Saturday, March 17, 2018

On internet memes and Proverbs 18:2

Proverbs 18:2 (NET)
A fool takes no pleasure in understanding
but only in disclosing what is on his mind.

(New Jerusalem Bible)

A fool takes no pleasure in understanding but only in airing an opinion.

It's been a while since we've linked to Orthocuban, and I'm not as prolific a blogger as I once was, but Father Ernesto had a post recently about the hidden pitfall of using a meme.  I have a slightly different experience with memes in that my belief is that the pitfall of a meme is what is most noticeable about any meme.

People who want to reduce complex cultural and historical issues to some text overlaid upon a picture of Gene Wilder from that Willa Wonka film that purports to distill the foolishness or hypocrisy of other people are not interested in the issues or policies or cultural legacies of the issue they're riffing on.  The problem with memes and their deployment on the internet is ... if we have to use a meme about it, or employ a proverb, that memes are the tools of fools who want to disclose their own sense of wit rather than gain understanding or wisdom.

Meme culture is the kind of thing that can lead me to feel that the loss of Western civilization as we know it will not be that bad a loss.  If the meme is how people in the contemporary American culture conduct themselves on the internet then the loss of that culture is not something to fear even if it is also perhaps not something to celebrate.

We live in a culture in which people with substantial disabilities have better and more opportunities than ever to live full and productive lives.  I don't think I should have to mention the recently deceased Stephen Hawking to make that point but since he did die recently, it's a point worth making.  Hawking would have died decades earlier had he not been born at the right time and in the right place to be kept alive by professional medical care. 

The "logic" of the meme can play out in a Mohler commenting on the worldview of Stephen Hawking or it can be Lauren Duca inviting Billy Graham to have fun burning in hell in the wake of Billy Graham's passing.  Nobody is likely to mistake someone who writes for Teen Vogue as being a public intellectual on any topic, or for being either a famous evangelist or a theoretical physicist, but the Lauren Ducas of the internet world are not necessarily hugely different from the Al Mohler's of the internet world, or to get more obvious about it, these may just be the kind of ideologues who can't be bothered to remember the humanity of their ideological foils at any point and that this may be the simplest distillation of the problem with meme-thinking at the level in which it operates both in methodology and in terms of its ... contribution ... to public discourse. The worst part about meme level discourse and appeals is that people on Twitter probably can't even recognize that they have more in common with their ideological adversaries in terms of snap judgments, invocations of cheap stereotypes, and swift resort to remorseless vitriol than they have with possibly any non-Twitter using member of their own ideological tribe.  That Lauren Duca could tweet as she did suggests to me that she's not any different than she seems to think Trump or other figures on Twitter have been.  It might be best if there were no Twitter at all but since there is Twitter, remember that it's for the record, that it's a social media/mass media tool and that odds are pretty good you're not going to make the world a better place by reducing the nature of your arguments to what can be conveyed in a tweet storm. 

1 comment:

Cal of Chelcice said...

The Internet is God's judgement, revealing that most Western people, if allowed anonymity and indirect responsibility, would turn the world into Lord of the Flies.