Writing as Ecosystem

I am often struck by the similarities between biological and cultural reproduction, how genes and memes reproduce themselves with or without our conscious assistance, how, for example, a concept or phrase can spread through a population’s cultural psyche in much the same way that, say, the ability to produce a digestive enzyme might spread through its genome (at different rates, of course). In fact, on a purely structural level, there seems to be no substantial difference in the process. In fact, it seems to me that parallels can even be drawn between genetic strategies and strategies for the propagation of one’s own writing.

Consider: a writer might identify a market niche and highly specialize their writing to thoroughly exploit that niche, as you often see, for example, in the work of genre fiction writers… or academics, for that matter. One could even invent a niche, as someone like Grisham has essentially done. This can lead to immediate, high pay off, but, like any organism that has become highly dependent upon specific environmental factors, the long term existence of the species becomes more precarious. The work of a writer that has created a diversified oeuvre, or “portfolio” (to borrow an economic term, since the same process seems to apply there as well) is more likely to survive “environmental changes,” which, in this context, can be read as “cultural changes,” changes in collective “taste” or “diet.”

If we are to expand our perspective from the work of the individual writer to the work of an entire society, we immediately recognize the absolutely crucial importance of having traditions (artistic, literary, philosophical, etc.) that are robust in their diversity, bound together by only a few mutual affinities for shared core values (memes?). This seems to me the most sensible way that a society could provide for an uncertain future, if there is ever a sensible way to do such thing.

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