The 4th Humour
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Tuesday, December 30, 2003
Memetics and Quality

I'd like to investigate how memetics ties in with Pirsig's Metaphysics of Quality from his book Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals.

The Metaphysics of Quality is a moral order based on Quality. Levels of Quality are divided as such:

chaos->inorganic->biological->social->intellectual->Dynamic Quality

Each level has its own set of values and thus observes Quality in a different way. A rock is a stable pattern of inorganic quality. A single-celled organism is a stable pattern of biological quality. A city has social quality. A person is a mixture of biological, social, and intellectual quality. Dynamic Quality is the nebulous mechanism by which stable patterns evolve to adapt to changes in their environment, such as DNA or the US Constutition. Built-in rules that allow for change.

Each level is superior to all previous levels. The survival of an animal is more important than the survival of a television set. The survival of a city is more important than a few individuals. The survival of ideas is more important than the survival of society, because without ideas, society would not be able to adapt.

Each level can only influence its nearest neighbors. Ideas can't talk to biology or rocks. Intellect must work through society to influence biology to influence the rocks. Society doesn't want to change, so it resists intellect and biology. Society passes laws to prevent crimes that damage society.

So how do memes fit into all this? I think memes are the carrier for intellectual quality just as genes are the carrier for biological quality. Society is where genes and memes compete. People rebel against society with sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll, which all have high biological quality, but which are less moral and ultimately destroy society. People also rebel against society with ideas (which may or may not have biological quality in mind) that can either improve or destroy society. That is why society must also resist new ideas; those new ideas might not be good.

This merely supports my claim that the American media is counterproductive. It promotes biological quality. Get laid. Listen to the latest album. Buy our stuff to fulfill your biological desires. It promotes a set of biological values that are morally inferior to society and intellect. At the same time, it convinces us that education is the key to solving problems, but as Pirsig notes, you can't talk people out of pursuing biological quality. Biological quality only answers to the point of a gun. That's today's fallacy, the anti-intellectual meme that intellect alone can hold biology at bay to preserve society.

One could say this seems okay. We're merely in transition. Someday intellect will win because it's morally superior. I disagree. Right now, memes require a biological substrate (the human mind) to spread, and for now they will probably not end up destroying society, because then they would destroy themselves. Someday, however, memes may find a non-human substrate, and society will be in trouble.