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Clinton Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist, ethologist and author who is known for coining the word “meme” in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene. Dawkins is an outspoken atheist and is intensely critical of creationist and intelligent design religious beliefs surrounding the origins of life.
The Selfish Gene was published in 1976 by the Oxford University Press, and presents a gene-centered view of evolution in order to explain how behaviors like altruism could be adaptive. When discussing how natural selection might extend beyond biological replication, Dawkins proposed that ideas could be subject to Darwinian principles as well, since they appear to replicate by means of cultural transmission. To label this kind of information, Dawkins coined the word “meme” as the cultural analog to a gene. The word originates from the Greek word “mimeme”, meaning “imitated thing”. Under the Dawkins definition, a meme can be any idea, behavior or trend that has the ability to transmit from person to person.
On February 21st, 2006, the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science website was created, containing a mission statement, project information, banner images and press releases. On March 27th, the website RichardDawkins.net was launched, which features a blog, news and media, an event calendar, a retail store and a discussion forum.
On June 20th, 2011, feminist and atheist blogger Rebecca Watson of Skepchick uploaded a video to YouTube in which she complained about a man asking her for coffee in the elevator at an atheist conference in Dublin Ireland.
Um, just a word to wise here, guys, uh, don’t do that. You know, I don’t really know how else to explain how this makes me incredibly uncomfortable, but I’ll just sort of lay it out that I was a single woman, you know, in a foreign country, at 4:00 am, in a hotel elevator, with you, just you, and -- don’t invite me back to your hotel room right after I finish talking about how it creeps me out and makes me uncomfortable when men sexualize me in that manner.
On July 2nd, biology professor PZ Myers wrote a blog post in support of Watson, to which Dawkins replied in the comments section with a satirical letter directed toward a Muslim woman:
Stop whining, will you. Yes, yes, I know you had your genitals mutilated with a razor blade, and … yawn … don’t tell me yet again, I know you aren’t allowed to drive a car, and you can’t leave the house without a male relative, and your husband is allowed to beat you, and you’ll be stoned to death if you commit adultery. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with.
Only this week I heard of one, she calls herself Skep”chick”, and do you know what happened to her? A man in a hotel elevator invited her back to his room for coffee. I am not exaggerating. He really did. He invited her back to his room for coffee. Of course she said no, and of course he didn’t lay a finger on her, but even so …
And you, Muslima, think you have misogyny to complain about! For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.
The comment was subsequently reported on by several news sites, including New Statesman, Gawker, The Atlantic and Salon. On July 12th, 2011, YouTuber The Amazing Atheist uploaded a video criticizing Watson’s response (shown below), which garnered upwards of 300,000 views and 12,400 comments in the first two years.
Mutation of the Mind
On June 20th, 2013, Richard Dawkins was interviewed by The Guardian (shown below) about his upcoming appearance at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity with advertising agency Saatchi and Saatchi. During the interview, he calls the internet “a first class ecology for memes,” noting that internet memes are a specific subset of his original idea. The same day, Wired.co.uk elaborated on the appearance, a theatrical piece orchestrated by Marshmallow Laser Feast with the intent of creating a video that would hopefully go viral. That evening, Advertising Age reported on the performance.
On June 22nd, two days after the live event, the performance titled “Mutation of the Mind” was uploaded to the Saatchi & Saatchi New Directors’ Showcase’s YouTube account. After a short speech, a video featuring Dawkins’ head embedded on swirling psychedelic objects played, followed by Dawkins performing a solo on an electronic woodwind instrument. On June 24th, the video was shared on a number of internet culture blogs and news sites that day including Gawker, BBC America’s blog, The Guardian, Business Insider and the Huffington Post.
Ask Me Anything Threads
On October 19th, 2010, a post was submitted to the /r/IAmA subreddit inviting Redditors to submit questions for Dawkins to answer in a recorded video. Prior to being archived, the post gained over 1,400 up votes and 1,400 comments. On November 14th, the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science YouTube channel uploaded a video in which Dawkins answers several questions from the comments section of the post (shown below).
On November 26th, 2013, Dawkins participated in an “ask me anything” post on the /r/IAmA subreddit. In the comments section, Redditor Unidan questioned Dawkins about his opinion of multi-level selection theory, to which Dawkins replied that it was “obfuscatory.” Additionally, Redditor ericyang158 questioned Dawkins how he felt about the current cultural understanding of the word meme in the context of Internet culture, to which Dawkins replied that the word has a much broader definition (shown below). In the first four hours, the post garnered upwards of 20,000 up votes and 7,900 comments.
Richard Dawkins Foundation For Reason and Science – The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science
the Guardian – Richard Dawkins on memes – Cannes Lions 2013 video
Business Insider – Richard Dawkins Starred In A Really Freaky Video About Internet Memes
The Atlantic Wire – Richard Dawkins Gets into a Comments War with Feminists