Two memes that failed by succeeding

It’s memetic warfare out there, folks. We have large populations empowered to vote, and fewer than five percent have any idea what they’re doing or do any research.

As a result, every viewpoint has a cheering team that’s fighting to inject its memes into the collective mind, basically using fond illusions and dire fears to convince the voting herd to sway one way or the next. If you want to know why our government is schizoid…

I illustrated one of these memes in another blog post, but wanted to show a curious twist of history: how a meme by becoming accepted can manipulate people, but if its manipulation is not carefully planned, can backfire and reverse all gains. Both of these have this problem, but only one has come true yet.

  • Postmodernism. Good liberals quivered in their hip downtown lofts. The forces of centralization — government, corporations, religion — were gaining power and advancing increasingly absolutist agendas. How to combat it? Create an absolute of non-absolutes, and insist as in the art of Picasso or the writing of Thomas Pynchon, on seeing every situation from multiple angles at once with each angle as a valid viewpoint. The hope was that this would cause people to reject rigid values systems. The reality was that people used it as a justification for believing whatever was convenient, rejecting any systematic thought.
  • Out-freedoming. The American right has got itself in a load of trouble. First, our country’s founding fathers did not agree on a lot of things, but were able compromisers. So there’s no tradition except European conservatism, which scares us. And then there’s the enduring popularity of liberal — or should we say Revolutionary — thought. How to compete it? Conservatives want the welfare nanny state off their backs, and they want to compete with liberals. Their response has been to try to compete by offering more freedom than liberal parties; they insist on dogmatic libertarianism now, where pretty much no one can tell you to do anything if you don’t want to. That sounds great when you first read it. The fond hope is that it will let the strong rise. The grim reality is that idiots will take advantage of this freedom to be selfish, causing socialized costs and an implosion of infrastructure. It wouldn’t be the first time…

What’s fascinating to me about these observations is that they show how different memology is from sciences that predict outcome. Memes catch on to hopes, dreams, wish fulfillment, humor, fond illusions… they have no bearing on reality. That’s why in the game of memes, to succeed is often to doom yourself.


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