In his popular book The Selfish Gene, biologist Richard Dawkins coined the term “meme” to indicate “a unit of cultural transmission.” Dawkins wanted a word that would signify kinship with the word “gene,” because he conceives of the meme as a “replicator.”
In the May 2011 edition of the Smithsonian, science writer James Gleick poses this question in the title of his article: “What Defines a Meme?” He finds Jacques Monod to have been a precursor of meme theory: Ideas have “spreading power,” he noted – “infectivity, as it were” – and some more than others. An example of an infectious idea might be a religious ideology that gains sway over a large group of people.
Dawkins added tunes, catchphrases, and images like the smiley face to his definition of a meme, but ideas are the most dangerous of the memetic pathogens and will occupy our attention here.Open PDF
For several years I have taught a course titled The Anthropology of Evil. I chose the term “anthropology,” not to indicate a restriction to the study of evil among primitive tribes, but rather to widen the lens to take in every relevant discipline: history, philosophy, theology, psychology, sociology, and current events.