Saturday, September 21, 2013

This Hadn't Occurred To Me

This is a meme. Meme is a term you often hear bandied about now, and there are meme generating web sites with page after page of memes, many of them hilarious.

Like the graphic a couple posts below, this is from Facebook. For a longtime, the memes I saw on Facebook were obviously made up by very clever people and they were re-posted often. Lately I've seen an interesting development on Facebook, interesting to me. It seems that regular people are coming up with their own memes. They are topical, specific, and written in simple language. Sometimes they are even misspelled. Unlike the one above, which relies on a technique used in humor where the reader is left to make a missing connection mentally, which then supplies the delight or humor, and impact, these are straightforward and direct even as they attempt to assume the tone of a pronouncement.

Some get rather complicated.

But most try to keep it simple, in keeping with the prevailing wisdom that our attention spans are getting shorter and anything longer than a three-second sound bite doesn't register with people.

This development of everyone making their own memes is interesting to me because it means that people who used to only listen are now speaking, but even more than that, they are developing the underlying cognitive capabilities required to do it.

There's some critical thinking necessary first, to understand that there's something going on that the corporate media and the government aren't saying, and then there's the ability to put what you are thinking into words. 

On that, you can say that these memes are derivative of what other people are saying, and they are, but when a meme comes out in someone's own words, that signifies something else.

"If you can't talk, you can't reason," Claralee Moody, the English professor whose lawn I mowed during two years of college, said to me in trying to explain the meaning of the Herman Melville novella Billy Budd. Claralee used to bring out a Coke with a lot of ice in a big molded glass tumbler and have me take a break, and once she asked about my classes. I was taking a summer class in literature and I told her we were supposed to read an assigned writing and "find the hidden meaning in it."

I told her I was reading Billy Budd, which is about a sailor who is accused of a crime but can't defend himself because he has a bad stutter that only gets worse when he's agitated.

As this pertains to Facebook, to people learning to express themselves, to the voiceless gaining their voices, the appearance of memes made by regular people is an encouraging sign.

Jim Baca, former head of the Bureau of Land Management, former Albuquerque mayor and the man who taught Arnold Palmer how to play golf, wrote a web log entry this week about the way conservatives are diminishing pubic service by demonizing government workers. 

Government is one of the things we do in common. To attack those things is to speed up the fraying of the communal bonds that hold society together, which is what conservatism wants to do. It is to condition us to act not so much according to our better natures, our drives to cooperate and care for one another, the "social animal" in us, but to our lesser natures, the competitive, the drive to dominate, to eliminate, to fight.

That this conditioning will create more disoriented, alienated mass murderers, that it will halt the forward march of civilization, are among the prices we'll pay for it.

Conservatism wants more guns, more gated communities, more cutting oneself off from the rest of society. "There is no society, only individuals," Margaret Thatcher, the grandaddy of Neoliberalism, conservatism's current mode, famously said. Conservatives don't want us to band together in unions, don't want getting together to have public schools, public parks, public anything. Privatize everything. Do nothing for the common good, only for profit, only for personal, selfish reasons.

Facebook can disappear at any moment. So can Twitter. But because of them a few more people are learning how to express themselves, learning to think critically, learning to speak, to speak up. These are the things that the powers that be try to keep tamped down, because they know that mass uprisings are spontaneous events, but that they are the culmination of other things that percolate from below. They want peoples' frustrations and their voices to be channeled safely through the two political parties that keep a stranglehold on the electoral process. They want the media concentrated in the hands of a few big corporations. They are wary of the internet and spy on it relentlessly.

So as it pertains to the possibility that the masses will rise up and say No, we're not going to war, in Syria or anywhere, We're not going to accept an ever shrinking slice of the pie, We're not going to let them define us, divide us, demoralize us, We're not going to obey, go along, be good consumers anymore, the appearance of memes from regular people, who are perhaps saying something for the first time, is an encouraging sign. As it pertains to the possibility that people will have the ability to speak to each other and to organize themselves into political movements they control, it's even more encouraging.


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