Monday, 5 December 2011

Good and bad memes

One of the most obvious classification schemes for memes places them into categories of "beneficial" and "deleterious".

From the perspective of the host, memes are usually either good for the host, or bad for them. However, there are some issues associated with how to measure the value of memes.

One issue is what we are calculating "benefit" with respect to. Host genetic fitness is the most obvious candidate - but there are some other possibilities. Perhaps we should be considering the values of the host's brain. For example, contraceptives might have a negative effect on host fitness - but a host might still want to use them to fulfill percieved goals - for example of having fun while not having kids.

Another issue is that "benefit" is rather subjective. Obesity and smoking memes are bad for most people - however, the bosses of the companies that promote associated products benefit from them receiving a wide circulation. The government is one candidate perspective to consider. For example, polygamy memes may benefit a minority of male polygamists, but are judged in many areas to be detrimental to society - and the practice is often banned by the government.

Bad memes are sometimes called "toxic memes". Toxic memes are sometimes subcategorised according to who they are bad for - as follows:

  • Auto-toxic memes are bad for their own host;
  • Exo-toxic memes are bad for others.

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