“When we die there are two things we can leave behind us: genes and memes. We were built as gene machines, created to pass on our genes. But that aspect of us will be forgotten in three generations… We should not seek immortality in reproduction.
“But if you contribute to the world’s culture, if you have a good idea, compose a tune, invent a sparking plug, write a poem, it may live on, intact, long after your genes have dissolved in the common pool. Socrates may or may not have a gene or two alive in the world today, as G.C. Williams has remarked, but who cares? The meme-complexes of Socrates, Leonardo, Copernicus and Marconi are still going strong.” ~ Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene
“Everybody wants to go on forever. I just wanna burn up hard and bright.” ~ Ryan Adams, “Firecracker”
The concept of the meme was first articulated by that British rogue, Richard Dawkins, and has since, quite fittingly, become one of the internet’s most persistent memes in itself. In a profoundly moving passage of the excellent, The Selfish Gene (quoted in part, above), he expresses how we as a species have two ways to propagate ourselves through ongoing generations. On the biological level, there are our genes which are in a constant evolutionary struggle to ensure their own survival and reproduction.
The meme, though, as Dawkins argues, is the more lasting and substantial way for ‘us’ to live on long after our meat suits have decayed.
On the internet, ‘meme’ is predominantly just shorthand for pictures of cats and celebrities doing odd things, and more cats, but a meme is really any idea that survives and then flourishes as it passes from one mind to another. The Great Gatsby isn’t a meme, but Fitzgerald’s expression of the American Dream is, and by crafting one of the finest works of American literature, he provided a vessel for his idea to spread.
Similarly, Kerouac’s On The Road has spread a meme that could concisely be labeled as “freedom from normal,” though it’s really more complex than that (and not as idyllic in practice).
That meme took root in my imagination as a teenager and it has given birth to 10 Cities / 10 Years. Other people have their own, unique ways of expressing that same meme, which is the beauty of the truly transcendent ideas: They can be reproduced in a million different forms but those variations all trace their DNA back to the one, core idea.
On The Road (among countless other works) had an influence on the formation of my project, so in that way Kerouac lives on through my life. And I can only hope when I’ve completed my decade and written the book, it will be the kind of work that survives in the imagination and art of future generations. It will likely be dissected and eviscerated by my own generation, but the most powerful ideas take hold in the minds of youth.
It might seem a lofty, even haughty, goal to seek the kind of influence that Kerouac had, but if an artist, inventor or thinker doesn’t want their work to spread, what are they creating for? I’d rather be deemed an asshole because of my conflated ambition than be just another money-hungry leech on the nutsack of true artistry.
Aim For The Stars…
The unflattering truth is that most people I know have no ambition to ever matter in a lasting since. The world is filled with vapid, listless, upright apes dreaming of the day the world finally gives in and showers them with wealth and pleasure. Even most of the artists I know care more about making a bunch of money than they do about crafting truly unique, lasting works of art. Boring.
And if you’re wondering if I mean you, let me put it this way: I could probably count on one hand the people I’ve met whose ambition and efforts have that special spark of ingenuity that makes for world changing influence.
For most of you, both your genes and your memes will die off with your grandchildren, at best.
The same may be true of me, I can’t know. I may never make an impression on the world, but it won’t be for lack of effort. My goal is not merely to sign a book deal, do the talk show circuit and maybe get a movie made based on one of my novels. I’m aiming to be discussed in college classrooms. I’m aiming to be on the bookshelves (or Kindles) of every teenager in America. I’m aiming to be the inciting idea that inspires some future writer to live differently.
While people are chasing invisible gods in pursuit of everlasting life in heaven, I aim to achieve the only sort of immortality that can ever exist.
And if I fall short, I’ll have tried.
How many can say that?
*This puts me in the company of some of history’s greatest assholes. Also, history’s greatest innovators. In the Venn Diagram of history, these two sets pretty much overlap.