dagWeek in Review: Memes
I get annoyed when bloggers reblog crappy memes about POTUS, Democrats, Republicans, white people (although I love teasing white people, so carry on,) war and peace. A complaint about Obama, for example, that includes a meme about war and the Nobel Peace Prize doesn’t really communicate anything more than what we know about traditional politics and politicians. It implements contradictory trajectories: we often go to war to promote peace, for example.
When I read a blogger I follow reblog a meme or common complaint, I wonder who she’s talking to? Where is her message directed? With whom is she engaged? It can’t be me. After all, I agree: I’m aware of the irony that Obama won a Nobel Peace Prize. Crappy memes are little more than a charm on a bracelet to quickly indicate to others something about personality or affiliation. I see a lot of people with Chrome bags and beards in my neighborhood. I can list their favorite music, literature, politics, food, fashion, et al., without knowing anything else about them. I can likely list the brands of their material existence. The answer to the questions above—to whom are they talking, to whom are they engaged—is always going to be with people who agree with me.
Many folks who claim leftist affiliation (which means what exactly?) are much more interested in creating an exclusive and well-disciplined discourse community much like the libertarian capitalists long ago accomplished. (For an example, see Mises.org.) That is, they wish to organize or to create a community of pissing, sanctimonious dissent that intends to do nothing much more than to disagree with the status quo and occupy a permanent position of predictable and conditional correctness. They say, “We know we’re correct about these things and here’s how to discuss them with others.”
Nothing approaching real work in public space can occur when all efforts are directed at disciplining rhetorical space.
As with the crass libertarian right over the years, I’m struck that The Occupy Movement now resorts to blaming traditional media organizations for not fairly representing their ideas and actions. Their complaints are similar and basically, “You did not correctly cover it.” Blaming traditional and corporatized discourse for a failure of representation suggests Occupy may be an acquiescing liberal struggle seeking popular acceptance in traditional discourse to express a desire to change paradigms about how we represent people who are not visible in our movement. Isn’t that what Obama’s problematic Hope was all about?
Language is important. Let’s examine pronoun use for a moment. When a movement leader suggests We are trying to find ways to talk about what Occupy means and what direction it should take, who is the we he refers to? Is it the General Assemblies? Is it a small group of intellectual activists? Is it an idealized Every One Of Us? Is he talking about The Leaders of the Movement? It’s not clear. (I know this might appear to be a bit of a straw man, but I’ve heard this sentiment expressed in interviews and read it online, and here’s David Graeber expressing it in this discussion with David Harvey.)
I don’t think saying something about an idea illustrates how the idea might work. This is my problem with crass economic libertarianism. The conditional for libertarians is always “Things will improve if and only if we adopt our method” as if the method has already been illustrated to work and that it’s natural. Let’s make an important distinction. For libertarians, the “we” is often “all the others” because libertarians implement a traditional us and them strategy in their discourse. They are the knowledgable outsiders looking for inclusion. Liberals assume inclusion. For liberalism, the “we” is an abstract universal we. It’s meant to be a statement for everyone in a manner everyone should find agreeable. It’s a problematic cornerstone in liberal tolerance. I may get annoyed at liberal reach, but I can’t help but giggle at libertarians who complain about coercive state apparatuses when they refuse to recognize their own goals.
I feel the same way about liberalism I do about crass libertarianism: both practices are expert only at expressing a wish to illustrate how the status quo can actually work well for every one of us. Well, it cannot. Capitalism cannot offer freedom from state coercion as libertarians will argue, and our democracy isn’t going to find a way to promote justice and equality as liberals will insist it can. And that young people resort to memes to recognize a wish for change in others, I wonder if anyone will bother to do more than talk about desire.