[AKN #73] How Memes Shape Your Worldview
LAUGH: Of Course It’s A Meme, LOVE: The Most Exciting Moment In Sports
It’s the holiday season so I would like to start by wishing you a happy holidays and expressing gratitude to all of you for reading my words each week.
I know every email you receive this time of year sounds exactly like that. Every restaurant, content creator, and brand of tampon in your inbox likes to use this time of year to virtue signal as a marketing technique.
And I think you’re right that Buffalo Wild Wings cares more about you bringing your family down to Wing Wednesday tomorrow than whether or not you have a good holiday.
But trust that I’m being sincere...or don’t. You’re an adult so you’re allowed to make your own choices. You’re strong, independent, and, god dammit, you don’t need no man to tell you what to think.
But in all seriousness, whether you celebrate Toyotathon or Honda Days, may your December to Remember Sales Event be filled with 0% APR joy.
On to the newsletter!
LIVE: How Memes Shape Your Worldview
The difference between real material poison and intellectual poison is that most material poison is disgusting to the taste, but intellectual poison, which takes the form of cheap newspapers or bad books, can unfortunately sometimes be attractive.
I remember hearing a funny poem when I was a kid.
"Roses are red, violets are blue, horses that lose races, get turned into glue."
I loved that joke.
The rhythm. The cliche reformation. The fun fact about how glue gets made.
I would play with it in my head and make adjacent jokes.
"Send him to the glue factory!" I would say when I saw a horse lose a race.
Everyone would laugh and ask “how do you come up with this stuff!” (I, of course, wouldn’t mention the joke was repurposed.)
Plagiarism aside, it was all good fun, except a funny thing happened along the way.
When people asked "where does glue come from?" I would respond with "horses."
I would repeat that answer over and over until one night when my world came unglued...
How embarrassing that I didn’t know!
How did this happen?
Why did I wholesale accept the glue origin story with which the original joke poem was predicated on?
Why did nobody think to tell me until well after college that we haven’t made glue out of horses since Rosie the Riveter made the last bottle in 1951?1
How Comedy Can Embed Beliefs In Your Mind
Think of the last joke you heard.
There is a near 100% chance you did not “challenge” it.
Why? Because you knew it was a joke so even if you disagreed with the premise, you were OK with allowing it to be exaggerated.
For example, when your friend tells his jokes about how cheap he is, you laugh. But you didn’t bring up how there were several times where he spent extravagantly on himself because it was a joke and you’re not a buzzkill.
But when you reflect on how you feel about your friend, do you describe him as cheap?
Chances are the answer is yes.
Now, this might be OK, because maybe that accurately describes the situation.
Like if your friend appeared on the show Extreme Couponers and you watched them argue with the cashier on national television over the 5 cents they should have saved on their 40th bottle of laundry detergent, then maybe your friend is objectively cheap.
But if that’s not the case and you simply find yourself associating this person with “cheap” despite having clear indications otherwise, you might be surprised how you drew that conclusion.
Specifically, you think your friend is cheap because after enough exposure to jokes which have the same “he is cheap” premise, the joke premise became embedded as your real opinion.
Repetition Makes Truth
According to Daniel Kahneman in Thinking, Fast and Slow:
A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth.
Humans are susceptible to this because we are “cognitive misers.” Meaning, we are pre-dispositioned to conserve our mental faculties to spend on something else — or like normal people would say “humans are fucking lazy.”
We have a finite ability to process information so whenever we encounter a new piece of information, our bias is to preserve our energy and allow it to pass right on by without “engaging” with it.
It is the exact same mechanism that makes propaganda so effective. The constant repetition of a message overloads our finite capacity to process information. And eventually we, as cognitive misers, are simply overwhelmed and concede.
This problem is especially bad with comedy because it comes in to your mind space in such an unassuming manner.
We don’t challenge comedy or engage with it, we simply laugh and move on.
Then, as we hear the jokes repeated over and over, one day we look up and we think the premise of the joke is reality.
And thus, your friend is cheap.
But why does this matter?
Because while believing your friend is cheap might not negatively impact you in any way, letting this comedy-implanting-beliefs-in-your-head mechanism run wild could ruin your life.
Viral Memes Shape How You Think
A meme at rapid global scale is a billion people doing the same thing, at the same time, in a temporary state of madness.
— Mike Solana
A big source of comedy during the pandemic has been “everything sucks” comedy.
An example is this tweet:
Now let’s get one thing straight, this is a fucking funny joke.
The surprise when the punchline hits. The cliché reformation. The fact that 2021 kinda sucked.
Like I got a large chuckle out of this joke.
2021 had its ups and downs, and perhaps this meme was verbalizing something I thought in my subconscious.
However, as I keep seeing more and more of these “everything sucks” jokes pop up, I can’t help but notice that more and more people seem to be bandwagoning on the “everything sucks” train.
Before you make another “2021 am I rite?!?” joke, I ask you to reflect.
2021 was a hard year for a lot of people and you had a bad year…but did you? Did you really have that bad of a year? Or has this joke been repeated in your news feed and group chats so many times that you have now come to believe this year sucked?
More directly: has the joke premise become embedded as your real opinion?
Now you might be thinking, “well whatever, its a joke, chill out bro, and what does it matter if I make jokes about how everything sucks?” But there is real danger in adopting the belief system: “everything is shitty.”
Thanks to a portion of our brain known as the reticular activating system, when human minds are told everything is shitty, they will become better at finding more data points to support that things are shitty.
So if you let this system run amok, you will find more and more wrong with the world. More things that make the world an awful place, your life an awful life, hell, you will start finding something wrong with everything. Your coffee tastes bland, your gas prices are too high, and don’t even get me started on inflation!
Before you know it, you are a nihilistic, purposeless Internet avatar, who spends your days talking about how everything is broken, but offering no solutions on how to fix it.
So by adopting the belief “everything is shitty”, you have signed yourself up for a self-imposed depressing existence.
I can hear your counter point now: “BuT eVeRyThInG wAs ShItTy?!?!”
Listen, I get it. A lot of bad stuff happened in 2021.
My point is that fixating on the bad and locking ourselves in some masochistic psychological guilt prison isn’t going to make it better.
In fact, I would argue it makes us much much worse off and has the potential to spread like a virus at Godlike speeds across the globe.
The Globalization Of Nihilism
We are all familiar with the concept of “misinformation.” Specifically, the rise of incorrect emotionally charged information specifically designed to get a reaction like getting someone to change their mind or take to the streets.
The existence of misinformation gives rise to the principle problem with the Internet at the moment: there is no real time ability for people to “fact check” whether or not something is correct. This is a problem that could have disastrous outcomes. For example, in Mike Solana’s article Jump, he says:
The greatest possible danger of social media is the catalyzation of mass, relatively instant global action on incomplete or incorrect information.
For example, imagine if billions of people instantaneously came to believe a piece of incorrect information which launched them into a global madness about how they needed to go to war right now. That is existential risk!
While radicalizing a population to believing they need to be at war is an obvious bugaboo, what flies under the radar as harmless is the global conversion to nihilism.
As we progress forward into 2022, I see more and more people pronouncing the world meaningless, our lives meaningless, and how everything sucks. I call it “The Great Negation.” Because everything sounds more official when you put the words “The Great” in front of them.
Call me paranoid, but I cannot see any good which can come from the entire world being memed into believing their life has no purpose.
What are the consequences of an entire population believing this?
What happens when you have an army of nihilist zombies crawling through the streets demanding to eat the brains of everyone who dares believe life is more than some unfortunate, cosmic accident?
It can’t be good!
** We interrupt our regularly scheduled doomsday speak to talk about potential solutions **
While we cannot stop this global creep of purposelessness in totality, what we can do is tackle this individually. To combat this propensity to negate, we must stop mindlessly accepting the premise for which dank jokes are based on and fight them back with our even danker jokes.
This is not about policing comedy.
This about reminding you that comedy should lift you above the bad moments, it should not leave you with a disempowering belief system.
This is about being careful with what you allow to pass in front of your eyes unchallenged because whether you know it or not, it’s changing you.
So laugh at the joke, but stop yourself and say “that’s funny, but honestly life is pretty good.” Allow comedy to help you rise above any situation you are struggling with, but do not allow yourself to be memed into nihilism.
Because remember: glue isn’t made of horses, maybe your friend isn’t cheap, and your life matters.
LAUGH: Of Course It’s A Meme
It only seems right to put a meme here.
If you watch Succession or have even just followed along with people talking about Succession, this meme is super duper dank.
LOVE: The Most Exciting Moment In Sports
For generations, sports historians have argued about what the most exciting moment in sports is.
Is it the walk off homerun? Is it the buzzer beating three pointer to win the game?
Finally, the debate has been put to rest.
After you watch this video, you will come to learn that the most exciting moment in sports is when someone finishes a game of darts in 9 darts.
After witnessing the 9 Darter, you will never look at a dart board the same way again.
You don’t have to go home, but you can subscribe here:
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed are strictly my own. Who else’s would they be?
We have not made horse glue since basically 1951. But Rosie didn’t bottle the last one. Rosie the Riveter isn’t even a real person. She was a marketing campaign based on the image of a real person. Hope this taught you to read the footnotes. If you ever encounter someone in the wild who tells this “Rosie bottling glue” fun fact, you can smile and nod your head knowing that this person doesn’t read the footnotes and that I am the origin of this empowering lie.