MEMETICS: Good/Bad Restated

James Rogers (
Tue, 21 Jan 1997 04:33:44 -0800

My statement regarding "good" and "bad" memes has been somewhat
misinterpreted on this list, and possibly mistated by me.

There are a number of ways to look at this. First, you can define
"goodness" in either an absolute or relative sense. I chose absolute.
Second, you can observe a meme either from the perspective of that meme or
from the perspective of the memetic host.

Now for a more detailed explanation of my theories on memetics:

The difference between a bad meme and a good meme is the difference between
a parasite and a symbiote. In a relative sense, a bad meme may APPEAR to be
a "good" meme to the sentient host (i.e. human), but a bad meme is *always*
bad in an absolute sense. Much of the RELATIVE "goodness" in an ABSOLUTELY
bad but relatively "good" meme is superficial at best. In fact, much of the
"goodness" is also not absolute in any sense. Example: If you are a poor,
ignorant, unhappy redneck, you are very likely go to church. Why? Because
it makes you feel better about being poor, ignorant, and unhappy.
Nonetheless, you are *still* poor, ignorant, unhappy. An absolutely good
meme would be for the poor, ignorant, unhappy redneck to put forth the
effort to become educated and pursue higher ambitions, or whatever would
reverse his pathetic condition.


Notice some fundamental differences between good and bad memes (absolute
sense). Good memes attack the cause, bad memes attack the symptoms. People
are more likely to propagate RELATIVELY good memes because they can more
closely identify with symptoms than causes. The feedback loop is *much*
tighter for relatively good memes. An absolutely good meme is only likely
to propagate if it *also* fixes the short-term symptoms as well (i.e. is a
relatively good meme). Therefore, the *key* to memetic propagation is
relative goodness.

A meme is a non-moral agent. It's attempts to propagate are morally
neutral. Moral value should only be attached to the ideas encapsulated
within the meme. Therefore, the "good"ness of a meme should only be
evaluated from the perspective of the sentient host. Analogy: It is like a
mosquito (which is neither good or bad) which may propagate malaria
(obviously bad). There is nothing absolutely bad about a mosquito following
its nature, and the same applies to a meme. We don't view a mosquito as bad
because it is a mosquito, we only view a mosquito as bad because it contains

This is enough for now. Dissect at will...

-James Rogers