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 8 2012: There was some brief talk earlier in this conversation about how memes are a way to spark social connections. I agree, memes could be a way that the most different of people can connect. Almost like a common ground between people that could come from very different cultures or backgrounds. If memes could connect drastically different people to a common place then perhaps memes could be used in some sort of conflict resolving way. Conflicts are best resolved when all parties of the issue can come to a common conclusion. I am not saying that the meme should be the solution or an answer to a problem, but it can assist in breaking that icy feel of an issue. Finding common ground, common interests, common disinterests, or common ideas is the best way for people the most unsuspecting situations to connect.

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