The Competing Thoughts of Men

Richard Dawkins originally coined the term “meme” in 1976. He used it to describe a thought that is mimicked in people’s minds and susceptible to the same evolutionary pressures and processes that our genes and biology are susceptible to.

I think that a new kind of replicator has recently emerged…It is staring us in the face. It is still in its infancy, still drifting clumsily about in its primeval soup, but already it is achieving evolutionary change at a rate which leaves the old gene panting far behind. The new soup is the soup of human culture. We need a name for the new replicator, a noun which conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission…I hope my classicist friends will forgive me if I abbreviate mimeme to meme. 

But the idea of competing thoughts and ideas has been around since ages old, so what did Dawkins’ concept add to the philosophical discussion? It seems to me that his addition was to look at the behavior of thoughts without consideration for the individual. For what does the concept of a “meme” do but reduce men to mere carriers of ideas?

Perhaps the forefather to Dawkins’ “meme” was Neitzsche’s “will to power”. Neitzsche believed that the will to power is the fundamental drive in the universe, and that ultimately all reality is best understood in terms of competing wills. He understood that there are multiple wills within an individual man competing for expression, and that the victor of this man’s struggle goes on to compete against other men’s wills with the victor being able to move society.

My idea is that every specific body strives to become master over all space and to extend its force (–its will to power:) and to thrust back all that resists its extension. But it continually encounters similar efforts on the part of other bodies and ends by coming to an arrangement (“union”) with those of them that are sufficiently related to it: thus they then conspire together for power. And the process goes on–

But there is something lacking in this description also. For what is Neitzsche’s competition of wills but the spiritual war of antiquity robbed of the concept of good and evil. We have “a dog in the fight” in this competition of wills which goes on inside of us, and we don’t always win. Here’s a verse from Psychomachia by Prudentius, a bloody allegory of the seven deadly sins fighting the seven heavenly virtues.

Mad Pride looks over Lowliness and her motley crew. He makes this speech: “What kind of nonsense is this? Surely you must be ashamed, poor men, to challenge someone so famous as me with troops so tattered”…Pride spurs his horse into a fierce gallop…But his horse stumbles and Pride falls into a pit that Deceit has already dug across the field.                                                                                                              

And what is the spiritual war but a representation of the battles raging inside of us. We’ve confirmed that there are many desires competing for expression within our own bodies. This raises age-old questions of Free Will, but – more importantly – there is the question of identity. Which Will are you?

People will judge you by your deeds and therefore by the dominant Will within you. It is also desired that a man owns up to his deeds and takes responsibility for them. But there’s still the question of which Will a man prefers. Which desire inside of you do you hope to prevail? Is it not the most noble one? This is your “ideal self”. 

And how many battles has this “ideal self” within you lost, to have you thinking to yourself “If only things were slightly different, I could have…”

Third position is more than a political movement. It is a  fighter which wants to lift you up and help you triumph. To tilt the odds in as many of these skirmishes in your favor as it can. It makes a treaty with your most noble self which states “I’ll fight on your behalf, but you must also fight on mine.”

And what is consumerism but a traitor who sides with your lowest self to overthrow your will towards unselfishness, stoicism, diligence, and temperance. It schemes for you to realize your lowest self in order to satisfy its own greed.

Rise up! Defenestrate these low goals and impulses. Remove them from your life. Reach higher! 

And side with the political movement which supports you – the best you – and seeks to lift mankind to its highest potential: 3rd position.