Last time I discussed the differences between a memetic cohort and a memetic fabric. I explained how things like a memetic inventory can apply to a memetic agent, a memetic cohort, or a memetic fabric, and how these are all different. I will try to make this clearer as we move forward by using these concepts in context.
Now that we've started to develop a vocabulary to talk about the actions of memetic agents within a memetic environment, let's take a look at the motivational systems that drive agents.
What Do Agents Want?
This is actually quite a deeply psychological and even spiritual subject, so perhaps it's a good idea to take it from that point of view.
Humans are tribal animals, so we worry about our standing with the other members of the tribe. This is what our mirror neurons do for us--empathy. Memes come into play when we are not only about to model how others are feeling about us or about other members of the tribe, but we are also able to imitate others, their speech, gestures, and so on, basically, imagining what it would be like to do with our own bodies what we see others doing with theirs.
We want to imitate others' behavior such that third parties react to us in the same way we seem them reacting to those we imitate. We want to learn how to get the same social payoff that we see others getting. We also want to avoid the social penalties we see others suffer, but sometimes if these penalties are all we know how to reliably get, in terms of a social reaction, we try to get those, too (1).
Humans are born helpless and remain so for a long time, unlike other animals. This has many implications. One is that we have a long time to absorb the memetic inventories of our parents and extended family, for good or ill. Another is that in order to survive we have to maintain the attention of, or maintain a strong and consistent memetic connection with, our parents. If parents are attentive and giving and non-abusive, this works out well. If they are abusive, then we have to manage the relationship so as to minimize the damage from that abuse or at the very least ensure our own survival. If they are neglectful, then we have to go to lengths to keep their attention, even if it involves self-harming behaviors or dysfunctional or "criminal" behavior (3).
For example, the baby learns that if he smears boogers on the television screen, tortures the pet cat, or tries to stick a fork in the electrical outlet, he gets yelled at by daddy, when then proceeds to give him a twenty-minute lecture about why he's a bad boy and why he shouldn't do those things.
The result is that baby learns that he may reliably get daddy's attention for twenty minutes, complete with a generous dose of linguistic input, if he just smears boogers, hurts the cat, or prods the outlet with a fork. As a tiny human, he needs attention (the assurance of survival by the defense and food provided by the big people) and linguistic input, which he needs to become a successful memetic agent. If that's all he can get, that's what he'll do.
I'm still mucking around in micromemetics, and probably will be for a bit more. The answer to what drives memetic agents should be a fairly simple one, and it derives directly from our social nature, and from the way we develop through childhood. The childhood analysis is part explanation and part fable. Our need to get others to reliably react to use is a childhood need, but it continues to be a social need.
But as we shall see, the needs of the individual and the behavior of the group are related, they form a kind of feedback loop. This interplay governs how individuals react to memes, and how the memetic disposition of the group (the memetic fabric) shapes that reaction. More on that as we proceed.
(1) The idea of negative social responses becoming desirable is related to the connection between memetic alienation, or memetic destitution, and violence. This is a very powerful idea that I'll get to later. It's also related to persistent childhood misbehavior and bullying (2).
(2) I use "bullying" and "bullying opportunities" as a special term in macromemetics. The vernacular term "bully" is not dissimilar to how I use it, but I'll explain this in much more detail when I get to "immunomemetics."
(3) I use "criminal" as a special term in macromemetics. It overlaps with the legal definition, i.e., that an action goes against some legal statute, but it also means going against what is expected of one. Both carry the idea that it's okay if one does not get caught, or that the victim or social gatekeepers are unable to take any action. So the classical understanding of "bullying" (2) is in this sense a criminal behavior. We don't want it to happen, but the bully gets away with it because nobody can do anything about it or the bully did it while no one was looking.