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What Is Engagement?

What Is Engagement?

While we know with the highest possible certainty what engagement is on a biological level, level of nature (gene interaction and replication), we do not know exactly what mechanisms are on the cultural/memetic level, level of human nurture.

I do refer here to well well-known and well-repeated nature/nurture dichotomy. In this dichotomy, nature encompasses something common to all living creatures that actualize the level of genes, gene reproduction, and phenotypes that are the end results of gene coding. On the other side of this dichotomy lie nurture, culture, language, and all emergencies that we understand as unique for humans. How does engagement happen on this memetic level? What are the subjects of such interactions? What drives interactions, and what mechanisms are governing them?

What are people (humans)?

As biological creatures, people result from natural selection that mainly rests on genetic reproduction. Genes (according to the now generally accepted theory of early Richard Dawkins) are vehicles (phenotypes) that accommodate gene reproduction.

In his famous Selfish Gene (1976) and later in his 1993 paper “Viruses of the Mind,” he introduced memes that perform the same function on the cultural level, a level unique to humans. Although replication of memes happens according to Lamarckian theory as an inheritance of acquired individual characteristics, we know that genes reproduce according to Darwin’s evolutionary theory, later proved by Watson and Crick (inheritance on the genetic level that happens on different size and time scale than the phenotype scale), both replication mechanisms share fidelity, fecundity, and longevity as three necessary characteristics.

Interlude from 2024

This post was originally written in 2019, when my theory of memetics was not yet developed. Now I know that memes do not replicate the Lamarckian way as the inheritance of acquired characteristics. The mistake, which does not affect the message of this post so I would have to change it, comes from the confusion of memes with memetic phenotypes, artifacts. Internet memes, for instance, are not memes, but memetic phenotypes, artifacts. It only seems that artifacts reproduce based on similarity, on acquired characteristics. However, since artifacts are not memes, that type of reproduction does not apply to memes. As it will be extensively presented in my coming PhD thesis, memes replicate intersubjectively within individual or collective memetic fields. We cannot say that they reproduce like genes, since they are not biological entities strictly speaking, but more quantum-like entities, but nevertheless, they definitely do not reproduce the Lamarckian way.

Back to memetic reproduction

Humans reproduce themselves as biological beings on a sexual level (gene reproduction), but they uniquely reproduce themselves also as creatures of culture on a memetic level. Levels are strongly interconnected; one cannot exist without the other, but at the same time, each level operates on its own.

As genes consist of DNA and combine themselves in the genome, which is stored in one or more chromosomes, memes reproduce in brains as their substrate and within memetic fields formed by their gravity forces/vectors. They live and reproduce within brains but are then stored/executed in various cultural artifacts as frozen entities.

To make it easier with an example, gossip is a typical intersubjective situation in which memes use human phenotypes to reproduce. Gossips reproduce, for example, with high fecundity, low fidelity (high mutation), and variable longevity.

Humans are thus not only “sacs of genes” that are able to produce astonishingly complex bodies, but at the same time “sacs” of memes. This and nothing more.

Engagement on a memetic level

What is curious but at the same time important for our purpose is that memes reproduce and live only in the moment of exchange. The book is but a piece of paper until it exchanges memes with the mind of a person reading it. A meme is a physical (neural) potentiality until orally exchanged with a person listening and understanding it. It exists and reproduces intersubjectively only. A tweet is just a bit (a couple of bits) until exchanged with an X user. A meme that rests on some physical substrate (book, neurons, wires…) actualizes only when exchanged. Exchange can only be intentional (using some energy). Exchange cannot be but engaged. Engagement is a memetic exchange.

What is also an important consequence: humans are humans only so far as we exchange memes, only as engaged. Humans cannot be disengaged.

Is the world really disengaged?

The world of humans, thus, cannot be disengaged in principle.

Why, then, Cluetrain’s Manifesto or Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s “Back to Nature” Manifesto? They both share the same origin: blank slate ideology. They both rest on progressivist ideology that sees human evolution as a decline from pristine origins that were far superior to the present state. Cluetrain Manifesto is just one of the latest manifestations of straw man argumentation that imposes the impression that the present world is more and more disengaged. Cluetrain then offers a solution of a “free-internet-back-to nature” utopia. It sees corporations and brands as something that prevent humans from being real themselves.

Quite the opposite is true, though. Memetics, as a part of evolutionary theory, proves that engagement rises together with the complexity of civilization. Not that we should go back to advance our human engagement, but on the contrary, we as humans actualize (engage) ourselves through brands as memes (only). Stronger brands and more of them allow us to express ourselves more and more, thus enabling us to be more and more human.

Message for public relations: Calm down; no new principles threaten humans. The Internet is nothing but a slightly larger pub. Size multiplies complexity but does not change principles.

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