the Culture Bomb

The Buddha Meme

There are two important memes going around right now. Both are to spread awareness on an issue that might not directly affect you or anyone you know. Yet these issues do affect many people directly. And following the logic that we are all connected in a non-zero sum game, it affects you as well in ways you can’t easily see. What are these memes? Breast cancer awareness, and intolerance with a focus on cyber-bullying.

Sure, there are many other forms of cancer, some even more deadly, and so why is it that breast cancer is what we’re spreading a meme of, and throwing the bulk of money at? Why not testicular cancer awareness month? Save our boobs? Save our balls!

Simply put, it’s a marketing tool. Easy as that. General cancer awareness month? Lay people do not visualize a nasty malignant tumor. Sick boobies? I can picture that. So bring attention to breast cancer and throw the money to curing breast cancer. When we find a cure for breast cancer, it will produce a domino effect in curing the other forms of cancer. So push to spread breast cancer awareness.

Because that’s the meme that will spread like a nasty virus. People by and large are less immune to the charms of boobies than they are to the charms of balls.

Now, what’s going on with bullying and intolerance? It seems like it’s getting worse. Particularly with the internet and social networking, kids can’t seem to get away from those that seek to hurt them.

In the past, our communities maintained that sense of community, and so if a neighborhood was largely intolerant, it was easier to recognize and in many cases, avoid. Likewise, if a neighborhood was largely tolerant and even accepting, that meme would be more reinforced and universal throughout. This, of course, is a sweeping generalization that we can argue about if you want. But don’t bother, I see it from the opposite perspective as well.

The point is that we’ve entered a new age of tribalism. And as great as it is for the process of cultural evolution, we must recognize these characteristics of natural selection and foster the process.

It used to be that we knew our neighbors. We identified with those around us. Like minded or not, because that is who makes up your community. Now, we tend to not care who our neighbors are as long as they observe a sense of respect that is supposed to be mutual for and throughout all citizens. That’s why we have government, and that’s why WE tell them what to do. They organize, administer, review, and execute what WE deem is the mutual respect of the era.

Like I was saying, I have no idea who my neighbors are, many of you probably do not either. I have friends all over the world. I met them on the internet. I joined pages on facebook or became interested in message boards dealing with topics of interest. When I delve into these pages I’m surrounded by those that share these interests. In this sense, my particular social network has become my new age “tribe”.

Sometimes I go to other pages that I do not agree with. Simply to argue. Mostly about evolution with creationists. Creationists are tribal in that sense as well. And when I go to their pages or message boards, I’m waging war. Or rather, my meme is waging war on their meme. Dan Dennett describes a meme as an idea that spreads like a virus. Dangerous memes are those that hijack the brain and cause the person to behave erratically, causing harm to themselves or others.

Arguing with creationists over a message board? Not that dangerous I’ve come to find. No matter my evidence, a creationist isn’t going to change their mind based on what I say, because they have superstition and fear of the unknown on their side.

But let’s look at the conditions of schools in the K-12 arena. Children do not comprehend the same freedoms we’ve come to enjoy in our adulthood. Everything in their world tends to be dire. Memes spread around a school like it’s a cultural Galapagos. If a kid wants to be cool, they are going to emulate the cool kids. For most of American youth, the school is their world, their life revolves around it. And so if a popular kid gets the idea to bully someone for who they are or what they like, it’s a dangerous meme because it’s going to spread to many more.

To create a sense of solidarity, kids are creating pages on a social networking site that primarily only other students from that school will/can join, with a specific aim at making fun of a particular individual.

And that becomes the tribe. And it’s very dangerous as we’ve seen.

Ultimately, everyone should have an equal opportunity to enjoy their life. That’s the idea that founded this country, and it’s something we should all strive for. They say freedom isn’t free. And that is commonly used in reference to the sacrifice of our fallen soldiers. Good point, but let’s take that idea home with us. While you are primarily concerned with your own success and happiness, and rightly so, freedom isn’t free. Civilization would simply fall apart if everyone took all they could for themselves and didn’t give back in some way.

All we really have to do is understand and nurture the process with which culture evolves. We have the proper conditions such as a challenging environment, variation, and retention(heredity).

Since one can only see the phenotype, or display of a meme rather than the meme itself, it follows that the only real judgement that needs to be made is whether or not a meme is dangerous. Following the analogy that memes spread like a virus, we must immunize our youth against such dangerous memes. If it’s a benevolent or even benign meme, leave it alone even if you don’t agree with it. Given time, it’ll spread or die on it’s own given the conditions of natural selection. Given these conditions, over time a meme can evolve into something quite pleasant, like world peace and harmony for example.

Nobody knows where human destiny is headed. Many believe they know, but if they say they do, that’s a misappropriation of the term “know”, and it’s an easy indicator that their brain has been hijacked by meme that narrows their belief-space considerably leading to what we call bigotry.

I’ve taken two problems plaguing society and peeked under the surface. Neither of these problems directly effect me. But they effect many others, and ultimately culminate in helping to forge a civilization I’m not happy with. I call this the “Buddha” meme.

Prince Siddhartha (Buddha), was sheltered throughout his early life. His father moved him from palace to palace as the seasons changed so Siddhartha was ignorant of bad weather. He kept Siddhartha surrounded by the young, the healthy, the beautiful. In this way he kept Siddhartha ignorant of the process of aging, of sickness, of death. Siddhartha was surrounded by this Utopian dream manufactured by his father. Only when Siddhartha’s curiosity led him outside the palace walls was the veil finally lifted. Of course his father tried to hastily manufacture what Siddhartha saw as he journeyed through town in a parade, but to no avail. The prince’s charioteer and companion Channa, explained the various modes of suffering, and this led to what is called, “The Great Departure.”

The prince left the confines of royal life, and sought to discover relief from suffering.

He wasn’t suffering himself, but he became aware of others’ suffering and it spurred him to action. He found compassion.

Interestingly enough the monastic sector of Buddhism, Theravada, considers compassion(Karuna) one of the four divine abodes. The other three are loving kindness(metta), sympathetic joy(mudita), and equanimity(uphekkha).

Take a cue, spread a meme, be a Buddha. 

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This entry was published on October 19, 2010 at 2:22 am. It’s filed under Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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