I hope you are staying healthy, productive, and in good spirits during this unprecedented crisis. And I certainly hope you are getting your medical information from medical professionals rather than politicians, pundits or preachers. If you’re like most people, your income stream has been disrupted by the pandemic, and you have more time on your hands; I hope you use it constructively — do something you’ve been wanting to do for a long time.
In my own case, the pandemic has ended up actually creating much more demands on my time, at least for the near future. During the next few weeks, I’m going to be even busier than usual, and so my writing schedule is going to suffer. Therefore, you may see longer spaces between blog posts for the next three or four months. But I’ll keep plugging away at it as much as I can. Your patience is appreciated. (The next planned regular post, by the way, is going to be about the death penalty, but of course that’s always subject to change, especially given the wildly unpredictable eruptions of lunacy in the news these days.)
One thing that I should be able to keep on schedule is my rollout of a new feature on my Patreon page, a feature called Bad Meme Of The Week. For the most part, this feature will be available only on Patreon. But I am making an exception for the first installment and publishing it here, to give everyone an idea what the feature will be like. (There may be several more exceptions made during the next few weeks.)
The Bad Meme Of The Week is something I’ve been planning for some time, because I keep seeing so many really bad memes on social media. They often provide concrete, concise illustrations of the propaganda principles I’ve been discussing on these pages for, lo, these past 9 years.
The word meme in its original context means, according to Wikipedia:
an idea, behavior, or style that spreads by means of imitation from person to person within a culture—often with the aim of conveying a particular phenomenon, theme, or meaning represented by the meme. A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices, that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena with a mimicked theme.
An example of a meme in this original sense is the peace symbol or the expression “read my lips”. But these days, when people say “meme” they’re referring specifically to Internet memes. And that’s what we’re going to be examining in this endless series.
Bear in mind that these choices won’t necessarily be particularly timely — at least not in terms of the 24-hour news/ outrage cycle we’ve come to accept as the norm. Calling something the Bad Meme Of The Week doesn’t mean that it only started appearing in that week; it just happens to be the week in which it was selected to be honored with our dubious award.
Let’s get to the first one, then.
Bad Meme Of The Week # 1
It’s only fitting that we should kick off with our old friend, the fastidiously bootlicking Ted Cruz, a climate science denier who has pushed a myth of a warming “pause” (among many other untruths), compared himself to Galileo for being anti-science (while revealing that he has no clue what Galileo’s actual achievements were) and declared that the Space Force is needed to protect us against “space pirates”. What better qualified person to get a handle on the import of Sen. Warren’s comments and plans?
In case you didn’t notice, Warren said absolutely nothing in her tweet about “open borders” nor did she even hint at any such. She did make it very clear that she is in opposition to “the wall”. And it is very typical of Cruz’s breed of spin to equate opposition to the wall with “open borders”. Evidently, he doesn’t realize that the U.S. has never had a border wall, but has not had “open borders” in a century or so. Somehow, he just flushes all of that history down the tubes whenever anyone speaks up about wasting billions of dollars on a wall.
In addition to conflating common-sense opposition to a wall with advocacy for “open borders”, he conflates travel with immigration. While the former is certainly required at some point for the latter, they are two very separate things. There is no reason why temporary restrictions on travel because of a pandemic should entail long-term restrictions on immigration because of… well, whatever concerns the anti-immigration crowd supposedly have.
Which brings us to the main reason his comment is so odious: it’s a dog whistle to white nationalists, who are using (justified) concern about the virus being spread by travel to suggest that some particular nationalities or ethnic groups are de facto disease carriers.(Yes, Cruz is Canadian by birth and Cuban by extraction, but that hasn’t prevented him from implicitly supporting white nationalist policies, even if he condemns them out of one side of his mouth.) While it’s true that traveling between the U.S. and Latin America is not a good idea right now, Mexicans are no more likely to infect Americans than vice versa — indeed, the Mexican government has done its part to contain the virus by banning travel from the U.S.
In short, Cruz’s reply to Warren was dumb, ignorant and stupid. And, accordingly, quite popular with his fans. Enough so to make it a Bad Meme Of The Week.
Why do people keep believing the memes spread by political opportunists and liars? Perhaps because many of us just don’t have the time to consult reputable news stories, and also have very limited knowledge of science, as well as the actual political issues in Congress. If a working man hears that Democrats want open borders, a very simplified version of the issue may be all they read or hear—mainly that Trump wants a wall and democrats don’t—therefore (no) wall is perceived to mean no walls and no restrictions according to Democrats? It doesn’t matter if we repeat endlessly that dems are completely in favor of money to improve the operations of ICE and to increase the electronic surveillance of areas which may be fairly inaccessible to human feet and border guards. In fact, before Trump was elected, democrats had begun deporting a record number of illegal entrants —more than Bush, Clinton or Reagan.
As far as science goes, ordinary people are tricked by the claims of global warming deniers in regard to how the climate will look a few more decades down the road. Thus, if a centrally located area receives a huge blizzard in April, well then, that must mean that thousand and thousands of very well educated scientists are telling lies? Unfortunately, average Joes tend not to read reputable climate science websites, let alone read enough diverse sources to learn how El Nino and La Nina years affect certain latitudes, or, any information about how the warming Arctic regions are making the path of the Jet Stream unstable. Such knowledge has not yet hit home in areas where working class people would rather try and put food on their tables and clothes on their children’s backs. So, the fact that big oil companies need to lower their CO2 emissions is morphed into something more sinister by Republican demagogues—demagogues who fail to mention that we don’t need to get rid of (all) oil and gas products, we just need to lower CO2 emissions enough to create a future that consists of less extreme weather events and/or dangerous changes in our climate? Besides, most middle class Americans and well off Republicans have been bombarded with false information for just as many decades as false information has been around, much of which has been slowly used by the GOP to advance their power grabbing agenda–code named ALEC—the (American Legislative Exchange Council). So when lower income people are faced with the (inconvenience) of recognizing the many real threats posed by global warming, they would rather think that the “common sense” arguments used by AGW deniers must be right.
So if we want to change people’s minds, just reading about Global Warming in local newspapers will not be enough, since those newspapers often publish letters from readers, which they fail to vet out of some ideal need to provide “balanced reporting.” But they fail to realize that if all reporting were to be balanced, then they would need to publish letters from people who think the Holocaust never happened, or who think the medical effects of smoking are still being hyped by anti-tobacco conspirators. There are more, but the latter has more or less been neutralized via FOIA request which revealed the covert campaign being waged by pro smoking propagandists.
If we want people to be truly informed then we need to put way more money into programs and grants that will help people gain a true understanding of science, and an awareness of political propaganda. Most often our fact checkers reveal untruths and deceptions inherent in Republican memes, but they also publish quite a few that expose misinformation which is spread by Democrats. But that’s alright to mention, because if we claim to value knowledge and facts, then Democrats will also be occasionally exposed—they just won’t spread the meme that the mainstream media is fake news, or the enemy of the people?—quite the opposite in fact.