Saturday, April 15, 2006

Holy fire, holy keys and four-inch Easter nails



An annual religious event like Easter brings out the memeplexes around the world

In Greece, Orthodox Christians are fighting over the "holy fire."

In Jerusalem, Muslims bicker over who is more important: the family that controls the key to the Holy Sepucher, or the family who uses the key to open the door for Easter pilgrims.

In Rome, the pope leads Roman Catholics in the annual Good Friday procession past that major icon of the pagan Roman Empire, the Colosseum, to participate in the memetic ritual known as Twelve Stations of the Cross.

In the Philippines, the star of a Scottish reality TV show called "Crucify Me" backed out of taking part in the annual ritual of the Passion. He had agreed to allow Filipino Christians to drive four-inch nails through his hands and feet, and thus hang him upon a wooden cross.

The list goes on and on. What's interesting is that all of these rituals and artifacts live within the memeplex of "The Resurrection of Jesus Christ." Could any of these memes live outside the memeplex? Without Easter, would anyone allow himself to be nailed to cross? Travel to Rome to march in the streets behind a man carrying a large crucifix? Bicker over a candle or a key?

Each of these memes survives because it is part of a much larger, much more powerful memeplex. And yet each also contributes to the memeplex by giving the hosts a method for demonstrating (and thus endorsing) the memeplex in the objective Level 3 world. Prospects see the demonstration and at least a few are attracted to it. Next year, they will participate in the rituals, thus allowing these memes to live on and on, spreading both vertically and horizonally through the population.

This is the meme cycle at work.

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