Cultural Symbiosis


Cultural symbiosis* is the merging of different memes. Memes are bits of cultural information that people exchange and share, such as a recipe, a song, or new consumer product. Memes survive, reproduce, and evolve through various forms of imitation and dispersion.

Biological symbiosis is a long-term partnership between two or more different organisms. Cultural symbiosis is a persistent association of two or more different cultural elements.

We form symbiotic associations with our cars, cell phones, television, video games, and pets, to name a few.

Regions of cities and towns are cultural symbionts. They are composed of mini-environments, unique neighborhoods situated in close proximity, each of which is characterized by a geographical, social, or cultural identity.

Corporate mergers occur by agreement, or by hostile takeover. In a successful merger, each partner must provide some lasting benefit to the other.

Inventions that combine two or more unique objects such as horse and carriage, and its successor, the automobile; electronics, with their separate components of transistors, CRT’s, microprocessors, and memory chips; large consumer malls, are symbiotic. A recent example is the modern cell phone that integrates a telephone, camera, email, and internet access.

In art, collage, diverse sampling within the same music, songs that combine text and music, dance with music, opera, multimedia, are all symbiotic forms.

In the use of language, portmanteau is used to describe a word created by blending two or more different words and their meanings. For example, the word flare results from combining the words flame and glare. Lewis Carroll coined the use of the word portamenteau.

Concepts and ideas are often intimately associated – not without their various consequences – such as church and state, commerce and politics, love and marriage, science and art.

Other, less intimate, associations include the beneficial relationship between humankind and greenspace, such as parks, gardens, commons, conservation lands. Each promises a major survival benefit to the other. The same is true for goods and services.

Sports fans worldwide provide support to athletic teams in huge numbers, while, in return, benefit from personal satisfaction and city or national pride. Similar support in exchange for personal value is true of popular music, entertainment, and the arts. Both entrepreneurial and philanthropic behavior is loosely symbiotic.

* (my own term)