Cape Cod Dreams and Memes and Change

Cape Cod is a most wondrous place. September arrives and graces the soft sands of the Cape’s endless shores, and while so many others have returned home to work and school, I remain, reading and napping and bearing witness to the day’s gentle surf and warm breezes.

As I nap, I read Paulo Coelho’s “Manuscript Found in Accra” 

in the cycle of nature there is no such thing as victory or defeat; there is only movement.

The winter struggles to reign supreme, but in the end is obliged to accept spring’s victory, which brings with it flowers and happiness. The summer would like to make its warms days last forever, because it believes that warmth is good for the Earth. But in the end, it has to accept the arrival of autumn, which will allow the Earth to rest. . . .

Within that cycle there are neither winners nor losers’ there are only stages that must be gone through. When the human heart understands this, it is free and able to accept difficult times without being deceived by moments of glory. Both will pass. One will succeed the other. And the cycle will continue until we liberate ourselves from the flesh and find the Divine Energy.

And the cycles will continue until we find enlightenment, eternal rest, nirvana, moksha, until we find that for which we search. But as human’s we seem destined to search, even if it is for justice and rights, for fairness and dignity, the search goes on. We are creatures on a pilgrimage, a path. Perhaps it is not that we are strangers in a strange land, but pilgrims on a pilgrimage. For us humans, the journey is home. Lots of folks have plotted the shape and direction of that path. And, it is important to know where you are going – otherwise, how will you know when you get there? One of my favorites path tracers is a largely unsung fellow named Clare Graves who wrote about memes that mark the flow of human and cultural growth.

Now, meme (pronounced meem) is a fun kind of word that is not (yet) part of the common daily verbal lexicon.  It was probably coined by Richard Dawkins in his book “the Selfish Gene” as a concept useful for explaining the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena. So, a meme could be a melody, catch-phrase, fashion, idea, symbol or practice that is spread from mind to mind through writing, speech, gestures, rituals or other ways of being that we can imitate. Meme’s self-replicate, mutate and respond to pressures.

 Clare Graves wrote about eight memes or themes for existence that human beings and cultures seem to embrace and develop as we move in the world. For Graves, each meme is essential and important and is incorporated and integrated into the ones that follow even as subsequent memes work to solve personal,  social or ecological problems that emerge as a consequence of ways of being consonant with earlier memes. Then the new meme catches on, and becomes a ‘normal’ way of living, thinking, being in the world. On an individual level, think here of crawling, walking, running for example, each remains important in its own rights, even as we build our ability for more complex forms of movement. For Graves, human cultures develop and evolve new, more effective, more complex ways of structuring and organizing communities and cultures, even as we continue to incorporate earlier ways of being.

And then there is Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Black Swan theory to add to the mix. Black Swans are rare events that have an extreme impact and that are retrospectively but not prospectively predictable (no one saw it coming, but looking back it makes sense). I’m thinking that Black Swan events help shift values and ways of being as they become dominant culturla memes.

Now all of this is pretty heady thinking for a day dream day on the beach, and as I thought about all of this I felt myself drifting off for a bit of a nap. And as I napped, I dreamt of nomadic cultures and communities struggling for survival living on their instincts. And then I woke and thought about tribal cultures and spirit quests and their search for kindred spirits. And I thought about how cultures grew from a sole focus on basic needs and survival to include spirituality and connections with family and kindred spirits.  And I thought about how democracies evolved creating space for individualism and spawning revolts, aggression and warfare – identity and independence seem to be linked with power and assertiveness and aggression. Traditions and religions seem to have emerged as one response to aggressions, but their structure and discipline that help to control chaos and to connect individuals and cultures to a higher ideal come with a call for self sacrifice that can be overly sacrifice freedom for security and tradition. The progress of modernity brought with it technology and material wealth and convenience, entrepreneurial growth and wealth – for some, but at a high cost to others and to the environment. There is the hope of green societies that offer compassion, community and equality, but these remain tender buds in the growth of communities. Perhaps we will see even further evolution toward more self actualizing cultures and communities, where survival, security, authority, structure, networks, systems and organic wholeness each and all find place in a dynamic balance and wholeness. And I found myself wondering where we will evolve next as human beings, as human communities. Perhaps memes of hope and healing (personal, social, cultural, environmental healing) will emerge and grow? I found myself wondering what a world free of oppression and discrimination would be like? What would we value? How would we organize family and education and care giving and wonder and awe and mystery and science and, and, and. And the joy of a sunny afternoon on Cape Cod is that I could wonder widely and wildly.   

So, now I am dreaming of love, compassion, and generousity exploding into our ways of being — as a black swan that becomes the next meme. It could happen. We could yet have a world where fairness reigns and dignity is respected.  I know my dreams will continue. The cycle will evolve. Indeed, change is the only constant. And amidst all of this change and wonder, there is the wonder and joy that Cape Cod is indeed a most wondrous place.