Civilizations are deeply intertwined with memetics. Take a meme’s perspective, and the clash of civilizations takes on a whole new light.
The Clash Of Civilizations
Humans are hosts to two replicators: memes and genes. We are driven by our genes to activities that encourage their replication. Likewise, memetics drives us to repeat the most viral memes and spread them to others.
In our ancestral environment, wars between tribes and civilizations were waged on battlefields. A civilization that was superior memetically – say with more advanced weaponry – might easily lose to one that was superior genetically, either in physical traits like muscle mass or in terms of pure numbers (fertility).
As technology advances, memetic superiority becomes the dominant factor in the clash of civilizations. It doesn’t matter how many Japanese there are if you can drop a nuke on them.
The civilizations we consider most advanced are the most effective cultural imperialists, not the most fertile. In other words, the most successful cultures and civilizations are those than can conquer by memetics, rather than by sheer manpower.
So the US secured its ascendancy to superpower status with the invention of atomic weaponry. Simultaneously, the spread of the constitutional liberal democracy and capitalism helped to entrench America as hegemon.
India has a much larger population than the US, but is significantly less powerful because it is memetically weaker. Likewise, Nigeria is projected to overtake the US in population by 2050, but we don’t expect it to overtake the US in global influence.
Memetics & The Triumph Over Genes
Technological advancement enables memes to win over genes. We are host to two types of replicator, and they often pull us in separate directions.
Advanced civilizations are superior memetic communicators, but inferior genetic replicators. Last year, the US fertility rate fell to 1.86 – its lowest mark in history. Yet there is no end to US dominance in sight. The only threat comes from China – itself a civilization that legally restricted the birth rate. China’s one-child policy may be the greatest example of memetics beating out genetics on a civilizational scale – collectively, the entire country decided to go against its biological imperative. The result? China’s fertility rate is even lower, at 1.56. The world’s two dominant powers are memetic powerhouses, but not prospering in terms of genetic replication, with fertility below replacement level.
Note: genetics in these contexts is nothing to do with race. It is about the level of genetic replication, a.k.a. fertility. Lithuania, population <3 million, is not a successful genetic replicator, nor a memetic one. Nigeria, population 182 million, is a successful genetic replicator, and also superior memetically.
Memetic superiority does not keep a population replicating. It only encourages the replication of the society’s memes, not its genes. Is this sustainable?
The US has been (somewhat) successful in maintaining its culture despite low fertility. Part of this is due to higher fertility among immigrant groups; the global dominance of US culture means it is easier to communicate American values to at least certain classes of immigrants.
European nations, by contrast, largely embraced multiculturalism among immigrant groups while also enduring a period of plunging fertility among natives. This is a memetic and genetic surrender; fertility is still low, and the immigrant groups boosting the rate were explicitly encouraged to maintain their own memeplexes, rather than adopting those of their new homes. With neither memetic nor genetic replication, it is difficult to see European cultures surviving in the long term. Other nations will become more populous, and Europe’s native and adopted populations will not have a shared meme pool upon which to base their identity.
Advanced civilizations have reached dominance through memetic superiority. But their continued success will depend on realizing one of two options:
- Memetic survival: as their populations fall, these civilizations will need to continue winning out in the world war of memetics. If the world population begins to favor, say, Indian culture, then US influence will wane. If China begins to outpace the US in scientific discoveries, then American power will be at risk.
- Memes for fertility: civilizations that have become memetically dominant have seen memes win over genes. If their memes begin to weaken in relative strength, memes for fertility will need to take hold. Without them, the civilization will erode in minds as well as bodies. The current structure of society doesn’t allow for this; we would expect significant turmoil as these effects took hold.
Memes change much faster than genes do. It takes over 9 months to create a new American through genetic replication. It can take a matter of weeks to do so through memetic replication. But the sword of memetics is double-edged; those civilizations relying on memetics for power are vulnerable to rapid change, not least in their fertility rates.