Meme" used to mean bits of web ephemera that bubbled up from the cellars of the internet and, through months and years of improvisation and experimentation by message board users and other geek obsessives, become imbued with the collective creativity of the internet hive mind. Now "meme" means anything that happens on the internet and gets aggregated into a Huffington Post slideshow five minutes later.
Ignore the trolls, or engage? Mudwrestling with pigs and other dilemmas for 2012 | #cdnpoli
Every now and then you want to pause and re-evaluate. Is this working? What am I trying to do here? Is this the best way to go about it? Is it producing the results I want?
Now seems as good a time as any. Last night on FB, I offered this:
Aspiration for 2012: win back the words, reclaim the public sphere, raise the tone of civic discourse, make citizenship something to which we can all rededicate ourselves with pride. In other words, carry on being an insufferably sanctimonious wanker.
While I’m not worried about the sanctimonious wanker thing, I’m curious about the larger picture. It’s sometimes helpful to cast off the intellectual equivalent of yellow-wax buildup and go back to first principles. Going through the reasoning will, I hope, help clarify some things.
In brief, I’ve tried, in this little corner at least, to avoid engaging directly with people whose sole purpose seems to be filling cyberspace with specious bullshit. It’s an arbitrary, personal judgment on my part, naturally, but there’s a clear difference between honest disagreement and empty sophistry. Until now, my attitude toward the latter has been “don’t bother. You’re wasting your time and energy,” or “paying attention to them just gives them the validation they’re looking for,” or “don’t get into a pissing match with a skunk,” or perhaps most vividly, “never get into a mud-wrestling fight with a pig. You’ll ruin your clothes, and the pig will just enjoy it.”
Then I saw this.
So while there’s much to be said for the “don’t engage” approach, @wicary’s elegant scalpel work is a pretty eloquent argument for taking the opposite tack. And in truth, it feeds into the larger project of reclaiming public conversation. There’s a persuasive argument for not letting this kind of nonsense go unchallenged; lies, astroturf, propaganda and manufactured controversies have to be addressed, because if not, they’ll just keep being propagated and amplified and eventually they’ll come to dominate the conversation.
Again, it goes back to fundamental critical-thinking skills. Who’s advancing this storyline? Whose interests are being served? Does it make sense? Do the underlying assumptions hold up in the face of the evidence? Why is this narrative being advanced? What else is going on? Is it meant to draw attention away from anything else?
As always, the first question has to be: what are we trying to accomplish? It can’t be to make the other side shut up; a., that’s never going to happen, and b., we don’t want to give them an excuse to whine about censorship and act like victims.
No. Ultimately it has to be about reclaiming the discursive turf, about re-framing the way we approach issues of public policy and what kind of society we want, and about not letting the noise machine and echo chamber hijack the conversation and / or drown everything else out.
It’s a long and exhausting undertaking. No illusions here; it takes a lot of time and energy going through things over and over again, especially when they’re things that ought to be obvious, and when the other side’s devoted so many resources to its own insidious and calculated framing. We’re facing a disciplined, focused campaign that’s willing to advance untruths, to smear, to misdirect, to take things out of context, and to drag the conversation into the gutter every day if that’s what it takes. The buffoonish antics of some of its mouthpieces haven’t made it any less effective.
Strong arguments both ways, and thus far I haven’t found either way definitive. What say you, internets?
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- @GraphicMatt dismantles @TOMayorFord on transit | #TOpoli #TTC #TeamFord
- @GeorgeMonbiot on the subversion of ‘freedom’ | #winningbackthewords
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- From @alexhimelfarb on Harper’s omnibus crime bill / #C10 #cdnpoli
- Corporations are getting better and better at seducing us into thinking the way they think