Categories
hyperweb

Re: FW: [JOKE] Thoughts About Memes

Back in the 1990s and early 2000s there was a phenomenon of older relatives sending quackery to peoples’ email. These were wide in variety, including Neiman Marcus cookie recipe spam (Snopes: 3 November 1999: “Is the Neiman Marcus Cookie Story True?”), captioned images, and jokes, and they were almost always a transcript of forwards from across the internet, lasting for years and years.

And lots of them were political, and they were corny, and why did said relative have your email address, anyway?

But history likes to trick us. It likes to take a thing and twist it around and spit it back at us. So the same dreck that clogged our inboxes was inexplicably made cool once everyone left email in favor of Facebook and other social media platforms. The meme was born.

I don’t know what it means. Surely others have noted this FWD-to-meme evolution and how the former was as uncool as could be and the latter is seen as a form of net-cred. My best guess is that the elders impersonated youngsters on various zines and boards and whatevers, disguising their forward spam as coming from fellow youths. Now we have politicians memeing it up on their Twitter accounts, and nobody is running away from the damned things as last-year or overdone.

What, just because they’re funny?! Laughing gas is funny, too, but you don’t see people sending laughing gas over the internet!


Memes have always existed. Once upon a time folks would clip memes from the funny pages or newspapers or magazines. But they were always on the kitschy end of the thing, not some everyday, always-on device that would overrun real discussions.

These days, serious posts have the replies jammed full of videos of people making reactive faces. Use your words, people! I always ask myself, are there really people who go through and watch all those videos, anyway? God knows.

Some people had Monty Python and the Holy Grail memorized. I’m sure such people still exist, with different source material. On the other hand, the Christians and Jews and Muslims have been line-and-versing their memes out for centuries.

It strikes me as odd that we have this kind of short-circuit in our brains that says if you can encapsulate some idea in this trendy way, it suddenly takes on some special character. Like an advertising jingle that gets stuck in your head.


There are various possibilities for the rise of memes. One is that it’s platform metrics that drive them. Engagement, the mere reply or acknowledgment of a piece of content, is seen as key. Memes are a cheap way to engage, and the platforms like that.

There are others that say in our hyperconnected world nobody has time to think. Busy Twitch chats are full of stamp spam because nobody could usefully converse at 1000 lines/second. On the other hand, someone’s got time to make all those fancy plates of food showing up on Instagram (or are they just output from a generative adversarial network?).

One other possibility is they are a sign of the singularity. That as culture sublimates into the digital realm, human interactions become more and more patterned upon how consciousness directly relates the world to itself, with very id-based reactions to everything, and therefore the expressivity of a networked world naturally devolves into visceral-first communications.

Who knows?

Categories
society

A Woman in the White House

As we have struggled with partisanship over the past eight years, one wonders how much is due to racism. Or maybe not exactly racism in the strongest sense of the word, but just the uncertainty of making a change that most sensible people know makes no difference: having a black man do a job formerly held only by white men.

The argument goes that most white Americans probably haven’t had supervisors, teachers, preachers, or other authority figures that were black men, so they worried about it a lot. Like if they went on a blind date with a black woman. They see a certain amount of cultural differences, and they know how fraught with peril culture clashes can be. It’s easy to feel uncomfortable in a room of people who are different than you.

Hell, they probably worried about Obama sagging his pants. Worried about the national anthem being changed to a rap song. Worried about filing their taxes in Ebonics. All those insane thoughts they couldn’t tamp down.

And we face basically the same problem of cultural-ignorance now that a woman may take office. Are we all going to have to watch RomComs for the next four to eight years? If we have a smudge on our face, will the police pull us over and wipe it off with a spit-wetted Kleenex?

Hell no, we need Trump, they think. He’ll let us scratch our crotches when we itch, while Clinton will require us to wear clean underwear when we go out.

But this election isn’t about forcing us all to put our napkins in our laps and tuck in our shirts and sit up straight. It’s about an eminently qualified candidate who wants to address the problems our nation faces. She hasn’t done the best job explaining it, but in all honesty if you read the policies proposed by both sides, Hillary Clinton has more right to claim the slogan “Make America Great Again” than Donald Trump does (caveat: it should really be something like “Make America Greater Still”).

She actually wants to deal with climate change, not just use it as a minced oath for those crazy people in white coats doing that science crap. She wants to fix immigration in a way that recognizes the economic realities of labor as they stand. To improve the lot of all workers through practical solutions, like paid family leave.

While Trump wants to cut taxes for the rich, Clinton actually wants to get down under the sink and actually replumb our revenue streams to fit the way money flows in modern America. She wants to take those streams and devote them to betterment of health coverage and education access.

The main criticism against Hillary Clinton is the notion she is corrupted by power, but for all of the attacks, the woman is still standing, which says more about the attacks than it does about her. Sure, it’s tough to stay up and keep fighting, but it’s unrealistic to believe that if the Republicans had ever found a real, honest-to-God scandal to hit her with she would still be around.

We’ve seen countless political figures felled by scandal. Either Clinton is very lucky, possesses Moriarty-level cunning, or the alleged scandals are wildly overblown. Of those three, Occam’s Razor slices and dices the first two, leaving the conclusion that if there is real corruption there, it hasn’t been shown. Hillary Clinton remains viable and respectable.

So get sloppy while you can, America. Come January 2017, you’ll be forced to wear bow ties and straw hats. Your shirts will be pastels, starched and itchy. You will wear either a handkerchief in your breast pocket or a flower in your lapel. And you will be forced to hum or whistle as you walk down the street, a spring in your step, smile on your face, twinkle in your eye. You will say sir and ma’am, please and thank you, wash your hands before every meal, say grace, wash behind your ears, and pass the dutchie on the left-hand side.

Categories
society

The Conservative Counter-Culture

Jade Helm 15 is a military training operation set to kick off later this year. But to the conservative counter-culture it is a threat to national security.

Back in the 1960s there was a counter-culture on the left of the political spectrum. These days, though, it seems the most diverging culture in the United States is found on the right. Every time a Democrat is in the White House, gun sales go up. Even healthy eating and pro-fitness programs are under suspicion. And, as time ticks down on Obama’s last term, it seems the counter-culture is beating the drum louder and faster than ever. If Obama is going to act to install whatever NWO Illuminati scheme he has planned, he’ll have to get to it pretty soon.

But why is there a counter-culture at all? The Republicans control both the House and Senate, plus a majority of state legislatures, and a majority of state governorships. You would think that, in the face of such overwhelming party dominance, the conservatives would feel pretty happy right now.

The fact that they don’t speaks more to their expectations of government, driven by media, than to the realities of government. Stump speeches and conservative media have promised them sweeping changes that are impractical.

For their party’s own inaction on immigration reform, they lack a giant, shiny border wall, while the country lacks a reasonable immigration system based on the actual needs of the country.

For all their compassionate promises to end choice for women, the results have been a long series of ever-more ridiculous measures that have been defeated in the courts. Their pyrrhic victories in passing these laws have been a slow, long erosion of access to healthcare for women.

For all their bitching about taxes, realigning the system so that the rich pay less, many state budgets are feeling the crunch of an impractical revenue burden without the needed revenue stream. Indeed, the fiscal drought in many red states is as self-inflicted as California’s real drought, in many ways.

The party’s own failure to evolve on a host of issues has resulted in distrust and pixelation.

Conservative politicians are scared of their own constituents, of failing to get reelected, so they simply lie and claim that they can do things they know they won’t. And when they don’t, the counter-culture gets mad. Things like the Tea Party blossom.

But such disarray cannot last. Neither can the professional party denial of certain basic principles of modern government, like social programs. No, at some point the GOP national and local has to tell the truth and come back toward the center. Only then will the counter-culture begin to normalize itself.

For what it’s worth, it’s not like the Democrats are capitalizing on this cultural crisis on the right. They aren’t running particularly innovative or experimental local campaigns to try to bring people from the far-right to the center.

And the conservative media, at least to my eye, is very insular. There is no good, clean, independent conservative voice I’m aware of. I guess because media requires access, everyone in the conservative tent has to toe the line, except on the far right outskirts where you stumble into things like Jade Helm 15.

Categories
society

Rubbernecking

To rubberneck or not to rubberneck. Care about the latest pop culture scandal? The latest murders by terrorists? By a state? The political gaff that might end a career? Nude celebrities? How much of rubbernecking is about curiosity? Moral superiority? Schadenfreude? Money for the advertisers? Bragging rights?

Cultural phenomena are participatory. Even those that steer clear of them are participating as the steelnecked eyes-forward crowd. For another, they inevitably color other aspects of life, so in some cases becoming unavoidable.

I still hold to my definition of general news as something that raises a general issue in society (and therefore can be discussed in that context). Subculture news is any news that isn’t applicable to the whole society. Sporting news, business news (where it’s about specific industries and not their impact on society at large), etc.

Most open source news does not pertain to the public, but Heartbleed did. It raised the specter of insecurity due to lack of maintenance of infrastructure. As have countless other scandals, which is to say there is an accumulation of evidence that as a society we need to place greater focus on secure computing.

The problem with these bleed-through stories comes in how they get retargeted. The media knows our buttons, and if they can retarget a story that might provoke social change to one that will simply devolve into a frenzy, they will shamelessly spin away. A story that should drive improved security might sink to the level of schoolmarmery, imaming about immorality. A story about a politician running away from home to join the Wall Street does not obtain scandal, but is framed as local hero makes good.

So even if you rubberneck, what you see is not what happened. What you see is the antibiotic-fed, deboned, technicolor TV dinner version. The camps do not look in on each other, to try to understand or find the process of events developing. They simply rely on stereotypes and facts be damned. They don’t need facts, they buy pesticides to kill facts. Infacticides.

The first step is to make sure you have something to look at. The rules are just like writing fiction. Give them a question, give them a conflict, some sort of tension they want resolved. Is there a bad guy that we can pretend to hunt down and bring to justice? It’s a narrative form.

The second step is to just keep pointing to that first step. If you get closure, great. If not? Well you can still pump the story for awhile yet, until something better comes along. It won’t matter to the readers or viewers or listeners. They love a randomized reinforcement schedule. You’ll have them hooked indefinitely.

So rubberneck with caution, if at all. You don’t want to give them a chance to addict you to their fantasy reality version of the world. Arm yourself with the question, “does this really matter to me?” If you find out that it doesn’t, don’t ask for your money back, just walk away.

Categories
society

SHA Hate

SHAs are Shorthand abstractions. SHA itself is one. So is the name of a sport or a field of study. They are simple ways to talk about complex things. The idea was proposed by psychologist James R. Flynn in a book examining the nature of intelligence (see Wikipedia: What is Intelligence?: “Shorthand Abstractions: SHA”). It’s worth pointing out that while a SHA is a meme, not all memes are SHAs.

But onto the matter at hand. SHA hate. Not hatred of the ideas of SHAs, and not really hate in the ultimate sense of the word (hate also being a SHA for negative attitude towards things), but people who are prejudiced in conversation and comments by the use of certain SHAs.

The most common one in debates between free-software advocates and others used to be some variation of Microsoft with a dollar sign. This would regularly provoke kvetching about its infantility and so forth. And sometimes it was (is) misused. The problem, as usual, is that someone would use such a SHA in context, and others would miss the subtle context, then adopting the SHA as a general epithet.

In the ecig fora I’ve seen some minor murmurings against the use of the Big SHAs. The two most common to that community are Big Tobacco (BT) and Big Pharma (BP), due to both having histories with tobacco and disinformation and lobbying and massive coffers with which to undertake said disinformation and lobbying.

So the question comes, when used correctly (i.e., in context) should these sorts of SHAs prejudice us? Even if we deny that they are accurate, and argue that point, is the SHA not still useful? I think so.

I’ve seen a similar utility in SHA usage by the people who disagree with climate science. A segment of that group will, with great ease and zeal, claim that any given study has been thoroughly debunked. And they will do so using the claim as the SHA, which means that they can then pack into that one SHA any and every study that claims something similar.

For example, several studies of scientific consensus in climate science have been conducted, but disagreers lump them all under the SHA of 97% and believe they are all false due to a few potential mistakes in voluminous reviews. This is similar to the case made for voter identity card laws. That even if the Margin of Error were high, the results would not differ dramatically.

SHAs also serve as gatekeepers to community (intentionally or not). Learning the SHAs of a trade or group tends to be one way of settling into the group. Neophytes to ecigs have to learn about all sorts of -mizers and might hear about TH (throat-hit) and THR (tobacco-harm reduction) and so-on.

But those same SHAs can mark speech such that others do not understand the context or reason for the SHA. And if they have encountered others that misuse a SHA, it may trigger a stereotype. For that reason, it may be useful to avoid SHAs except when they can be used with mutual agreement.