• Michael Merten

The Danger of Meme Culture

Have you ever been in a debate with someone and they throw out a point only tangentially related to your position and treat it as the end all be all of counter-arguments? Even as you try to explain that this point is not what you mean, or is not related to your point, they continue to act like they ‘gotcha’ and that you don’t even understand your own belief. Sometimes we do this ourselves, we argue against what we think our interlocutor’s position is instead of what it actually is.

I think that this is partially due to meme culture. Think about it: what is a meme? A picture (or two or three) and an overly simplistic statement (which often times isn’t even one held by the target of the meme) and is used to lampoon the ‘opposition.’

Take this meme from atheists used to target Christians: (the original meme described here has been deleted, likely because they eventually realized that the meme was self defeating, but here it is, ironically, in meme format itself):

“Not all heroes wear capes, but this one did!” over a picture of the Roman soldier stabbing Christ in the side with his spear. Now, there are a number of issues with this meme that show that the maker did not understand who he was attempting to attack. For one, Christ was already dead when the soldier stabbed his side, so this act did not kill Christ, meaning that the suggestion that the man is a hero in the sense intended is wrong. On top of this, the soldier is known as St. Longinus, a man who converted to Christianity shortly thereafter and did many great things for the church, meaning that this man was indeed a hero in the eyes of the targets of the meme, simply not in the way suggested.

Or take this meme:

Clearly this is a non-sequitur, and it ignores the whole argument for the stay-at-home orders. It accuses all of those who believe that the shelter-in-place orders were for the greater good of the nation of plotting nefariously to take away people’s lives/freedoms. Of course, few if any of those who were in favor of the lockdown want this, they wanted to keep people safe from a potentially life threatening disease. Starting with this premise will get you no where in a discussion.

A person who aims to lead a good life must seek to understand. Look at Socrates: all the man did was ask questions! Look at Aristotle (or any other philosophers for that matter): he collected commonly held opinions and compared them, searching for the truth of the matter. By finding out, considering, and addressing the positions and opinions of others we can begin to parse out the truth.

Could you imagine Socrates trying to find the truth through memes? How could he? Memes provide such a surface level – and often wrong – interpretation of things that no constructive discussion could get done. Unfortunately, the tactic of arguing from “meme positions” seems to have leeched into real life discussions. Seldom are actual positions or opinions addressed, but instead the caricature of them. How can one seek truth simply through caricature? What about the more basic things? The foundation of your beliefs should never be able to be described in two pictures and two lines of text, so why do we try to do so?

The well formed man will find beauty through seeking a true understanding of things. This will allow him to see those who hold opposing positions as human, not moron. Most people mean well, and yet the dumbing down of opposing positions removes from our mind the thing about them that makes them human: the ability to think and consider what is right and wrong. Move beyond the meme, seek to understand.

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