In the early 1990s I was an undergraduate at Tufts, and took an exciting seminar with Dan Dennett on his manuscript that became Darwin's Dangerous Idea. After graduation and some travel I ended up alone on a Greek Island, where captivated by the memetic theory, I wrote a very long (80 pages?) ms on how to turn memetics into a science. I sent it to Dennett and received a very kind, encouraging response. (All of this aided by Greek mail.) I went to Chicago to work with Bill Wimsatt on the science of memetics in a weekly reading group with Bill and Betty Van Meer. Bill was skeptical, but open-minded. So, we decided to focus on technology as a species of cultural evolution and try to build a science of memes out of a collection of case-studies. After relentless discussion and debate, I gave up on turning memes into a science just as the Journal of Memetics was founded (ca 1997). Bill wrote a lovely, much cited piece about memes, and that was the end of the memetic matter for me.
So, I read the this review of a book bashing memetics with a touch of bemusement; the reviewer agrees with the book (and also bashes neo-classical economics). The following paragraph astonished me:
However, holistic Darwinism enables memetics to be looked at in a new light. As a general theory of cultural evolution through variation and selection, memetics has to be rejected, along with neo-Darwinism, as a fundamentally defective theory. The vocabulary appropriate for the extension of evolutionary theory to humanity is provided by dissipative structures, hierarchical ordering, teleology, adaptive and anticipatory systems, morphogenesis and semiosis in all their great variety. Variation and selection of replicators have a subordinate place and can only be understood in the context defined by these broader categories; they cannot supply the foundational notions which could allow the wider concepts in all their significance and variety to be redefined and trivialized. Interpreted in this way, the corpse of memetics with its concept of memes might be better dealt with not by sealing it within a coffin of rational critique and disposing of it, but by recycling its concepts for more defensible ends. Memes can be redefined and used to study a limited domain, a domain that holistic Darwinists have always been uneasily aware of, the study of viruses.
Funny thing is, when we strip the passage from all its rhetoric, the idea that we should think of memes in terms of viruses is already in Dennett (pp. 347ff). Copying is the best form of flattery, after all.