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Negotiating the Variety of Intellectual & Cultural Value Memes across the Ages

Negotiating the Variety of Intellectual and Cultural Value Memes

Throughout history in different parts of the world human beings have developed a wide variety of “value memes” that shape assumptions, beliefs, habits, traditions, norms and commitments. These value memes constitute what Wittgenstein called our “language games and forms of life.” Metaphorically speaking they can be compared to different molecular bonds that constitute the periodic table, or to different biological genes that carry coded information about a living organism.

One interesting question concerns the nature of the relationship between the value memes. To what extent they can be regarded as mutually exclusive or inclusive? Are they dualistic or dialectical? To what extent is their relationship competitive or complementary, conflictive or cooperative, or both?

Further, is the relationship between the value memes to be regarded as eclectic and ironic, as within the post-modern tradition, or as pluralistic and integral, as within the trans-modern tradition? There is no easy answer to such questions because different individuals and collectives will tend to relate to them in different ways. The choices between exclusivity and inclusivity, duality and dialectics, irony and integration, eclecticism and pluralism are themselves tacit and assumed “meta-value memes.” They are largely taken for granted and hidden from view. They operate invisibly below our “radar.”

Brain hemisphere research seems to support the idea that the left-brain hemisphere prefers to see the world within the operating assumption of “either-or” duality and dichotomy. It prefers to make sharp distinctions and to interpret phenomena in conflicting oppositional terms. By contrast, the right-brain hemisphere prefers to see the world within the operating assumption of “both-and” dialectical and paradoxical terms. Brain hemisphere preference conditions whether we see different intellectual and cultural value memes as engaged in intractable conflict or participating in a symbiotic relationship. In the latter approach it is assumed that “the opposite of a great truth is another great truth.” If we trace the history of the various intellectual and cultural value memes across the ages we will discover that there have always been those who view them within a dualistic conflict model and those who view them within a dialogical cooperation model. One employs language literally and dogmatically while the other employs language metaphorically and relationally. These constitute two persistent casts of mind. Likewise, post-modern eclectic ironists value incommensurable multiplicity whereas trans-modern integral pluralists value encompassing unity within multiple quadrants, levels and stages.

The empiricist says “I believe because I see,” but it is just as true that “I see because I believe.” Whatever we assume and take for granted, that is, whatever I tacitly or explicitly believe, will profoundly influence and shape what we am able to notice, attend to and “see.” In this way the so-called “observer” or “subject” influences that which is “observed” as the object of attention, or even whether that which we see is viewed as an impersonal “I-It” object or a personal “I-Thou” subject.

Finally, parochial individuals and cultures prefer to engage a relatively small number of cultural memes whereas cosmopolitan individuals and cultures engage a relatively large number of cultural memes.