Memes and social structures

In Memetics 101 we saw a long list of things which are part of our every day lives but which are not universal to all mankind.  Since these things are not preordained by our genes, they must have some other type of carrier and we agreed to make use of Dawkins’ term ‘meme’ to describe such a carrier. 

We are no more aware of the memes around us, and the importance we place on them, than a fish is of the seas that it swims in. Political, legal, economic and religious systems dominate every aspect of our lives, but they have no underlying reality other than that which we ascribe to them.

They certainly feel real.  People hold their memes dear, especially if they were infected at a very early age, so it should come as no surprise that meme clashes have been one of the principal causes of violence for the last six thousand years.  Citizens will happily give their lives for Democracy, the Fatherland, the Queen, God or any other number of alluring and illusory symbols. Given a choice between surrendering their memes or reaching for their swords, many would (to quote an old cigarette advert) rather die than switch.  This applies in miniature to our working lives, and we will see this behaviour when we look at mergers and takeovers and also in terms of our individual programming in other sections of this site.

Finally, I want to warn you that we will be looking in depth at two very sensitive areas. The first of these is religion. I’m not doing it with the intention of mocking established religions or their believers. Religions are superb examples of long-lasting and easily transmitted memeplexes, and elsewhere we use their structures as examples of how to improve organisational systems.  

The second sensitive area is that of national culture, or national identity.  Anyone who has worked overseas a lot can tell you that managing multinational teams is a nightmare, as others don't respond to the same stimuli as you do - decision-making is entirely different, the purpose of a meeting varies from country to country, and what we regard as a reward they regard as a punishment. These differences are not, generally speaking, genetic in nature, and in the National Culture section below we will attempt to use meme theory to explain some of the research in this area.

There is no inherent truth in any of these social structures - they are just evolving and competing sets of memes.  To survive in modern society, you have to run at least some of these memes, but don’t for a second kid yourself that they are true


  • The Evolving Organisation

    Most of us work in some kind of organisation, and these are among the most interesting and most labile social structures.  Here we look at the evolution of organisations from tribes, through guilds and to the modern joint-stock company, from the point of view of the meme.

  • Religion and belief

    Religions and belief systems are the stickiest memeplexes of all, and we can learn a lot by studying how they spread, how they protect themselves and why they have such a hold over most of humanity

  • Politics, Economics and Law

    In this section of the site we look at the systems that we take for granted: political systems, economics and legal systems come under the spotlight and we identify that they are based on, and transmitted by, memes.

  • National Culture

    We look at the sensitive question of 'national' differences based on the work of sociologists Hofstede and Trompenaars, and try to identify why these differences arise and how they are perpetuated.  We also look at how to manage in different cultures, communicate across boundaries, and how to overcome culture shock