A meme, in the newly emerging discipline called memetics, is a self-propagating idea, a unit of cultural imitation that, much like a biological or computer virus, effectively programs its own retransmission. Memes can percolate through society by motivating their "host population," or by reshuffling old ideas into novel configurations, or via human proselytizers. According to Lynch, formerly a Fermilab engineering physicist, a nuclear family meme set (combining ideas of sexual monogamy, long-term commitment and biparental upbringing) ensures that the people whose mating behavior produces the most children will also personally raise those children. A crucifixion meme, he cautions, leaves Christianity vulnerable to exploitation by phony religious leaders who generate guilt-inspired contributions; the Yahweh god meme, spreading among the ancient Hebrews, fostered a unified moral code. Lynch also uses memes to explain current controversies over abortion and handguns, men's breast fetishes, homophobia, diets that achieve temporary results and much else. Memetics is a radical science, modeled on genetics, that cuts against the grain of conventional and habitual thinking; Lynch does a fine job of covering its pros and cons, exploring its range and making it accessible to nonexpert readers.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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