The internet is awash with an incorrect quote that’s now been pretty much universally misapplied to Richard Dawkins in what is a wonderfully ironic, exemplary demonstration of Dawkin’s own Theory of Memes. To our shame (and admit it, secret delight) it’s been spectacularly taken out of context by us, Dawkins’ own supporters to the point where I’m having to correct my own friends on facebook who have listed it as a “favourite quote” and mistakenly attributed it to Dawkins himself..
The quote has been replicated all over the internet (a google search for the phrase returns millions of results..
In accordance with Dawkin’s theory it has also mutated in to endless different versions..
Ironically Dawkins was quoting someone else in a debate to try to make the point that he’s actually relatively rather liberal and is far from being the most fundamentalist intellectual on the face of the earth. See the comparatively boring original debate below..
Nevermind the truth, the quote was just too brilliant for the interwebs to leave alone…
Well, that’s what you get for trying to be funny. Dawkins actually coined the term “meme” in his paper “The Selfish Gene” which explains scientifically, precisely why false ideas often spread faster the true ones. In short, the theory of memes theory is based on a few basic principles:
- Ideas (memes) self replicate in a similar way to the way genes evolve.
- Memes have similar properties to genes such as mutation, competition and variation.
- Memes that propagate less abundantly may become extinct (e.g. the boring video)
- Memes which replicate the most effectively spread best. (e.g. all the “remixes”)
- For an idea to spread fast it must be funny, sexy, scary etc. (in this case, the meme is funny)
- It is irrelevant whether the idea is true or false or right or wrong.
This theory explains why explicitly pointless “facebook pages” such as this one have hundreds of thousands of fans –>
..while vaguely serious ones are left in the dust.
This phenomenon I’ve labelled “The Rise of the Idiots” (after the fabulous Nathan Barley), and I believe along with a growing number of academics that the one way to prevent this trend is for people to gain an understanding of memes.
You can use the buttons below to send this article to your friends via your favourite meme sharing medium. You can even subject yourself to a perpetual stream of my neurononsense-meme-bombing by”liking” this blog on facebook or “following” me on twitter. Either way I recommend you reading in to memes, they are a fascinating idea with a lot of implications.
Dawkins, R. (1979). The selfish gene By Richard Dawkins (1977). Oxford University Press. Journal of Human Evolution, 8 (6), 647-648 DOI: 10.1016/0047-2484(79)90117-9
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