Superorganisms And Memes

The idea of the superorganism by Howard Bloom, answers the question posed at the end of this article: Do nations embody the same psychological characteristics as individual human beings do?

According to Bloom, every nation is a superorganism, a cluster of billions of cells, that attempts to gain power, whenever an opportunity presents itself. And each superorganism has its neural net, or its collective consciousness. What forms this collective consciousness? Memes.

The way in which this superorganism animates its people (organisms) into action is through memes. Memes are clusters of ideas that self-organize; they use people to spread. This idea is not Bloom’s, but is an old idea, of course, that was described by Jung (the collective unconscious) — the latter emphasized the importance of archetypes that we were not conscious of. And later by Dawkins who wrote about memes, but did not associate a tremendous importance to them.

Below is a quick overview of the concept of Memes from The Selfish Gene by Dawkins.

Memes

Of the ideas and traditions that we prize so much and pass down to successive generations, why do some survive and others don’t? Dawkins explains that like genes and evolutionary stable behaviors, cultural ideas or “memes” are also subject to evolution.

Culture can be considered as a gene pool, with the most basic unit of cultural evolution being a meme, rather than a gene. A meme can be an idea, a song, or video, or a melody, and it is transmitted through human communication. In the same way that genes cooperate to create a complex organism like a human being, memes cooperate to form complex organizations, like the United States or the Catholic Church.

As with genes, memes can only survive in the appropriate environment. This is in line with the thesis of The Medium is the Message — the success of the transmission of an idea depends largely on how it is being transmitted (TV, Youtube, or Books). Some mediums are better suited for some ideas than others.

Since Dawkins does not think that an “ought” can be derived from how things are, he thinks we can be thoughtful about how we choose to live our lives, when we know about how our genetic and memetic programming works.

The Global Hierarchy

As Bloom’s thesis goes, there is a global pecking order, and you are either on top or at the bottom. The U.S is currently at the top, but it would be a mistake to think that they will remain there forever. The rest of the world is constantly trying to undermine the position of the U.S, including China. Russia, and Iran.

It is likely that the memes that exist at first dominate superorganisms (nations or civilizations). And this is different from saying that memes dominate governments, because the governments (made up of lawmakers) are influenced by the tradition of their own culture (historical memes) as well as the memes that dominate other governments (Girard’s mimesis).

So the nation is characterized as an entity that is connected by ancient and modern memes, which translate to a hierarchy of values, that is then passed down to its citizens. The process is cyclical. It starts out bottom-up, and then becomes top-down. And so on.

While these superorganisms have different memes that are prevalent within them, they all do compete for power, and in this sense, Nietzsche is right. But here the mimetic principle is operating on these superorganisms. They emulate each other in the race for better weapons, energy systems, and communication networks.

According to Bloom, the most powerful civilizations are able to impose their memes on others. In that sense, they are motivated by the will to power. And one can even argue that this will to power is no more than a by-product of primary sexual motivation. The most powerful civilizations will be prosperous enough to procreate. The memes themselves are no more than agents for procreation. The dominant meme helps one civilization in its battle against the other (US vs China).

Individual people are nested within these superorganisms, and their desires are based on the social structures of their societies. They are undoubtedly influenced by what is most prized in their own culture. Mimetic Theory operates on the level of nations and civilizations and on the level of individuals simultaneously.

Originally published at https://unearnedwisdom.com.

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