A New Theory of Memetics and Ideology
offers a new theory about how ideologies and beliefs grow, spread,
and develop-- a theory of cultural evolution, which explains both
shared understandings and disagreement and diversity within cultures.
Cultural evolution occurs
through transmission and spread of cultural information and
know-how-- or "cultural software "-- in human minds.
Individuals embody cultural software: they are literally information
made flesh. They spread it to others through communication and social
learning. Human minds and institutions provide the ecology in which
cultural software grows, thrives, and develops. Human cultural
software is created out of the diverse elements of cultural
transmission, also known as "memes."
Ideology is not a special
or deviant pathology of thinking but arises from the ordinary
mechanisms of human thought. Because cultural understanding is the
product of evolution, it is always a patchwork quilt of older
imperfect tools of understanding continually readapted to solve new
problems. As a result human understanding is always partly adequate
and partly inadequate to understanding and to the pursuit of justice. Cultural
offers examples drawn from many different disciplines showing how
ideological effects arise and how they contribute to injustice.
The book also tackles the
problem of mutual understanding between different world views. It
shows how both ideological analysis of others and ideological
self-criticism are possible and argues that cultural understanding
presupposes transcendent ideals. These arguments should be especially
relevant to current debates over multiculturalism, and to
philosophers and political theorists who worry that different
cultures have incommensurable normative conceptions.
Cultural Software draws
upon many different areas of study, including anthropology,
evolutionary theory, linguistics, sociology, political theory,
philosophy, social psychology and law. The book's explanation of how
shared understandings arise, how cultures grow and spread, and how
people of different cultures can understand and critique each other's
views should be relevant to work in many different areas of the human sciences.
What the Reviewers Have Said
about Cultural Software
"Balkin argues ingeniously
that meme theory replaces more familiar critical theories of
ideology, because it alone explains how people come to believe the
things they believe, without reference to dubious assumptions about
"false consciousness" or "hegemony." Once we can
understand this, we can act to change cultural beliefs for the
better. . . . [Balkin] writes with lucid balance. . . . Balkin's
account is the most nuanced and convincing on the question of what we
actually gain from meme theory."
--Mark Kingwell, Harpers
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"After 250 years of writing
about ideology, it is difficult to have something new to say that
advances our understanding of this elusive concept, and yet Cultural
Software: A Theory of Ideology by J.M. Balkin manages to do just
that. . . . Cultural Software is a remarkable work that will be
usefully read by a broad audience."
--Susan Silbey, American Journal of
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"Balkin's book is a
path-breaking effort to rethink legal critique using ... biological
and cybernetic models; the scope of its ambition and the subtlety of
its execution are likely to make it a definitive work."
--David Charny, University of
Michigan Law Review
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"Balkin's book is
intelligent and extremely well crafted. Not the least of his
accomplishments is a wonderfully clear presentation of the major
strands of postmodern thought. Theories of social psychology,
narrative, semiotics, metaphor, and metonym are discussed
sympathetically but also sensibly and in understandable terms. For
anyone interested in intelligible discussion of the work of Elster,
Ricouer, Geertz, Goffman, Chomsky, Levi-Strauss, Foucault, and the
like, this book is an excellent source."
--Emily Sherwin, Philosophy in Review
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"Balkin takes the hot button
words of current intellectual debate--culture, ideology,
historicism--and manages the
considerable feat of making them usable again. He avoids final
judgment while at the same time redeeming the vocabulary of final
judgment so that it is once again available to those who have learned
the lessons of various postmodernisms. An impressive and truly
--Stanley Fish, Duke University
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"A brilliant and daring job
of examining law in the light of new thought in the human sciences
and vice versa. This is contemporary legal scholarship at its most thoughtful."
--Jerome Bruner, Research
Professor of Psychology at New York University and Senior Research
Fellow in Law at New York University School of Law.
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