In our culture we value information, and I think this is a good thing. We have a world of information available to us 24/7, and we need to be able to make informed decisions. However, we do not seem to value the authenticity of information nearly as much as we appear to love hitting “share” on our social media streams.
One particular form of this exchange of information that gets my blood boiling is that of internet memes. I do not mean to attack all memes; some are quite funny, and some raise interesting questions. The type of memes I will address in this post are the ones people use as complete arguments, without comment attached, or questions raised. They are a particularly vile pollution of the information stream; frequently founded on top of false quotes and logical fallacies.
The angry Athiest, Richard Dawkins, who is brilliant in his small niche of evolutionary biology, but philosophically corrupt when he steps out of his corner of reality, coined the term meme in his work “The Selfish Gene”. Dawkins states that all life evolves through the natural selection of replicating entities, namely DNA (192).
He then goes on to posit that there is a different kind of replicating entity, one which is not spread biologically but through culture. For this entity, Dawkins uses the Greek word Mimeme, meaning to imitate, and shortened it to meme. “Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body” states Dawkins, “so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain” (192). A meme is basically “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture” (“Meme”).
Unfortunately, someone peed in the meme-pool. I wish I did not have to address this, but the majority of memes I see today use faulty logic; they spread false arguments, misquotes, and do not reflect clear thinking. What is worse is that these memes are spread rapidly through the Internet, and many people assume they are true without checking sources or any consideration that it may not be an accurate representation of the viewpoint in question. Whether this is the cause or the effect I cannot postulate, but the transmitters and receivers seem to have lost the ability to reason.
We should approach memes with caution. First, I would recommend familiarizing yourself with the principles of logic, and becoming familiar with the fallacies of an argument. Once you have learned these few basics, they become easy to recognize. Pro tip: Never point out logical fallacies in an argument with your wife!
Next I would recommend checking the sources of quotes, which memes rarely have, then attempting to read the full context of the quote. Google if often your friend in this search, and there are many other sites for checking out political facts such as FactCheck.org, and PolitiFact.com. I cannot stress enough the importance of checking sources! Yes, it will take some work, but if you are going to be influenced and influence others through a meme, you have a moral obligation to discover if it is true. It would be intellectually dishonest not to determine whether or not it is accurate.
For example, the text in this meme is surrounded by quotes, and a source is given. However, a survey into the source listed reveals that the alleged speaker was not Fox News on the date in question, and never on any other occasion were these words were spoken by Bachmann. Obviously, this meme was created with malicious intent. But the question that remains is why? And this question leads us into the next thing we need to assess when approaching memes, the worldview they represent.
Assessing the worldview can be a little trickier, especially without knowing who compiled the meme. While creators of Memes are usually anonymous, their reproducers on social media are frequently not. We can assess our friend’s worldview and get a glimpse into what they meant with it’s posting. If my Athiest friend posted the above meme, I might assume he was implying that all Christians are stupid. If my Democrat Christian friend posted it, perhaps it would presume that all Republicans are ignorant. Yet here is where conversation comes in. Civil discourse is only dead when we stop asking questions. Ask your friend questions such as “what do you mean by that?”, And “how did you come to this conclusion?”. You want to get into their head and try to see the world through their eyes, then apply the rules of logic and see if it is consistent.
Of course, these are subjective meanings attributed to the meme by the re-poster. The original compiler of the meme had an objective purpose in mind during the compilation; each component was selected for a reason. To try and understand this it will be necessary to analyze all of the elements from the image of Michele Bachmann and the group in the lower right corner to the choice of words, the use of Fox News, the events of 2014, and a survey of Bachmann’s politics at the time. Sounds like a lot of work, and it is, but the question is would you rather base your views on the truth or a lie?
Political memes generally do not interest me, and as already mentioned there are plenty of sites which debunk such memes, though no single site is without bias. As a Christian and a student of Biblical Studies, my primary interest lies in memes which take Biblical texts out of context to portray Jesus and his followers in a negative light, or to disseminate false teaching. Interestingly enough, the same techniques used above in assessing a meme can be applied to the Biblical interpretation. Future posts in this category will assess individual memes.
“Meme.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 16 June 2016.