Keith Hart on Tue, 13 Jun 2017 12:23:42 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> Can the Left Meme?

Just to return to basics for a moment, the neologism "meme" was
coined by Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary or Darwinian biologist,
in The Selfish Gene (1976) which came hard after E.O. Wilson's
Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (1975) which was in turn heavily
criticized methodologically within the profession by Richard Lewontin
and Stephen J Gould and from outside by Marshall Sahlins The Use and
Abuse of Biology (1976). This was the heyday of a convergence between
market economics and evolutionary biology documented at length by
Philip Mirowski in Machine Dreams: How Economics Became a Cyborg
Science (2001). Mirowski earlier demonstrated how late 19th century
economics superficially mimicked physics (specifically the second
law of thermodynamics) in More Heat Than Light: Economics as Social
Physics, Physics as Nature's Economics (1989).

Wikipedia defines meme as "A meme is an idea, behavior or style
that spreads from person to person within a culture. A meme acts as
a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices that can
be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech,
gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena with a mimicked theme.
Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to
genes in that they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to selective
pressures". The individualistic, indeed atomized conception of the
spread of culture is so alien to literary traditions that it went
nowhere until the early 1990s.

The end of the Cold War, the birth of one-world capitalism and the
internet (World Wide Web) going public, all in 1989-1991, generated
a perfect storm for the emergence of a new version of the synthesis
of the 1880s and 1970s. Memetics emerged in 1993 and the internet
meme has flourished ever since. It is less widely acknowledged that
neoliberalism and techno-utopian dreams share both an individualistic
market logic and overt resistance to politics (the state). This
is in stark contrast to a cultural approach modeled on the state,
structuralism whose heyday was the 1960s.

Dawkins himself simultaneously basked in the fame conferred on him
by the techies and rejected the "internet meme" at a Cannes event
in 2013 organized by Saatchi and Saatchi. Internet memes, he said,
were "a hijacking of the original idea and instead of mutating by
random change and spreading by a form of Darwinian selection, they
are altered deliberately by human creativity. Unlike with genes (and
the original meaning of "meme"), there is no attempt at accuracy of
copying; internet memes are deliberately altered."

Well, that's quite a big difference and maybe it rescues memes from
their dubious intellectual and political heritage. Maybe not. But
it is not a stretch to claim that talk of the Left's ability to
meme smacks of how Clinton, Blair and the Eurocrats sold out social
democracy to rampant finance capital in the 90s, with disastrous
consequences for and all of us and in particular the US Democrats,
French Socialists and (until now) British Labour.


On 2017-06-12 00:20, Gabriella "Biella" Coleman wrote:
> Lots of good bits in here covering the nitty gritty mechanics of the
> alt-right and their stellar command of media manipulation in light of
> theories of art and cultural production. Worth a read.

One of the things that bothers me a lot in current "progressive"
political narratives, and this article above is part of it, is the
meme -- so this ready answers above the question, in my view -- about
when the right wins, then it's about some sinister tactics -- Pepe
the Frog, Cambridge Analytica, Russian hackers [*] -- that somehow
stole the election from "us", the righteous winners. Whereas when the
left wins (or even center right, as with Macron), the it's somehow
about the revival of organic grass-roots, people finally understanding
the true structure of the historical moment and their own objective

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