive and reproduce oneself, are in sharp contradiction with the major directives of memes, which are equally diligent in training to sacrifice, serve others, and be strictly "moral" (which means: relatively non-sexual).
Beneath the surface, however, they are in consort; both are evolved with the same goals--staying alive and living well as long as possible, being as happy and eternal as we can be. Genes, of course, are much older, but at this point in human evolution no enskinned self (where genes reside) exists apart from social structures (where memes abide). We appear to be lone ones because the partition of skin is easy to see while the structures of society are less visible; but we are only alone in our mind's eye. In reality we are always both alone and with others, either near or far; we exist, literally, as individuals-in-groups (hyphenated to imply the inevitable connections between apparent "ones" and less obvious "others").
Though I am more easily aware, at least early in life before the common split occurs, of genetic forces which move me, I am also comprised and moved by social forces which are less visible to awareness. "I," I conclude now after a life time of believing that I was either a ghost (soul or self) in the "machine" of "my" body, or else only the summary of genes in my skin, think that I have been wrong in my assumptions. I now see that I am made both of genes and memes, and that a true sense-of-self includes identification with each as well as constant mediation between their apparent conflicts--which are many.
I am made from both the combination of genes initiated at conception of sperm and ovum from my father and mother and from the "sands of Saline"--that is, the social milieu of structures, mores, and patterns of acceptable behavior which existed in the place and time where I was born. The genes of mother and daddy, mixed with the memes of Saline (infused with memes brought from other places), make up the totality of who-I-am (at least potentially, if not yet in reality). To become myself, as best I can now tell, I have no choice but to accept/embrace "being an Evans" and "being from Saline" (not one or the other, but both/and), and to mediate between the conflicts which often occur when these two parts of myself bump against each other.
Since the best interests of my genetic self (the unique Evans that I am), and my Saline self (part and parcel of one another), are generally at odds (or so it has seemed all my life), I have no choice but to experience these conflicts whenever they occur. But I do have choice in how I respond or react to these different voices.
With the gift of hindsight I see that there are two major ways of dealing with conflicting messages of genes and memes. The more familiar path that I learned early and have long taken involves the ultimately futile attempt to repress the first and elevate the second; to identify myself with accepted memes and not with rejected/denied genes. This has resulted in a splitting of who-I-am (in the larger sense) in my mind's eye, if not in reality. "I" have come to see myself as the "good boy" trained mostly by my mother, and the "good person" I carved out of available memes after I left her teaching--and, consequently, not as the "bad" urges (mostly to be selfish and sexy) which "rear their ugly heads" whenever I am not careful in suppressing them. The cost of this continual and consistent splitting of myself is only now emerging into my clearer consciousness. And it is great.
The other alternative, which I am just now beginning to see and practice, involves an entirely different path: instead of splitting one's self through genetic denial and social identifications, this course involves acknowledging the older gifts of biological evolution, plus the newer offerings of social structures, including the capacity for consciousness (which I think must have evolved primarily to cope with differences between the two). Once both genes and memes are acknowledged as essential and inevitable parts of who-I-am (rather than opposing forces "I" am either caught between or identified with one or the other), then I face the excitement of mediating the merging powers which both make and move me, but which often seem to pull me in opposite directions. How can I be both selfish and sacrificial, sexy and moral, and not be grossly illogical if not torn apart?
This wonderfully demanding high-wire performance certainly calls for the best of both these major parts of myself, plus the fragile but crucial Johnny-Come-Lately on the human evolutional stage, namely, the gift of consciousness--the uniquely human capacity for stopping the flow of experience briefly in mind-space, and adding a small measure of choice to the infinitely larger directives of genes and memes. To the voices of would and should, through the exercise of consciousness, I can sometimes add the impetus of will--when my faith is strong. That is, when "what I want to do" and "what I ought to do" bump against each other (as so often they do), I can, with the wonder of consciousness, sometimes decide "what I will do."
Without ignoring, dishonoring, or judging either desire or duty (the voices of genes and memes), I can, in these fortunate times, say in effect: "I know what I want to do, and I know what I should do; but neither is quite right for me (my larger self comprised of them both) just now. So, here is what I will do." It is then, and only then, that I truly become myself and experience the kingdom of God in the here and now.
Why coin new words, such as meme, for this subject? Why not use language which is already familiar and does not require new definitions? After all, haven't we long known about "social powers" or the "power of conformity"? I prefer new words for myself because of the dangers inherent in any familiarity. New language invites me to look more sharply, to think more clearly. With old concepts I tend to simply react as I have long learned to, like seeing an old friend or a new stranger. With any new person, or concept, I am more likely to remain sharply attentive without taking anything for granted. And taking memes--whatever they may be called, for granted has proven to be damaging to the quality of my life in the long run.
Also, words which are commonly available for social forces, like "the power of prejudice," are seldom succinct and sharp enough for definitive thinking. By nature of the process of human thought, we need words to transform perceptions into concepts; otherwise they remain only as mental pictures, remembered perceptions, less subject to analysis in consciousness. For example, we first perceive another person in a holistic manner, perceiving him or her through sight, sound, smell, and perhaps touch; we get, we might say, a mental picture. We may hold this image in mind for a life time. If we see the same person, even years later, we may say, "I remember meeting you." But only when we get a specific name for that individual, beyond "human being," or, "man" or "woman," are we mentally equipped to signify the person for sharper discernment in mind space. We also need names for specific traits, such as "blue" eyes, if we are to think definitively about the individual.
Perhaps others may find this new word distracting and unhelpful; but for me it has been useful.
Memes are like social genes--forces which exist in society serving the same purpose as genes in the body, giving structure, form, and direction to the evolved best interests of the social group. (I use the word society to stand for all social groups--family, first, then community, race, various sub-groups such as clubs, churches, gangs, etc, country, and finally, family of humankind.) Memes are independent of any person, existing, as it were, in the atmosphere or culture into which we as separate individuals are born. Memes are to society as genes are to body. Individual bodies (persons), largely directed by inherent genes in every cell, are the constituents of individual societies which are shaped and guided by memes in every "place." Memes may be thought of as social instincts or drives, forces which are external to any given person, yet which surround us all, strongly directing both our behavior and our sense of ourselves.
In the popular distinction between heredity and environment, seen in studies and beliefs about which is the more powerful and significant: nature or nurture?, memes is a coined word (by Richard Dawkins, I think) to parallel the established word, genes--for the inward driving force of each. Genes are the shaping forces of heredity; memes give name to the directing powers of environment. Much scientific attention is currently being given to understanding and mapping the genes of body, as data for improving physical health. I think that understanding the memes of society may be even more immediately relevant in dealing with spiritual well being. Certainly I need to see them more clearly; hence this exploration.
Memes can be categorized in several ways: social objects, such as, flags, architecture of buildings; social heritages, e.g., songs, anthems, pledges of allegiance, prayers, fairy tales, myths, and religions; current ideas, such as, Jesus saves, mother knows best, children are to be seen and not heard (an old one now out of vogue). This later category also contains the library of social virtues which are generally indistinguishable from popular religion at the time. Examples include: selfishness is bad, helping is good, obeying laws is good, keeping the commandments (religious and secular) is good, sex is dirty, soul is better than body, cleanliness is next to godliness, etc.
Another overlapping category includes unwritten, often unspoken, notions or beliefs which arise out of early experience in one's family. They are obvious and practical at the time of their genesis--for example, the power of "what they think" over "what I think." In early life "their thinking" (parents' notions) is literally supreme. Children's thoughts, in our culture, are usually weightless. (I use the word thought for experiential-summary, not for a literal conscious notion; presumably infants do not "think," yet they "know" certain things, such as, how much milk their stomachs need.) In this sense the meme, Mother Knows Best, can be recognized in the conclusion that she knows how much milk a baby needs, and if the baby cries for more, then it is "spoiled." The baby's "thought" (I need more milk) is not weighted as heavily as mother's thought (You've had enough for now)."
Perhaps the most universal early symbol of meme powers is Mother's Smile. Actually it is both literal and symbolic in every child's experience. It is the first sign, I think, which a child recognizes as a clue or key to mother's good wishes, which are the most essential element in survival as well as good living in the beginning. Through recognition of the difference between Mother's Smile and her Frown (I capitalize to imply the godlike powers which I believe to be inherent in these symbols), the infant has its first major clue to understanding how the outside world works. Smile represents "favorable world"; Frown means bad things may happen. Genes for hunger are telling what is needed for good within; Smiles or Frowns (memes) are telling what is good or bad without.
Past mother and into the world beyond her, Smiles and Frowns from all others will remain universally relevant memes, invaluable clues to social favor and disfavor. Language will later become more consciously significant; but Smiles and Frowns, major facial expressions with an almost infinite number of variations between them, will forever remain among the most powerful of social memes, clues to the near godlike meme of What Others Think.
Even more subtle and difficult to recognize memes are those which powerfully exist but are also unconscious in society at large. These include gender differences and values, such as the still unrecognized powers of attraction and sexual permissions. Among these subtle memes are the extensions of Mother's Smile to include all other females beyond her. Males, especially, seem to project our early experience with the power of Mother's Smile on to all other females which remotely remind us of her--that it, to include all others who have breasts but do not have "a thing." The power of a Female Smile, symbolic of female acceptance/affirmation/permission, remains for many of us males among the most powerful of all social memes. The extent to which we will commonly go, the energy we will expend, the money we will spend, the denial of ourselves we will gladly make--all in quest of Female Approval, a meme which is perhaps never distinguished from the earliest power of Mother's Smile, continues to amaze me. I am only now, at 68, beginning to recognize this near omnipotent social force in my own, and other males', experience.
At any given point in time there are swiftly changing but powerfully present memes which may be glimpsed in such phrases as "what's in." These include fads or styles of dress, personal adornment, behavior, objects (toys, games, possessions) and language. These grow from, or are related to the earlier mentioned, extremely powerful, meme called "What They Think." These powerful memes are seldom recognized except in hindsight; yet they function with near omnipotent force at any given time. Seen negatively, to be "out of style," or, an "old foggie," or, simply "not with it," is tantamount to social rejection, at least on emotional levels--which are the levels which matter most.
Ideological fads are similar in their power. At any given point in history there are floating notions, commonly accepted by all, about, for examples, "what is healthy," "what is wrong with people," "what people need to do to get right," etc. These notions arise so subtly and without fanfare that they become powerful and accepted without ever entering social consciousness, that is, with limited reason and no necessary scientific data. In my youth these included: drink 8 glasses of water a day, sleep with the windows open, and have a bowel movement regularly--at least once a day. Today, especially in female circles, early molestations, real or imagined, are a social meme, the "in" thing which is viewed as a major cause for female disturbances. On the way out, thank goodness, is the recently popular notion that "it's all mother's fault," that mothers are to blame for grown children's' unhappiness. Unfortunately for men, the current shift is toward fathers at fault, as in the popular molestation meme, or the more widespread "mean daddy" or "absent father" memes.
First, because of dangers inherent in not looking. Although direction by memes is perhaps easier when they are not recognized (as they commonly aren't), the risks of such blind allegiance are immense. Social standing may be enhanced by such sightless dedication, but personal well being inevitably suffers greatly after the lights of public affirmation are turned off.
A major danger lies in the fact that when memes are not seen, one has no option but to be dictated by them, either in positive compliance or negative rebellion. In either case, the human capacities for consciousness and freedom are negated. Although we may get along quite well in social groups and personal relationships while directed by memes only, we can never become our fuller selves or find the happiness of which we are capable while these capacities lie unembraced. Certainly consciousness and the limited degrees of human freedom which it allows are small in comparison to powerful dictates of genes and memes; but without it we cannot but remain dependent on them for direction, and hence imprisoned within their limited directives.
Social status achieved by blind allegiance to memes may be delightful while we bask in the limelight of public approval or the affirmation of private admirers; but in the long run of encounters with others, as well as the inevitable times when we must be alone even in the midst of social groups or intimate relationships, these unembraced human capacities leave us in a state of relative blindness which costs dearly in time.
Even when we live in rebellion to memes, acquiring a false sense of independence from their dictation, still they direct our lives. Though we may appear to be making up our own minds, they yet determine our actions. We can only be for what they are against or against what they are for. In either case they hold the power which dictates our so-called personal decisions. Rebellion may be a slight advance over blind compliance, but only ever-so-slight. Even in the most consistent rebels, the human capacity for consciousness lies mostly unembraced, and, like all unaccepted capacities, "calling out" for activation. If we can, remember, we "want to;" and such denied desire always grates against the smooth grains of public approval or the rough edges of rebellion which is still dictated, albeit in reverse, by the very memes it purports to reject.
In summary, if we don't clearly recognize memes, we will be dictated by them, either in compliance or rebellion. In either case the precious-though-precarious gift of human freedom, which is only possible through the door of consciousness, lies continually beyond our reach. See it or not, like it or not, while we are meme-dominated we cannot but remain less than fully human and to that same degree outside the kingdom of God which is here.
Past these dangers of not looking, lie the losses which inevitably occur when we don't. Most notable among them is the lost possibility of bringing reason to blindness when we relate to memes. If we don't see them, we have no choice but to take them just as they are--that is, to go along with them mindlessly or to be continually in rebellion (playing "Betcha' Can't Make Me"). No "sense (the reasonable application of prior experience)" is possible when we don't see factors at hand. When memes are not seen, we live by non-sense, literally. Even when memes are grossly illogical and obviously counter-productive, as they often are, still we are moved by them when we cannot apply the light of reason to their blind presence.
This also means that no reasonable modification or refinement of still-functional memes is possible when we cannot approach them sensibly. We obviously can't improve on what we can't see. And of course we can't discard outmoded memes when we do not even see their existence.
On the subject of Why look?, perhaps seeing one of the dangers in looking is also in order. I refer to the perils of judgment of that which we see. One of the benefits of blindness is that one is not tempted to the sin of judgment on what is not seen. If you don't see it, obviously you can't be judgmental about it. But once a meme is brought into the light of consciousness, we may be sorely tempted to simply "play God" by judging what we now see as either bad or good. Certainly I am. It is far easier to pass sentence on apparently negative or worn-out memes (or those who perpetuate them) than to simply see them clearly and respond wisely with information which comes through vision.
Ideally, the pragmatic point of looking (apart from the fun of seeing or embracing any human capacity) is to acquire data for making wiser decisions in regard to what is seen. The same is true with seeing memes. We look, when logic prevails, not in order to "put down" of what we see (or to praise it), but so that we can be wiser in application of information, either in compliance or in some effort to modify that which may be improved on. In either case, judgment always short-circuits a potentially productive process, and is often more disruptive if not dangerous than the meme which is judged. If we are going to fall into judgment of what we see, it may often be better to remain blind and dictated by the unseen meme, than to slip into the sin of false godhood which judgment inevitably requires.
Basic to my notions on seeing and coping with the powers of each is my observation that genes are primarily evolved for individual survival and self replication, and are far less geared for social purposes. Memes, I contend, are the juvenile genes, only lately to evolve since genetically moved creatures have carved civilization out of the jungle. The 100,000 or so years for the development of social memes is dwarfed by the 3 ½ billion years which primary genes have had to perfect and ingrain themselves in DNA strands. Memes, being the Johnny-Come-Latelys, the New Kids On The Block, certainly have their work cut out for them in balancing the fragile structures of societies on top of deeply rooted forces for self and reproduction.
The powers for individual well-being and the forces for existence of societies which are made up of these individuals are of course not finally at odds with one another. Ultimately neither can individuals survive without society nor can society exist without the individuals who comprise it; but in the short run the two sets of powers, personified here as genes and memes, are more often diametrically opposed. Though born of the same primal urges, the older evolving the younger for its own extended existence, and finally destined to survive or die together, in the interim periods of our brief human life spans we mostly experience them as mortal enemies.
It does seem like primal genes care naught for social structures, such as, religion and marriage, and as though society is hell bent to repress if not destroy the rampant, uncivilized instincts for self-survival and replication, for being "selfish" and "sexy." In this apparent conflict, where we are all born and spend the days of our lives relatively inattentive to the ultimate kinship and shared goals of genes and memes, we mainly see the places where the two struggle together. In this secret alliance memes become more concentrated and powerful when countering powerful genes which tend to conflict with more fragile social powers.
My premises summarized are these:
1. Memes are the second most powerful force in human life, only behind genes in the immense control they hold over all personal decisions.
2. Memes are universally present. There is no place we can go, in the current stage of civilization, including into the bathroom with locked door, where memes are not present and operative.
3. Memes, like genes are seldom seen and are difficult to look at. Just as we cannot recognize genes with the naked eye, so we generally live without seeing these powerful social forces which continually surround us. Although we are dimly aware of their presence, like ghosts in the dark, we rarely see them clearly in consciousness. However, blindness to memes, just as unawareness of genes, in no way diminishes their force in our daily lives.
4. Seeing memes, though rarely done, is critically important in living a good life in the here and now--knowing God, first hand. This is so because if you don't see them, you will be determined by them, even when they no longer function in your personal best interests or become literally destructive to present relationships and personal choices.
5. Even if you see memes, you may still be moved, even dictated, by them; but without seeing them, becoming able to hold them in conscious mind-space, no options exist. You function in the real world like an automaton, a pre-programmed zombie, no matter how intelligent you may be, if you do not recognize the ever-present forces of memes.
6. If you do see memes you introduce the possibility of personal choice, without which such consciousness does not exist. While memes are present and blindly operative, we can only react to immediate circumstances like little chicks react to dark shadows overhead--that is, out of social "instincts," rather than personal responses. We can, in summary, only react, not respond.
7. Memes are both culturally and personally determined; they are not humanly universal like genes, but are more locally determined first by race, then ethnic community, then local clan (team, club, group, or family), and finally by early individual encounters with our first gods--parents, especially mothers. Thus memes are in some measure shared by everyone in a race, country, community, club, and family, but these shared memes are augmented by personal memes acquired in responding to early parenting; these are unique, like fingerprints, to every individual.
8. Probably all memes are initially functional, practical, and useful in survival and enhancement of circumstances for a group if not for all individuals in that group; but their positive service tends to diminish as we grow up, acquire greater capacity for consciousness (learn to "think for ourselves"), and become more able to shape our own worlds. Even the completely unique memes, those evolved by individuals in response to private circumstances which are in some measure different for every child in the world, tend to become outmoded in short order. That is, what worked best with our particular mothers and fathers, the first gods, may or may not be what works best with other women and men. But once memes are blindly ingrained in mind, even as genes are ingrained in body, they simply operate on automatic pilot.
9. We can only "grow up" in the sense of maturing as individuals, becoming our truly unique selves, when we embrace the small measure of freedom to choose beyond the dictates of genes and memes--that special gift of evolution to human beings. And this small but wonderful capacity for choice can, so far as I have yet been able to determine, only be embraced by "seeing memes," that is, by daring to look into these dark, ever-present forces, both those which we inherit socially and those which we create personally. As noted above, "seeing (being conscious of)" doesn't necessarily change or even diminish the power of memes; but without seeing them, no options even exist for making choices beyond their wisdom.
If I want to "be my own person" I know of no other way, so far, than to risk looking into my memes, bringing them into the fuller light of consciousness, so that fragile-yet-real powers of personal choice are added to the immense wisdom of genes and memes.
And when I dare such looking, then I also face the necessity for faith which goes far beyond mere curiosity, before I can become what I see--that is, my larger self.
Genes represent evolution's best wisdom so far about what
is best for body--what works for the well-being of an individual organism, including
replication of itself. Memes, on the other hand, stand for the evolved wisdom about what
works best for a larger social body, the social group into which one is born. Both are
constantly in the process of evolution, continually changing; yet these changes are so
slow that they are seldom recognized by any individual person or society. Any gene or meme
seems to be "just the way things are." Only the perspective of history allows
awareness of how much both change in time.
There are overlaps, of course, since individuals and societies are inter-dependent. Just as "no man is an island," so no society exists without the individual persons who constitute it. Persons are all part of families and groups; societies are all made up of such persons. Hence we have evolved some genes for social connections just as certain memes exist for individual survival. Although most genes are devoted to personal survival, others are, I surmise, evolved to guide us in the necessity of "fitting in" as well as "staying alive." Since What They Think effects us in some measure, just as food effects our bodies, we must have evolved directives for attention to both.
I think though that genes for "fitting in," for attention to social acceptance, are minimal in comparison to those for individual survival and bodily well-being. Mainly they must be geared for attention to smiles, frowns, etc., that is, for recognition of how the group is moving, of what it is tolerating and rejecting at the time. Just as birds in a flock must have evolved genes for attention to how to fly with the group as well as for what to eat, so I conclude that people must have also evolved with knowledge for recognition of social favor and disfavor, especially as it is a limited but important part of individual well-being.
Society, likewise, being dependent on individual members
for its own well-being (persons must fight wars and pay taxes) must have some memes geared
toward at least a minimal amount of personal health, physical if not spiritual. How we
feel is not particularly relevant to society, but how we behave is, for example, very
important to social harmony. Hence there are a minimal number of social memes aimed at
personal well-being, just as some individual genes must be alert to social acceptance.
"Have fun," for example, is one such meme, bowing toward personal well-being;
but another contradictory one, "be responsible," is invested with vastly more
social power. We say the first, passing it on, more playfully; but we are serious about
Allowing for these fringe areas of overlap, I note that the vast majority of genes are in direct contradiction to memes; or that memes, primarily, are social forces which exist in opposition to genes--that is, are evolved to control, contain, direct, suppress, sublimate, or, often to try to negate the powers of genes. In most of the major ways I have recognized each, they are diametrically opposed to one another; what one is for, the other is against, and vice versa. The areas of overlap are small; those of opposition are great.
For examples: genes most basically and pervasively direct us to be "selfish" while memes direct us to be "unselfish." Genes say "take care of yourself;" memes say "sacrifice yourself in service of others." That is, genes say you exist for yourself; memes say you exist for society. Genes also powerfully direct us to be sexual--to not only be selfish, but to be self-replicating. Memes contrarily, perceiving, I surmise, the powerful forces of genes for pervasive sexuality, are massively repressive of all but the most necessary of sexual activity required to repopulate the social group at its most effective numbers.
Pleasure and shame are two other major opposing forces
evolved for the operation of each. If the genius of personal evolution is the connection
between what-works and what-feels-good, that is, between bodily success and bodily
pleasure, then the parallel genius of social evolution is the association of shame with
genes which threaten existing social structures.
The grandest human challenges
I am trying to recognize more clearly the social forces which I have come to label memes, with credit to Richard Dawkins for first bringing the term to my attention. I have long seen them as external to self, and am only now beginning to recognize that they too are but a newly (in the context of eons of evolution) evolved set of forces essential for human survival in complex social structures. They are like genes (segments of chromosomes) in that they wield immense invisible powers in shaping who-we-are; the difference is only that while genes exist within our skins, memes exist outside our individual skins.
Ever since I began to recognize these powerful forces I have thought of them only as external to self, and generally as opposed to self--as though they were enemies of individuality, alien powers attempting to "do in" the "good" forces of genes. Only recently have I begun to see the more concealed connections between these seemingly external forces and the more clearly recognized internal forces called genes.
I now think that memes, in spite of their apparent opposition in most all immediate forms, are more clearly recognized as but the newest shapes of genes, except existent "out there" rather than "in here." Memes, I see, are but young genes, the latest offspring in the larger household of who-we-seemingly-individual persons actually are. Even though they exist beyond our individual skins, they are only slightly less important in our overall well-being than internal genes which guide us as "instincts."
Memes, as I now see them, are invisible forces surrounding the skin of equally invisible forces inside a person's skin. They evolve, like chromosome-encased genes within, to cope with new circumstances, such as climatic changes or new viruses, which appear without, threatening the existence of older cells. In this case the recently appearing circumstance is the complexity of groups in relationships in the ever expanding evolution of families into clans, communities, tribes (ethnic groups) etc. The complexities of social evolution, like those of climatic evolution, have threatened the existence of enskinned organisms; only those which also evolved genes to compete have survived; these newer "genes" evolved to cope with the dangers of complex social groupings are what I call memes.
A meme then, is a young gene, like a child in a family trying to mediate the stressed relationship between parents--in this case the relationship between self-alone and selves-together, individuals and groups of individuals. Memes are what the human race has evolved to mediate between the forces essential for self-oriented creatures and other-oriented societies for enhancing them.
Memes, we might say, are social genes, that is, younger genes evolved to cope with the complexities of multiple social relationships. A meme is a part of one's social self, just as a gene is a part of one's private self. One's larger self includes both internal and external components, e.g., real connections, some more direct with in-skin chromosomes, others more indirect with existent forces primarily social, outside of skin.
Self = self-alone + self-with-others + self-with-world. Self-alone is in-skin; self-with-others is in-skinned self in relationships with the social world; self-with-world is in-skinned self in relationships with the physical world outside one's skin (e.g. air, food, light). Who-I-am, my fuller self, is the combination of these three aspects of self, namely alone, with-others, and with-world.
This real self is to be distinguished from one's ego or sense-of-self, which is literally but a notion in "in one's head," including both consciousness and unconsciousness.
At first glance genes and memes appear to be opposites, even enemies, one against the other, each fighting for supremacy. For example, genes urging selfishness and memes urging unselfishness; genes saying, "be sexy," and memes saying, "be moral."
But deeper down, they are in consort, aimed at the same ultimate goals of survival and reproduction of individuals-in-groups (I hyphenate this latter phrase to indicate that the three words belong together; in reality self is not I-versus-them, but rather I-with-them). Again, on the surface, older genes seem to only be about self-alone survival, while memes seem to only care about group survival; but these appearances cloak their deeper service to individual well-being which only exists in cooperation with others. (We literally "need each other" for being our fuller selves.)
Like males and females in marriage, or sperm and ovum in the Reproductive Drama, the roles of genes and memes appear at first glance as opposite, but are complementary on a deeper level.
When I don't see them
But seeing, as much as I wish,
Before exploring specific memes in detail I want to look at the broad categories in which individual memes fall. What is the big picture? What are the overall groups where memes can be found?
First, positive and negative. All memes can be categorized into these two major groups. Some are positive, others are negative. For instance, smiles are positive memes, while frowns are negative. A reward is positive; punishment is a negative meme. Acceptance is a positive meme, while rejection is negative.
Next, overt and covert. Some memes are obvious and out front; others are less apparent. Overt memes are easiest to recognize. They stand out, are boldly proclaimed, and require no special attention to know their presence. Covert memes, in contrast, are hidden--that is, generally not stated or pointed out. Though present and operative, they are cloaked rather than naked before our mental eyes. Thou shalt not kill is a powerful overt meme. Nudity, for another example, is an overt meme. Everyone easily recognizes the obvious power at work when, say, a woman exposes her breasts, or a man, should he be so socially dumb, drops his pants. Anyone even partially naked in public confronts the overt power of nudity.
Make-up and perfume are covert memes. Just as they are designed not to be obvious, so they function in concealed, less apparent ways. They wield their powers even when we are unaware of their presence. Language memes, to be considered later, are generally more covert than overt--the subtle judgments attached to words operate in powerful though hidden ways. Thou shalt be polite is more covert than Thou shalt not kill.
Memes may also generally categorized as major/minor or strong/weak. Some memes are very powerful, moving us in ways hard to resist; others are relatively weak. They hardly effect us at all. Fuck, for instance, is a major meme; simply saying or hearing this word--or writing it as I do here, sets certain strong forces in operation. Shouting fire in a crowded room is another example. In contrast, saying God is less moving than saying fuck. Even though God is a stronger meme than, say, should, still it is less socially dangerous than mentioning fucking in any polite conversation. In fact, the whole subject of sex is a stronger meme than the subject of, say, politics or even religion, which are also memes within themselves.
Another category of memes is subtle or straight. Subtle memes operate through a cloaked exterior. They are, as it were, made-up to appear other than they are. Just as a woman's make-up is designed to cloak certain features and exaggerate others which are lacking--for example, rouge to make cheeks appear healthier than they would otherwise look, so certain memes are cloaked by deceptive appearances. Examples are more difficult precisely because the underlying memes are subtle or hidden. Fun, for instance, is a socially acceptable subject. Easily parents advise children going out to play, "Have fun." But beneath this commonly tolerated subject there is often a subtle meme which, if stated, might be: "but not too much." And certainly none of the pleasures which are most natural, for example, sexually related. When we cross over this line between non-memed fun and "too much" pleasure, we may have a feeling such as: "This is so much fun it must be sinful."
And, to complicate the issue, there are combination and singular memes--that is, some which are only memes and others which overlap with genes. These tricky memes include genetic as well as social elements. They are not strictly one or the other, but are made up some of both. Pretty girls, for example, are powerful memes, especially for males. But the powers operative in pretty are a combination of both genes and memes. Male gene "eyes," through eons of evolution (or so I postulate), have learned natural attractions to those females most likely to be best baby-makers. Pretty girls generally summarize these genetic visions; and yet there are social forces operative in these same figures which are far more than mere genetic appeals. The "turn-on" power of females to males is only partially genetic. Much of its meme power comes from other psychological and social forces, such as, male projection and female deception. Singular memes, as I will explore later, are usually easier to cope with. Combination memes require careful consideration when brought into consciousness and related to wisely.
Another major set of categories for memes is impersonal and personal. Many memes exist completely outside of any individual person. They are, as it were, floating in the air; they are present in the social environment completely apart from any individual person. They are in the ethos of a culture, touching and effecting every person, yet not specifically related to any single individual. Usually we just take them for granted, assuming that they simply are "how things are." In fact, we rarely even think of them at all; we most often take them as unawarely as we breath the air around us.
Sub-categories of impersonal memes include: subjects, words, religions, laws, and even music. Each of these may be further sub-divided. For instance, laws may be broken down into mores, etiquette (polite versus impolite), religious, and civil. Rules in each sub-category may differ or overlap, yet they all fall into the general grouping of laws, which are themselves but one of the sets of impersonal memes which surround us all.
Certain subjects, the first group of impersonal memes, become memes within themselves--that is, the very subject, totally apart from particular words or ideas within the general topic, may possess memetic powers. Sex is an example. The subjects of food, weather, and clothing, in contrast, have little or no power as memes. They may be freely discussed anywhere; but bring up the subject of sex in almost any circumstance and a meme becomes operative. Death, religion, and politics, are other subjects which are also memes to a lessor extent. These subjects elicit forces apart from any ideas being voiced on the topic.
And so with certain words related to these memetic subjects. Fuck, for example, is an extremely powerful word meme. It is a "bad word," unspeakable in polite conversation, not even included in the dictionary or spell checker on my computer; children who said it might, in former times, have their mouths washed out with soap (because it is "so dirty"). Even though most everyone past puberty knows what it means, still we may not use it in most social circumstances, further enhancing its power as a meme. Love, as a positive contrast, is another meme word. Like mother or God, we may freely use positive meme words most anywhere, evoking their memetic powers. Men, for instance, may entice by saying, "I love you," rather than repel by saying, "Let's fuck," even when the latter is nearer to the truth--which is another positive word meme.
Even thinking certain thoughts which are not known by another person, though personal within themselves, may become memes within the category of impersonal. In these instances, various subjects and words may be combined into thoughts which themselves become power-packed impersonal memes. For instance, thoughts about suicide are common memes, even as are thoughts about murder, adultery, theft, incest, and other activities which are socially unacceptable and therefore memes within themselves. Though we may think them personally, their meme power is impersonal--that is, apart from any individual person.
Religions and laws, in all their wonderfully diverse forms, are other examples of impersonal memes. Existing "out there" apart from any single individual within a society, they both are powerful meme subjects (both are positive or "sacred" subjects). Within each category there are, of course innumerable specific memes. In religions there are all the sub-categories of gods and demons, various sacred beliefs, as well as approved and disapproved behaviors (to be noted next). Each law, whether civil, religious, or unwritten-but-accepted in rules of etiquette or the hidden mores of each social group (such as, incest not allowed), functions as a meme in groups which uphold them.
Even music, though inherently natural and unrelated to memes in general, may become a meme when a society or sub-group of a society, such as a religion, accepts or rejects it. Rap music, for a current example, is often a negative meme in white society. Religious music, in contrast, is a positive meme for those who subscribe to the religion from which it comes. Sensual music, with deep rhythmical beats and pulsations which may evoke sexual stirrings is also a powerful negative meme in many groups, especially in religious circles.
Personal memes may be broken down into our overlapping human capacities. Actions, things we do or don't do, are the most obvious sub-category of personal memes. Almost all forms of human behavior--everything we can do, become memes relative to the groups within which we find ourselves. Feelings, another human capacity, and thoughts which are related if not intertwined, easily become social memes. For example, feeling angry or being sad each have meme powers which are distinctly apart from actual powers inherent in the emotions themselves.
Likewise with most thoughts which are common in human beings--such as, thinking about hurting parents, killing enemies, having sex with unapproved persons, and of course, all notions about suicide.
The last sub-category of personal memes, being, includes all those forms of behavior, feeling, or thought which are associated with existential language (be, am, is, and are). For example: "Don't be angry (or sad)." Or, "Be polite rather than rude. Being "good" or being "bad" are powerful positive and negative memes. If I say, "He is mean (rather than loving)," I speak of an existential state, a way-of-being (how he is) which is different from any particular action (something he does). The notion that "women are poor drivers" refers to an existential state--a way-females-are. It may also be a powerful meme in the category of being, a sub-category of personal memes.
The most powerful, pervasive, and, I suspect, universal of all groups of memes is: What They Think (shortened here to: W.T.T.). Next in power is: Who's In Charge (W.I.C.). The largest arenas in which these two most powerful memes operate are, first: Self, and secondly, Sex-that is, self-survival and self-replication (most primally recognized as: staying-alive and making-babies, and euphemistically seen as: being selfish and sexy.
When these two- the most powerful memes and the most general subjects, are mixed, the four major ball parks for recognizing memes become: 1) What They Think About Selfing, 2) What They Think About Sex, 3) Who's In Charge Of Selfing, and 4) Who's In charge of Sex.
Because in primary coping with these major memes we commonly begin with the first-it being the most significant, and then proceed to find ways of dealing with the later three, they tend to be recognized in reverse order; that is, in analysis from our current positions as adults, we are likely to first "bump up against" them in this order: 1) Who's In Charge of Sex, 2) Who's In Charge of Selfing, 3) What They Think About Sex, and 4) What They Think About Selfing.
Because we first must cope with What They Think as mediated through mother, we naturally learn to deal with Her Thinking first. Then the others tend to be encountered in the stated order. But it is the nature of learning that once we "learn something" and "get good at it" we tend to "forget that we know," or, literally, to become unconscious of "what we know." Thus, what we first learn about What They Think About Selfing is usually buried the deepest in the unconscious mind, followed by our learned way of coping with What They Think About Sex, and so on.
Conversely, therefore, when we begin to "face
up" to our older learning through looking at memes, we are apt to first discover
those which are "least buried" in unconscious thinking first, followed by the
deeper ones later. In this reverse hierarchy we are thus most likely "to see"
memes about sexual-direction first, followed by those about self -direction
next; then, most commonly, we may face, if we persist in analysis, those related to the thinking
of others about sex, followed finally (as far as I have yet discovered)
those in the ball park of what others think about being yourself.
These four categories are my best objective look at memes to date; they are the most general groups, comparable to: animal, vegetable, or mineral, for all perceivable "stuff." Within each there are, of course, just as within the category, animal, many other more identifiable forms of life-such as, worms, apes, and humans.
What They Think, for instance, the first huge category for the most powerful meme, can be recognized in a variety of specific forms, such as: Public Opinion, Social Approval, Friend's Opinions, Loved-ones' Favor, Public Applause, Social Recognition, God's Acceptance. They all boil down to a force encountered in the thoughts/reactions of others, no matter who the "others" may be, real or imaginary.
This meme is born and always rooted, I surmise, in Mother's Smile, my best metaphor for what in every child's primal experience is literal power, namely, existent forces personified in the primary care-taker, usually one's birth mother, and best recognized through her Smiles and Frowns. The early, near omnipotent power in the primal meme of Mother's Smile is easily and predictably projected soon after birth onto other significant others who comprise an infant's world-next, onto Father (What Daddy Thinks), and later onto siblings, relatives, friends, teachers, priests, peers, and finally, lovers-where the circle tends to complete itself. This primary meme, What They Think, no matter where it is focused and encountered, specifically exists in the wishes, desires, "likes," and "thoughts" of others, as distinguished from the same within oneself.
They begins with mother, but soon spreads to include father, then siblings, relatives, and so on until finally they are any or all others outside one's skin.
The second major category, Who's In Charge, my name for social forces which control one's actions, is distinguished from the first only by its focus. What They Think is the meme which directs one's inward self-"feelings" and "thoughts." Who's In Charge stands for powers focused on behavior rather than "thinking." It is about what we do, not merely who we are "inwardly." Although they are commonly inter-related and exercised by the same person, this second major meme category is about doing rather than being-about "how we act" or behave, what we do with our bodies, rather than "how we feel," what we want, what we think, or who-we-are-to the extent that "inwardness" is distinguishable from "outwardness."
Who's In Charge is the general category for external authority, in contrast with internal authority-"Who is the boss?," or, "Who decides what to do." This meme is about control of behavior, beginning with "minding your mother," "obeying your father," and "doing what 'they' (whoever they may be) want you to do" rather than what you want to do. This meme is about "other-direction" of one's actions, as distinguished from "self-direction."
What They Think is the meme category for powers directed at who-I-am (my inward self); Who's In charge is that constellation of forces which may or may not care who-I-am (what I feel or think), but is only concerned with how-I-act, the way I behave myself in the outside world. What They Think memes are more primal or focused on one's "deeper self" because being is existentially more primary than doing. "Substance precedes form," that is, who-we-are (our being) comes before what-we-do (our acting). Although the two, being and doing are never finally separable, in practice, significant distinctions commonly occur. Parents, for example, often "don't care" what a child thinks, but are deeply concerned with "how he behaves." And friends, who also mediate this second meme to us, usually care more about "what we do" with them, than about "how we feel."
The point: These first two categories of major memes, each
embodied in innumerable forms, are ultimately connected, since being and doing
are not finally separable; but in practice we commonly encounter them in significantly
different ways. I may want, for example, to be loved "for who-I-am (my
inward self)," but I am more apt to be loved "for what-I-do (my outward
self). And because I can more easily hide and hence control my inward self, I am apt to
focus on Who's In Charge memes simply because outward controls are both more
threatening and apparent.
WHAT THEY THINK ABOUT SELFING
Turning now to consider memes in practice, that is, in the ways we encounter them in specific circumstances when form is connected with subject: the deepest primary arena for all specific memes combines powers of authority figures with powers attached to the subject of self-who-we-are (the basis or roots of what-we-do). No arena of memes is, I conclude, deeper, weightier, more far-reaching, or harder to bring into consciousness, than this one. This must be why it is often the last to be recognized and confronted.
The parameters of this immensely significant ball park are a host of elusive messages from powerful others about the nature of self-that is, about who-we-are as individuals, about the essential "stuff" of being, what we are made of. Because being is deeper, more primary, than acting, these memes strike at the very core of personal existence rather than merely at behavior. Although sometimes cloaked in words about behavior, they actually pierce below the surface of what-we-do. For instance, such a meme message as: "You're just like your father (or Uncle Harry)," may on the surface describe apparently similar behaviors or even appearances only; but the hidden implication-and here is where the power of the meme lies, is a definition of your being.
Clues to these powerful memes-about-self may be picked up in the "being verbs," that is, the existential words in the messages: be, am, is, are. "You are dumb," for instance, may ostensibly be only about a low grade on a report card; but the existential verb, are, implies that the arrow may go deeper than grades, piercing even to the heart of your being itself. Or, opposite and "positive" existential statements may be equally defining: "You are smart (brilliant, wonderful, etc.)," is also a potentially powerful meme "set up" rather than "put down." Or, "How could you even think of doing such a thing as that?," is, on the surface, about some form of behavior. But because thinking is deeper than doing, and springs from the inner rather than outer person, the potential meme power of the statement can be awesome. If one falls for the meme, thereafter just bringing the subject to mind (an act of being which precedes behaving) can be threatening.
Other examples include such self-defining messages as: "I can't believe you feel like that," or, "You are (note existential verb) certainly above that kind of behavior." Or, "Our family is better than that," or, "You could never be like that, could you?"
Whether blatant of subtle, all such messages about various aspects of who-we-are, about the being of our selves, can be powerful and damaging memes which have far reaching effects in other more apparent aspects of living. These memes which, when accepted, shape our sense-of-ourselves in any existential arena: desires, feelings, motives, aims, goals, thoughts, reasons, intelligence, appearance-any aspect of self, can have powerful effects in every aspect of daily living. For example, one who has fallen for a typical family meme in this arena, such as, "Suzy is the slow one of our children," and accepts this subtle definition of self into her own sense-of-who-she-is, may be affected in almost every aspect of her life.
Looking back into the deep roots of our pasts and seeing
these defining existential memes which have been accepted and long since forgotten can be
a powerfully significant step in personal analysis on the longer path to re-becoming who
we truly are.
WHAT THEY THINK ABOUT SEX
This second most powerful arena for memes may be even more illusive than the first because it is usually operative below the language level. Though always present and consequential, it is seldom talked about. Because the whole subject of sex is so commonly obscene, even words and language about the topic are sparse; and certainly open conversation, even with "crude" terms, is rare. In my family, sex was essentially a non-subject. This doesn't mean, obviously, that the reality of sex wasn't present; only that it was kept "swept under the rug" insofar as any shared awareness was concerned.
By nature of itself, since instincts for reproduction are second only to those for survival, the genetic reality of sex is always present in every family. And with the subject, "attitudes" are inevitable. All persons with genes, parents included, "feel certain ways" about sex. Even if their "thoughts" are not very well "thought out," still What They Think about sex is a present force in every child's living space. Somehow, by osmosis or otherwise, all children are born into and thus confronted with parental "attitudes," if not overt directives, about being sexual (or more literally, about not-being so).
And in genetic hierarchies, if I am correct about the primacy of "instincts"--first for self-survival, and secondly for self-replication, only "attitudes" about self are more powerful than those about sex. This second most moving set of memes, which I label What They Think About Sex, is hence consequential because it aims at shaping the second most significant element in genetic makeup. The power operative in this arena is even more subtle and dangerous because it commonly works below the level of language and hence easy consciousness.
"Catching on" in consciousness to these life-affecting memes which, unless detected and confronted, blindly shape the second most significant part of who-we-are, is obviously of crucial importance in good living.
Specific forms of this general meme begin with the
"incest taboo," that is, many unstated messages which boil down to: Thou
shalt not be sexual with family members, in particular, sons with mothers, daughters with
fathers, and vice versa. Past this apparently universal meme, other common (though
often difficult to recognize) variations include negative judgments against: overt or
conscious sexual excitement in general and any form of "playing with yourself"
in particular. On the purely physical level, erections in males and
"tingling"clitorises in females are nearly always obscene past age two. Even
exposure, let alone any obvious delight, in/of genitals, is subject to threat and/or
punishment by these memes. "Keep your legs crossed," is a familiar form of one
such meme, especially with little girls.
WHO'S IN CHARGE OF SELFING
The third major box of memes can be summarily named Who's In Charge Of Selfing-that is, Who is the boss of what I do about being myself? Where does the power lie for controlling actions which arise from my being? Who's in charge of behavior around here (wherever I am)? When I feel a genetic urge, who decides what I will do with or about it?
The first and deepest "box" or "ball park" (spacial metaphors for unplaced forces) names powers for being oneself; this third general grouping is for forces related to doing things associated with self-interests, beginning with genetic directives. Being is primarily en-skinned; but doing is in-the-world, outside our skins. Memes related to being oneself are thus deeper or more primal, while those associated with what we do, behavior arising from being, are higher up the scale. Though forceful and significant, they are ultimately less powerful than those in the first category.
Still, they are crucially important when we face being ourselves in the outside world.
In the largest picture, from the farthest perspective, memes in this ball park are almost all negative. Positive memes affirming any self-expression are rare. The first such powerful negative meme lies in our available language for thinking about the subject-more particularly, in the absence of such language. Almost all being ourselves in public, certainly in its purest forms, is viewed as selfish-and as everyone knows, "You shouldn't be selfish." Being selfish is a powerful negative meme. "Good people" are "unselfish." Self-sacrifice is socially good; self-indulgence is bad.
Although "being yourself" is given some social acceptance as a general idea, most specific expressions of natural tendencies are viewed negatively and soon fall into the realm of the meme called selfish. Just to speak of the subject without such judgments appearing immediately I have had to coin a new word, selfing. But because it is not generally accepted and therefore available for private thought, we are limited in thinking clearly about acting "selfingly" in the world. Even to consider in the privacy of our own minds, apart from any external act, doing things guided by our genetic selves is to fall under the power of the meme, selfish.
Because of the power inherent in this language limitation I am consequently hindered in thinking and hence writing about this subject. And since in the normal process of wiser human experience thinking precedes action, to restrict thinking through deprivation of words, is in effect to limit wisdom-in-choices. It would, I conclude, be difficult to overestimate the significance of powerful memes which curtail thinking in any regard-but especially in such primal arenas as "being ourselves" in public.
But even when we are able to move past this significant language limitation, as I have tried to do in creating the word selfing so as to think beyond the judgments of selfish, still we are confronted with powerful memes which "put down" on natural acts of self and praise acts which are essential unnatural. For instance, when we want the best for ourselves-which is perhaps the most natural of all genetic inclinations, we are looked on with social disfavor; the negative meme, selfish, is inevitably encountered. But if we act counter to natural instincts and "put ourselves last" or engage in self-sacrificial activities, then we socially affirmed, even rewarded. In sharp contrast with the best of genetic wisdom, selfish is bad, and unselfish, even self-negation, is good.
Patriotism and social service, both of which are powerful memes, stand firmly in opposition to primal genes which incline us first to self-protection and then to self-service.
Only in those limited circumstances where no other person is remotely involved, such as, "taking care of your health," do social memes smile favorably on natural "selfing" inclinations. Otherwise we fall under social judgments for being selfish.
Specific forms of these general memes about Who's In Charge Of Selfing include such social messages as: "Don't take the biggest piece of cake," "Don't brag on yourself," "You should be helping others rather than helping yourself," "Do good deeds for others, not for yourself," "Care enough to send the very best (not to keep it)," "Give your life in service to others, not to getting personal wealth," "Money is the root of all evil," "A good citizen will lay down his life for his country," "The captain should go down with the ship (at least get all passengers off first)," "Humility is good; pride is sinful," "Don't be proud of yourself," and rather endlessly on in the same vein.
In summary, memes in this third major arena focus on the primary issue: Who will direct what we do when we face being ourselves in the world of others? Will I remain in charge of my genetic urges? Or will "they"-through the voice of memes, direct my self-expressions?
Will I decide what I say, or will I say what they think I
should? Will I do what I want to, or what they want me to? Who's In Charge Of Selfing?
WHO'S IN CHARGE OF SEX
Who's In Charge Of Sex is the fourth major arena for many diverse but powerful social memes. What They Think About Sex, ball park Number Two, comes first; but not far behind in terms of latent power is: Who bosses sexual behavior? Who controls activities arising from primal sexual impulses? Who is the authority who holds power over sexual "doings"? Who punishes (or praises, should it ever occur) one for sexual "transgressions"?
The second and deeper arena is about "attitudes," beliefs, or opinions of sex-an overall stance on being sexual; this fourth territory is about the activities, behavior, or expressions which transform being into doing.
Again, as with most memes about sex, these forces are generally operative below the level of language. Because the whole subject of being sexual, beyond the barest rudiments of anatomy and "where babies come from," is socially obscene, talk about sexual activities is likewise limited. These powerful memes are primarily mediated through "non-verbal" language-facial expressions, "attitudes," bodily stances/movements, plus innuendoes. Only on rare occasions do these significant forces find their way into normal conversation where reason may be applied to them.
"Morals," which are primarily negative directives, such as, "Don't do it until you're married," are the main mediators of these rather awesome memes. Parents put them into effect through "moral teachings" which are mostly thinly veiled directives about sex. To be moral, itself a powerful social meme, is, as everyone knows as though by osmosis, primarily about being non-sexual outside the social institution of marriage-and even there, mostly for reproductive purposes only.
I, obviously, am from an older generation where sex was even more under wraps than it is today. Our "little talk about sex" came just before I was to be married at age 21. My father took me aside and asked if there was "anything I needed to know about it." Till then, we'd never talked about sex. I, as was fashionable at the time, of course dutifully said, "No, I don't think so." And that ended that.
Certainly youth of today are far from these "dark ages" of sex; but still, I think, most directives are mediated through social "morals" rather than conscious and specific verbal teaching. Rational discussions about being sexual are, I suspect, still relatively rare in most families today. But the lack of conversations does not mean that there is a lack of directing memes-only that they exist and are transmitted through other means.
However they operate, whether directly through specific parental and religious teachings, or indirectly through vague "moral precepts," memes about sexual behavior are yet powerfully present in the ethos of society. Somehow, we all learn early about what we "should and shouldn't (mostly the latter) do" sexually. In largest summary these memes are negative-"Thou shalt not..." "Thou shalt's" are limited to one, which boils down to: "...do it only in marriage."
Teasing these dark but powerful memes about sexual behavior into the light of consciousness proves challenging. Such dark knowledge acquired early in life proves notable resistant to later consciousness-at least for me. Specific forms of these memes which I can now recognize might be stated-if they were brought into awareness, in some of these ways:
"Thou shalt not...
--feel sexual desires for family members, beginning with opposite sex parents, but extending to siblings and later to one's own children;
--play with thyself (meaning: touch, tickle, squeeze, or otherwise stimulate "erogenous zones" of the body--certainly not openly masturbate);
--girls past very early ages should keep their legs crossed;
--boys should hide all erections;
--try to see or ask about the sexual activities of others, beginning with parents but extending to all others;
--try to touch or otherwise stimulate any other person in even a remotely sexual way;
--be at all sexual with one's own gender (called "homosexual" or "gay");
--lust (feel indiscriminate sexual desires) for other than an acknowledged sweetheart, lover, or one's spouse-and even with these acceptable persons such "evil desires" are to be mostly hidden;
--girls should not be consciously sexual and certainly not overtly seductive;
-boys should not try to see naked girls or their "sexual parts," including looking at pornography;
-"go all the way" before marriage, "do it" indiscriminately, or "commit fornication";
-commit adultery (have sex with anyone other than one's spouse);
-commit sodomy (have anal intercourse) or "perform cunnilingus (have oral sex)"
As noted, positive "Thou shalt..." memes in the Who's In Charge Of Sex arena, are extremely rare. The only one I can think of is a weak and vaguely effected directive about "having sex" occasionally in marriage:
--Husbands should have sex with their wives sometimes, at least on the honeymoon and every few months or years until they are "old."
-Wives should "do their duty" and submit to
their husband's "advances" unless they become extremely "excessive" or
As with all other memes, these related to Who's In Charge Of Sex-where the power to control sexually related actions lies, exist in the ethos of society. They are, as it were, in the very air we breath; they lie hidden-but-waiting to direct us, even as we once imaged ghosts in the dark, invisible-but-waiting to "get us." Some rare times they are verbalized and given ("taught") directly, either in specific terms of what we shouldn't do sexually, or indirectly through "moral" teachings; most often, however, because they so thoroughly permeate the structures of society, they seem to "just come to us." Who among us can finally pin down how and where we acquired our knowledge about acceptable social behavior? Even so, we all do.
And again, as with other memes, unless and until we finally bring them into conscious attention, we remain blindly determined by them-either in quiet submission or blatant rebellion, and in either case at some cost to good living now.
I think that cunt must be the most powerful of all the specific memes I have yet been able to bring into awareness. This is followed (in my observations) by God, and then by fuck (or pussy). Close behind comes mother.
Cunt, obviously, is a negative meme which must be denied in socially acceptable language as well as common awareness. God, on the other hand, is the greatest positive meme, whose name is sacred and can be invoked favorably most anywhere, e.g., when anyone sneezes or experiences any great need ("God bless you," or "God help you."). Fuck or pussy (and its male counterpart, prick) are also negative but close behind in the power which commonly surrounds them.
Moving more into common consciousness, mother is
perhaps the most widespread meme in social awareness, with money not far behind.
FUCK IS A MEME
God answers prayer and
Otherwise, when reality prevails,
Unlike obvious memes, which may be positive, like God and mother, or negative, such as, cunt and fuck, other powerful memes are subtle, more difficult to see (to bring into consciousness), because they are cloaked with contradictory social messages. One thing is said, but the deeper unstated message, only slightly cloaked, is its opposite.
For instance, the most powerful subtle meme I have yet discovered, when I am sometimes able to bring it into awareness, is: "Don't get too excited," or, "Avoid letting go." This anti-pleasure meme is subtle because it is commonly hidden by overt messages about "having fun." We are often instructed by parents and friends (voices of memes), for instance when leaving, to "Have fun." Happiness is socially desirable, and even pleasure itself (of the "right kind") is publicly affirmed. We can, without memetic disapproval, go to parties, sports events, and carnivals; we can "enjoy our weekends," go on vacations aimed as "having a good time," and even dream of going to heaven, a place of supposed perpetual bliss.
But beneath these apparent messages lies the dark, unspoken, heavily veiled meme, which, if it were spoken, might be saying: "But don't have too much fun. Avoid the natural pleasures you are evolved to experience normally, because they are inherently evil." This deeper message sometimes slips through what is stated, as in familiar sayings like: "This is so much fun it must be sinful." Other maxims, such as, "An idle hand is the devil's workshop," are subtle warnings about keeping your hands busy (extolling the virtues of work) lest you fall into play; and especially into "playing with yourself."
Even those who consciously espouse "going to heaven" or returning to Eden (meaning Garden of Pleasure) are likely to postpone the possibility until after death. "Of course I want to go to heaven; but not just yet!"
The double bind of these contradictory stated versus unstated social messages (cloaked memes) is rooted in the fact that pleasure is written into our genetic scripts. Things which work eventually evolve fun in their process. This, I think, must be the genius of genes-that they soon attach pleasure to what turns out to be functional; for instance, eating, defecating, and fucking. "Feels good" (pleasure coming into consciousness) is our best clue to genetic wisdom. But, and here comes the rub, because so many of these biological pleasures are related to self survival and reproduction of species, and because selfishness and sex have proven to be so difficult for society to manage, this meme must have evolved to ease the conflict.
If we look carefully we may note that socially affirmed pleasures are socially contrived and less natural within themselves. Natural pleasures are almost all "obscene" by social standards-for instances: nudity, "playing with yourself (touching your 'private parts')," touching other persons in any sexually related way, talking about sex, being affectionate in public, and certainly any sexual behavior not carefully defined by social rules.
So, if we look between the lines, this subtle meme may be
seen if not heard. The stated "Have fun" refers mostly to unnatural pleasures,
such as, serving others rather than self, and being chaste and "moral" rather
than sexy and "immoral." But the fun we are most geared to have, that which has
evolved in the eons of genetic evolution, "doing what comes naturally," is
almost always a social NO-NO. I can brag about my scars, especially if acquired in
unselfish acts of social service, anywhere; but where can one exalt a wonderful orgasm?
Sacrifices, which are socially virtuous, being supported by another powerful meme, can be
praised by anyone, but the normal pleasures of intense selfing, all seen as
"selfish" in society, must be carefully hidden from public scrutiny lest we be
rejected for being "self centered" or "egotistical."
Memes vary from race to race, culture to
culture, religion to religion, country to country, community to community, and person to
person. There are, however, many memes which are extremely common, if not universal. Here
I want to focus on some of those which seem to be widespread, especially as I have
encountered them in my experience.
Perhaps the most universal of all memes is the power which centers around Motherhood, recognized and later symbolized in the Smiles/Frowns of Mother. I capitalize these words to distinguish the phenomenon I am trying to tease into awareness from any particular biological mother. In the earliest days of all beginnings, our individual mothers are indeed the holders of real powers of life and death, including all good or bad experiences between the two extremes. Each mother is, as it were, God or Goddess, to be more literal, in the sense of omnipotence, omniscience, and apparent immortality, insofar as an infant is concerned.
But the meme I refer to is not these real powers which mothers hold in the presence of infants; rather it is a child's image of these powers, which is at first realistic, but is later held sacred after a mother's powers in fact diminish toward zero. Mother's Smile, or perhaps even more powerfully, Her Frown--symbols of her favor or disfavor, are the memes which are to be distinguished from the smiles or frowns of a birthing mother which did indeed reflect real dangers to an infant's well-being (e.g., the quantity and quality of his milk, or the extent of her love, punishments, or rejection) if not his very existence.
The meme is the image of such awesome powers as we all encounter in the primal days of life, but which may be held for a life time, locked away in the hiding place of primal memories, long after they no longer have any basis in reality. The meme of Mother's Favor or Disfavor has no connection with real factors in present life, such as, what a mother can do for or against a growing or grown child; it exists entirely in the deeper mind (usually unconscious) of the person who still bows before the altar of Motherhood long after all real cords are cut. Even the death of one's birthing mother may not effect the power of this meme; in fact, it may enhance it, as reflected in various sayings about "making your mother turn over in her grave."
Clues to this powerful meme in most every grown child's life are also reflected in the ways we value "Motherhood" in society, politics, and legal structures. The familiar triad of "Motherhood, Apple Pie, and Baseball" (with variations on # 2 and 3), as though these are socially sacred, is one example. Also the power reflected in the phrase, "Yo mamma," or any possible slur on one's mother or Motherhood in general, are clues to the presence of this perhaps universal meme.
This meme with begins with one's literal mother is commonly projected soon after childhood, especially by males, onto sweethearts, lovers, and finally spouses. Absence from the presence of a mother typically does little to diminish the power of this ancient meme; in fact, it may even be expanded once distance and the primal threats of incest are removed. Magical powers which we first recognized in the eyes of our birth mothers are easily transferred by boys onto other females who bear some of her characteristics, such as, breasts. If our own mother did not save us, perhaps some later substitute will, if only we can please her enough!
The further dispersal of this meme rooted in Motherhood is often extended, again mostly by males, onto femininity in general. Whenever we come into the presence of any woman, we grown boys are apt to be reminded of and return to the vague sense of power which we first experienced before conscious memory began. Just a woman's body, her physical presence, no matter who the person may be, is often enough to resurrect the primal powers of this meme for us males who seldom if ever succeed in "cutting the cord" (or "untying the apron strings") completely. We automatically (without conscious thought) become polite, on guard, rebellious, or abusive in a reactive attempt to cope with the power of this displaced meme.
Then, I believe, the same meme which first finds its power in Motherhood, and reappears in lovers, spouses, and miscellaneous females, is finally projected onto People-In-General-that is, onto all other persons outside one's own skin. What-They-Think, they meaning all persons other than oneself, becomes the final mirror for the resurrection of this ancient meme in a cross-gendered manner. Although females seem to me to be less likely to encounter the Mother Meme in other females than are males, we all appear to be moved by a similar power when any segment of public opinion may come to rest on us. Whenever we may be seen by others, for example, "when company is coming," or, we "go out in public," this meme which I suspect is first imaged in childhood, is commonly resurrected. Who can resist "cleaning up" before company arrives?
No matter who the "other person" may be--garbage man or president, stranger or neighbor, male or female, we must all be tempted to modify our behavior somewhat (to clean up, fix up, dress up, or shape up), regardless of any real factors in the present world. Certainly there are real dangers in how others respond to us in every encounter; but this meme is present whenever we react "without thinking" to forces not literally operative at the time-when the other person or persons have no real power to effect our existence, as our mothers once did.
Of course there are many other real factors, such as, police with legal power, bosses who can fire or promote, audience applause, seduction success, and accolades of many types, which realistically call for attention to What They Think; but this meme, which I believe is rooted in our universally common experiences with individual mothers, is present and operative whenever we "are moved" to be, look, or act differently around others beyond their real powers to effect our existence.
In summary, perhaps the greatest and most universal of all
memes is that dark power which finds its genesis in the womb of mother and is first imaged
soon thereafter, later to be projected onto lovers, spouses, and people-in-general. What-She-Thinks,
as symbolized in Mother's Smile of Mother's Frown, eventually becomes What-They-Think.
And this awesomely powerful meme lives on.
Personal memes are individually created, apart from those given to one by society (overt, covert, and subtle). They are made up from one's unique experiences. They are uncommon, unshared, and usually unconscious. Examples include: habits, rituals, personality patterns, character traits, quirks, and fetishes.
Some of these are genetic, that is, inclined by genes; but many are simply personality habits acquired early and continued so long that they are taken to be natural, commonly identified with one's self-"just the way I am." In reality, however, they, unlike true genetically based traits, are subject to change through consciousness, even as other more obvious social memes.
Specific examples include: patterns of eating: desert last, all the food on one's plate, quantities of food eaten, eating portions in order or trying to finish all foods at the same time; patterns of dress: style of clothes, make-up, etc.; modes of conversation, including subjects; ways of being sexual, even the fantasies which excite one. Such personal memes are usually evolved to control/suppress various natural desires.
Other personal memes include such "personality
patterns" as: dominant/submissive; defensive/attractive; apologetic (always
explaining or excusing oneself); rebellious/compliant. Personal memes are like the nose on
your face-easier to see by anyone else than by oneself.
When certain words become memes, as is inevitable in society-that is, are judged to be bad or good, clean or dirty, a tricky situation is created. Perhaps language memes (subjects and words) are more powerful and harder to decode than any other. This is because subjects and words are essential for thought. We cannot move in the Creative Process beyond perceptions and images, for instance fear and ghosts, without words for representing the pictures we create. But when subjects and words, such as, sex and fuck, are surrounded with significant meme powers, then the very process of normal human experience is seriously curtailed. By nature of itself, thinking (forming conceptions from de-coded images) requires both attention to a subject and word-symbols to represent various elements within the topic.
Without these required mental tools we cannot engage in the difficult process of "thinking our way through"-that is, of "making sense" of our own experiences. When these tools for thought are either denied by our society, or contaminated with judgments to begin with (such as, "dirty sex" and "cleanliness next to Godliness"), then energies which would otherwise be available for the challenges of thinking clearly-itself a difficult process in the face of powerful emotions-are drained in paying attention to the memes (or being "done in" by them).
Language memes are consequently operational at the genesis
of all thought. Before we can reason at all we have no option but to confront these social
powers in one way or another.
Another major category of powerful memes centers around social virtues, the activities and personal traits which groups in which one finds oneself deem to be "good." These, of course, vary from culture to culture, country to country, and family to family, but common ones, particularly noted in our society, include: patriotism, loyalty, social responsibility, work (over play), efficiency, being on time, productivity, civic duty, being religious, obeying laws, peace loving (vs. warlike), helping others, etc.
Because these social virtues surround one from the time of birth onward, they, like all memes, are difficult to see with any degree of objectivity. Once accepted, they seem to be "just the way things are," that is, their power becomes consciously ignored. Take, for instance, the social virtue of work over play. To "work" is good; to "lie around" or "be lazy" is bad. "An idle hand is the devil's workshop," etc. Once the meme is in place for an individual, its power to move is felt without thought, below the level of all reason. One then "goes to work" each day, simply "because he should." He feels proud of hard work and guilty if he is not working. To "be caught" (note the implied crime) "doing nothing," for instance, taking a nap during work hours, invites shame and apology.
And so it is with the multitudes of other memes signified
by social virtues.
Closely aligned with social virtues are the moral
values which underlie and support them. These include such vague categories as:
family values (the nuclear family in our society-monogamy, sexual fidelity within
marriage, responsibility for children, bread-winning and house-keeping); accountability to
others-service (helpful vs. harmful); and civic responsibility.
In the Christian religion, ten major commandments are
amplified into numerous others. In summary, these include all the "Thou shalts,"
and, "Thou shalt nots, (steal, kill, lie, commit adultery, dishonor parents,
etc.)," which are taught by religions but exist as fundamental structures of the
mores of the community. With few exceptions, all such religious commandments are memes
which exist and are promulgated in support of social structures intact at the time.
All psychological labels, apart from their utility by
professionals in communicating with others (colleagues, family, insurance companies), are
powerful negative memes in society. It is good to be "sane," bad to be
"crazy," under any of the numerous labels which the "helping
professions" have evolved. Specifics include: paranoid, delusional, schizophrenic,
compulsive, obsessional, etc. Unprofessional names for various types of
"craziness," such as, "off his rocker," "not thinking
straight," "gone bananas," "cuckoo," "screwy," etc.,
function much the same as more intellectual sounding terms. Both types of labels commonly
serve as powerful memes inviting irrational reactions from those who are blinded to them.
One of the ways all societies seek to shape individual members is through acceptable language. Since any conscious thought which moves beyond the primal stages of picture-memory requires words, we are hindered in "being reasonable" when no language symbols are readily available. Without a good word, it is difficult to conceive clearly; certainly, to communicate with any else about an experience becomes a grand challenge. Because this is so, societies evolve language memes for subjects and activities which are difficult to manage within the group. Since thought tends to precede action, and if thought requires words, then disruptive actions can "be nipped in the bud" by denying or restricting available language to think about them in the first place. We are not likely to do what we can't think about doing; and we have difficulty "thinking about" anything with out words to name it.
These controls are effected in two major ways: first, by restricting language itself, for instance, by making representative words "dirty" or obscene (off-scene), "impolite" (another social meme), or subject to punishment by authorities (e.g., "having your mouth washed out," spanked for "saying that," etc.). Secondly, since words tend to appear to name perceptions, no matter how hard society attempts to deny them, religion and morality may be brought to bear on thoughts about dangerous subjects. Thoughts about disapproved actions can be further judged to be "evil," just as are the deeds themselves. "It's just as bad to think about it as it is to do it," is one such meme designed to support approved actions only.
Sex, for instance, in its natural forms has proven notably difficult for most societies to manage. Aside from a vast array of laws-civil and religious, attempting to restrict sexuality, language memes are also used. Most readily available and easy to pronounce words about sex are labeled by society as "dirty" and obscene. "We don't say those words." "We don't talk like that."
"Fuck," for instance, is an extremely powerful meme. Just voicing the word has been sufficient to evoke powerful social reactions--at least until recent days. Thinking about socially disapproved forms of sexual activity, often called "lusting," is also judged to be evil by many religions. If one has no acceptable word for conceiving a sexual activity, holding it in mind-space, then of course
doing "it" becomes highly improbable; further, baring unsuccessful attempts to deny or restrict available words, if thinking about "it" also brings religious judgment, then the odds of restriction are upped considerably.
Language memes are indeed powerful.
The single most powerful meme in the What They Think ballpark is one which says: "Belong." In the face of forceful genes which in effect say: "Be," or "Be one," this one counters with a similar directive, except from the standpoint of society rather than the individual. To genes saying: "Be yourself," this meme says instead, "Be a member." Instead of: "Be who-you-are," this meme says, "Be who-you-should be," that is, who society wants/needs for you to be.
To genes which are inherently unique, and consequently direct us to be unique individuals, this meme says, "Fit in; don't be an 'odd ball'." "Be the same as we are; don't be 'strange' or 'weird'." (Note the judgments attached to not-fitting-in: 'odd ball,' etc.) To genes which urge: "Be your unique self," this meme counters: "Be a piece of the puzzle; don't be a 'misfit'."
This meme doesn't directly counter genes for self-being by saying clearly: "Don't be yourself," but instead confronts most all elements of self-being with head-on negations. While often voicing its cover story as: "Now just be yourself," this meme deceptively adds, "but don't be selfish or sexy." "Be," in other words, only what the group says you should be-which commonly excludes not only these two major elements of our genetic selves, but also their supporting casts (desire, anger, fear, sorrow, passion, etc., plus all the actions which naturally emerge from these inward emotional states).
Specific elements of this power which says, "Belong, at all costs," include directives for every aspect of oneself which is subject to revelation: one's thinking (beliefs), feelings, language, conversation, dress and adornment, and certainly all aspects of behavior. "Here," says this meme, "is what you are supposed to think." "These are the emotions you should feel." "This is the proper language and here is the way you should talk." "These are the things you should do, the ways for you to behave."
When this meme says, "Be good," it means: "Think right thoughts (believe the 'party line' beliefs), feel approved emotions (e.g., don't get angry or hostile), dress properly, talk like you ought to, and above all behave yourself (do all the things you should do).
The forces of the belong meme are sometimes recognized in what is known as "peer pressure," that subtle power which requires members to conform to all distinguishing features of the group-beliefs, clothing, style of dress and adornment, and actions. Any disbelief , unapproved emotion, "bad language," violation of dress code (no matter how bizarre it may seem to outsiders), or "misbehaving (failure to act like other members of the group)" is subject to discipline or excommunication-the ultimate threat of the belonging meme.
Reaction to this powerful meme comes in two forms: compliance or rebellion, both of which are determined by the meme itself and leave one disconnected from his or her genetic heritage. The most familiar reaction, the "best way to be," is, of course, to comply or conform, to "fit in," go along with the group, submit to its directives, support its beliefs, obey its rules, promote the 'party line,' etc. To "fit in" well is, obviously, to "not make waves."
The second form of reaction to this meme, to rebel rather than comply, is to "be bad (as defined by the group)-that is, not to fit in (think, feel, talk, dress, and act) "like you are supposed to." Such persons are sometimes benevolently seen as "rugged individualists," or, "strong persons who refuse to be told that to think or do." More often, however, they are simply "misfits," "unbelievers," "non-conformists," "weirdoes," or "criminals." They are sometimes labeled as "mentally ill" and are either held at arm's length from social approval or outright rejected and "put away."
Because being thusly "bad" rather than a "good" group member appears to be so "different," such rebellious "non-conformists" are often mistakenly seen as "unique individuals." In contrast with those who "don't make waves," they do indeed seem to be choosing their own ways. Closer analysis however is apt to reveal that many such "bad members" ("rugged individualists") are no more uniquely themselves than those who totally conform to social standards or give in to "peer pressure." Although they say in effect, "Betcha can't make me," instead of, "What do you want me to do?," they are simply reacting to the same powerful meme, only in an opposite way-being equally dictated by this force.
Only in hindsight do I recognize how many of my own "differences" from the norm, many of which I have benevolently viewed as "courageous stands" at the time, turn out to be such rebellions, which protect me from the true faith required for becoming my unique self.