The Meme Analysis Project

Recently I invited my friends on Facebook to submit a meme, which I would then provide a critical analysis of, getting to the underlying context of these memes that often goes overlooked. Humanity has an awkward obsession with being content focused to the point of excluding the context of the things we consider. Our literal interpretations of the objects and subjects in the external world often gives us only a shallow understanding, and leaves us blind to the unspoken messages that lie within all things. And it is often these unspoken messages that have the most profound effect, even when we are not aware of them doing so. In fact, especially when we overlook them.

In the past I have criticized memes from a general perspective.  That exercise failed to engage many people, I suspect, because they were unable to draw from the general a message about the specific. So this time I have chosen to use specifics to make a general statement about the underlying context of memes. That is, they generally say much more than they actually say.

meme1

As with any political cartoon that bashes one of the two accepted mainstream positions, the problem is accidental validation. While you may hate all political sides equally, or just find the humor funny, the people who view it are going to filter it through their own beliefs. If they dislike the politician being made fun of, it may help to strengthen their ideology regarding the supremacy of the ‘opposite’ candidate. Which then goes on to validate that person’s belief that the state is necessary, justifiable and welcome based not on a judgement of the state itself, but the assumed belief that it is necessary to support MY statist figurehead in order to protect myself from THEIR statist figurehead. So it further polarizes both ends of the mainstream political spectrum while also validating the necessity of the state out of the fear created through false dichotomies.

meme2

While specifically suggesting that the reptilian conspiracy theories are outlandish and ridiculous, those people who think all conspiracy theories are ridiculous will have that belief validated. It further paints conspiracy theories as absurd and moronic. Yet conspiracy is natural part of all power structures throughout time. So to disbelieve them off hand because they do not fit the mainstream narrative conditions people to shallow literalism, which then allows them to be even bigger targets for the conspirators within the power structures.

Further, it relies on a format that has been repeated often enough that it has an instinctual association with ‘funny.’ Like a laugh track, it forces its humor through simple psychological shortcuts. Attempting to appeal to people’s instincts in order to gain their consent for mainstream consensus paradigms is pretty much always unfunny to me, though.

meme3

There are all sorts of problems with this one, but the most obvious is that it is blatant scientism. It appeals to people’s fascination with science, as well as their naive ideas about what science is and does. It uses the chemical symbols to reassure you that it is really super scientific stuff. But what is actually happening is very unscientific. The idea that our subjective experiences are only side effects of brain chemistry belongs not to science, but to the metaphysical assumptions of physicalism/materialism. Neither of those ontologies can be empirically verified, so it is not only not science, but by making ‘scientific’ claims about something unverifiable by science, it is actually anti-science. When scientism puts its metaphysical assumptions ahead of the actual science, it does so with complete ignorance and disregard for the strengths and weaknesses of the scientific method. And science is a method, not a worldview.
Further, it reduces our experiences to some strange combination of determinism and meaningless cosmic accident, which is degrading to human consciousness.
But when you add anything even faux sciencey to internet cultural tools like memes, the recipe is always one which results in a further ignorance of science and philosophy.

meme4

The problem with this meme is that it pretends to teach you something. But every idea is so obvious that only the most intellectually bereft would not have already determined these ideas themselves. Knowing these things is too obvious. It is putting them into practice that is difficult, which the meme gives no helpful advice on doing.
Since all it tells us is what we already know, the only purpose of this meme is to gather validation or consensus. And nothing waters down the truth like the necessity of repeating it compulsively where it is unsolicited and unrequired.
These sort of memes get around because they easily get likes. “I agree (duh) so LIKE.” And getting likes feels like validation and approval. And there is nothing wrong with validation or approval, but when you are disguising it as informative, it takes all of the meaning out of information. When this happens enough we trade our logic for emotion in an unbalanced way that is harmful to intelligence.

meme5

There are some memes that have a very concise message displayed graphically whose message is more or less direct.

But these are still problematic in that they reinforce the meme pattern in general. After being inundated daily with numerous memes that we know may not be completely on the up and up or are complete bullshit or pandering for validation and attention, the meme defender will point to one like this and infer that because this meme displays less of the awful characteristics that most memes carry then memes must be okay. They are the ‘good cop’ of memes.
But the system of meme has become ridden with intrinsic issues which make the good deeds of a few memes pointless as a guide to understanding memes.
There are no good memes. There are just memes that don’t intentionally dumb us down, but the system of meme does.

meme6

This is an attempt to discredit an ideology by reducing it to a mere absurdity, devoid of its complexity. And even if that ideology is in fact absurd and fails to recognize its own complexity, simply dismissing it by making fun of it is intellectually dishonest. The use of a childhood icon also insinuates that the believers in that ideology are themselves childish. By reducing the ideas and the person, it only serves to antagonize, and not to teach. The choir might all be giddy with this kind of preaching, but it alienates the congregation and puts them at odds with the far better ideas you are trying to replace theirs with. Therefore it is mostly just mean-spirited masturbatory posturing that hurts the cause of those who would perpetuate the sharing of this meme.

meme7

This is really the same as the other one. It is an attempt to win an argument by belittling the opponent. So the contextual problem is the same.

Content-wise, it suggests that Lions are those who allow themselves to be caught up in the largest association of organized violence ever. If the point is that lions are brave, then this fails because it is not brave to be a joiner. Especially when you are joining the winning monopoly on violence. Therefore, in this case, those standing against the ‘lions’ would actually be the brave and courageous, as it takes far more of those qualities to stand against this den than with it.

Secondly, lions aren’t what protect lambs. Lambs would be hunted and slaughtered and eaten raw by lions. So the idea that those claiming to protect us are lions while we are sheep really illustrates the true nature of these lions and not the delusion that they live under. They are not our protectors. They are our predators.

meme8

I have no idea what is even going on in this meme. The words in the back appear to be comprised of buzzwords and stock phrases. I do not recognize the picture, but perhaps it is recognizable from other memes and their context is being carried into this one by repetition of the image?

There are a lot of memes like this. There is a group on Facebook called The Absurdistan Association that has all sorts of stuff like this. I imagine that it is part in-joke used to identify the sharer as ‘in the know’. It may also just be an attempt to be absurd through nonsensical image propagation.

If it is an in joke sort of thing then it is really just another form of consensus gathering and self-validation and groupthink identity building.

If it is an attempt at absurdity it fails on two levels. The first being that absurdity is not just randomly random. It is highly constructed randomness for specific effect. Absurdity is not a way of saying nothing; it is a way of saying something through clever juxtaposition. But you cannot be making an absurdist statement if the audience is limited to those in the know of the parts beings juxtaposed. The second reason is that the activity and medium of meme has become such a cultural norm itself that they cannot be considered far enough outside social norms to be absurd.

Mostly, this just seems to be what would result when the activity of meme-ing became a meaningless compulsion.

(note- an explanation from the person who shared this meme with me: “It’s really just an obscure kinda joke. It references the “Serbia Strong” meme which… I don’t even know where to begin. I guess it kind of mocks a strange, esoteric nationalism / adversarial positioning that was so popular in early 90s Eastern Europe that it inspired folk music and other strange behaviors”.)

meme9

Remember when you were a kid and you would spend ridiculous amounts of time ‘playing’ an arcade game without having put any quarters into it? This seems like the meme version of that.

Besides that it is an identity thing. The people who made, liked and shared this image want you to know that they do not like Obama. And since they feel no need to provide specifics with that message, the reason they do not like Obama is probably because they identify with the other side of the partisan false dichotomy. Either that or their reasoning is even more suspicious, like racism, and they are just smart enough to know that indicating that specifically is a social faux pas. But not smart enough to make a meme that actually attempts to illustrate some idea specifically.

Whenever something that began as clever becomes too popular, eventually the biggest idiots get a hold of it and completely ruin any semblance of purpose in it. Or illustrate the underlying insidiousness of it through accident and irony.

meme9.1

I would consider this an infographic. And while infographics may contain some of the residual contextual issues of memes through similarity of mediums and use, there is a bit of a difference. My critique here is not very strong. The worst thing I have to say for it is that it is a visual version of the ‘This Topic for Dummies’ books. If the infographic inspires you to further investigate the topic, great. But if it inspires you to be a barely informed expert in conversations on the subject, then it is intellectually irresponsible.

meme9.2

This is an attempt to appeal to people’s morality through their desire and identity. To be opposed to this meme is to appear either anti-woman, repressed or homosexual. Morality should be arrived at through logic and reason, not appealed to through instinct or identity-seeking or fear. To draw the connection between the differences in vaginas as a reason to support diversity actually undermines diversity by suggesting it is a value whose laurels rest only on shallow interpretations of what creates genuine differences in individuals and cultural groups.

meme9.3

‘That face you make when…’ memes.

First of all, these memes never say anything at all. There is no message. There is no lesson. And they are not even funny. The only function they have is recognition. And since they are usually faces from entertainment media, the recognition is that of mainstream media consumers. The statement is ‘I also watched that/I consume the same media commodities as you/I recognize what facial expressions mean’. Nowhere in that does any thinking take place. It just begs for validation and interaction without earning it. It is attention whoring with no other purpose.

i fear a day when this behavior reduces our language to the most simple of bullshit.

Woman comes home from work. Man flashes photo from TV sitcom of famous ‘How was your day, dear?’ moment.

Woman responds by flashing famous movie photo of someone with exasperated face.

Man flashed ‘uh oh’ face photo from Home Alone.

Child walks in, plays a short sound clip- ‘Wakkity smackity Doo!’

Cue laugh track.

meme9.4

Ah, the sunday school atheist memes.

First, this meme is not for generating any kind of theological or philosophical conversation. It is just making fun of people by reducing their beliefs into an absurdity. And since atheists tend to have more influence in internet culture it also says that ‘we make better memes, so we are smarter than you and your beliefs are dumb.’

In particular this seems to be addressing the problem of evil. Yet is does so with such reductionist hyperbole that it misses all of the nuances contained in that theological doctrine. It is thus the anti-theist version of sunday school parables. It becomes the sort of watered down and literal interpretation that is practiced by the people it is meant to mock.

Further, it does not differentiate between the many concepts that fall under the banner ‘God.’ It addresses only the modern evangelical theistic entity from Abrahamic traditions. Yet it is meaningless when examined in the light of pantheism, panentheism, pandeism, etc. Many other philosophies that include some form of primal being have addressed the problem of evil quite well.

This meme goes after the low-hanging fruit. And people who go after only low hanging fruit do so only because they are on a similar level of intellectual inconsistency.


I hope that I have illustrated just how much meaning lies hidden inside memes. Though you may like the surface message of its content, a meme might actually say things you disagree with or wouldn’t want to say yourself. The widespread compulsion of meme sharing has created a communication culture full of far more unspoken messages than spoken ones.  Memes, like medication, all have side effects. So before you swallow those pills, be sure that the consequences are not worse than the benefits. And in the case of memes, the medium is itself the message, an idea I plan to explore in my next discussion on the topic.

Thank you everyone who helped by sharing the memes I used in this experiment. You know who you are!

The Importance of Distinguishing Between Chaos, Order and Disorder

chaos

My interest in the philosophical implications of chaos and order were piqued in 1998 when I first read The Principia Discordia, a humorous book produced by an absurdist religion based on an arcane bit of Greek mythology. Discordianism is the faux worship of Eris, goddess of chaos, and while it is thought by many to be a merely satirical piece of surrealist art, its metaphors resonate on a level of great truth. Yet it would be difficult to understand these truths if one were to hold onto the mainstream misconception of chaos and were unable to distinguish it from disorder.

Let me explain the difference in the most basic terms possible.

Chaos is a large grocery store with every ingredient ever imagined from which an endless amount of possible food combinations could be used to create unique meals.

Order is the shopping list, the recipe and the process of prepping and cooking. And sometimes you get a tasty meal.

Disorder is when you get something else. Disorder is when the meal is inedible or poisonous or burns the kitchen down in the process.

Disorder is what happens when the conversion of chaos to order goes awry. Which becomes more likely each and every time you apply order, and becomes a certainty when you apply it destructively (more on destructive vs. creative order below). Disorder, distinct from chaos, is usually what people actually mean when they use the term chaos. However, the failure to be able to distinguish means that people react to disorder by attempting to bandage the wounds it creates with a misapplication of order.

Chaos is possibility. Disorder is entropy.

Let us examine the Principia Discordia’s retelling of that arcane Greek myth:

THE MYTH OF THE APPLE OF DISCORD
It seems that Zeus was preparing a wedding banquet for Peleus and Thetis and did not want to invite Eris because of Her reputation as a trouble maker.

This made Eris angry, and so She fashioned an apple of pure gold and inscribed upon it KALLISTI (“To The Prettiest One”) and on the day of the fete She rolled it into the banquet hall and then left to be alone and joyously partake of a hot dog.

Now, three of the invited goddesses, Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite, each immediately claimed it to belong to herself because of the inscription. And they started fighting, and they started throwing punch all over the place and everything.

Finally Zeus calmed things down and declared that an arbitrator must be selected, which was a reasonable suggestion, and all agreed. He sent them to a shepherd of Troy, whose name was Paris because his mother had had a lot of gaul and had married a Frenchman; but each of the sneaky goddesses tried to outwit the others by going early and offering a bribe to Paris.

Athena offered him Heroic War Victories, Hera offered him Great Wealth, and Aphrodite offered him the Most Beautiful Woman on Earth. Being a healthy young Trojan lad, Paris promptly accepted Aphrodite’s bribe and she got the apple and he got screwed.

As she had promised, she maneuvered earthly happenings so that Paris could have Helen (the Helen) then living with her husband Menelaus, King of Sparta. Anyway, everyone knows that the Trojan War followed when Sparta demanded their Queen back and that the Trojan War is said to be The First War among men.

The point here is that by being selective about the guest list, an act of order on Zeus’ part, the conditions were set for the disorder that was the first major imperialist war in our written history. An ever-increasing trend that has done little to enrich our existence.

Perhaps you are familiar with the adage that a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil could lead to a hurricane halfway across the world. This is known in chaos theory as the Butterfly Effect. It essentially describes the interconnectedness between all things and how even the slightest action could snowball or lead into much greater ones.

Yet we are a universe in motion and have little choice but to remain active. This is why Discordianism suggests that we do not create a dichotomy between chaos and order, but between the creative and the destructive. It is thought that creative chaos is more favorable than destructive order. Yet if we wished to apply this knowledge to our actions, the subjective area where creative/destructive are defined is still problematic.

However, this problem is simple to solve so long as we define the two aspects relative to the theory, and not necessarily with linguistic preciseness. Creativity is that which seeks to enrich the individual (and perhaps others) without intruding upon or limiting the choices of others. Destruction is that which seeks to enrich the individual (and perhaps others) by intruding upon or limiting the choices of others. Creativity requires and nurtures self-discipline. Destruction seeks control. The cost of that control often comes in the form of disorder. Or at least that is how it would be experienced by everybody outside of the destructive force.

It is therefore authority over others which is the destructive force of the universe. Authority is often recognized falsely as a valid attempt at order. But true order, that which is not just a conduit for disorder, comes only from voluntary cooperation and mutual consent. The opposite of mutual and voluntary is aggressive, which takes the forms of force, coercion or compulsion. Our existence as individuals is a strong indicator that whatever our meaning and purpose in this existence are derived from must have something to do with that individuality. When authority organizes force to impede on individuality it doesn’t just violate the meaning and purpose of the individual and existence, it leads us down the destructive path to disorder.

Yet because we have misunderstood all of this, because we have created a false dichotomy between order and chaos and have failed to distinguish between the latter and disorder, we have become blind to our own predicament. As the disorder spawned by our faulty outlook increases, so does entropy. There must be some limit to how much entropy reality can contain. So besides being a philosophical nuisance, the misleading ideologies surrounding these terms and concepts, may actually pose a threat to our existence. We have seen this on a smaller scale. The empires of the past have fallen, such as Rome, collapsing under their own weight. Yet a danger much greater than nation states could befall us. The advancement of our knowledge and technology and other tools of order continues to increase exponentially. The resulting disorder which may follow in the collapse of all of this order may pose a threat to existence itself.

While it is not a certainty in any empirical sense, authority could theoretically collapse our entire universe. Not just in the physical sense, but in the sense that we are conscious beings whose ability to bend our nature to accommodate authority could at some point result in a critical mass. That critical mass might be a psychic implosion of our sentient consciousness, or it might just drive us mad enough to destroy ourselves through desperate attempts to correct our trajectory with yet more destructive acts of order.

Authority is not just the enemy of an individual. It is the enemy of ALL individuals. While it may currently only have the power to damage us one at a time, or in isolated groups, it could very well snowball into a disorderly frenzy of entropy which causes the heat death collapse of our universe, metaphorically or literally. There is a threshold where they become indistinguishable.

Before we can begin to correct the problem we must understand it. And to understand it we must first understand its most basic terms. Familiarize yourself with the distinguishing characteristics of the three terms as I have presented them. Think in them and speak in them and act accordingly to them. See if it doesn’t change your entire worldview. And share them. This one seed of knowledge may be the most important lesson for humanity, a species at the cusp of its own maturity. Peering into the uncertainty of that future is perhaps frightening. Which is why we tend to avoid it at any cost. But we may not always have that luxury.

The favoring of order over chaos, of authority over anarchy, is that final attachment to our immaturity. It is like the fear we face when we first leave our parents home. Yet there comes a time to leave behind certainty and security and head out into the vast possibilities of our own individuality. And even though we may fumble and make great mistakes, we will also be learning and adapting and evolving as individuals. Authority may have been a useful tool for fashioning creative order from chaos, but at some point it becomes a detriment. This is where humanity stands. We can step out from under the safety blanket of authoritarian ideologies and accept the consequences of the learning process, or we can rot in our parents basement while we bleed the household dry with our refusal to seek independence.

Embrace chaos, for in it lies all possibilities, great and tragic. Yet with an attachment to destructive order alone, there is no doubt what the outcome will be for our universe as well as our species and everything else within it. Do not let fear or ignorance keep you dependent on authority and its intrinsic tendency towards disorder.

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

–  Bene Gesserit ‘Litany Against Fear’ from Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’

Hail Eris! All Hail Discordja!

The Metaphysical Implications of ‘Natural Rights’

god natural rightsAn unfortunate tendency of otherwise reasonable people is to evoke ‘Natural Rights’ in their arguments against the ever-encroaching advancement of the states authority. While I find no fault with the argument that the state is an invading alien force against the individual, when the basis of that ideology is that nature has inalienably bestowed some set of specific rights upon us, it begins to feel vaguely like the ‘social contract’ and other precepts of statists and authoritarians.

From Wikipedia:

Natural and legal rights are two types of rights. Legal rights are those bestowed onto a person by a given legal system. (i.e., rights that can be modified, repealed, and restrained by human laws) Natural rights are those not contingent upon the laws, customs, or beliefs of any particular culture or government, and therefore universal and inalienable (i.e., rights that cannot be repealed or restrained by human laws).

The concept of natural law is closely related to the concept of natural rights. During the Age of Enlightenment, the concept of natural laws was used to challenge the divine right of kings, and became an alternative justification for the establishment of a social contract, positive law, and government — and thus legal rights — in the form of classical republicanism. Conversely, the concept of natural rights is used by others to challenge the legitimacy of all such establishments.

Natural rights are considered ‘negative rights’, which are those which protect you against actions by others, whereas ‘positive rights’ are those which supposedly guarantee you specific actions which may be performed by you or on your behalf.

Natural Law is the basis of Natural Rights, and is said to be the basic principles bestowed upon humanity by God, nature or reason, depending on whatever wacky belief system you subscribe to.

Since a personal supernatural entity refuses to confirm or enforce natural law, let alone its own existence, ‘bestowed by God’ is not a rational argument.

Since nature is the sum of all existence and the interactions of its parts, and since we see the violation of natural rights occur regularly within nature, ‘bestowed by nature’ is not a rational argument.

Since ‘reason’ is the ability to provide coherence and consistency between phenomena, perception and conclusion, reason implies not a singular objective set of principles, but rather a way of arriving at them, ‘bestowed by reason’ is not a rational argument.

Any concept of rights that are granted are logically flawed. Natural rights depend on agency and volition by an external force. Which leads us back to the statist idea that rights only exist when backed by force. Giving that force a metaphysical cause does not change the idea that force is the enemy of the individual. Whether it is subservience to the protection racket of the state, or to that of God, nature or reason, rights that exist as the extension of forces more powerful than the individual violate the same Non-Aggression Principle that ‘Natural Rights’ advocates often adhere to.

The entire concept of rights is flawed. A ‘right’ is an attempt to turn a belief into an absolute objective constant. While those beliefs may be rational and beneficial, the attempt to codify them into the answer in the back of the book of existence is illogical. Positive human interactions are not formed by rights. They occur only with mutual voluntary consent of all involved parties, the details of which will change from one interaction to the next.

It is constants that interfere with humans right to interact in mutually acceptable ways. Rather than arguing for constants, liberty minded people should be arguing against them. Natural rights are, contextually, nothing but another immovable framework. While their content may appear beneficial, adopting the rigid context to apply them is using the same ideological tools of the state. There is no way to evolve beyond that institution so long as we are using the same sort of thinking it employs.

“Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. Love is the law; love under will.”
-Aleister Crowley

For a more detailed and humorous argument against Natural Law and Natural Rights check out this book, free to read online, by the greatest philosopher of the 20th Century- Robert Anton Wilson.

Natural Law, or Don’t Put A Rubber On Your Willy

Using a Monty Python skit as a metaphor, RAW utilizes an entire short book to destroy the ideological nonsense of Ayn Rand. Before there were online FlameWars, this is how shit got real.