[Extract from The Nature of the Beast]
Most people don’t deal much with abstract ideas and theories, yet ideas exert a powerful influence on societies and history. Societies and civilisations have come to grief because they held ill-adapted ideas. What idea was it, for example, that led the Easter Islanders to obsessively build huge stone effigies even as the ecosystem of their island was collapsing around them? Richard Dawkins, in The Selfish Gene (1976) invented the term meme for key ideas. Memes are to cultural evolution as genes are to biological evolution. A very powerful meme abroad in the world today is that free markets are the best way to organise economies. Where did this meme come from? Is it serving us?