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Sex, Death and the Selfish Meme

Sex, Death and the Selfish Meme

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Published by John M. Watkins
Memes make up a big part of who we are, so perhaps we should view them in the frame of the selfish gene, and the evolution of cooperation
Memes make up a big part of who we are, so perhaps we should view them in the frame of the selfish gene, and the evolution of cooperation

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Published by: John M. Watkins on Jul 23, 2012
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03/18/2013

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Sex, death, andthe selfishmeme:
Nature abhorsan Asshole
 
 by John MacBeath Watkins
In theory, the first bacteria to appear on earth is still alive. It has divided billions of times and adapted to new environments, and billions of its cells have fallen to immunesystems or other hostile environments, but it has been able to change without dying.Creatures like us, who reproduce sexually, cannot manage to rearrange our genes soreadily. To adapt to an ever-changing environment of bacteria and other changes in our environment, we had to find another way change our genetic structure quickly. While itmight be more efficient for all the members of a species to be child-bearing, we cannotafford to reproduce parthenogenically because we need to adapt our genetic structure bymixing our genes. We must reproduce and die off to keep up in the evolutionary battle withother organisms such as bacteria.Richard Dawkins, in his influential book,
The Selfish Gene
, argued that in essencethat makes individuals the servants of their genes. Genes are biological strings of information that use us to reproduce; a mother that lays down her life to save her childrenis acting in the interest of passing on her genes, even at the expense of her own existence.In that same volume, Dawkins gave us another concept; the meme, a string of information that uses the minds of human beings to replicate itself. The implication is thatif you lay down your life for an idea, you are acting in the interest of the selfish meme. Wehave, in fact, an existence in asymbolic world that is nearly as important to us as our   physical existence.This is important in our society because we live in a new Gilded Age, in which anideology much like social Darwinism minus the bogus biology has taken root. It justifiesgreat social inequity based on the notion that we should be selfish, that greed is the way the
 
world works and successfully greedy and selfish people are to be admired. In the war of each against all, they are the victors.In part, this is thejust world fallacy applied to an unequal society, a Panglossian approach to bad outcomes. In this fantasy, the world rewards those who deserve to berewarded, so the existence of their wealth is evidence of their virtue, and we live in the bestof all possible worlds. But it has also become a meme in its own right, taking over mindslike a virus, changing behavior likesome parasites do, and ensuring its continued existenceeven at the cost of the host organism.Mind you, our minds are in large part made of memes -- they are the software inour brains. But there is code and there is code. Sometimes, memes are malicious codeintended to serve those who write it.Agnotology, the science of producing ignorance, is one example of this. The Soviet effort to distribute copies of 
The Protocols of the Elders of  Zion
in the middle east to make any effort toward peace less likely to succeed is the memeequivalent of Stuxnet. They were in essence hacking Muslim culture instead of their computers.In any case, the existence of the selfish meme means that self-sacrifice to continuethe meme that makes us who we are makes as much sense as self-sacrifice to continue thegenes that make us who we are.This makes a mockery of Ayn Rand's thesis in
thataltruism is destructive and one should never sacrifice one's self for others.From the Ayn Rand Institute website:Man
every man
is an end in himself, not a means to the ends of others; he must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others

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