Day after day I see Atheist Nexus members argue scripture details, spreading theistic memes here, without realizing their self-betrayal. Memetics still seems, to most, an abstract intellectual debate. We can't grasp religion as an infective agent. We can't see ourselves as merely copying machines for viruses.

A visual metaphor intrudes on my mind, of atheists holding one inch feces balls in their palms, peering at them closely. "Look at these glittery golden bits on the top." "No those look like silvery sparkles to me." "But these green inclusions below them are more striking, take a look!"


Imagine religions as infective agents which pass to hosts through feces, as many parasitic worms do. Infected feces balls draw the attention of new hosts, who pick them up and absorb the virus as they linger. Then hosts begin to produce identical feces balls, to pass around to everyone else. People become zombie copying machines for the infection, without knowing. While many hosts become knowing dedicated parasite spreaders, others pick up and spread the virus to make fun of the poo lure.


"This doesn't make sense, how can a ball be glittery green and sparkly pink at the same time? Take this one in your hand to examine it closely. Don't you see the contradiction?"

"Take this one, see how disgusting!" "No, this other ball is even more revolting, (passing it over)?"




Quoting scripture to criticize it, satirizing Jesus, they're alternative ways to pass the poo. It's still infected poo. The only defense is "Call it infected poo and don't pick it up." Don't give it a place in your brain. Don't make it come out of your mouth, or type it out with your keyboard. It's a mind virus. VIRUS!

This is not to imply that I'm immune. I've posted satire which spreads those religious memes too. *sigh* We have to start by recognizing our role in viral contagion.

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Comment by Ruth Anthony-Gardner on December 26, 2011 at 5:13pm


Memes are bits of information transmitted through imitation. A snatch of song which keeps going round in your head is a meme. They can also be spoken, sung, embodied in material objects, printed, duplicated by electronic media, etc. Our entire culture and language is made of meme building blocks. They're not always bad, and are essential to who we are. We're constantly bombarded by memes, and we only have so much brain space so they compete for our attention, memory, etc.

While biblical analysis has resulted in many deconversions, swimming in their territory can only free you so far. If we can get stuck in the rebel stage, finding our identity in denouncing and criticizing religious memes, we area still in their thrall. We're still devoting our brainspace, our attention TO THEM.

In Living in Denial, Kari Marie Norgaard describes how reality is socially constructed. Many cultural acts control our attention, thoughts, and what counts as real. For example, a culture can focus on the present, the past, or the future. Religions focus on the past. By giving our attention to religious memes we fail to actualize our full potential to understand the present and future, and to coping creatively with the serious challenges we face on this planet.

Instead of devoting our collective, and impressive, skills here at AN on imagining scenarios for a constructive secular future, we waste ourselves denouncing religious memes and feeling superior over those still in total thrall to them.

We fail to realize how much we are still in their control.

Comment by Frankie Dapper on December 26, 2011 at 3:55pm

Ruth, maybe I am a dummy-ass but I dont see it. (self-effacing jesus meme?) On the contrary atheists debating theists re theology results in a diminution of the virus carriers. We have read plenty of deconversion accounts here which were the result of an analysis of the bible. On the other hand I think an argument focusing on the origins of religion and history of religion is more effective.

Where do memes reside. Is it the brain? If they lack identity like the notion of a soul you simply have a metaphor. Do other animals carry memes?

Comment by Jedi Wanderer on December 26, 2011 at 2:52pm

John is not wrong. Memetics is not the only metameme, or as I said b4, memetics doesn't amount to much. Rather, memetics is the realization that one can put memes into the broader context of other memes. You call them metamemes, but there is not one level of memes composed of every idea ever conceived of and one metameme consisting of memetics alone. Rather, there are a great many levels of memes, or orders. A simple meme might be considered a first-order meme, and a meme which allows us to put that and other memes like it into a broader context would be a second-order meme, and so on. There could conceivably be a great many orders, or levels, of memes. Philosophy is just a branch of memes which happens to deal with memes at a very high level, and so is composed of very high-order memes. Unless I am completely misunderstanding memetics?


And thanks for putting me in the same sentence as Aristotle John! I won't poo-poo that!

Comment by Jedi Wanderer on December 26, 2011 at 2:16pm

Actually at that point I was speaking to you. And if, according to you, memetics is a set of metamemes but philosophy is not, then the set of metamemes amounts to next to nothing. That is as much as to say that the solution to dealing with memes is only to recognize that there are memes! I'm afraid that solves nothing. I also think that you do not know what philosophy actually is, if you think that it is not central to philosophy to put ideas in a broader perspective.

Comment by Ruth Anthony-Gardner on December 26, 2011 at 2:00pm

Wanderer, you said to John

philosophy is, in your terminology, a set of metamemes. It is the stuff which helps us break free.

My point was that memetics is a set of metamemes, not philopophy.

Comment by Ruth Anthony-Gardner on December 26, 2011 at 1:58pm

John, you are correct that

We are all just living in the meme stew. We can't get out even when we do recognize them.  All we can do is try to optimize our outcomes.

Distinguishing between memes that are almost entirely exploitive and those which serve functions useful to us is a start.

My focus isn't the same as yours, which is ethics, I take it. I'm more interested in larger questions such as who we are. If we exist at the interface of natural selection, memetic selection, and the environment, the question of ethics takes on a different framing. I think that before we can make headway in ethics, instead of just rehashing "the same old shit", as you put it, we have to step back to look at how we exist in these three dimensions (natural selection, memetic selection, and the environment).

For example, Chris Hedges brings up, in War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, the way people change during war. Civilized behavior gets you killed and selfish, even criminal, behavior helps you to survive. People see everything in black and white instead of shades of grey. He claims the moral universe turns upside down when we're in the grip of war hysteria.

War memes tap some of our most savage impulses, "the exhilaration of killing, the frenzy of the crowd..."[p 1717-172]. "... in war perversion may become moral."[p 139]

If human beings evolved adaptations to overpopulation such that we have two states, normal- in which we reproduce as much as possible, and war- where certain triggers set us into a kill-or-be-killed mode, as long as we ignore our bivalent evolutionary heritage we will never solve ethical questions. All of our philosophical debates will occur in our normal state, wherein we embrace amnesia and denial of what we're like in the war state. We delude ourselves with half truths. Human beings do lot lose our "selves" in war, we are twofaced. The war state is half of our true nature. Memes play a critical role along with evolved animal instincts, both in the process of switching states and in hiding our war state from ourselves when we're in normal state.

Ethics, and reality, are complicated. Memetics plays a role in untangling the knots in which we've tied ourselves.

Comment by Jedi Wanderer on December 26, 2011 at 4:30am

Lovely John. How charming.

Ruth, what you also said was, "By clinging to the philosophy approach, we deny, evade, and ignore a harsh ego-deflating reality.

That's as effective as shouting defiantly, "MY computer is in control!!!!!", when your computer is taken over by malware."

Sothe point that I am making which you seem to have missed is that philosophy is, in your terminology, a set of metamemes. It is the stuff which helps us break free.

Comment by Frankie Dapper on December 25, 2011 at 11:51pm

Ruth, my exposure to memetics is one book and what I have read on this site. My impression is pseudo science or pop science. I think there may be something  to it but I am not sold on it.

Still dont see how contesting the theology perpetuates the meme if there be such.

Comment by Ruth Anthony-Gardner on December 25, 2011 at 11:45pm

Wanderer, you said

Ruth, you give with one hand and take away with the other. I agree that secular humanism is a good (albeit far from complete) alternative to religious ethics. But it is philosophy. We would do well to do what is in our power to do, rather than cry out that we are all just helpless victims of those dastardly controlling memes.

I never said we are just helpless victims. That's the whole point of metamemes, memes about memes. Those concepts are tools to empower ourselves. Metamemes allow us to turn the power of memes against themselves.

Comment by Ruth Anthony-Gardner on December 25, 2011 at 11:39pm

Glen, mind virus isn't just a metaphor, it's literal use of "virus" in its broader sense.

According to memetics, our minds and cultures are designed by natural selection acting on memes, just as organisms are designed by natural selection acting on genes. A central question for memetics is therefore ‘why has this meme survived?’. Some succeed because they are genuinely useful to us, while others use a variety of tricks to get themselves copied. From the point of view of the “selfish memes” all that matters is replication, regardless of the effect on either us or our genes.

Some memes are almost entirely exploitative, or viral, in nature, including chain letters and e-mail viruses. These consist of a “copy-me” instruction backed up with threats and promises. Religions have a similar structure and this is why Dawkins refers to them as ‘viruses of the mind’. Many religions threaten hell and damnation, promise heaven or salvation, and insist that their followers pass on their beliefs to others. This ensures the survival of the memeplex. [emphasis mine][Susan Blackmore, About Memes]

Human beings aren't only the result of natural selection acting on genes, we and our culture are also the result of memetic selection acting on memes. Memetic evolution is a real physical process involving information, energy, and matter. Just as computer viruses, once released, have a "life of their own" as much as viral diseases in biological systems, memes have an independent evolution. Exploitive memes can take over our minds as effectively as viral particles infecting cells take over host cell machinery to replicate themselves.

Not everyone is aware that the term "virus" has broadened from its original biological context to include similar processes in other areas.

In Virus of The Mind, Richard Brodie speaks of the three different universes in which viruses live: biology, computers, mind and culture. Their defining trait...

"...viruses work by taking instruction-obeying mechanisms and co-opting them." [p 52]

Decades ago "evolution" was only used in a biological context. No longer. I admit that the broader use of "virus" isn't yet mainstream.



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