Back in 1976 Richard Dawkins coined the wonderful term – meme. It can be defined as an element of culture that replicates itself. Some describe it as a virus, a contagion which spreads and infects other people. I prefer the idea of a meme being a cultural gene, something that hops from one mind to the next. Whether for better or worse. A good example might be a piece of music that everyone recognises – Beethoven’s Fifth or Happy Birthday to you. Memes also abound on the internet but it is difficult to say if these are genuine memes or fads that explode and later fade into obscurity. A meme, methinks, has to be long-lasting, sturdy and familiar to many.
When deciding what a meme is (and what might possibly be the world’s greatest meme) we have to take a look at memetics, the study of memes, which lays down the law when it comes to these tiny cultural creatures. Of particular interest to us are two terms used in memetics: memeplex (meme-complex) and memoid. The first is a complex of memes, a grouping together of memes. The second refers to a person who has become engulfed by a meme to such an extent that the meme is their reason for existence. And that is what leads me to believe that there is only one true candidate for the world’s greatest meme/memeplex.
What could possibly be the world’s greatest collection of ideas? Ideas (or groupings of ideas) that readily replicate and hop from one mind to the next? Ideas that have such power that they often completely and utterly engulf the mind of their indiciduals? A group of ideas which has the largest number of hits or followers? The answer, in the aftermath of the arch-memoid’s resignation and on the eve of the gatherings of many über-memoids to elect a new arch-memoid in the Petrine succession, has got to be the Catholic Church (or, in fact, Christianity). Join the dots, fill in the blanks. For better or for worse, the world’s greatest religion has to also be the world’s greatest memeplex.