Memes and an Analysis of Iranians' Dilemma
نظريهء «میمز» و تحليل مسئلهء ایرانیان
In mid 1980's I used to know some people in a group by the name of L5 who lived in San Jose, CA area and were interested in Gerard O'Neil's idea of space colonies. L5 finally joined a few other space exploration groups and formed what we currently have as space.com. The L5 group I knew in San Jose, also were interested in Richard Dawkins' Memes ideas and they thought of Khomeini's use of cassette tapes in the 1979 Revolution of Iran as an instrument of spreading Islamic Memes. The following article which I wrote in mid 1990's was influenced by those ideas.
It seems to me that Iran is going thru big changes and I believe it is useful to
look at new
theories that have tried to evaluate major changes, when analyzing the
current changes both within Iran and also in the context of the
global transformations. One interesting theory is the Memes theory of Richard
Dawkins. First let us see the
difference between a community of individuals and mass.
There is a *big* difference between the community of *individuals* and what is referred to as *mass*. The former is much more powerful and acts much smarter than a single individual, whereas the latter can even be worse than a single individual. Look at the *mass* of the Nazi fascists, look at the *mass* of the Stalinists, look at the *mass* of Crusaders. The mass is like sheep. They have not independently come up with the conclusions that their group (or *mass*) is subscribing to. They only share a prejudice.
Of course everything is relative. There is nothing wrong with following the orders of a good dermatologist when you have a skin problem, nonetheless, it is true only if you have the necessary skills to recognize a genuine dermatologist, otherwise not having a dermatologist may even be better than following one because of *groupthink*. So it depends.
A group, which is a group of independent thinking individuals, is very powerful and self-conscious; whereas a group, which is a *mass* of people, in the sense of sharing a prejudice, is not really acting out of consciousness. It acts usually out of ignorance. That is the Evangelists and Moonies, and name it, all these cults that are in abundance, i.e. ideological cults in the West and political cults in the East.
Some people like Dawkins' explanation and even think it is like a disease which is spreading *memes*. In his Selfish Gene of 1976, Dawkins argues for this conclusion as the bottom-line reason of intolerance spreading like a plague in the world. I am not really sure how verifiable this theory is, but it seems like he has seen the problem, even if not having necessarily found the solution. Here is how this is viewed.
We know that thru reproduction, a life form can pass along to future generations its own bundle of genetic information or messages. Dawkins argues that over the course of evolutionary history, it has proved highly adaptive for life-forms to develop ways to transmit information, non-genetically as well. The type of communication can take many forms: the complex patterns danced by honey bees to tell each other the location of pollen; the releasing into air of pheromones-chemical substances that influence other members of a species; the songs of birds and whales; the subtle resonances of human speech, writing , music, and art.
If genes are molecular bundles of self-replicating information, these apparently non-molecular, bundles of self-replicating information that use minds to get themselves reproduced, are called *memes* (rhymes with themes) by Dawkins. He sees these patterns as existing in all human societies and the central law of meme evolution, as in genetic evolution, is survival of the stable.
He sees that the world has been like long-isolated tribes and the globalization of the world has caused the intolerance memes to act like a plaque. He sees that the fear of unpredictability, is the thing that is causing the growth of tolerance memes. This issue of unpredictability was demonstrated in an article by Michael Hutchison in the July 1990 issue of New Age journal. It was at the time when George Bush was faced with the uncertainty of the upheavals in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
Hutchison wrote that "we are presented with the image of George Bush, televised around the world, as he confronts the extraordinary changes taking place in Eastern Europe and Central Europe 'the enemy' he cries, is unpredictability! The enemy is instability."
Then the article argues that in our urgent desire to eradicate the threat to civilization posed by intolerance, it is tempting to attack the carriers of intolerance *memes*. But that is to mistake the victims of the disease for the disease itself. Then it says to improve the immune system for prevention of memes susceptibility is to attack anxiety, poverty, fear, violence, inequality, despair, and alienation.
Finally Hutchison says "I am struck by an image, a fable of our tree-dwelling primate ancestors, threatened by the receding of the African forests caused by climatic changes. Some of them have come down from the trees and begun to go out onto the savannas in search of game, tentatively rising onto their hind legs. DON'T BE FOOLS, COME BACK, cry their brothers and sisters in the trees, OUR PEOPLE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN TREES, AND ALWAYS WILL; WE ARE MEANT TO BE TREE-DWELLERS. BEYOND THE TREES LIES MADNESS."...For them, THE ENEMY IS UNPREDICTABILITY.
This is like the ones who were afraid the break up of Soviet Empire would destroy everything they had created. This is like the ones who are afraid of the fall of the Islamic regime in Iran. How should one go about change? What are valid concerns?
In the first part above of this article above, Richard Dawkins' book entitled "The Selfish Gene" was noted as the source of discussion. I really do not know how scientific his book is, but I find his "Memes" theory, an interesting idea.
I am wondering if we can trace traits of memes in Iranian culture that can explain some of our fundamental belief systems, which have actually worked against us in the recent history. One example is the way Iranians are scared of foreign influence, and have ended up supporting the Islamic regime in Iran. If the image that Iraj Mirza draws of a woman, who is holding tight to her veil, while she is giving "it" out from below, can be applied here, it seems to me the pseudo-nationalism and worrying about Iranian image in the world press, when cutting lips of women for using lip stick is still in our memory, is in the same vein.
When one considers the Germans, who worked with Allies during WWII, as traitor, and concludes from it that Iranians should support the IRI, when facing the West, I think one is showing a meme, which has nothing to do with love of a nation, and is about justifying defense of fascism, as long as it represents one's "land." I am referring to those in Iranian opposition who say confronting the West, Islamic Republic must be defended. I think worrying about usage of Persian words rather than Arabic, or whether Persian Gulf is called "Persian," are rituals of a meme that has become the pivot of such pseudo-unities of Iranians, and such rituals help the meme continue its life in our collective consciousness.
I know what I am discussing here is very sensitive, just as noted in the first section of this article, that it was so sensitive for our tree-dwelling primate ancestors to accept the change, when some of them began to go out onto the savannas. I am not saying all change is good, just for the sake of change, but this meme of pseudo-unity of Iranians, with the most backward elements of Iranian society, on the basis of opposing the West, has done a lot of harm to Iran and Iranians, especially in the last 20 years and a few past decades. Just the same way maybe a meme was repeated to be reinforced, by the tapes of Khomeini, that were passed around in Iran, before the Revolution of 1979.
Hoping for a democratic and secular futurist republic in Iran,
December 17, 2018
*The first part of this article was posted on SCI (soc.culture.iranian) Usenet newsgroup on May 7, 1994. The second part was posted on SCI on April 11, 2000.