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: Memes are powerful because for the most part they are simple images that hold a good about of power. Take religious memes for example, a simple cross can make a religious person very passionate because it means a lot to them. I think that a good sustainable meme is one that has quality background information to it, one that people feel inspired when they see it.
    • Mar 8 2012: I completely agree with you. To think of memes in a religious light really exhibits the impact a small symbol or action can have on an enormous population. Which is exactly why in order to make our current generation more aware of our ecological crisis memes seem to be the perfect weapon. We require a meme that is just as powerful and effective as a "simple" cross.

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