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Life Arts    H4'ed 4/11/13

Memes, Genes and Us

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Learned something today. Had heard and read the word before but did not want to know what they talked about. People like the famed Quinn use the word. When I finally went to a modern dictionary and found what the word means it immediately clicked because I had thought of some threads of ideas and that concept comes close to meme. May I approach it from my thinking, first.

At my age one is allowed to think of death. Have thought about it since what to me always will be The War. Was a hospice volunteer for some time, attended deaths; I was with my son when he died. I know some generalities from watching and being with. There is often a struggle that is visible until suddenly it stops and there is a feeing of relief. Dying feels from the outside like being born. The pain, the fighting to get through a tight canal and the relief.

But I am very aware that is from the outside. Someone who said she speaks the voice of a dead one likens dying as getting out of a pinching shoe.  But am quite willing to wait to experience it myself.

Okay, I agree not to worry about the passage. Next question. Is there another something after what we call a life? I don't know. All of us humans need the idea of something more, somewhere better than here. And then? For ever and ever sitting on a cloud? Does not sound appealing at all. We people invented reincarnation, from life to life to life until " Until what? No end. None of that makes much sense or feels right. And feeling is all I have to work with in this shadowy subject.  

So I give up thinking about whether there is or is not an after. I have to wait to experience if there is anything to experience. And patience is not one of my skills.

But the thinking was useful because it gave me memes. I am comfortable with introspection, looking inside. Less comfortable, in fact, with counting and measuring behavior as a way to figure out who we humans are. And looking inside I see clearly that dying is the death of my I, my ego. But I also see that there is something else in me that is not ego. I see it as a ball of threads. The threads come from the past, but not necessarily from my parents. I sense that some of those threads have been through many other people.

The official meaning of meme is a core part of a culture, an idea, a way of seeing reality, that can spread from person to person and from generation to generation. Yes, like the threads I see inside me, ways of seeing reality. 

Must try to give some examples. One meme, for instance, is the idea that humans are not animals, that we are different, infinitely better, that we are not part of nature but control nature. That is a very strong meme that is the current fashion in large parts of the world. Certainly in this country. Cultures can and do have more than one meme. Americans have another meme that sees America the Great, exceptional, all powerful, unique. Probably more than half of Americans see, feel, think that way.

Memes are parts of culture. Cultures form around a meme, or bundles of memes. Religions can be memes, there can be more than one meme formed around a religion. The very different kinds of Christianity, Islam, for instance. Strong memes that people war for. 

Memes are core idea of how we see the world around us and ourselves in that environment. Memes, vultures determine how we see but also what we see. The Inuit (eskimo) who live in snow and ice have a dozen words for snow. People whose staple food is rice have ten words for rice. More intriguing is what we don't see. Hawaiian and Indonesian had no word for blue. Of course new words were made, The Indonesian new word is from Portuguese for the color blue, in Hawaii the modern word is from English: blue - pelu (Hawaiian u=oo). How can you live on an island with ocean and sky all around and not see blue? That always makes me wonder what we in our culture do not see. Over the years  have collected quite a few words, concepts, ideas, we don't have words for.

That is how I first realized I had ideas inside me that do not fit the modern world. I have another meme in me, a very ancient meme. For the first almost half of my life it lay dormant but always there, pushed aside by the general 20 th Century meme that everything moves upward and anything is possible if we just try hard enough and that it is good to be famous, successful. Rich. And then on a Sunday I met people who lived my hidden meme. They knew themselves part of nature, the same as all animals and plants. They lived aware in what is. No attempt to improve their way of life, diet, social structure, relationship with others. Things are as they are. Our task only to fit as smoothly as possible in what there is. To modern humans a very strange meme indeed, but to me it was like coming home. I had always known that, but could not live it or talk about it or even think about it. 

That  is what I first saw as not related to the I that lived in a modern world with a modern point of view, successful. Evidently somehow, there was this ancient meme in me that I sort of knew was there, but hidden. Until I met people who lived that meme and I recognized it in me. It did not come from today but from far back in time. 

It took ten years to accept that this ancient meme is in me and that I could live as much as possible in that culture. 

From the point of view of the ancient meme I could see clearly that the modern memes are destructive. By seriously interfering with the planetary ecology we are endangering our own survival as a species; from inside the western meme that cannot be seen. 

Now I also see that modern memes are made, designed. In the very beginning the ancient meme grew as ancient humans worked out how to live together as a part of the ALL. When we changed our seeing to thinking we could and must control nature, there were a series of what we now call religions that dictated how humans must live and see their reality. A pharaoh, an emperor, may have created one or more memes. Prophets inspired others to make memes, followers made yet others. Now politicians make memes. Political parties manipulate the media to make and change memes. The meme of the small government, small enough to drown in a bath tub. The meme of We the People governing ourselves. Conflicting memes that give economic views of reality all claiming truth. An ever growing economy, a trickle down economy, a regulated economy, an unregulated economy. None of them sustainable, all of them fantasies.

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robert wolff lived on the Big Island, called Hawai'i

his website is He passed away in late 2015. He was born in 1925, was Dutch, spoke, Dutch, Malay, English and spent time living and getting to know Malaysian Aborigines. He authored numerous books including What it Is To Be Human, (more...)

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