The Culture of Memes and Why It’s Ruining the World

by Max Andrews

Technically, a meme is a cultural unit (an idea or value or pattern or behavior) that is passed from one person to another by non-genetic means (as by imitation). However, memes passed through the internet usually involve an image or picture with text–usually there’s a topical word or phrase at the top with a punch line or humdinger at the bottom.

These memes must die.

The internet gets a new phenomenon every so often that takes over people’s lives. Now that Facebook and Twitter have been firmly established as social norms we’ve started spreading our ideas through quick, witty means such as memes. It’s my opinion that the “OG” of memes are bumper stickers. It’s easy to categorize people with bumper stickers. “Yeah, there’s that liberal in the black minivan with three kids and a dog (you know because of the stick figures) who hates George Bush and has an honor roll student at Bailey Bridge Middle School smarter than my dog.” Or, “There’s that fundamentalist nut job creationist with that license plate that says CR8NST.” (That one’s real–I’ve seen that one.)

Screen Shot 2013-12-01 at 1.00.18 AMBefore I continue allow me to clarify my abhorrence of memes since it’s only categorical. There are some memes that aren’t meant to prove a point and aren’t serious–they’re funny (e.g. One does not simply have a birthday between Christmas and New Years). The memes that must be removed for the sake of culture and preserving rational thought and social engagement are memes that are supposed to carry argument with it. We’ve become a culture of arguing via memes and it’s pathetic.

Since I’m engaged and interact with the Christian, atheist, philosophy, science niches of society I find memes that usually argue on these grounds. Let me give a few examples:

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If you groaned or let out a deep sigh at this meme then there’s hope for society. First of all, this is just a weird picture. Second of all, it’s naïve in what it argues and whoever gets caught using memes like this should be banned from the intellectual arena of society. To comment on the meme, every proposition affirmed or denied has a burden of proof. I’m a firm ardent of appropriating belief to the evidence. It’s just stupid to expect everyone to have to prove you wrong in life and that your position is the default. Get over yourself and do some work and rationally engage issues.

On the other hand we have:

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Atheism is the belief in the non-existence of God. How they explain the origin of the universe isn’t as simple as this and it’s a bit of a straw man argument (although I do find their explanations untenable). However, having any mention of self-replicating bits turning into dinosaurs is a bit funny… BUT… this grossly simplifies the atheist position and since it is meant to convey some type of argumentative point it should be let go into the abyss of nothingness (badumtss!).

Whilst composing this post on the decline of society by subjecting itself to a negligent modus operandi for rational engagement I received a tweet concerning a type of memeL “The fallacy fallacy.” Look, if you call fallacy on a fallacy you’re just stupid. That’s all.

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Behold, the fallacy fallacy… Leave the marketplace of the free exchange of ideas lest your stupidity spread to unprepared victims.

Here’s a sarcastic one that ruin’s the happiness of all people intelligent.

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Obviously, this meme is being satire. It’s depicting several intellectuals and labeling them with something that is supposed to be idiotic–atheism. ::long sigh:: First of all, it’s factually incorrect. Jefferson is clearly a deist and Einstein was possible a pantheist of the Spinozan camp. Franklin and Lincoln? Oh yeah, atheists without a doubt… I’m sorry, but whoever makes arguments like this, sarcastic or not, is just wrong. Look, if you make a meme and hate society in such a way like this at least try to show you know some history and meanings of words.

Here are some groaners…

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There’s some village idiot out there who is completely naïve about history and the modern era. Somehow, once Christianity came to be prominent the world got stupid and forgot algebra. Imagine the look on their faces when they saw the pyramids thinking, “How the heck does that thing stand up? What’s this thing called geometry?” Apparently, the whole world forgot the earth was round because, hey, who needs Eratosthenes? Anyone who knows anything about science knows that it was a theistic worldview, which drove the scientific revolution and to deny that is historically wrong. To those who share such memes and arguments, for the love of history, go read a history and philosophy of science book and go shoot your other foot.

This brings us to our next culture killer:

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Dang, you mad Mr. Atheist?

Everyone encounters different memes. Mine just happen to concern philosophy, theology, and science. I’m sure there are some political, business, and medical memes out there and every time a meme like these are generated society loses it’s aggregate intelligence.

When in dialogue with people on the internet many people have the habit of ignoring pertinent issues and specific questions posed towards them. Instead of giving meaningful, irenic responses they’ll focus on some detail that’s got hardly anything to do with the thesis of the discussion. This inevitably results in not reading the actual argument being made or spending their time building a straw man from scratch straight from the farmer’s field. Better yet, said people will go generate a meme to take care of the problem and, boy, that meme is going to teach you a thing or two!

Not only do memes embarrass the person using it but it embarrasses our culture. There are people out there who want to have a free exchange in the marketplace of ideas and these people don’t want this intellectual black market of ideas called memes to have to compete against.

To stick with the meaning of meme, pass such ideas down through meaningful, rational, irenic ways. Don’t pass ideas down through images with pathetic arguments. Usually, it’s those who spread bad memes who don’t have good arguments to begin with. It’s okay to not have arguments; however, if you don’t get out of the marketplace or sit on the sidelines for a little while.

Funny, kind memes that aren’t supposed to convey some agenda or argument are fine. They’re just like any funny birthday card or billboard.  However, every other meme must disappear for the sake of a reasonable culture. The use of memes for argument is an intellectual crime.

6 Responses to “The Culture of Memes and Why It’s Ruining the World”

  1. This reminds me of how frequently I run across things said by atheists and skeptics that I could counter, but opt not to. Something like “there’s evil in the Bible!” or “but what about evolution?” There’s that part of me that wants to respond with what I’ve learned, but generally I don’t. Mainly because it wouldn’t do any good. At best they’d be neutral in response to me but it wouldn’t change their minds or hearts.

    “It’s okay to not have arguments; however, if you don’t get out of the marketplace or sit on the sidelines for a little while.”

    This is where I am right now. Due to real life commitments I’ve fallen out of the apologetics realm. My skills are rusty, and I’m not learning like I used to. So for the time being I’m keeping out of the argumentation. I really should try to get myself back into it soon.

  2. I feel like a lot of the postmodern skepticism that has gripped many millennials can be attributed to memes or a meme-like epistemology. By their very nature, memes have extremely limited explanatory potential. Two lines of text can only say so much. However, most of our society doesn’t want more than two lines of text.. Sad

    This needed to be written!

  3. It’s interesting that the concept of memes and the very word “meme” are inventions of Richard Dawkins as an attempt to explain the rise of religions in general, and Christianity, in particular, as a function of evolution, and that religions will eventually die out as the result of natural selection, being the weaker thoughts of weaker beings

  4. I’d be a liar if I said I never propagated a meme. However lately I have come to realized that they are destructive to genuine debate. I think our fast-food culture is “too busy” to do an in-depth study into pretty much anything unless it relates to their profession. As a believer I am compelled to study and meditate on scripture and always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks me to give an account for the hope that is in me. It just so happens I find technical and philosophical topics intriguing. That said, being a father of young children and sole breadwinner does not allow me to indulge in the more technical/philosophical areas of my faith. Memes just make that worse.

  5. Memes are unintelligent, non sequitur potshots. They make no intelligent argument, require no intelligence to create, and serve no other purpose than to demean and debase their targets. Because they are so easy to spread around and create, it is easy to paint an unfair picture by flooding the internet with memes of a particular belief. I would like to believe that they are just a trend, but given the proliferation of internet usage and the age groups associated with it (and the low maturity of those age groups) I would be wrong, I’m afraid.

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