In 1976 Richard Dawkins wrote the famous book, “The Selfish Gene”.
The big idea was, evolution is driven by genes trying to replicate themselves. Our genes make us like and do stuff that makes spreading our genes more likely. Our genes make us love and look after our babies beyond reason because that makes their survival and propagation more likely. It’s not something we decide in advance, our genes decided for us. Then Dawkins goes on to talk about a term he co-opted, “memes”.
Memes are bits of knowledge, ideas, as it were, that replicate themselves in a way similar to genes. They are ideas that are designed to be spread.
In short, human beings are basically created to do two things- spread our genes and spread our memes. We do both because that is what ensures our survival over generations.
When man first found out you could make a fire by rubbing two sticks together, he didn’t keep it to himself, he shared it with his pals. The fire meme spread, which allowed the human gene to spread. And it’s always been this way.
Memes, like genes, are designed to be spread. Which means they must take on characteristics most likely to ensure spreading. There is art and science to how this is done.
If one thinks of the Bible, it is in fact a book of behavioral instructions (aka memes). Entertaining, bite-size but hugely informative stories. Genesis, David and Goliath, Job, Jesus of Nazareth. Ditto with the Iliad and the Odyssey. Ditto Gilgamesh. Ditto Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. Ditto Star Wars.
But there’s a dark side. Bad memes can spread, too. This is why we seem so defenseless from all the crap on Facebook, etc. Everything on there that’s being shared en masse has memetic qualities. And just like viruses, we have limited natural defenses against them. So their ability to cause damage is disproportionate to their size. It’s not up to us, it’s up to the meme. Again, memes, like genes, are selfish. They don’t care about us.
As you see information coming at you, either on social or mainstream media, be aware that your brain can easily be infected, so be vigilant.