A recent Smithsonian Magazine article, What Defines a Meme, gave a quick history of the concept of a Meme. The Information-Generation might like to think that they were invented along with the Internet as a way to procreate punchlines that cannot survive without context, but not so.
The idea of a Meme is older, dating back to when scientists tried to describe how information evolved and procreated like biological organisms. It is an idea that has always resonated with me. Life is nothing more that information that has found a way to procreate itself in the physical world. A meme would be information freed from a particular physical representation, but still able to procreate.
Where your genetic information needs base pairs to replicate, religion and nationalism are able to replicate at the informational level without a physical analog. I am attracted to the idea that human beings are carriers of memes the same way you could argue that we are carriers of DNA.
Without the error-checking of a physical construct, memes mutate and evolve more rapidly than genetic information. In the last century of scientific progressiveness, we often mistake evolution with progress. Evolution is actually a nasty affair of mutate and hope for the best. More times than not, life evolves to fill doomed niches, isolated corners, or the role of a disease.
In survival of the fittest, it isn’t the more correct or useful meme that survives, it is the one that is the best suited for replication between humans. Simple ideas that are easy to communicate and remember seems to be better than nuanced reason. Ideas that reinforce our prejudices are more easily injected into the host.
In this era of “I read it on the Internet,” and Fox News; I fear that our rapid communication is just allowing the most brutish of memes to spread the fastest. Just like evolution, rate of transmission and replication makes genetic data successful. There are no other criteria of worth.
In biological arms races, the fastest replicators choke out the slower organisms. They fast reproducers quickly gobble up all the resources and starve off the competition. In keeping with a biological theme; this rapid proliferation and adaption of memes could be creating super-memes, or reason-resistant memes. In short, do our human heads have enough room for all the stupid memes? Or, like super flu-bugs, will the infection be too much?