Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Is It a Meme?

Meme is a recent addition to the English language, first termed apparently by Richard Dawkins in the mid-70s and popularized in the last couple of decades. It is the intellectual equivalent of a virus spreading from mind to mind until it infects a culture.

That's an accurate description of the word but it falls short in that many memes are harmless or even useful, while many are definitely not beneficial at all.

If you think of the concept of a fad you are thinking of a meme that spreads from mind to mind until it is part of our culture or it vanishes. How many times have you got caught up in something that was "all the rage" only to wonder "what the heck was I thinking?" a few weeks later? Your mind was affected by a meme.

Strongly held beliefs, such as religion, can and do serve as anti-memes weakening or even preventing a meme from influencing your mind.

Memes also influence politics. Think of the 84 presidential campaign when, for a few brief weeks, Gary Hart was the media darling and the rage of the land, and then all of a sudden he was a political has-been. His popularity was a short-lived meme that spread through our society and then faded.

That's one of the strengths of our political system. Between the tiered turnover in the Senate and the difficulty in amending the constitution, short lived political fads, memes, have difficulty becoming entrenched in law. Our cumbersome methods make it hard on fads or memes seeking to become law. An idea needs to prove itself over time to become fully enacted.

David Brooks is concerned about another meme, though he doesn't use the term, that is spreading through a large section of our society. The popularity of Barak Obama. What will happen when the meme runs its course? If the magic fades before the election will the Democrats be saddled with a fad for a candidate? An interesting set of questions.

5 Comments:

Blogger armed_and_christian said...

If the magic fades before the election will the Democrats be saddled with a fad for a candidate? An interesting set of questions.

It doesn't matter. Neither of their candidates has enough substance to stuff a thimble

9:57 PM  
Blogger armed_and_christian said...

...and if Obama does manage to pull off a win, it won't be long until the Clinton's have him Vince Foster'ed.

10:00 PM  
Blogger Gayle said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

11:31 AM  
Blogger Gayle said...

It's defininely going to be a long year, Shoprat. Neither have I thought about Obama as being a meme, but you're right. Let's hope it's one of those short ones!

11:33 AM  
Blogger jgf said...

New way of thinking about it...

12:24 PM  

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