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Memes and Individual Psyches – Building of Fromm

by on February 17, 2019
Memetic Fromm role of communityErich Fromm, Escape from Freedom, page 51

A Dialectic from Community

Community, organizations are critical to human survival. They create and constraint. They form us.

On page 89 Fromm says, “ideas which are not rooted in powerful needs of the personality will have little influence on the actions and on the whole life of the person concerned.”

Psyche first then ideas. We could flip that.

Whereas Fromm would have them an outcropping of a psychological need, memetics would have them as the blind result of successful adaptation and spread by memes themselves, without human agency.  The psychological fades into being biological / memeticological. That is, humans as meme carriers.

Is that real?

Is the psychological real?

Is there an avenue for putting the psychological between physical and memetic, which helps us better figure out what a meme truly is and how it operates?

For example, does a meme only exist with humans? can bees/ bee hives organized as they are, be examples of a successful meme?

If so, what is the role of psychology/individual human psyche? Perhaps nothing. Is it, rather, what our physical brains do when encountering so many memes?

Psyches Evolve

Instead of memes evolving from interaction with individual psyches, psyches evolve from interaction with a world of memes.

That sounds consistent with Blackmore and Dennett.

Memetic Fromm psyche evolves from socialErich Fromm, Escape from Freedom, page 52

A Genealogy and Dialectic of Memes

Nietzsche (The Gay Science: We Fearless Ones, and other places) paints striving and comfort in a world of continual uncertainty. Comfort in striving, surpassing. Becoming and more.

The medium is the message. Current events as reactions to a change in the environment. When people or communities react to social media they are not reacting to it’s contents, it’s silos of information. Rather they are reacting to the existence of social media itself.

Fromm, in Escape from Freedom, argues in the space of the tension arising from individuation and belongingness / security within a society. Drawing on that tension from the Reformation to parallels in the 1930’s, 1940’s. It seems applicable today, 2018, with respect to social media evolving and other factors in the world.

Were that the case, it seems we could catalogue memes across time and potentially across species (bees, etc/). A Genealogy of Memes? Meme pedigree?

Memes such as ‘class’ may serve a specific purpose. But that may be all that they are. We could deny the existence of class ontologically. See Project Management as a Meme.

From Fromm, insects’ social organization created by instincts.

Memetic Fromm instinctsErich Fromm, Escape from Freedom, page 47


Human culture (memes) a function of our lack of instinct – biological weakness in Fromm’s terms. A relationship between biological needs and the beginnings of culture, that is, memetic opportunity.

Memetic Fromm evolution of cultureErich Fromm, Escape from Freedom, page 48

But Are Memes Real?

All this prods the question again of what is a meme? What is idea stuff? Can we really say memes are real?

If they were we could use a meme genealogy to identify changes in the underlying organism, the carrier, such as may be happening now with humans and social media/ electronic media. We could examine earlier incarnations of the tension between individuation and belongingness/security. For example, totalitarianism, may be various mutations of the co-evolution working itself out or manifestations of whatever the underlying meme is.

It would be great were there some experiments or method we could cling to to reality check this or ground it.


Memes: Blackmore, S. J. (1999). The meme machine. Oxford [England: Oxford University Press.
Memes and consciousness: Dennett, D. C. (1991). Consciousness explained. Boston: Little, Brown and Co.
Fromm, Erich. 1968. Escape from freedom. New York: Avon Books.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1974. The gay science. USA: Vintage Books.
Project management as meme: Whitty, Stephen Jonathan. “A memetic paradigm of project management.” International Journal of Project Management 23, no. 8 (2005): 575-583.

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