Monday, February 27, 2017

Your Meme Won't Change Me (or anyone else)

Facebook "memes" are among the least and most effective rhetorical devices in use. They are ineffective at changing ideas or winning arguments. They are extremely effective at ensuring your community perceives you as a loyal member, and they reinforce the dominant values and positions in the community.

The memes get more and more extreme as people seek to prove just how much they hate the opposing camp. The claims about the values and authenticity of the opposition also trend towards absolute dismissal and discounting of any genuine differences.

Republicans become thugs and fascists. Democrats become communists. Both sides argue the other represents "real" fascist and authoritarianism. The reality is, there aren't many radicals in the United States. Most voters are centrists.

Social media posts from left and right are demonstrating absolutist stupidity in many of these threads. Conservatives and libertarians are neither extreme anarchists nor fascists. (And don't agree on social issues, only some economic ideals.) Yes, there are anarchists among libertarians, but there are also Marxist libertarians. I tire of trying to explain that "libertarians" are too diverse to organize.

Progressives and liberals are seldom communists or true socialists. (And often disagree on issues, too.) Progressives believe that there is, as Marx argued, an almost "scientific" order to social progress. This is not liberalism, which has a set of "fixed" values. The two might agree, or might not. But these self-identified are seldom if ever Communists of the international sort.

Posts with lists of "socialist" goods are silly, but popular. The local fire department is not socialism - in fact, business taxes support many public services. Socialism is public ownership of the means of production. Fire departments are not in the business of production (I hope - that would be scary). The nuance of economic scholarship isn't part of policy debates, sadly. But to declare that "roads are socialism" is ignorant in the extreme. Likewise, to suggest most Democrats are opposed to all markets is rhetorical nonsense.

The use of "Fascism" should offend every American, unless some group wants to be called fascists. Learn some history about Mussolini. He was active in the Communist Party before they (rightly) expelled him for being dangerous person. He loathed capitalism, right up until the end. He saw fascism as government control of all businesses, even those privately owned. "All for the state," is the slogan of Fascism.

Is "America first" the same as "All for the state?" Probably not. Protectionism is not fascism (thankfully). But, if the government tries to start telling businesses how much money they can charge for goods, how much they can or cannot make in profit, and how much they need to prove loyalty to the state, then we should worry. Fascism is not capitalism with a little government. It's a lot of government with a bit of corporatism tolerated.

We debate the balance of government vs private, at least in the West. No one suggests ending either government or enterprise. Some of us seem to have more faith in one or the other, but most distrust the powerful in government AND business.

Memes make our differences seem extreme. Most voters are not extremists. Most people don't even bother to vote, in part because the differences are minor and lead to incremental changes back and forth. Maybe it is ironic, but we are not a nation of radicals. The "radicals" that founded the United States created a system that's designed to resist radical change.

Memes simply purify our social circles; they are partisanship intensifiers.

It is a shame, but this is how humans create their communities. The internet allows us to intensify the natural tendency towards homogeneous groupings. That should sadden us.