The Age of Memes

Memes have always been with us, though they weren’t called that until 1976. According to Wikipedia, a meme

is an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture—often with the aim of conveying a particular phenomenon, theme, or meaning represented by the meme. A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices, that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena with a mimicked theme. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to selective pressures.

There’s really nothing new in all of that, except for the “scientific” name that has been applied to it.

No, what’s really new is the rapidity with which particular ideas (i.e., unbaked hypotheses, lies, rumors, and propaganda) spread and seem to take hold without having been examined carefully. Consider, for example, the ridiculous idea that the Betsy Ross flag is a “hurtful” symbol of slavery: from Colin Kapernick’s addled brain to myriad media outlets (including the “social” variety) and thence to the mouths of some presidential candidates in a matter of days. (I would say “to the brains of some presidential candidates”, but their ready acceptance of the meme suggests a dire shortage of gray matter, if not brains that have been conditioned to serve nefarious ends.)

I return to “Peak Civilization“:

In the West, rational inquiry seems to have peaked in the early 1960s. I needn’t remind you of the subsequent descent: mobs, riots, the din of “entertainment”, quasi-religious movements from hippiedom to “climate change”, and on and on into the night.

(In the same vein there is neo-Malthusianism-cum-environmental extremism, which in its mildest form wants some kind of population control and in its most virulent form wants the extinction of human beings.)

Not that rational inquiry has always (or ever) ruled the day, but the decline since the 1960s is striking to me.

What happened in and since the 1960s? Take the idea that humankind is doomed to extinction by “climate change” — a fringe idea, perhaps, but not an uncommonly held one.  Take the shrill and many-fold “social justice” movement, which encompasses so many “wrongs” and “victims” that it would be easier to describe it by listing its exceptions (mainly straight, white, conservative males of British and northwestern European descent whose sexuality has always been tightly controlled).

The meme that “change” (always beneficial, of course) can be accomplished by often-hysterical shrillness and mob action (now virtual as well as actual) got its start with the anti-Vietnam War protests of the 1960s. Adults in responsible positions (e.g. Walter Cronkite, LBJ, and Clark Kerr) encouraged the hysteria directly or by giving in to it. Rare was the person in a powerful position who tried to squelch it; Mayor Daley (Sr.) of Chicago was one such person, and for his sins he became a hated figure in his own (Democrat) party.

And so it came to pass that hysteria in the service of “social justice” became the norm. And then it came to pass that the instruments for spreading and amplifying hysteria were invented and widely adopted (personal computing, the internet, blogs, “social media”). The existing tools of mass communication (radio, movies, television) were swept along in the rising tide of hysteria, the owners and operators of such tools being no less anxious than stoned collegians to prove their “social consciousness”. In fact, the hysteria has spread to the owners and operators of major industrial firms, who swim in the same “elite” circles as their peers in the information-technology complex.

All of this was built on foundations laid insidiously by the public-education monopoly and the professoriate. Their time has finally arrived. And so “public” opinion (where “public” means overt) is dominated if not ruled by what I have elsewhere called the internet-media-academic complex.

The thing about memes, since long before they were called that, is their staying power. A long-standing meme (or constellation of them) — such as obeisance to Judeo-Christian norms in America — can’t be conquered by mere reason. It takes a new meme (or constellation of them) — such as “hope” and “change” and “social justice” — to overrun them. The human animal needs memes to occupy his mind when he has attained a degree of physical security that gives him the luxury conjuring six impossible things before breakfast, instead of having to concentrate his energy on catching or growing his breakfast. (One of the Democrat presidential candidates, albeit one on the far fringe, epitomizes the zaniness that flourishes among the spoiled children of capitalism.)

Do I mean to say that it would take a cataclysm of some kind, a catastrophe so dire that people would abandon political memes in their need to cooperate for subsistence, if not survival? Perhaps, but I am not a full-blown pessimist. Despite decades of brainwashing by the internet-media-academic complex, there is a healthy conservative movement in the country — healthier, in fact, than at any time since the country was essentially conservative (i.e., until 1963). Human nature, in other words, is a powerful force that no amount of brainwashing (or coercion) can eradicate (though it may channel it in undesirable directions for a time).

My hope, and I must call it that, is for the essential neighborliness of the vast majority of Americans to reassert itself among “ordinary” people, who will tire of the hysteria pouring forth from the internet-media-academic complex. Does half of America really want to be on the “other side” (a term that has been applied to the political divide only in this brief century)? I think not.

Though the uniting force need not be a cataclysm (e.g., a devastating EMP attack, a missile strike on U.S. territory), it must be a dramatic event of some kind. Perhaps it’s as simple as replacing Donald Trump in 2021 or 2025 with a less polarizing figure (but a conservative one nonetheless).

A final thought: Though the internet-media-academic complex is mainly responsible for the the present state of political polarization (and leftist aggression), I don’t want to cast aspersions on information technology itself.  Polarization is no more caused by information technology than are traffic deaths caused by automobiles, gun deaths caused by guns, or war caused by weapons. People drive cars, shoot guns, and fight wars. The problem is, as it always is, a small minority of the people — a minority that is striving for power and dominance by using words instead of weapons.