Of course, I realize that it’s been going on forever. But ever since Ruth Bader Ginsberg died on September 18, it’s been heating up so much that it’s basically intolerable. It’s been going on with COVID-19, as I’ve written about, for a while. But with the elections almost here, the cacophony has gotten so loud, you really have to shut down in order to maintain your sanity.
What I’m talking about are the Memetic Wars on the L/R divide. And not just in the United States. I follow on Twitter Ivor Cummins (@Fatemperor) who is a COVID pandemic analyst, as well as a nutrition specialist, and the wars are really waging everywhere one can exploit an In-group/Out-group divide with the fear of existential death, be it from COVID or economic collapse.
Accompanying Ginsberg’s death, at least in my e-mail Inbox, has been wave after wave of funding requests. Since I’m obviously a Lefty and a registered Democrat, the asks are all about giving money to this, that or another Democratic candidate. I’m sure if you’re on the Right side of the political spectrum, it’s similar. And while I’m not going to dig around on that stream of BS, I’m sure that their stream doesn’t look that different from mine. Likely the same reason (RBG’s replacement, now Amy Coney Barrett has been nominated and just passed through Senate Judiciary Committee hearings) but the same/opposite-side ask. “Give us money so we can destroy the other side.”
It’s easy enough to get a handle on the amount of money spent on the entire election season — or rather, it’s easy enough to Google and get some dollar estimate on how much money goes for ads. Here’s a guess at $11B. The tragedy is, of course, that after the election, or even right now, most of that money has just gone up in smoke. Or rather, has been funneled to the respective large media companies. You can pick whichever one you hate. But likely, you opened up your wallet and gave nonetheless. I gave quite a bit of election money before the general, but I finally tired of it. No new bridges will be built with that $11B. Flint, MI, will still have contaminated water. Children will still be hungry. And all of us will be quite a bit poorer in spirit, and frazzled in brain.
All of the craziness reminded me of one of my favorite movies of all time — Lord of War, made by, and starring Nicholas Cage. It’s an amazing movie, tracking the rise of a young immigrant, Yuri Orlov, into the ranks of one of the largest arms dealers in the world. I can’t recommend it highly enough. He is pursued throughout his rise by an ostensible Interpol agent, Jack Valentine, played by Ethan Hawke. And at the end, even after he is nailed down, he manages to walk away from any prison time in a stunning conclusion.
What was equally interesting was the documentary of how the movie was made. It is a MUST WATCH.
The short version is that it was cheaper to buy AK47s and film tanks in actual arms deals than pursue the construction of props. If the movie blew your mind, wait until you watch this.
A large part of the movie profiles the relationship between Nicholas Cage’s character and “Andre Baptiste”, played by Eamonn Walker, representing Liberia’s crazed leader, Charles Taylor. It is he who names Nicholas Cage the ‘Lord of War’ in this intense scene.
And so it is with the media companies – our contemporary version of the Lords of War. For what it’s worth, I am a strong Free Speech advocate. Whenever one starts messing with rules regarding speech, inevitably truth suffers and we are worse off.
But the seemingly endless money flowing from both sides of our current memetic conflict has created a media engine that cares little about the people it serves. We see this in the larger new social media empires, like Facebook, as well as on either side of the Fox/CNN aisle. They all make money off the conflict, and have little incentive to see anything end. This piece in particular blew my mind — 7 Ways to Stay Healthy this fall. You’ll notice nothing exceptional in the content. But what’s fascinating is what’s NOT there — no tips or commentary on boosting your immune system. In a piece ostensibly written to give you agency, most of it is dedicated to increasing your social isolation. No word about Vitamin D, sunshine, or eating foods that can help boost your immune system. Why? That would go against the memetics of the platform. Increasing agency is not in the interest of the platform. But increasing trauma and depression, through constant repetition of frightening messages, is.
It IS true that Trump has exacerbated the problems inherent with our current Memetic War environment. Trump is a narcissistic psychopath, and a classic relational disruptor. He early on decided to take on the media as chief foil. And they have responded in kind, discarding the standard low v-Meme techniques of “he said, she said” and “whataboutism” journalism to focus on calling him a liar.
But the elite success strategy of any relational disruptor is to NOT be wrong all the time. If you bat for 50% accuracy, you dramatically increase your impact. Trump at least intuitively knows that his enemies will get things wrong as well, and that strengthens his case.
Needless to say, this increases the severity of the memetic disease our country is suffering. It’s just terrible to watch. It fires up the traumatized and the relational disruptors on the Left as well, and makes it virtually impossible to attempt to thread a more nuanced path through any current issue. I read an article that more white, liberal middle-class women, when polled, knew about QAnon than the supposed target audience — conservative lower working class white folks. How’s that for a boomerang weapon?
And while I am loathe to use the go-to reason for money as a raison d’être in most things, the money that the media companies — our Lords of War — are making in all this is mind-boggling.
There are no easy answers in any of this. I am not advocating that one does not give money to political campaigns. But we are going to have to figure out how to get money out of politics, or we are well and truly fucked. We have to destroy the divisive tribal incentives that drive dollars, and crazy side-stories, as well as destroy any chance we have of increasing empathy in our overall population, or complexity in our solutions. They are inherently linked.
Because, when coupled with a tool as powerful as the Internet, the pen is indeed mightier than the sword.