meme (n): an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture; a unit of cultural transmission
adapted from Wikipedia and Merriam-Webster
Coined by Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene, “meme” has itself become a meme, rapidly spreading through internet culture. One fascinating trait of a meme is that it can act like a virus (viral videos, anyone?). Like a virus, a meme can bypass our own mental/emotional immune system, slipping unexamined past our critical thinking and logical-rational processes. There, it rewrites and replaces more complex thoughts and experiences (see a future post on tribalism and identity) and creates a resistance to examination, as if it is immutable. If you have meme-ified your life, you may notice that you
- have an inability or unwillingness to hold complex notions side-by-side
- have a discomfort with differing opinions
- are in an “echo chamber,” even outside of political news
For example, I fell prey to the “F#&% 2016” meme. I spammed my close friends with bitmojis of my character smashing a 2016 sign, 2017 crushing 2016, etc etc etc. I even posted to one of my gaming group chats. It was the latter location, surprisingly, that provided my first inoculation against the virus. My post read, “Happy Birthday, calendar year! May it kick 2016 in the nuts on the way out.” After a couple of friends affirmed my position (“Amen to that!” “Yeah, F* 2016!”), a friend of a friend posted, “Shit meme. 2016 had as many good moments as it did bad.” And all of a sudden, I felt uncomfortable. That statement simply cannot be true, I falsely reasoned. It took more than a full minute before I could even consider 2016 as anything but an utter disaster. I actually had to go do something else for a while to let my brain settle out. When I came back to the message about ten minutes later, I replied, “Agreed (that it is a shit meme). At the same time, I had a fucking rough year, so even with gratitude in my heart, I’d kick 2016 in the balls.”
Yeah, the virus still hadn’t left my body… But at least I knew it was there.
Since then, I’ve considered how to build up immunity, how to essentially de-meme-ify my life. Right now, when something tweaks me a little more than I’d expect (firing me up either because I wholeheartedly agree or vehemently disagree), I consider a couple of directives:
- Hold space for differing opinions and perspectives.
- Consider collective/cultural norms/attitudes that are accepted without much thought.
- Once examined, form my own opinion, even if it still reflects the shared opinion of the group.
Just that last small act of forming a unique opinion can free us of group-think in other circumstances, presuming it becomes a habit. I invite you — no, challenge you — to de-meme-ify your life. If we all engage, I think we’ll collectively be the better for it.