Memetic Engineering: This is the idea that the propagation and quality of information can be studied and managed. It’s a new term for an old phenomenon capitalism and religion have known about for a long time. Memetic engineering is a term coined by Richard Dawkins, and has been elaborated upon by such thinkers as James Gardner, Robert Wright, Daniel Dennett (who calls for increased “cultural health”) and William Sims Bainbridge (to enhance group and societal outcomes). Proponents of the ME theory argue that religious memes have gone viral and and need to curbed.
I think the ‘memeticists’ are undeniably subversive, but don’t give credit where credit is due. They wouldn’t have thought about engineering these memes unless the memes had naturally tended toward something undesirable, like capitalism or religion. (Most are not anti-capitalist.) “Memetic engineering” has only surfaced in intellectual discourse recently because it has been restated to sound worthy of scientific study. In its new form it invokes the language of science.
Yet for thousands of years already, political revolutionaries been practicing subversive memetic engineering known by other names. Even today, with capitalism as the most complicated and pervasive memeplex of our society, (I would say more so than religion) we have been calling it “culture jamming.”
How useful is thinking about a complex body of ideas as a series of “memes” anyway? Memeticism is not nearly as interesting as critiques of ideology by latter-day Marxian and post-Marxian theorists. Memetic engineering lacks philosophical appeal. Memetic engineering is the scientific counterpart to a subversive political mileu that has been happening for much longer, as a “research program” (to speak like Imre Lakatos). I see these two bodies of research as complementary, however, and I think a lot could be learned by considering them as part the same project, albeit with different goals — one is mainly anti-superstition and the other anti-capitalist.