I recently re-read an amazing book that crossed my path several years ago. The title is ISHMAEL, by Daniel Quinn. I had had a memory of really liking it, even though I didn’t finish it, but I couldn’t remember why. Well, it blew me away this time. For those of you who know it, as I have found many do, you may have been touched by the reflections of the history, as perceived by ISHMAEL, of ‘modern civilization’. The story covers a lot of territory in awakening the mind to think, observe and ask questions that one may otherwise not engage, about human nature and the battles we all seem to be caught up in, both globally and personally.
He introduces the effect of Memes indirectly in ISHMAEL and more directly in his book New Civilization. Memes are considered to be a collection of values, concepts, rules and preferences that, taken together, form the general belief systems of a culture. The Science of Memetics was proposed by Richard Dawkins in his book ‘The Selfish Gene’. He describes memes as the cultural equivalent to a gene. Dawkins proposes that memes replicate themselves in much the same way as genes do. Genes are passed on through reproduction, while memes reproduce by repetition from mind to mind through communication. Cultural memes, which become personal memes, are introduced, transmitted and strengthened by fairy tales, jokes, television, advertisements, gossip, song lyrics, etc. They form our beliefs that govern how we perceive reality. An amazing study, indeed. More recently Richard Brodie went deeper into this study in his book ‘ Virus of The Mind’.
Memes can either be useful, neutral or harmful. An example of a neutral meme is a cute story where a young girl notices her mother cutting off the two ends of a roast before placing it in the pan. She asks why. Her mother replies that it makes the roast juicier, that it’s how grandma and great grandma have always cooked roast. This didn’t make sense to the little girl so when she was visiting her grandma she asked her why she did that and got the same answer. Then when she visited her great grandma she asked again and told her what she had been told. The great grandmother laughed and said that in her generation they had to cut off the ends because the pans were too small. This is how beliefs, memes, perpetuate. If they remain uninvestigated we quite possibly end up misinformed.
In the book ISHMAEL observations are shared in regards to a meme that has been governing mankind for quite some time now, a meme that has proven harmful to all life. It’s the meme that ‘man is here to have dominion over the Earth and all creation. ’ In Pastor Bruce Sanguins book ‘Darwin, Divinity, and the Dance of the Cosmos’ he shares that in Genesis there are two stories of creation from different periods. The one version is that man is here to ‘dominate and subdue nature’ whereas in the first earlier creation story man is a steward of the earth who tends to the garden, that he is one with and an intricate part of the natural world. Where would we be now if the original version was our guide/meme?
The tendency behind the creation of memes is that of trying to define what’s good, bad, right or wrong. We use them to give us direction, purpose and meaning. There’s nothing wrong with that. They only become destructive and hurtful when they allow no other options. We really don’t know why we are here or what we are doing. So we make things up trying to find our place and purpose in this vast universe. To feel safe and secure we need to feel that we ‘know’ what’s right. The Mystery of life appears to be too great and scary for us otherwise. The fact is that we will only ever know partial truths. When I accept and surrender to the Mystery, acknowledging I don’t know much really, then I don’t have to fight with someone who has a different meme. I can choose to be curious and explore if I want. Live and let Live. Why does everyone have to do, be and think the same? Where’s the fun in that? Yet that seems to be what is expected.
So how do we bridge the gaps that create the ‘battlefield of the memes? In the movie ‘ Into The Wild’ there was a final statement that really stuck with me. It was ‘… to call a thing by its right name.’ When I know what something is I can take right action. Memes are not ultimate reality, they are personal and cultural, and it’s o.k. for them to differ. There is no One Right Way to be or live. Trying to claim that can only breed conflict and discord. Call it by its right name. A meme! When I recognize this I can be more open and receptive to the people and world around me. I can actually meet the person in front of me rather than my projections created by my memes. It’s impossible to share what’s real and in our hearts when holding ‘meme pistols’ at each other.
To meet in the heart, I have to step out of myself, my memes, for new understanding and possibilities to unfold. It is hard work to do this, undoubtedly, for the intoxication of reaction, protecting our memes, is so seducing, and temporarily gives us such a strong sense of self, that it’s a hard drug to give up. But the drug of love and real meeting is far better and has no bad side effects! It just takes more effort.
All systems and beliefs are arbitrary, as understood in Hawaiian culture. Feel the freedom in that. Feel the possibilities that open when looking at life through that lens. This is a useful meme, one that encourages growth and freedom for all! Sounds good to me! Aloha.