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: I'm not sure how many people may have already seen this but, I felt it necessary to share this link.
    The Majestic Plastic Bag ( Example of a very powerful meme)
    • Mar 8 2012: That is an awesome video! I'm going to spread it :)
      • Mar 8 2012: Great video! I really like the idea of making a nature documentary about the great migration of a plastic bag. The David Attenborough-esque voice over really helps to drive home how unnatural this migration really is.
        • Mar 9 2012: I absolutely love the fact that they've taken something so negative and turned into a positive illusion. You almost end up cheering the plastic bag but then in the middle of it you're exposed to extremely disturbing images of marine life suffocating due to plastic. I think those images arise a feeling of ambivalence in the viewer which helps convey the message in a very strong manner. You are just left there reconsidering every choice you have made in the past and how much of that plastic patch may be the result of your choices.

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