Book Reviews

Virus of the Mind

Virus of the Mind: The New Science of the Meme
by Richard Brodie
Integral Press.

Richard Brodie's book is a living example of the theories he proposes. At every opportunity Brodie plants the idea that the reader should tell other people about this amazing work -- even become involved with him in the multilevel marketing of it! The memes are "this is a unique, valuable book", "I should share this wonderful news with others", "I could make money with this book."

A meme is "a thought, belief, or attitude in your mind that can spread to and from other people's minds."

The word meme reminds one of gene. Which is no accident.

The concepts Brodie (who is the author of Microsoft Word) eloquently espouses are based in socio-biological theory. "Meme" was coined by Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene. Just as genes (or more particularly DNA) "seek" to spread themselves over and over in physical bodies, so too, do memes "seek" to replicate themselves in one mind after another.

So "good" memes are those which are successful in spreading themselves. There is no value judgement in the term "good" anymore than there is a suggestion of conscious intent on the part of DNA to multiply.

A good meme while I was in graduate school was that Sigmund Freud had discovered The Truth. There was no gainsaying His pronouncements. The Oedipus and Electra complexes were taught as Fact. Yet, as I wrote in Love, Sex & Hypnosis: Secrets of Psychotherapy, "the notion that a little girl would want sex with her father is patently absurd. It seems never to have occurred to Freud that, if his theory were correct, the girls would hardly have fantasised abuse; they would have dreamed of enjoyable erotic contact. The truth was that his patients had been abused and that Freud yielded to his own fears and the pressures of society [Victorian memes ?] to twist the facts and his interpretation."

Three generations of women have been harmed by Freudian memes. In recent times new memes (including those of feminism and humanistic psychology) have begun to supplant the Freudian Myth but it still has a strong hold on many minds.

Conditioning is essential for memes to become so embedded. You might regard Freudianism as a religion evangelized until recently in most schools of psychology. This closely parallels Brodie's explanation for the spreading of religious concepts to children:

"Children typically get programmed with religious beliefs through conditioning by repetition. Whatever the religion, children go from zero beliefs to full-fledged faith, or as fledged as they get, by being told about the divinity of God or Jesus or David Koresh over and over again until it becomes real -- those memes become programmed. If you listen repeatedly to religious speech, after enough repetitions you will actually begin to notice God and his works where there was just chaotic life going on before. What was formerly chance becomes a miracle. What was pain is now karma. What was human nature is now sin. And regardless of whether these religious memes are presented as Truth or as allegorical mythology, you're conditioned just the same."

Brodie emphasises that we have Stone Age impulses ill-adapted to modern living. Thus, he says, our main urges, or instincts, revolve around danger, food, and sex . Often these primitive urges (or "buttons" as Brodie calls them) override our conscious will because the latter is a comparatively recent evolutionary development. Which explains why male politicians continue to become embroiled in sex scandals with young women, despite the political consequences.. According to my understanding of Brodie's claims, the politicians are simply acting out a primal need to spread their sperm (and thus their DNA).

Such urges are not, as has been thought hitherto, to continue the human species, or from deliberate intent, but from the innate purpose of DNA. This purpose is self-propagation. We, as humans, are simply the vehicles which make the replication of DNAs possible. The urge continues even inappropriately or futilely in the face of technological barriers (e.g., birth control).

Memes are similar. Without attributing any divine, human, or conscious intent to them, memes "seek" hosts -- minds -- to copy themselves and recopy themselves over and over in subsequent minds.

When there is a conscious agency -- such as someone founding a religion, or a salesperson deliberately pressing your buttons -- then Brodie considers these to be "designer viruses". He even tells you how to create what might be considered the ultimate designer virus: a cult. His purpose for this exposure is not to encourage unscrupulous persons to deceive but to enlighten the public so we will be inoculated against such scams.

Not that all viruses of the mind are harmful. Brodie tells us how to disinfect our minds of those which are, and he concludes the book on an optimistic note with proposals for "quality of life" viruses which would revolutionise education and society.