I am in almost numb disbelief at how far we have regressed as a nation relative to concepts of liberty and freedom without tyranny. For some period, especially over the past 6 years, I have thought that it was only an inevitable matter of time before many of the memes (e.g., image, axioms, and beliefs) which appear to have been influencing the uptick of killings and violent assault against US black citizens in general—black male youth in particular—would explode in a sounding-of-the-alarm on a National level.
Events surrounding the recent killing of Missouri teenager Michael Brown at the hands of an “unnamed” police officer has left many North Americans, like myself, in a state of cognitive dissonance. Twenty-first century life in the United States was not supposed to regress us back to the 1950s and 60s militarized police responses of pre-Civil Rights Act America. Please allow me to digress before returning to the aforementioned statement.
My doctoral dissertation research focuses on what happens to adult civic engagement levels over time as one becomes more educated. It also, raises the questions of context in relation to possible developmental changes in adults, as they look to negotiate their lives within the crucible of complex existential problems. I am of the position that Spiral Dynamic Theory can provide a meta-framework for understanding human challenges; but more so, it is memetic science operating on a micro level that has led me to write this blog post.
I want to begin with a basic definition of what exactly constitutes a meme, as there are a plethora of dissimilar notions (and controversy) surrounding this elemental unit of cultural transference. For example,
- Meme describes a behavioral units of culture that is imitated from person to person and can range from the trivial (Higgs, 2000), such as the sharing of a catchy tunes or internet images (Castaño Díaz, 2013), to the more abstract, such as the expression of an emotion.
- The concept of meme used for my research is framed around a process of imitating meta-memes that as elemental ontological units of culture, are passed on from person-to-person (i.e., vMEMEs from Spiral Dynamic Theory).
Anyone who has spent time on social media outlets is familiar with the image memes that get circulated online every day. Those types of memes make us laugh or sometimes draw us into reflection; but there also exists the more dangerous memes. Those memes operate in the realm of human cognition that can lead to a much distorted reality for some people. I am of the belief that these insidiously negative memes—depending upon whose interpretation prevails—can lead to the robbing of human dignity and the undermining of civil liberties. Case in point, below is an image I recently located on the Huffington Post website. The story was offering a series of images of President Obama and celebrating his style and “coolness” as a Dad (15 Dorky Dad Looks).
In the first image you have The President’s engaging smile but in the one below (obviously from the same film reel), he is not smiling. In the second photo we do not have that trademark “grand piano” smile of our President. Moreover, the Huffington Post—based upon this image—found the need to conduct a public poll to its readers. In the poll, the website solicits opinions about the president’s backward turned hat. Why? Why did they find the need to do this? I have an opinion that memes and memetic conceptualizations opened the door to this query.
I believe that perhaps, the latter picture conjured up memetic images in the minds of people that they found made them a little “uncomfortable” with this type of projection of President Obama. He was made to look like “one of them”. The unspoken “them” of the dangerous and possibly menacing black male that needs to be watch, policed, and in the case of Ferguson, Missouri—told to get the “F**K” out of the street by a police officer. That same police officer who may have been infected by an image meme was lead to basically hunt and ultimate neutralization (kill) the black male threat. Of course, this is all my personal conjecture (blogs allow you to do that) at this point, because the Police Department in the town of Ferguson, MO has circled the wagons around the officer. They have basically told the public to we don’t have to tell you a d**n thing and by the way get your a** off the street or we’ll shoot you too.
This led me to my image of RoboCop and the question of What Would RoboCop do (WWRD)? Designed to be a play on words of the popular cultural acronym What Would Jesus Do? Why not have RoboCop run our urban centers? As a matter of fact, why not have robots and drones policing our fair cities? After all, they are objective machines that don’t see color—unless we program them to do so. They are not affected by human bias—unless they use smart technology and overtime their algorithms help them to memetically “learn” who the threats are and decide to respond accordingly. Seems ridiculous, right?
Even if as wild of an approach as previously mentioned were taken up, it would be grossly flawed. Why? Because we still transfer our memetic bias and prejudices through cultural artifacts that direct how we act and shape our worldview. Therefore, WWRD is depend upon how it would be programmed. Unfortunately, a computer directed technology (i.e., RoboCop) devoid of cognition, could easily end up blasting a crowd of men, women, and children—who decide to participate in civic engagement protests—with a hail of deadly gunfire. Technology is not the solution for solving all of our human problems, it is limited in its capacity to do so as human emotions like empathy, fear, and shame are not part of a robot’s “being” or computer programming to the degree that it could actually mirror another complex human being. I do not imagine that ever occurring in my lifetime, primarily, because a robot does not possess a soul (which is certainly a topic for another blog post).
So where do we go from here as a nation? I believe that the memes directing racial and socioeconomic tensions in a neoclassical economic system have in the past been “hot potato” issues. Both the 21st century Executive and Judiciary branches of our government simply have not been able to come up with solutions. Administrative responses to date appear to be just to simply apply programmatic bandages to a bleeding national wound, that at the very least is making us all sick and at worst threaten to take back hard fought civil victories of the 20th century.
These recent racist outbreaks are not purely situated in racial politics, they are also issues of democracy, freedom, and human dignity requiring both a grass-roots and top-down leadership response. It is not a question of either/or answers requiring that there be winners and losers in the outcome. These disruptions are a function of—believe it or not—evolutionary changes where old paradigms are no longer sufficient or equipped to resolve contemporary problems. Hopefully, after all the tear gas settles and angry emotions subside, we can meet at a table of deliberative democracy and emerge from this crisis of culture a more loving and just nation.
Castaño Díaz, C. (2013). Defining and characterizing the concept of Internet Meme. Revista CES Psicologia, 6(2), 82-104.
Higgs, P. G. (2000). The Mimetic Transition: A Simulation Study of the Evolution of Learning by Imitation. Proceedings: Biological Sciences The Royal Society, 1450(1355), 1355-1361.