Archive for the ‘Memes’ Category

Meme: Reforming Ideas for the American ‘Next Deal’

February 10, 2016

This is another American political meme I found over at the Tumblr site, 1000 Natural Shocks (Over 18s only). I don’t know who the American Reformers are, but looking at the points on their meme, I’d say that they were similar to the Bernie Sanders’ radical Left of the Democrats, and wished to transform their country’s political system into something like that of Europe’s.

American Next Deal

It’s clearly American, but there are some points which would definitely benefit our politics over here. For example:

* Ending gerrymandering
* Strengthening trade unions
* Dealing with student debt
* Ending lobbying (And not the pathetic deception Cameron pulled, which actually ended democratic access and strengthened the professional, corporate lobbyists)
* Raising the minimum wage.
* Shifting the tax burden fairly so that the rich pay their proper whack
* A proper commitment to the NHS: Reverse and end privatisation.
* Ending privately run prisons.
* Actually strengthening the welfare state, so that the sick, the disabled and the unemployed are genuinely supported.
* Make a secure commitment to genuine human rights. Retain membership of the EU and its human rights legislation. David Cameron wants to replace these with a far weaker version that would not give British citizens anywhere near the same level of protection.
* Make a genuine commitment to real environmental protection, including against flooding, rather than the derisory token gestures of Cameron’s cabinet.
* 50 per cent renewable energy over here sounds pretty good as well.
* Increased spending on infrastructure.
* Genuine, proper support for small businesses. Make sure the big boys pay their smaller contractors on time. This is driving many to the wall. The Tories have been putting it off since Major’s day. It’s time this ended.

Meme on the Amount of Personal Tax Spent on Welfare and Subsidies for the Rich and Corporations in America

February 10, 2016

This is another meme I found over at the Tumblr site, 1000 Natural Shocks (over 18s only). It breaks down just how much the tax paid by an American citizens making $50,000 a year is spent on welfare and subsidies for the rich and the big corporations.

As you can see, the amount spent on welfare is trivial. Far more is spent subsidizing the corporate rich. And the biggest amount is the tax burden caused by the rich using tax loopholes not to pay their fair share of the tax burden.

American Tax Welfare Corporate

Mike and the Angry Yorkshireman have also put up memes on their sites, Vox Political and Another Angry Voice, also showing how the tax burden over here has been shifted onto the poor as successive Tory administrations since Thatcher have cut taxes for the rich. And under David Cameron, the tax burden on the poor for the benefit of the rich has increased massively, while welfare has been cut right, left and centre.

There’s been a whole book written about this subject: Take the Rich Off Welfare. And what adds insult to injury is that these are the same people, who stand up and declare themselves superior to everyone else, because they’ve made it by their own efforts in the free market. They haven’t. They’re just scroungers and hypocrites, taking money from those who really need money and welfare support. It’s time for them and their paid servants in politics, to be kicked off state support for good.

Meme on the Poisoning of Navajo Land by Mining Corporations

February 10, 2016

The big environmental news in America over the past few weeks is the massive poisoning of the local water supply in Flint, Michigan. This has been going on for years, and the water is seriously contaminated with lead, even in the local hospitals. The authorities did absolutely nothing, and continued to ignore the problem despite coverage from the local press. After about a year, the story’s managed to get through to the national American media, and it’s became a major scandal.

This is another scandal involving the poisoning of a people’s water supply, but it’s one that hasn’t made the news yet. It’s the contamination of the water supply of the Navajo First Nation by abandoned uranium and coal mines. The meme states that 75 per cent of all abandoned uranium mines are on tribal lands, which might indicate that other Native American peoples are affected.

Now this is very much an American issue, but it’s also part of what’s happening globally. Way back in the 1980s the Telegraph over here was moaning about how environmentalists weren’t letting the uranium mining corporations dig out the fuel from Aboriginal tribal lands in Oz. I’ve got a feeling there’s still a scandal and controversy going on about it, which centres around proper payment for the Aboriginal owners and clean-up operations afterwards. I have a feeling – though I don’t know – that the same is being done to the Aboriginals Down Under. Their land is being trashed, and not cleaned up afterwards.

And I have a horrible feeling that some of those corporate vultures involved may be British, or will want to come to Britain to do the same thing to our Green and Pleasant Land. If they aren’t doing it already, thanks to Bliar and Cameron. One of the companies that poisoned another Amerindian people’s land decades ago certainly was. Way back in the 1980s the Hanson Trust was in the Sunday Express. It was being sued by the Sioux, because their cement works was polluting their reservation. And this didn’t surprise me at all.

Lord Hanson was an asset-stripper, who bought up other companies, only to strip them and sell them off at a profit, before going on to carve up the next one. He was the Thatcherite dream. And he did it to W.H. and H.O. Wills in Bristol. Wills were a booze and cigarettes combine. They had several tobacco factories in Bristol, one of which was a huge construction that was used as a location in the Tom Baker Dr Who story, ‘The Sunmakers’. They also owned Courage’s brewery in the centre of the city. These both went their separate ways when Hanson got hold of them.

And he also tried to get his mitts, Maxwell-like, on the company’s pension fund. However, he found the pensioners’ lawyers were too good for him, and ended up selling the company off a few years later. Although that kind of corporate theft is associated with Robert Maxwell’s looting of the Mirror pension fund, the legislation that allowed it was Tory. It was passed by one Margaret Thatcher. You could also tell how grotty the Hanson Trust was because they also launched a PR campaign on TV. This bent your ear about how many times the plastic chairs they made would go around the world, if you lined them up one by one. It ended with the slogan ‘A company from over here, doing rather well over there’. ‘Over there’ meaning America. Well, God help our American cousins. Ben Elton recognised what they were and sent them up as the archetypal nasty corporation in his stand-up tour, Motorvation.

It doesn’t matter what colour the ordinary man or woman’s skin is to these vultures, whether your White, Black, Asian, Amerindian, whatever – companies like the Hanson Trust just loot, pollute and move on. They’re everywhere, and we need to stand up to them, no matter where in the world they’re operating. Because if the do it to one of us, they’ll do it to all of us.

Navajo Water

If you want to see the original, it’s on the over 18 Tumblr site, 1000 Natural shocks at http://greybeard55.tumblr.com/image/138997619025.

Beyond the affect on the Navajo people’s own health, and the global politics of the situation, there’s also the issue of the destruction of the ancient heritage of the American people as a whole. The Navajo reservation contains some of the most stunning and beautiful scenery in the US. The sand paintings made by the tribal shamans during their healing ceremonies are highly regarded by art connoisseurs. And the area possesses some of the most enigmatic and fascinating indigenous American archaeology in the US. From the 12th to 14th centuries AD the area was the centre of several highly developed civilisations. They built brick fortress cities high up in caves in the canyon walls, and a system of irrigation canals. They also had a peculiar system of roads. These appear to have been cut straight through the landscape, like the Romans. They also made them double, so that there was a pair of roads running parallel to the same destination. No-one quite understands why, though it’s thought that there might be some ideological or religious reason for it. I also think that, like many of the other Native American civilisations in the South West, they had extensive trade contacts with Mexico and the great civilisations there, such as the Aztecs. But it’s another mystery how those trade systems operated. Mesoamerican goods and motifs appear in the remains of the peoples of the Southwestern US, but they don’t appear in the material record of the peoples in between. What was going on? Why not? How were these items traded, and why?

And the history of the area also bears witness to the devastation caused by climate change. Many of the civilisations in what is now the Navajo reservation vanished in the 14th century as drought finally dried up their water supplies, and they were forced to move out of the area. Their cities and crops were abandoned. Now there’s a lesson relevant to today, and the contemporary crisis surrounding climate change and global warming.

There are still many unanswered questions, and vital lessons to be learned from the Navajo and similar peoples. The poisoning of them, and the destruction of their land are an attack both on their people and civilisation, and that of the wider American people. And needless to say, they and the people of Flint, deserve better.

Public Dissatisfaction with NHS Rising, Report the ‘I’

February 9, 2016

Today’s I newspaper has an article stating that the British public’s satisfaction with the NHS is falling. The article begins

Public dissatisfaction with the NHS is rising according to new data.

IN 2015, overall NHS satisfaction fell to 60 per cent, down from 65 per cent in 2014, the British Social Attitudes survey found. At the same time, dissatisfaction with the NHS rose by 8 per cent to 23 per cent the largest single year increase since 1986.

Dissatisfaction is now back at the same levels reported between 2011 and 2013, the survey, published by The King’s Fund charity found.

The decade of NHS funding growth during the 2000s was accompanied by increasing levels of public satisfaction, it said. This reached a peak of 2010 at 70 per cent and, although satisfaction is still high by historic standards, it is 9 per cent lower than in 2010. The report is entitled, Public Discontent with NHS is Rising, and it’s on p. 4.

This is no accident. It’s a deliberate part of the Tories’ over all long term strategy to sell off the NHS. Remember the meme from Noam Chomsky Mike’s put up at Vox Political on how the right operates to privatise industries by defunding them. And the Tories have vested personal interests in selling it off. 95 of the Tory and Lib Dem MPs in the last parliament had connections to health firms looking to profit from the sale of NHS services. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said that he wants the NHS privatised. And the Tory conference last year was sponsored by private health firms, and included debates on topics like opening up the NHS to private industry.

If you want further proof, consider some of the stuff that gets posted on the right-wing Canadian blog, Five Feet of Fury. This is an ugly little blog that makes absolutely no secret of its hatred for organised labour, immigrants, indigenous Canadians, feminism and socialised medicine. It also has a venomous hatred of Italians. It was urging its readers to send in stories about how awful the British NHS was, and went absolutely berserk at the 2012 London Olympics because it dared to include the NHS in the opening display. Socialist propaganda, it roared. It would be tempting to write this off as just a North American blog, whose readers are safely confined to the other side of the Atlantic. This would be a mistake. It’s part of a network of right-wing blogs which link Conservatives over here with their counterparts in Canada and the Republicans in the US. It says openly what the Tories over here only say amongst themselves, and then start lying when it gets out.

Be warned. Don’t be taken in. Protect the NHS from these profiteers.

Daily Heil Rejoices as Priti Patel Joins the Brexit Campaign

February 9, 2016

Mike at Vox Political yesterday posted a piece about the Daily Mail’s piece yesterday raving at Priti Patel’s decision to tell David Cameron that she would fight ‘tooth and nail’ for Britain to leave the EU. He then points out, with suitable meme, just how nasty Patel is.

Patel was one of the authors of the vile Tory screed, Britannia Unchained, which castigated British workers for being the laziest in Europe. She and the others argued that if Britain wanted to compete in the global market, then we had to adopt the work ethic of the Developing World. British workers should work longer hours, for less. The Heil’s article claimed she learned the value of hard work from her parents, ethnic Gujaratis from Uganda, who were forced to leave by Idi Amin. Allowed into Britain with the other Ugandan Asian exiles, her father set up a string of 17 newsagents.

Patel is, however, a classic case of Tory hypocrisy, an example of the ‘Do what I say, not what I do’ mentality that runs through the Tory party like writing in a stick of rock. Her own record voting in parliament is decidedly lacklustre. She has only been present in debates just over 81 per cent of the time, far beyond the 95 per cent + attendance many of the others manage. This probably won’t dismay her followers or the Tory spin doctors, who will argue no doubt that she works terribly hard for her constituents, or some such.

The Daily Heil, for its part, has heaped praise on her ever since she first appeared on the national Tory scene in the 1990s. Then it ran admiring articles on her titled ‘As Priti as a Picture’, and praised her for showing that the Tories were including ethnic minorities, and that the Blacks and Asians in the Tories were far better than their embittered counterparts nursing their racial grievances in Labour. This is also very much the Heil’s view of the advantages she brings to the Brexit campaign: she is supposedly disproving that the campaign is overwhelmingly pale and male.

Actually, I’ve no doubt that most of the people in the Brexit campaign, like those in UKIP, are voting for Britain to leave Europe, because they somehow believe it will stop immigrants, and especially non-Whites like Patel and her parents, entering Britain. They’re wrong. The Angry Yorkshireman and Mike have repeatedly stated that Britain’s acceptance of asylum seekers is governed by the International Convention on the Refugee, not by Europe, which only stipulates that Europeans must be free to move between countries.

The reason Patel, and Tories like her, are backing the Brexit campaign, is not because they’re hostile to immigration, although that’s no doubt a factor. What really angers them about the EU is the Social Charter that grants certain rights to European workers. Quite apart from the EU convention on human rights, which Cameron would dearly love to scrap and replace with a much weaker ‘Bill of British Rights’. They’re motivated by the authoritarian desire to keep the workforce cowed and oppressed by a powerful surveillance state, which gives its full force to the employers and the propertied class.

As for the Britannia Unchained author’s argument that Britons should work harder, that’s actually the complete opposite of what happened and what should be happening. As workers in the Developed World were told to work longer hours, so were their counterparts and competitors in the Developing World, until they’re just about working round the block. If we genuinely want to give workers in the Developing World a proper break and a decent standard of living, we could actually begin by cutting hours here.

And there have also been strong criticisms about the admiring verbiage surrounding the Asian work ethic and the long hours British Asians put in running the family business. I’ve read pieces recently on the web – though unfortunately I can’t remember where – which stated that this was actually racist. Asians should benefit from the same attitude to work as the rest of the British population. After all, the argument read, would you want to spend 11 hours + a day – and I think that was an underestimation of the horrendously long hours these people put in – behind a desk in a corner shop, still serving customers at all hours of the day and night?

And besides, the argument that the British are lazy is incorrect. It wasn’t that long ago that the Daily Heil and the rest of the Tory rags were telling us all that the French were horrendously lazy. As were the supposedly ruthlessly efficient Germans. And as for the Greeks, they’ve been subjected to a tirade of abuse for being supposedly a nation of lazy welfare scroungers who’ve brought the current economic collapse of their nation on themselves. In fact, when one German financial house moved part of its business to London from Manhattan am Main, as the Germans were styling Frankfurt, the Mail reported that the German staff were all making jokes about the English working themselves to death. So much for British people being lazy. Except when it serves Tory propaganda.

And there’s the whole issue of why British workers should work so hard, if it won’t benefit them. It hasn’t, after all, benefited workers in India. They’ve seen their wages fall massively, while the upper classes and castes have seen their pay massively escalate. Just like it has over here. The nouveaux riche of Delhi are literally living the champagne lifestyle, while hundreds of millions of their countrymen effectively live on starvation wages. The situation is so bad in the poorest states, that it’s bred a Maoist rebellion – the Naxites. What are they up in arms against? People like Priti Patel.

Patel and her fellows have nothing to offer British workers, who will only suffer if Britain does leave Europe.

Mike’s article on her and the Brexit campaign is at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/02/08/priti-patel-poster-girl-for-brexit-that-should-add-millions-of-votes-to-the-stay-campaign/

Vox Political: Tories Run from Welfare Debate with Labour

April 26, 2015

Mike over at Vox Political posted this piece on Tudesday commenting on the Tories’ latest attempts to pull out or alter the format and content of the Leader debates as soon as they look like they’re going to be potentially embarrassing. The article’s entitled Tories run from welfare debate after Cameron’s Marr Show disaster, as it discusses the way Cameron was due to debate Ed Miliband about welfare policy. In the event, he didn’t, and pulled out. This came after he was humiliated on the Andrew Marr when he was asked if he understood the terrible suffering his welfare cuts were causing ordinary people.

Marr specifically raised the case of David Clapson, a diabetic former soldier, who died after his benefit was sanctioned. This left him unable to afford food, or pay for the insulin he needed.

Cameron hummed and ha-ed a bit, as he usually does when faced with a question he doesn’t like, and for which he doesn’t have answer specially prepared by Lynton Crosby or the other policy wonks at Tory Central Office. He claimed that the benefit cuts had seen people get back into work. They haven’t – see Johnny Void effective demolition of this claim over at his blog, as well as Mike’s own pieces on this. Then he made the devastating admission.

He thought it was entire right that people should suffer such deprivation, if they did not comply with the DWP’s demands.

He is damned by his own words: he has absolutely no concern or sympathy for the tens of thousands of lives that have been destroyed by his policies. Of his attitude towards David Clapson’s particular case, Mike comments

Cameron’s responses indicate that he seems to think it was right for Mr Clapson to die as punishment for missing a single Job Centre appointment (for reasons that have not been disclosed). He refused to accept that the system should be reviewed.

Cameron clearly felt deeply humiliated by the interview. The Mirror reported that Cameron and his cronies stormed off without going back to the green room afterwards to chat with the other guests. As for his demeanour when Paxo had asked him a similar, difficult question, Private Eye stated that it left him in ‘silent, puce fury’, as though his fag had dared to cheek him back.

And so Cameron decided that he was definitely not going to face Miliband in a debate about welfare policy. Mike comments that it shows the Tories for what they are: bullies. And

Like all bullies, they like to torture the weak. When public opinion rises up against them and they have a choice between “fight” and “flight”, they run like rabbits.

Mike’s article is at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2015/04/21/tories-run-from-welfare-debate-after-camerons-marr-show-disaster/. Go there and read it for yourself.

Mike’s article also has the highly relevant memes. This one below is specifically about David Clapson.

Clapson Meme

The other is on how Cameron plans to cut all social security spending, leaving the poor and sick to fend for themselves.

Cameron Welfare

Fall of the House of Meme

December 29, 2007

One of the most popular theories to enter popular consciousness in recent years has been Richard Dawkins’ theory of memes. First suggested in the concluding chapter of his book The Selfish Gene, and then elaborated in the succeeding book, The Extended Phenotype, memes have been defined as ‘a unit of cultural transmission … comparable to the physical unit (i.e. the gene).’ 1 Dawkins took the term ‘meme’ from the Greek word for imitation, mimesis, ‘because of the way in which a meme is transmitted from one person or group to another is by imitation.’ 2 Dawkins viewed genes as being like genes ‘in being able to replicate themselves, and in doing so for their own advantage rather than for the advantage of the individual carrying the meme.’ 3 Yet however popular memes have proven to be outside the scientific community, scientists themselves are extremely sceptical of them. It has been noted that ‘the idea of memes is unacceptable to many geneticists and other scientists’. 4 Many philosophers are also extremely sceptical of memes. The British philosopher Keith Ansell Pearson has commented that in his theory of memes, Dawkins

‘simply fails to appreciate the immense complications which the notion of ‘memes’ raises for human ‘evolution’. To replace ‘genes’ with ‘memes’ as a basis for understanding ‘culture’ is to remain on the level of naturalism (as opposed to artificiality). Memetics completely reifies the processes of cultural evolution since it has no insight into how such processes involve technical and social mediation. The idea that culture develops in terms of a process of self-replication analogous to genetic evolution is an assertion at best and completely unfounded.’ 5 Meme theory has also been extensively critiqued by Mary Midgeley, Alister McGrath and David Hull. McGrath, a microbiologist and Christian theologian, has pointed out the differences between the replication of viruses and ideas in his book, Finding Dawkins’ God, while David Hull critiqued meme theory through the practice of science in his 1988 book, Science as a Process. As it stands today, meme theory is effectively dead. A projected journal of memetics folded after only four issues because of the lack of suitable, scientifically respectable papers submitted to it. Dawkins himself has retreated somewhat from some of the claims made about memes, and many, perhaps most of the atheists on his forum are extremely critical of the idea.

Meme theory does, however, seem to live on in the radical views of the philosopher Daniel C. Dennett and the British psychologist Sue Blackmore. It also remains popular amongst a certain type of atheist, among other groups, such as Brian Sapient, who last week accused his detractors of spreading ‘bad memes’. In part this is because of the virulent hatred of religion behind the application of the theory to religion. ‘God’ is described as being a virus of the mind, which has infected believers but from which atheists are immune. This explains meme theories continuing popularity in parts of the atheist community. However, while atheists may enjoy having religion defined as an irrational belief, and approve of the supposed scientific nature of the definition through the analogy with genes and viruses, this does not make meme theory true. And memes pose a wider danger for atheists and secularists as well as people of faith, as meme theory itself undercuts fundamental notions of human rationality, consciousness, free will and even the science that atheists prize so highly. So despite the discredited nature of memes, the continuing persistence of meme theory needs to be extensively critiqued because of the theory’s speciousness and irrationality.

Definition of Memes

For Dawkins, memes could be any cultural trait or motif, from music, literature to fashion:

‘Examples of memes are turns, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches.’ 6 These ideas were replicated by passing from brain to brain in the same way that genes were spread from body to body during reproduction. ‘Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation.’ 7 Even scientific ideas are memes: ‘if a scientist hears, or reads about, a good idea, he passes it on to his colleagues and students. He mentions it in his articles and his lectures. If the idea catches on, it can be said to propagate itself, spreading from brain to brain.’ 8

Even strategies by secularists for avoiding religious observance may be described as memes. Keith Henson, an AI researcher, has described in detail how he was responsible for the spread of such a meme that underwent diffusion, mutation, and ultimate extinction apparently similar to the pattern of biological replication. When he first went to the University of Arizona at Tucson, Henson had found amongst his registration material a punch card for religion. Henson wasn’t religious, and was offended by this and feared that it would be used to coerce him into going to church. ‘I figured that they would sort this card out and send it to the ‘church of your choice’ so the church could send around press gangs on Sunday mornings.’ 9 In order to avoid this, Henson put ‘Druid’ on the form, and after giving a speech to the checker explaining that Druids were around long before Christians, he was waved through that part of the registration process. Henson’s strategy was then picked up by other, non-religious students, so that at one point 20 per cent of students at the university was officially classified as Druids. 10 The strategy also mutated, so that there were also Reformed Druids, Zen Druids and Latter-Day Druids. 11 While evangelical atheists like Dawkins, Dennett and Blackmore commonly assert that God is a cultural virus, Henson himself admits that this secularist strategy was also a virus of the mind. ‘This memetic infection was faithfully passed down from year to year infecting the incoming students’. 12

Problem of Memes for God, Human Dignity and Morality

The leading meme theorists, Dawkins, Dennett and Blackmore, are implacably hostile to any kind of religion and see the ‘God’ meme explicitly as a kind of parasite infecting human minds. Speaking of the spread of the meme for the belief in life after death, Nicholas Humphries wrote to Dawkins stating ‘When you plant a fertile meme in my mind you literally parasitize my brain, turning it into a vehicle for the meme’s propagation in just the way that a virus may parasitize the genetic mechanism of a host cell.’ 13 Yet the idea has also proven popular amongst those who wish to use it to exorcise human consciousness, and make ideas communal property, rather than original to specific individuals. Dennett himself states that ‘human consciousness is itself a huge collection of memes (or more exactly meme-effects in brains). 14 Sue Blackmore likes the concept of memes because they apparently tell her students that they don’t own or originate their own ideas. 15

Now this reductive view of consciousness, in which the human mind is an illusion arising out of the interactions of selfish memes, contrasts strongly with the traditional Humanist insistence of the existence of free will. Corliss Lamont, in his Humanism as Philosophy stated that

‘Humanism believes, in opposition to all theories of universal pre-destination, determinism or fatalism, that human beings possess true freedom of creative action and are, within reasonable limits, the masters of their own destiny.’ 16

The second of the ten postulates of Humanism drawn up J.P. van Praag declares that ‘men spring from a world of which they are natural part; they are a unity of body and consciousness and intentionally shape the world.’ 17 While Dawkins, Dennett and Blackmore clearly accept the Humanist postulate that consciousness and body are inseparable, the idea that people are mere vehicles for memes, whose consciousness is shaped by them, strongly contradicts the notion that people can act intentionally. As well as attacking religion, memes also attack human consciousness, rationality and free will. It’s part of the radical ‘abolition of man’ that aimed to explain man as a kind of automaton, as the French philosophe LaMettrie did in his L’Homme Machine – ‘Man a Machine’ – in the 18th century.

Memes also attack the concept of morality. For Dawkins, Dennett and co, morals have arisen through the pressures of natural selection on the human brain, and the infection of these brains by socially produced memes for particular moral views. The problem here is that as morals are nothing but self-replicating memes interested in their own survival, there is no way to distinguish between better or worse memes. The decision that one meme is better than another is determined by the overall meme package itself. So however much Dawkins and Dennett may rail against the perceived evils of religion, their position actually undercuts objective moral values and makes all systems of morality equally valid or rather invalid. 18 Thus as well as attacking belief in God and human freedom, meme theory also radically destroys any notion of objective morality. It is therefore extremely problematic why an atheist or Humanist who is seriously concerned about issues like human freedom and morality should support the theory either.

In fact the use of the terminology of parasitism by Dawkins and his allies does have grave implications for the suppression of freedom of conscience and belief. Dawkins and co only describe as parasites those ideas of which they disapprove, such as religion. This opens the door to the radical suppression of freedom of thought because what is being attacked is not a human being, but a parasite preying on a person. Thus Nicholas Humphreys demanded in 1997 that the state should outlaw religious upbringing of children as a form of child abuse. 19 As the science journalist Andrew Brown has observed of this demand by Humphreys, ‘something has gone very badly wrong when the pieties of atheism are so stifling that no one notices anything odd in the proposal to take into care children who are allowed to read an astrology column (or perhaps merely to jail or fine their parents) simply because this modest proposal is justified by appeals to scientific knowledge and human rights … If nothing else, this shows that the attitude which made the Inquisition obnoxious are able to survive and flourish in an atmosphere untainted by Christian orthodoxy and that the problematic consequences of religion cannot be abolished merely by abolishing religious belief.’ 20

Genes Dissimilar to Memes

In actual fact, scientists and philosophers like McGrath and Hull have noted that rather than being mental objects similar to biological objects like genes, ideas behave very differently. While Dawkins may define the gene as a unit of biological information, other scientists prefer a more concrete definition. For example, a gene may be described as a unit of heredity, with its own place on the chromosome, coding for specific proteins or for the RNA molecules responsible for protein synthesis and for the recognition markers for the polymerase enzymes involved in gene regulation. 21 In other words, they have a concrete material existence and may be recognised through the performance of some particular function.

None of this applies to ideas. They don’t exist as physical objects, although they may have physical expression, such as the particular biochemical coding in a section of the brain or a passage in a book. However, these expressions are separate from the ideas themselves.

And there is also no such thing as a single, basic meme. As soon as memes are examined, it appears they are composed of smaller memes that in turn are composed of yet more basic memes in an infinite regress. Thus, for David Hull, there are no basic blocks of understanding. ‘There are no atomic sentences, no atomic facts, and no one-to-one correspondence between the two. Our understanding of the world cannot be subdivided into units of equal size and treated in isolation from other conceptual units.’ 22

Memes also don’t compete with each other in the same way that genes do. Genes occupy specific locations on the chromosome, and when a gene spreads through a population, it does so at the expense of a less adapted variant. However, memes very rarely replace each other in the same way that genes do. Thus ‘almost everything suggested as a meme-candidate is much more like a phenotype or interactor, than a gene or a replicator …Ideas or memes fit together much more like animals in a complex ecology, than they do like genes competing for slots on a chromosome.’ 23

Even the process of reproduction and replication of ‘meme’ and gene are very different. Dan Sperber, a materialist anthropologist with an interest in the epidemiology of ideas, has suggested that it is the nature of ideas to be changed every time they’re copied, while genes usually remain stable. Although stories may take predictable forms as they are passed on through the human community, nevertheless there is in general only a resemblance between the communicator’s and the audience’s thoughts. Rather than the strict replication of genes in chromosomes, the strict replication of ideas, ‘if it exists at all, should be viewed as just a limiting case of maximal resemblance, rather than as the norm of communication.’ 24

Hull in his analysis of the practise of science amongst zoologists, although considering ideas as replicators, similar to Dawkins’ ideas of memes, also termed people their interactors, rather than vehicles. For Hull it was the scientists who held, discussed and promoted these ideas as conscious beings who were the driving force behind the evolution of culture, rather than being their passive vehicles as required by meme theory. 25

Problem of Model of Brain Function in Meme Theory

There is also the problem that the human brain simply doesn’t function the way the memeticists consider it should. For Dawkins, the key to ideas and their replication and transmission is brain structure. Now scientists have made bold strides in creating machines that read changes in the brain state, so that, for example, a paralysed person may move an artificial arm or type messages on a screen. However, the precise relationship between brain state and idea is extremely problematic to the point where meaning cannot be linked to a particular brain state. For example, a scanner measuring changes in brain state would identify the changes taking place in a human brain writing a sentence in English. But that scanner would register slightly different changes in brain state when that same sentence, with the same meaning, was written in a different language like Swedish. 26 Thus there is no straightforward correlation between brain state and meaning or consciousness, and so the simplistic idea of the replication of ideas from brain to brain falls apart.

Also, Dennett and Blackmore have extremely mechanistic ideas of the brain. Dennett is essentially a functionalist, who believes that as mind is simply what brains do, computers will similarly achieve some kind of consciousness. Hence his description of the brain is strongly informed by contemporary developments in computer science, such as parallel processing. Blackmore also endorses such a ruthlessly mechanistic view, entitling her book on memes and the brain as The Meme Machine. Yet such functionalist views of the mind have come in for severe criticism. The brain is not a computer, and if it can be seen as a machine for processing information, it can also be viewed as a gland that secretes behaviour. Some of the fascination of memes has undoubtedly come from Transhumanists who look forward to the development of Artificial Intelligence and the downloading of their personalities into machines. Yet the atheist philosopher John Searle has argued strongly against this possibility, describing it as the last bastion of dualism. It is ironic in this sense that Searle notes he got more abuse from offended followers of Dennett than from Christians or other people of faith. Clearly, whatever Dawkins may feel about religion, here its adherents are less violent and offensive than those who follow the views of an avowed and militant secularist.

Even the comments about memes parasitising brains are wrong. Brains naturally process ideas, so that they cannot be parasitised. If brains can be said to be parasitised by ideas, then by the same logic the earth is parasitised by plants. And if ideas are mental parasites, then so must be all memes, including the meme for atheism, propounded by Dawkins, Dennett and Humpheys. 27

Another problem for the theory of ideas as ‘viruses of the mind’ is that it fails to answer the benefits religions can confer on the bearers, benefits that may explain why one belief is held while another is rejected. While Dawkins is prepared to accept that religions bring comfort, he regards religion itself as some kind of maladaptation that is best eliminated. In the case of religion, the underlying assumption is that the meme is selfish, and so propagates according to a kind of internal logic that increases human credulity and intolerance. However, religions do interact with the world, and all religions consider themselves rational and will use reason to support their arguments and doctrines. In the Middle Ages the underlying principles informing theological debate and discussion was the same Aristotelian logic that informed the exploration of nature by the natural philosophers. In Islam, the kalam project similarly defended the doctrines of the faith by supporting them with rational arguments based on logic. The result of this is that practises sanctioned by religions, which may seem strange or irrational to outsiders, can have perfectly logical defences and provide real benefits. At the moment BBC 2 in Britain is showing a series, Arrange Me a Marriage, in which a British Asian lady attempts to arrange the marriages of four of her friends, most of whom are indigenous White Brits. While this would strike many as a surrender of personal autonomy, defenders of arranged marriages naturally consider it the best way of selecting a marriage partner. A conscious choice by informed friends and relatives is seen as producing a better match than chance romantic encounters, as several of the individuals interviewed in the programme claimed. This is problematic, but nevertheless it demonstrates that rational explanations are used to support religiously sanctioned cultural practices, and that they are taken up because they are felt to produce real, this-worldly benefits. It is not simply a case of gullible people doing something because they fear going to hell.

Conclusion: Fall of the Meme

Thus, rather than being a scientific discipline that explains the propagation of ideas, and which clearly distinguishes between truth and specious nonsense, memes are the complete opposite. While attacking belief in God, they also attack notions of human autonomy, dignity, freedom and morality, and can be used to justify the suppression of freedom of conscience. They depend on a highly questionable philosophy of mind. The mechanisms by which ideas replicate and spread, and those of genes are markedly different. Memes themselves don’t exist, as there is no such thing as an irreducible, atomistic meme. Furthermore, ideas and beliefs are not separate objects like some kind of parasite, but intimate parts of the human creature that may bring real world benefits, regardless of the metaphysical nature of the belief. As the British philosopher Mary Midgeley observes:

‘Prominent ideas cannot die until the problems that arise within them have been resolved. They are not just a kind of external parasite. They are not alien organisms, viruses: ‘memes’ that happen to have infested us and can be cleared away with the right insecticide … They are organic parts of our lives, cognitive and emotional habits, structures that shape our thinking. So they follow conservation laws within it. Instead of dying, they transform themselves gradually into something different, something that is often hard to recognise and to understand. The Marxist pattern of complete final revolution is not at all appropriate here. We do better to talk organically of our thought as an ecosystem trying painfully to adapt itself painfully to changes in the world around it.’ 28

As a scientific project, memes have failed. Human consciousness and belief cannot be so reduced to such a simplistic, reductionistic model. And in this irreducibility lies much of human freedom, dignity and morality, regardless of whether one is theist or atheist.

Notes

  1. ‘Meme’, in Anna Hodson, Essential Genetics: Genetics Clearly Explained (London, Bloomsbury 1992), p. 174.
  2. ‘Meme’, in Hodson, Essential Genetics, p. 174-5.
  3. ‘Meme’, in Hodson, Essential Genetics, p. 175.
  4. ‘Meme’, in Hodson, Essential Genetics, p. 175.
  5. Keith Ansell Pearson, Viroid Life: Perspectives on Nietzsche and the Transhuman Condition (London, Routledge 1997), n.3, pp. 12-13.
  6. Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, p. 192, cited in Andrew Brown, The Darwin Wars: How Stupid Genes Became Selfish Gods (London, Simon and Schuster 1999), p. 160.
  7. Dawkins, Selfish Gene, p. 192, cited in Brown, Darwin Wars, p. 160.
  8. Dawkins, Selfish Gene, p. 192, cited in Brown, Darwin Wars, p. 160.
  9. Ed Regis, Great Mambo Chicken and the Transhuman Condition: Science Slightly over the Edge (Harmondsworth, Penguin Books 1992), p. 188.
  10. Regis, Great Mambo Chicken, p. 188.
  11. Regis, Great Mambo Chicken, p. 189.
  12. Regis, Great Mambo Chicken, p. 189.
  13. Brown, Darwin Wars, pp. 171-2.
  14. Daniel C. Dennett, Consciousness Explained, p. 210, cited in Roger Forster and Paul Marston, Reason, Science and Faith (Crowborough, Monarch Books 1999), p. 76.
  15. Brown, Darwin Wars, p. 162.
  16. John E. Smith, Quasi-Religions: Humanism, Marxism and Nationalism (Basingstoke, MacMillan 1994), p. 17.
  17. J.D. van Praag, ‘What is Humanism?’, in Paul Kurtz, ed., The Humanist Alternative: Some Definitions of Humanism, p. 44, cited in Smith, Quasi-Religions, p. 31.
  18. Forster and Marston, Reason, Science and Faith, p. 51.
  19. Brown, Darwin Wars, p. 172.
  20. Brown, Darwin Wars, p. 173.
  21. ‘Gene’ in Hodson, Genetics, p. 121.
  22. Brown, Darwin Wars, pp. 210-211, citing David Hull, Science as a Process, pp. 442-3.
  23. Brown, Darwin Wars, p. 161.
  24. Dan Sperber, Explaining Culture, pp. 82-3, cited in Brown, Darwin Wars, p. 164.
  25. Brown, Darwin Wars, pp. 204-5.
  26. Brown, Darwin Wars, pp. 165-6.
  27. Brown, Darwin Wars, p. 172.
  28. Mary Midgeley, ‘How Myths Work’, in Mary Kathleen Cunningham, ed., God and Evolution: A Reader (London, Routledge 2007), p. 32.