Between Past and Present: Archaeology, Ideology, and by Neil Silberman

By Neil Silberman

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Among humans, of course, memes may be transmitted by deliberate teaching and by means of language. Deliberate teaching has also been claimed for some nonhuman primates as well, albeit on a much smaller scale (Boesch 1993; King 1999). I will come back to this claim in chapter 4. Among humans, there are certainly codes that resemble memes. Dennet (1995:344) gave a list of examples: HOW IS HUMAN CULTURE DIFFERENT? 23 These new replicators are, roughly, ideas. Not the “simple ideas” of Locke and Hume (the idea of red, or the idea of round or hot or cold), but the sort of complex ideas that form themselves into distinct memorable units – such as the ideas of arch wheel wearing clothes vendetta right triangle alphabet calendar the Odyssey calculus chess perspective drawing evolution by natural selection impressionism “Greensleeves” Dawkins (1976:192-193) gave another example in the chapter in which he coined the term “meme”: Consider the idea of God.

If a mother explains to a child how to do something, then a code is being replicated; but if the child learns a behavior through observation, then the behavior, not a code, is replicated. In either case, however, the individual adopts a meme by creating its own internal neural coding, just as it does when it learns something on its own. In no case is a code transmitted physically from one individual to another, as in genetic replication. Among humans, of course, memes may be transmitted by deliberate teaching and by means of language.

In both the southern United States until the 1960s and in South Africa until the 1990s, black citizens were forced to live by oppressive rules that they did not accept voluntarily and for which they saw no moral justification. In spite of their unwillingness, most by necessity obeyed the rules of segregation and apartheid. For example, they understood and obeyed rules about where to sit on a bus or which drinking fountains to use. It is because these rules governed their behavior, and not because they were accepted willingly, that I would include them within my definition of socially constructed, emergent cultural codes.

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