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Social Liberalism: Simple-minded and Pernicious Memes

When I wrote my first post on liberalism as more of a social phenomenon than an intellectual one, I imagined a series of posts dealing with many different implications of that idea.  So far I’ve written three other posts in the series on topics ranging from slogans to leftist intolerance and political changers to the so-called “wealth gap.”

One big topic that I haven’t explored yet–even though I’ve meant to do so since the start of the series–is the way in which liberal ideas are perpetuated on social media and elsewhere through the use of simple-minded memes.  As I considered the idea of social liberalism, one point which came to mind is that so many liberal memes might seem catchy at first glance,  but they are either responses to outlandish straw men, or they make no sense whatsoever when subjected to even the slightest bit of scrutiny.

At Legal Insurrection, Professor Jacobson has written a few posts about the role of the leftist site Upworthy in promulgating memes of both sorts, including a post this past Tuesday on the high cost of low-information voters.  And he’s not the only one to recognize the importance of simple-minded memes for the left.  For example, this post at Breitbart.com takes the idea one step further to reflect on the significance of LOLcats in politics.

What interests me at the moment, though, is that there is a whole class of liberal memes which go beyond the simple-minded to the downright pernicious: they promulgate leftist thinking in a way that seems ironic or clever or humorous, even as they blatantly acknowledge the darker goals of leftist ideology.   I stumbled across a prime example of one such meme on Facebook about two months ago when an acquaintance “shared” a meme which had been promoted by the Facebook group “Being Liberal” back in December 2011.  I’ve pasted the image below.

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We’re all familiar with the common liberal tropes about “beating swords into plowshares” and the frequent lament heard on the left that “if we spent on education or social programs what we spent on the military” somehow all of society’s ills would disappear.   This meme takes that same tack, but uses “irony” to take it one step further by suggesting that the government can use the military to “win the hearts and minds of the population” and put the “locals to work” working on infrastructure politics.

By supposedly employing “irony” to make its point, therefore, it moves from the simple-minded lament about spending more on education and social programs into the territory of the pernicious by endorsing the use of the military as a means of social control.  The person who posts or re-posts the idea can feign ignorance of the pernicious implications by saying that the meme isn’t “serious” or that it is “just making a point through irony,” but it’s a point which betrays the left’s ignorance of the way free people and free markets operate.  The point of the meme is unmistakable:  all good comes through government, and we ought to use the force of government to establish a planned economy.

The Facebook page for “Being Liberal” attributes this meme to one of its readers named Terry Sebolt who wrote in and said (with the disingenuousness common on the left): “”Those were my words, but not my pic. Feel free to put it anywhere you want. I meant every word of it, and hope people enjoy the irony, regardless of credit. It was a throw away line…”

The claim may be spurious, though, as I did some internet searching and the earliest example I could find for the meme online was this appearance on Twitter from August 9, 2011.  I’ve posted a screenshot of the image below.

Screen shot 2013-03-01 at 11.22.28 PM

Regardless of the authorship, though, the claim is intended to make a point by shocking, even though those who quote the statement will try to distance themselves from its actual implications.  Those implications, though, tell us a great amount about the worldview of the left.

What’s even more amazing in the case of the person I know who re-posted this meme is that she is an immigrant from eastern Europe with a PhD in a scientific field from an American university.   She often refers to the bad days growing up in her country under a brutal dictator when everyone was suffering.  And so she moves to the U.S. and spends time in universities and decides that she’s a “liberal” and approvingly re-posts that “ironic” image.  If that’s not an example of a socially-promulgated disorder, then I’m not sure what would be.

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14 Comments

  1. It’s really unfortunate that the American voting public is faced with the false choice of spending huge sums on foreign wars (GOP) or spending huge sums on domestic employment programs for government workers (DNC). (Solving domestic ills such as poverty and hunger are never the actual goals. If they were, they’d be capitalists.)

    Comment by Ignatius — May 5, 2013 @ 10:26 am - May 5, 2013

  2. It’s been nearly 6-years…where are the massive wind-farms, the infrastructure renewal, and the fleets of government-owned electric and hybrid cars? We did after-all buy General Motors.

    Oh, …that’s right. We spent it all on bloated government payrolls and direct-aid to the states and municipalities to cover ordinary-operating-expenses with borrowed money. And gave GM to the UAW—at a steep discount.

    Comment by Ted B. (Charging Rhino) — May 5, 2013 @ 10:49 am - May 5, 2013

  3. Solving domestic ills such as poverty and hunger

    More malarkey, bushwa and BS.

    Take a look at what ‘poverty’ in the US really is.
    People living in so called ‘poverty’ in the United States today would be considered wealthy in most of the rest of the world, including most of Europe.
    And hunger?
    We’re told that we have an ‘obesity epidemic’ in this country. We’re also told that it affects mostly low income folks.
    Hmmm…I can’t quite square those two.
    And neither can you.

    I’ve seen all this firsthand, having run a homeless shelter in the mid-90s and having been a buyer at the Boston Food Bank during the same period, and more well fed, round-tummied and fat-assed people you could not possibly hope to see than the good folks who dropped in for their weekly/monthly supply of free food (and at the various food pantries and soup kitchens that the Food Bank distributed to).

    Where are these droves (it’s gotta be droves or it ain’t an epidemic) of people who are ‘suffering from hunger’ and living in squalor?
    Don’t bother looking; they’re not there.

    ‘Hunger in America’ is a crock.
    ‘Poverty in America’ is a crock.

    Next case.

    Comment by Jman1961 — May 5, 2013 @ 11:27 am - May 5, 2013

  4. Can anyone name one piece of major infrastructure constructed with the Obama Stimulus? No.

    Luddites don’t build highways, dams, or nuclear power plants.

    Obama did spend $800 Million on rail improvements between Seattle and Portland, and as a result, rail travel times between Seattle and Portland have been reduced by ten minutes.

    Isn’t that awesome?

    Comment by V the K — May 5, 2013 @ 11:44 am - May 5, 2013

  5. V the K – don’t knock those extra 10 minutes. Democratic “voters” need those 10 minutes so they can make sure that they get to vote in both places before the polls close!

    Comment by Charles — May 5, 2013 @ 2:33 pm - May 5, 2013

  6. Allow me to be distracted by the secondary point and jman1961′s comment. I agree that in terms of having stuff there is some hardship, but little poverty in America. However, the poor do live in dangerous neighborhoods, which does legitimately suck. Human beings are also a resentful lot, and so the constant impression that everyone else is getting even better and cooler stuff, does give many of the poor in America a subjective impression of poverty. Rising above that is mostly a matter of attitude: of belief that one’s situation can improve, or contentment that what one has is enough, all things considered.

    As to the OP, simple memes are used, and irony is preferred, because they are enough. The goal is being socially acceptable, not actually solving problems. There are liberals who do genuinely want to help the unfortunate, of course, and all human beings would prefer that others not suffer, whatever they think should be done about that. But these are not appeals to thought – they are social enforcement, cuing folks who the Good People are.

    Conservatives and libertarians do it too. It’s a human nature thing. I do see some differences, however, and that use of irony that you mention is the first clue on that trail. Contemplating why liberals tend to use that much more is instructive.

    Comment by Assistant Village Idiot — May 5, 2013 @ 3:04 pm - May 5, 2013

  7. Great post, Kurt.

    Sarcasm, sanctimony, and ridicule don’t win converts, but that seems to be what FB is all about. Not everyone has time or motivation to sit down and read a thoughtful piece presenting a different point of view, but the quick memes don’t do anything to convince the other side. Rather, they’re just there to make their own side feel better about their own side and worse about people on the other side.

    Comment by Chad — May 5, 2013 @ 4:52 pm - May 5, 2013

  8. That’s a good point, Chad. After the day in which so many people posted the “=” picture on Facebook, I saw someone who posted the following as a Facebook status: “Your Facebook post on politics or religion will never change my mind. So why bother?”

    As far as your implied question about the use of irony, AVI, I’ve got some thoughts about that which I might want to explore more in a further post, but it mainly has to do with the avoidance of responsibility and the disregard for fixed or settled meanings.

    Comment by Kurt — May 5, 2013 @ 6:04 pm - May 5, 2013

  9. Sometimes the irony backfires. Remember the “Libertarian Society (Mad Max)/Socialist Society (Star Trek)” meme? Yeah, the post-scarcity society with replicators is just around the corner, isn’t it?

    Comment by The Heterodox Homosexual — May 5, 2013 @ 7:35 pm - May 5, 2013

  10. “Your Facebook post on politics or religion will never change my mind. So why bother?”

    As a friend of mine posted on his Facebook, “I don’t post my political opinions to change your mind; I post them to let others know they are not alone.”

    Comment by V the K — May 5, 2013 @ 9:15 pm - May 5, 2013

  11. They don’t endorse the use of the military to force anything upon people. If the reference to military invasion makes you feel uneasy then you should feel uneasy about US military intervention in Iraq and elsewhere. The point of the meme is to attack neo-conservative interventionists for thinking that military invasion will always be welcomed by the local people.

    Comment by Mitch — May 6, 2013 @ 1:18 am - May 6, 2013

  12. “:The point of the meme is to attack neo-conservative interventionists for thinking that military invasion will always be welcomed by the local people.”

    Who knew Barack Obama was a ‘neocon’?

    Comment by The_Livewire — May 6, 2013 @ 7:41 am - May 6, 2013

  13. One has to remember, Livewire, that Mitch worships black skin and says that anything someone with black skin does is right and correct, plus you’re a racist for objecting.

    Liberals are easy to translate and interpret once you realize that they’re bigots.

    Comment by North Dallas Thirty — May 6, 2013 @ 8:49 am - May 6, 2013

  14. Mitch “The point of the meme is to attack neo-conservative interventionists for thinking that military invasion will always be welcomed by the local people.”

    Thanks for illustrating Kurt’s point about straw men: I’ve been reading so-called neo-cons for at least 15 years and never encountered an assertion that America would always be welcomed.

    Comment by pst314 — May 6, 2013 @ 2:11 pm - May 6, 2013

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