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.

One Comment

  1. Psychosociological response says:

    A schizoid government. Very interesting analysis. Appropriately thought provoking conclusion.

    Very well written. Social genes are always a fascinating discussion. Interestingly enough as well, while the article does give focus on the otherwise unknowing public for the mindless viral injecting and spreading of particular beliefs, values, and affiliations, it does as well point a source for memes — the government itself.

    It’s like the sociological equivolent of monkey say monkey repeat. Memes are fascinating spreads of culture and this article addresses them almost as a government tool – one which we allow to be used at on us at will.

    A very interesting statement at the beginning of the article was “fewer than five percent do any research”. Generalizing on a slightly broader mematic level and still maintaining the political agenda at hand, that by itself begins to suggest a sort of sociological manipulation on the government’s side that maybe few people can even understand. We believe what they want us to believe unless we do our own research, and that research isn’t always readily available – especially if you don’t even know what you’re looking for. At the end of the article it is actually eloquently stated — the memes are produced, not by us. We just spread them when one of them catches on of our particular interests.

    Political memes like other memes infect populations like viruses. The impact it has and will continue to have is an evolution of the concept of what our “hopes, values, and dreams” to be a great nation are. Our leaders represent certain values. We represent certain values. Congruency of these values, in this case, is not necessary (there’s only two parties, one will win, it’s “either/or”)(congruency with leadership values and public values is especially not essential with an uneducated public, and especially in system that requires a bandwagon just to participate (so which is it, left or right, or maybe just don’t even bother participating?) All that’s really required is maybe just an affirmation that the other guy is a tyrant and Im a savior, then from there separate your constituencies into target demographics and their memes are already in place. They already believe, in most cases of a candidate’s constituents, they already believe what you want them to believe – all you have to do as a candidate is make them believe you believe it too — that your social genes are no different from theirs. A few thousand ears that want to listen, and a few more thousand mouths to spread their newfound knowledge. Suddenly Joe undecided is Joe McCain, (meme has spread) and Bob “didn’t vote last election” “must vote in this one”. (meme has spread) And how did all these people come to this decision? Professional and realistic observation of all the issues at hand by the voting populace? Or maybe all the speechwriters behind the scenes who know all the hot topic buttons, did their demographic research really well like they were supposed to and had a decent idea what may get a crowd to a standing ovation. “That’s my guy and you’re guy too! He believes the same way I do and he’s part of our crowd!”, and of course, his guys are the ones who told you how to believe in the first place.

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