The professors asked me what good this theory of memes was. Did it have any predictive value? Do we have any evidence that a meme can actually influence behavior? That is, do the "infected" individuals show any measurable differences from the rest of the population? Can we say that there is something analogous to population genetics or ecology in memetics? Make a prediction that can be tested.
OK. I was on the spot. Here’s what I came up with:
There is a memeplex associated with the handling of the US flag. People within a certain sub-culture in the US learn the "proper" treatment of the flag and take it to heart. A single element of this plex is the meme dictating that "the Flag must not touch the ground." I, myself, have emotions associated with the Flag, and, although not steeped in these particular doctrines, would not willingly allow a US flag to touch the ground. I am a Democrat, but I will predict that Republicans are more susceptible to this meme than are Democrats. What about Republicans who become Democrats or Democrats who turn Republican? I don’t know for sure, but I have a hunch and I’m proposing the following test. If we were to observe successive randomly selected Fourth of July parades for several decades and count the number of times that flags were permitted to touch the ground, that number would be higher in years when the Democrats had done well in elections. I am postulating that the self-identification of "Republican" provides a more hospitable environment for this particular meme.
There are two side issues here. First, it may be more convenient to measure this phenomenon using survey methods. I agree, but the challenge here is to identify an actual behavior that is effected by the meme. Second, if the knowledge of the test were to become widespread, it would have unpredictable effects on the outcome.
I’m pretty sure that we can come up with more such tests, and easier ones, if we put I minds to it. I suspect that some folks have already done so. I believe that this is the kind of thing that has to be done to prove that the meme concept provides a productive viewpoint for social scientists.
1/3/2007 11:24 AM