November 2017
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memes as microbes, compassion+education as cure / the worst is 'inherent/inevitable difference' meme


Memes are like microbes. They can survive the most hostile environments, they reproduce endlessly with the slightest encouragement, and they transfer from person to person without the person even noticing. A meme can reproduce simply by indirectly mentioning it: for instance, asking someone to put their name on a test can reinforce the impact of gender stereotyping (if, like most names, it is gender-specific). That is ALL it takes.

As someone who is invested in social justice, my main focus is stopping the reproduction of oppressive memes. It's about as hard as hunting microbes one by one. They reproduce faster than anyone could ever wipe them out; people have to develop individual immunities to them. But there is only one kind of immunity that I have found, and that is compassion followed by many rounds of education. In order to resist oppression, you have to understand it, and to do that you first have to give a shit about people different from yourself. Education is never the first step; a person has to care before they can be educated. Compassion alone is also useless: owning a machine will do you no good if you do not know how to turn it on.

Maybe some people have learned about the suffering of others and THEN started caring, but I haven't seen it. What I have seen is instances like a white person becoming friends with a black person and then caring about racism, or a man loving a woman who ceaselessly, patiently explains how his behavior is a problem and because he cares about her he reconsiders his actions, or a cis person seeing their trans friend suffer and starting to care about how transphobia harms people. In all these cases, if they didn't care about the person experiencing it, they would not even notice/acknowledge the oppression much less care (and doing something about it is completely out of the question). Love for an individual does not always create compassion, nor is it always necessary, but for most it is the quickest route to learning compassion that extends beyond one's own group.

The only way to begin inoculation is by teaching people to relate. This will not happen when differences are held up as innate or inevitable: if a man thinks that he is inherently different from a woman, he will not empathize with suffering from sexism, any more than he would empathize with or even notice an ant getting stepped on. Instead he will rationalize it as 'not that bad' and thus not worth effort. Intellectual understanding of the indirect effects of oppression is not a strong motivator because privilege is an excellent shield from those effects. There are countless strains of oppressive memes, but the deepest and most powerful meme of oppression is the idea of inherent and/or inevitable difference. If I had a choice to eradicate only one meme from all of humanity, the fallacious concept of inherent and/or inevitable difference would be ruthlessly eviscerated.

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Comments
kagomeshuko ══╣╠══
I do hate oppressive and offensive memes.

I can't stand the one where they put a picture of that little girl that probably has Down Syndrome and put rude comments.

I like some of the sarcastic Wonka things people make, but some are highly offensive.

Sometimes, I wish people had filters on their mouths and fingers that didn't let them post such things. Yet, you know a person by their fruits and that makes things obvious.
belenen ══╣ewwwww╠══
ugh, I think I know what meme you mean, I do hate that one.
kagomeshuko ══╣╠══
Yeah, it's a little girl with blonde hair, I think. And it has like triangle wedges of color. I don't even want to LOOK for it.

The ones with that colorful design that are okay are the ones with the little baby making the fist that have messages that are pretty much like "aced it!" I'm not a fan of them, but those aren't offensive.
classical_wolf ══╣╠══
All wise words! ♥
bunnika ══╣bunny: glasses╠══
Maybe some people have learned about the suffering of others and THEN started caring, but I haven't seen it. What I have seen is instances like a white person becoming friends with a black person and then caring about racism, or a man loving a woman who ceaselessly, patiently explains how his behavior is a problem and because he cares about her he reconsiders his actions, or a cis person seeing their trans friend suffer and starting to care about how transphobia harms people. In all these cases, if they didn't care about the person experiencing it, they would not even notice/acknowledge the oppression much less care (and doing something about it is completely out of the question).

I guess I'm the minority then? It wasn't a love for a specific person that made me start to care about racism, it was having my eyes opened to the reality of racial oppression. I already had people of color in my life who I loved, but they never really talked about modern racial oppression, so I never really thought about it. (My uncle, for example, would tell stories of being ordered to the back of the bus when he was a young man, but he never spoke of anything recent.) I thought racism still happened, but wasn't as widespread as I now believe it to be. I used to believe in "reverse racism" and other such bunk, and it was only in making a whole shift in how I viewed oppression that my mind was changed. Though my shift largely begun in accepting my own oppression, and then spreading that view to oppression that didn't negatively affect me. So I don't know how you'd class that, really.
belenen ══╣garrulous╠══
I didn't mean love for a specific person had to do it, I mean compassion has to come first. I think that people who experience oppression often learn how to have compassion from that, and then all it takes is education. I mean, I didn't need to know a person for each oppression that I care about. But I needed to have the basic ability to relate to other humans as humans instead of as 'other.' I think I learned this pretty early, and then it was just a good while until I got the education to put my compassion to good use.
bunnika ══╣╠══
Ah, okay. I guess I just got hung up on those individual examples.
belenen ══╣eccentric╠══
I think I needed to clarify, so I added a sentence. I appreciate you pointing it out (unintentionally) ;-)
grail76 ══╣╠══
Nods.
cheshire23 ══╣╠══
Yes! Experienced something similar today (around issues of fat and disability and where that intersects, specifically). Much relief that friend chose empathy rather than sticking to original offensive generalizations.
i_17bingo ══╣╠══
You mean like the fact that it is accepted in society--almost to the point where it's "official," that a sleeveless mens T-shirt shirt (usually white) is called a "wife-beater," and nobody seems to have a problem with it? That kind of meme? Because holy shit is that messed up.

It's even more vile, in my opinion, then the "go-to-the-kitchen" or "make-me-a-sandwich" memes, because nobody seems to have a problem with it!
halfshellvenus ══╣╠══
I have a problem with it!

Those were just called "tank Ts" where I grew up, and the whole 'wifebeater' thing was such a shock.

Let's not trivialize something so offensive by applying it to a freakin' style of t-shirt!
icaruslived ══╣╠══
Yep yep. Of course, if you're taking cues from biology, you could try to create countermemes, designed to outcompete their victims...
whipchick ══╣╠══
The way you tie compassion to kind action really illuminates that process for me! This reminds me, too, of how several Republican congressmen stopped being antigay when their own kid came out. You have to have a reason to care :)

ETA: and you also do a great job of explaining the social constructs tied to memes without drowning us in jargon :)
swirlsofblue ══╣╠══
Wow, a brilliant and poignant interpretation of the prompt
roina_arwen ══╣Be Yourself╠══
I love that your writing always makes me reconsider issues in a new light.
halfshellvenus ══╣╠══
What a wonderful way to use the prompt!

I agree with you that compassion, however we arrive at it, is what makes a difference in reducing oppression.

That we have so many leaders and politicians who REJECT compassion is tremendously frustrating to me. Decades ago, we would have called them heartless pigs. They still are. :(
eternal_ot ══╣╠══
I love this voice of yours...a poignant essay and you explain it so well(esp the second para)..things that will stay with me for long.. Well written indeed! Good Job..glad I read this.
penpusher ══╣╠══
A really focused and intelligent take on something that most people consider mindless and aside from the annoyances, harmless.

I applaud your efforts at attempting to educate and do it with compassion. That takes an energy that most people don't even acquire, let alone use in that manner.

Aside from Jane Elliott's work, it's difficult to look for places where those who have never been oppressed in their lives can at least, for a few hours, or even moments, get a hint of what it's like. To me, that's one of the few ways people can get a sense of it and have it stick - empirical knowledge.

Good piece and good work.
unmowngrass ══╣╠══
Memes as microbes is a really good analogy. So we need to get some good ones out there in order to overpower the bad!
favoritebean ══╣╠══
I think you hit the nail on the head when you mentioned that teaching people to relate is the only way.
on communication, social justice, intimacy, consent, friendship & other relationships, spirituality, gender, queerness, & dreams. Expect to find curse words, nudity, (occasionally explicit) talk of sex, and angry ranting, but NEVER slurs or sexually violent language. I use TW when I am aware of the need and on request.
Expect to find curse words, nudity, (occasionally explicit) talk of sex, and angry ranting, but NEVER slurs or sexually violent language. I use TW when I am aware of the need and on request.