TED Conversations

Holly Arnold

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Are memes important for our survival? How can we draw on memetic theory to inspire ideas of sustainability that go viral?

Memes are elements of a culture or behavior that may be passed from one individual to another by non-genetic means. Dan Dennet's TED talk addresses memes that are powerful because they inspire passionate, extremist behavior based on idealistic notions of freedom, justice, truth, communism, capitalism, and religion. While not always bad, memes can be destructive and result in conflict and death. Yet, memes have great potential benefit to humanity by eliciting behaviors that promote equality, peace, and sustainability. Sustainability in particular has been suggested to be the most important factor in determining the fate of humanity, as discussed by Paul Gildings. How can we harness the power of memes to inspire notions of patriotism, freedom, and justice that elicit a passionate response for the cause of sustainability, rather than a passionate response that leads to conflict?


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  • Mar 7 2012: I think that is a great point Brant. Words and their associations are very important to take into consideration, when thinking about powerful ideas that are going to ultimately be expressed through words, even if it also contains symbols and/or cultural expressions.
    I would lie to see how people think we could make the meme of sustainability more attractive, in that it becomes more popular and spreads more quickly. Would it be through choosing the right words, symbols, or expressions? Or is there another method that would be more important?

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