Feeding (4): Immiscible memes

A microcosm of good size

In Oceanian mythologies, the human body is the microcosm of the divine macrocosm. More representative if we give it space? The strong build is particularly appreciated by Polynesians, who engaged in ritual fattening (ha’apori). The elder children were locked in the shade in huts and fed abundantly until they made their bodies grow disproportionately and whiten their skin. Then they were adorned and presented to their leader in front of the community, who expressed its admiration. They became symbols of the fertility of the land, the generosity of the gods and the well-being of the community.

The ample body is still popular in Oceania. The big one is imposing. Placed on his path, the meager acquiesce quickly, all ethnicities combined. In the Polynesian, moreover, the big one is seductive. Not easy to replace the erotic representation with another. It takes an insistent tyranny of the medical profession and the pervasive complications of overweight to achieve this.

West: the bad comes with the good

Western culture has also been responsible for deteriorating food hygiene. True obesity has only spread with industrial foods, and the transformation of Polynesians from farmers into workers in the tertiary sector. Those who remain in the traditional way of life are not concerned. Masses of muscles burning without difficulty the calories consumed. The next generation adapts. Young girls appreciate themselves less corpulent than their elders. Scientific memes, imperturbable diktats, are being printed.

But they are implanted less deeply than the ethnic memes present since childhood. Getting fat is easy. It is enough to give in to food seduction. Losing weight, on the other hand, is a permanent flogging. Remain attentive to resist the urge. Consciousness hardly controls these intentions buried in the unconscious. Discouraged, it resorted to the surgical technique: the sleeve allows to remove a third of the weight in a few months.

Getting fat, the way to weight loss

An additional avatar of the clash between cultures: the sleeve is not systematically supported by health systems whose determinants remain Western. It takes a body mass index BMI > 40 (“massive” obesity) to be reimbursed. How do I become eligible? Getting bigger! In New Caledonia, most Polynesian candidates are already easily above the bar, but the near ones start their sleeve journey with weight gain. Administrative criteria take control of body image! Let’s not just be a source of fashion anymore.

Somma between biology and psychology

We have seen in previous articles that the body image, explicit, is not the impression generated by the body, implicit. The second can completely dominate the first, if you are deprived of food. More often the image dominates the impression, which fades in the background when satiety is assured. The lived experience of the body is in between. It is the somma, a rather physiological/implicit experience when the body is starving, or rather psychological/explicit when the needs are met.

In Western society somma is clearly psychological, to the point of erasing physiological impressions. This is what brings it such a wide variety of appearances. Indeed the biological body standardizes; the hungry experience similar sensations. While psychology diversifies somma. It is Western satiety, easy to obtain, that facilitates the implantation of such an abundance of explicit representations. With, among them, the deviances. They do not exist in those who keep a more organic somma.

A model of the upper layers of the mind

There is no official model of how higher concepts are organized in the psyche. I will use a personal template. I call ‘Spirit pole‘ the Self and ‘Real pole the Non-Self. The Spirit pole brings together identity representations, a merged whole that we experience as “I”. Fusion includes bodily sensations, structural identity (habits), biographical memory, self-observation.

The Real pole, what is not “I”, is also a whole, easier to dismember because it is less embryological. It includes the material world, and the living, arranged in social circles. The closest are our intimate companions, the most distant our congeners categorized by profession, ethnicity, culture, nation. Each circle is accompanied by its particular social consciousness, built by the spread of its memes.

Memes are not miscible

Why am I complicating your reading with this template? The interest is to understand that each social consciousness has a relative independence and its particular language. By systematizing the Real pole in this way, it appears that some memes are not miscible, because they do not belong to the same circles.

Traditional Pacific memes cannot interact with those of Western medicine. Their frameworks are strangers to each other. Customary and medical overweight are benchmarks as incompatible as quantum and Einsteinian gravity. It takes pirouettes to live with both, among Polynesians as well as physicists! Fortunately the mind does not lack room for new levels to build.

A realistic body image?

Each of us fills our Real pole with paradigms gleaned here and there. The “realistic” image of the body can take surprising forms. If we use the paradigms of science, there is a good chance that our images will look the same. This standardizes the medical discourse. However, doctors, as soon as they leave the university, are subjected like the others to the rolling fire of pseudo-sciences. The consensus is distended.

Non-professionals are subject to all the influences, a lot of food mysticisms, advertising, industrial, pharmaceutical pressures, often no more perverse than their ecological counterparts, naturalists, which have their own economic motivations. The image constructed by these Real pole(s) wants to be ‘realistic’ but there is still some way to go. For example, gluten intolerance is ignored by some of those who suffer from it (about 1% of the population) but fake in most of those who follow a gluten-free diet (nearly 30% of Americans).

Memetic neuroses

So it seems that memes can be neurotic! Ouch, we could let Freud and psychoanalysts gloat about the unconscious, as long as it remains in its basement and does not disturb everyday life too much. But what if social consciences also form their neuroses? Start a psychoanalysis of culture? Yes, it is one of the many names of philosophy. Let us build with it a higher self-observation, capable of taking charge of these poor slave-consciousnesses, victims of memetic neuroses.


2 thoughts on “Feeding (4): Immiscible memes”

  1. It seems, that memes can mean anything now. My sense of this is it is an unfortunate, if unavoidable development. I recall when the term emerged and meant something significant; something specific about life itself. The morphology of the term, in taking on generic proportions, rendered the original meaning moot. This contextual reality, of which I am fashioning a theory, changes, at the drop of a hat or linguistic turn of a phrase. It is a phantasm and it’s reality is but ghostly. Wordplay is fascinating fun for those so-inclined.
    Intellectual gymnastics, however, tend to be of less value to those who have trouble enough with ordinary everyday communication.

    • Memes have a very broad meaning. A cognitivist calls them ‘representations’ but they are more than mere mirrors of what they represent, since they are constitutive of mental experience. This specific term is valuable in rendering the double face of information and micro-consciousness. Using ‘meme’ in no way limits the complexity of assembling the information hidden behind it. It is a universe of conceptual crossroads, some already baptized by words, others not yet.


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