meme /mēm/ Noun
- An element of a culture or behavior that may be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, esp. imitation.
- An image, video, etc. that is passed electronically from one Internet user to another.
I am coming to believe that there is nothing more powerful, or more potentially dangerous than a meme. I blame the increased polarization and stagnation that our country faces on how memes have been used to hijack the voting booth and civil discourse in this country.
Astroturfing is one of the political mechanisms that utilizes memes to spread ideas that span the spectrum between complete truth to complete fabrication. Moneyed corporate interests create false grassroots movements while the news and media report similar “facts” to insure the flow of advertising dollars. Soon, public opinion shifts towards policy like Obamacare as being some socialist monstrosity and other falsehoods while just a few years before it was the political right pushing for this as the ideal way to handle the healthcare crisis and booming deficit.
These memes to be sticky require a certain formula as outlined in Made to Stick:
If something is packaged in a compelling (sticky) way that makes an emotional connection with someone, it can become their truth, even if it has no basis in reality.
I think this is at the core of why the country has swung center right, while the political parties have become more extreme. The political right is winning the meme war, as their approach is focused simplicity with emotional stories.
This is usually visible if one were to visit a protest held by a right leaning organization or cause followed by one on the left.
The protest held by the right is usually focused on one topic, with clear messaging… ie a Tea Party with signs talking about freedom and down with taxes.
The protest held by the left, ie Iraqi Veterans Against the War will generally have signs about green energy, surveillance, legalizing pot, the dying polar bears, allowing for third parties in the election process, pro-unions, global trade agreements… from a systems standpoint these connections might have truth, but it is not a simple compelling story.
A healthy, independent media and strengthened school system that teaches critical thinking would be an inoculation against the viral misleading memes that have caused our country to become sick. In my own community, Thin Air Radio has done quite a bit of good.
What are the efforts in your community to increase critical thinking in schools and strengthen independent media sources? In what instances have you seen memes used for good? Have you scene memes cause harm?