When not out on the range, Dara had taken to experimenting with debate. In the tiny peer group he’d established since arriving in Carnarvon there was nobody who had his worldly experience and his level of sophistication. He liked to share with his friends, but he was hungry to learn too, so he took his curiosity online, adopting a pen name—‘Memes’.
The name portrayed what he intended to learn and hoped to share. It encompassed the meme, a concept his father had taught him.
“Memes, pronounced ‘meem’,” his father had taught Dara, “are cultural analogues to genes; infectious ideas that self-replicate, mutate and respond to selective social pressures.”
The concept of memes was first conceived by Professor Dawkins, a world-renowned evolutionary anthropologist whom Dara’s father aspired to.
The word had gone on to gain momentum, almost a life of its own; it had become a cultural phenomenon of study in its own right. Memes, it turned out, explained so much of psychology and social anthropology—through racism to religiosity, fashion to conspiracy theory.
“A meme is ‘an idea, behavior or style that spreads from person to person’,” his dad had refined the definition for Dara. “It is the unit that carries cultural ideas, symbols or practices, transmitted from mind to mind through writing, speech, gestures, or rituals.”
Assuming the pseudonym “Memes”, Dara went to work. Memes became a buffer that allowed Dara to begin testing and researching the minds of strangers of every ilk. Memes commented in various medias, established a blog and quickly gained new likeminded friends on social media. He gathered enemies too.
From a memetic perspective, Detlief’s story had become particularly fascinating to Dara.
Detlief, of course, was up from the city; from Cape Town; sent to Carnarvon to keep him from peers and mischief in the drug infested and dilapidated slum his family had fallen to. Worse yet, many of Detlief’s closest family members had been drawn into the drug trade and were constantly revolving through the prison turnstiles. They had rank at different levels of the various ferocious “numbers” gang culture that raged and killed indiscriminately in the streets every night; it was a warzone.
Beyond the squabbles for turf among the gangs, an equally vast and potentially lethal opposing group had grown up too. It was religiously based in Islamic heritage; imported as Islam had been to the Cape by the Dutch who favored Malaysian slaves and laborers over African ones in the 17th and 18th Centuries.
The Cape Malay, as they were once known, practiced a benign form of Islam that was not radicalized to the degree emerging elsewhere across the globe. These Moslems as they were otherwise known, stuck to themselves; they possessed a violent hatred and grudge toward the gangs.
They quite literally met fire with high caliber fire.
There were contracts out on heads and, in the unlikely event that Detlief somehow managed to avoid direct involvement in the methamphetamine drug known locally as ‘Tik’, his head was all too often in close proximity with others that might attract a blizzard of flying lead.
Detlief was characteristically rough and ready. He had a gentle spirit but his unceasing brushes with violence and brutality from birth had scarred him… his memes were negative. In Carnarvon, until his recent troubles, he had been on the straight and narrow, but his wheels were buckled. Staying on the straight was an unlikely probability; life had programmed him to veer without warning.
Dara had picked Detlief’s plight as inspiration to express his very first essay on an Internet blog:
“The cells of our DNA do not belong to us—they belong to the collective—we borrow them for a short life and then hand them on to our issue, who, in their turn, pass them forward to a later generation.
A billion generations of ancestors; a river of raw data; stands at each of our backs, a deluge of genes flowing down the eons from the primordial soup and through ancient seas, creeping among dinosaurs and dragging its knuckles across Africa’s plains.
But before this journey erupted from Africa an epoch ago, the broth that is the hominid-gene had birthed a strange new thing, a new form of data that took its hold as master of our destiny: The accumulated information of chemical gene created ‘meme’—infectious awareness; small ideas that weave webs in thinking, meshes that trap and milk us of our industry; some building our empires, others returning no more than blind conviction as their reward.
The meme has spun its cultures, fashions and religions too; through those faculties it evolves, it hacks the R-Complex—the brooding reptilian brain that lurks in each of our heads; the seat of our aggression and territoriality; and there it draws its battle plans for self-preservation.
It sings its challenge from the minaret, its rival clangs a response from the church bell close across town.”
That first piece drew some praise from those who thrilled to the cultural perspective from a poetic stance. It of course left many unmoved. It also reared a few who threw derision at Dara for imagining that memes were in fact any kind of study at all. This latter group was hostile to the idea, Dara came to understand, not because they could show it to be inaccurate or nonsense, as they claimed it was—but because it’s initiator was Dawkins, a man of science whom they hated.
Dawkins had, long before Dara’s father had added his voice to the debate, written landmark books on the topic of human evolutionary origins through natural selection.
These books had drawn the unrelenting ire of conservative Christian creationists, particularly those known as YECs who believed in a ‘Young Earth’. YECs took a literal view of biblical interpretation, insisting that the earth and universe are less than ten-thousand years old.
“They’re a relatively small group, Dara,” his father had told him, “but they’re very vocal.”
Creationists considered that any proofs that contradicted biblical notions were anti-God and therefore inherently evil.
In quick succession Dara, through his pseudonym alias, Memes, had followed his initial blog essay with dozens of others. He’d publish a new one every few days, just as soon as the dust of argument had settled from the previous one.
The reading audience polarized into two sharply opposed groups, friends and foes. Many, like ‘Memes’, used pseudonyms that provided the person behind them a shield from scorn and praise alike.
Marsha was in the habit of reading online news during morning coffee breaks and she had been watching this new personality, Memes, as he or she had gathered both a fan club and enemies. She had no idea that the mind behind it was her boy until one day, by chance, she saw a half-way finished essay on his computer that, a day later, she saw published.
She had brimmed with pride but kept her discovery to herself, responding to Dara by creating her own pseudonym arbitrarily selected to have no connection, ‘Kimberly-A’, through which she could engage Memes to tease and test his knowledge.
Among those who aligned with and had befriended Dara in social media was a pseudonym, “VoorVel”—Foreskin in Afrikaans.
The name was intentionally provocative, intended to irritate the conservative Afrikaans opponents that he enjoyed riling in conversation. He derived it during an argument over the religiously inspired practice of circumcision blindly followed.
During the ensuing weeks the two pseudonyms, Memes and VoorVel, had befriended one another on social media, had messaged one another and joined the same discussion groups where theists and non-theists thrashed out their differences.
Dara had found the experience of the blogs and these groups a catharsis; a place he could speak his mind openly and hear a range of opinion—some inspiring and mind-expanding, some outright insane.
VoorVel, Dara discovered, had been born in Carnarvon. He had grown up and attended the local school many years earlier. Many of the teachers from that era were still at the school, so they had some areas of intersection to discuss.
Dara was extremely excited by the prospects that lay ahead; VoorVel was coming to visit in a week.
Neither Dara nor his new friend wanted their identity or association known around the town so they arranged to meet the following Wednesday at a coffee shop in Loxton. Loxton was a neighbouring village on the Cape Town side of Carnarvon, sixty kilometers to the south.
“I’ll be there by 3pm. Let’s meet at Blou Schuur Kafee,” VoorVel suggested.
“How will I recognize you?” Memes typed.
“I’ll be up in my car… you can’t miss it.” VoorVel had replied.
Farmers usually drive big pickup trucks—on that description, Dara imagined it would be a monster.
Quite how he would get to the meeting—half an hour’s drive south—would be another story. “Perhaps,” he dared himself, “I’ll take the bike.”
It certainly would be an exciting prospect to consider.