What Is Engagement?

While we know with highest possible certainty what is engagement on biological level, level of nature (gene interaction and replication), it seems that we do not know exactly what are mechanisms on the cultural level, level of human nurture.

I do refer here to well known and well repeated nature/nurture dichotomy. In this dichotomy nature encompasses something common to all living creatures that actualizes on the level of genes, genes reproduction and phenotypes that are end results of gene coding. On the other side of this dichotomy lie nurture, culture, language, and all emergencies that we understand as unique for humans. How does engagement happen on this level? What are subjects of such interactions? What drives interactions and what mechanisms are governing them?

What are people (humans)?

People as biological creatures are result of genetic reproduction. Genes (according to now generally accepted theory of early Richard Dawkins) are vehicles (phenotypes) that accommodate gene reproduction. In his famous Selfish Gene (197) and later in his 1993 paper “Viruses of the mind” he introduced memes that perform same function on the cultural level, level unique for humans. Although replication of memes happens according to Lamarckian theory as inheritance of acquired individual characteristics while we know that genes reproduce according to Darwin evolutionary theory later proved by Watson and Crick (inheritance on the genetic level that happens on different size and time scale than the phenotype scale), both replication mechanisms share fidelity, fecundity and longevity as three necessary characteristics.

Humans reproduce themselves as biological beings on sexual level (gene reproduction), but they uniquely reproduce themselves also as creatures of culture on memetic level. Levels are strongly interconnected; one cannot exist without other, but each level operates as separate domains.

As genes consist of DNA and combine themselves in genome, which is stored in one or more chromosomes, so memes combine themselves in, meme-complexes then are then stored (and shared) in one or more stories, pictures or other memetic phenotypes. As much as genes reproduce themselves using human phenotypes, memes reproduce themselves using humans as vehicles for their replication (and mutation). To make it easier: gossips are typical situations in which memes use human phenotypes to reproduce. Gossips reproduce for example with high fecundity, low fidelity (high mutation) and variable longevity.

Humans are thus not only “sacs of genes” that are able to produce astonishingly complex bodies, but at the same time “sacs” of stories (meme-complexes). This and nothing more.

Engagement on memetic level

What is curious but at the same time important for our purpose is the fact that memes exist only in the moment of exchange. The book is but a piece of paper until it exchanges memes with a mind of a person reading it. A meme is a physical (neural) potentiality until orally exchanged with a person listening and understanding it. A tweet is just a bit (well, couple of bits), until exchanged with twitter user. A meme that rest on some physical substrate (book, neurons, wires…) actualizes only when exchanged. Exchange can only be intentional (using some energy). Exchange cannot be but engaged. Engagement is memetic exchange.

What is also important consequence: humans are humans only as exchanging memes, only as engaged. Humans cannot be dis-engaged.

Is the world really disengaged?

The world of humans cannot be disengaged in principle.

Why then Cluetrain Manifesto or Jean-Jacques Rousseau “back to nature” manifesto? They both have same origin: blank slate. They both rest on progressivistic ideology that sees human evolution as a decline from pristine origins that were far superior to present state. Cluetrain Manifesto is just one of latest manifestation of straw man argumentation that imposes impression as if the present world is more and more disengaged. Cluetrain then offer a solution of “free-internet-back-to nature” utopia. They see corporations and brands as something that prevent humans being real themselves. While memetics as a part of evolutionary theory proved that engagement rises together with the complexity of civilization and that humans actualize (engage) themselves through brands as meme-complexes (only).

Message for PR: Calm down, no new principles threaten humans. Internet is nothing but slightly larger pub. Size multiplies complexity, but does not change principles.

Andrej Drapal