It's all memes
So David Atkins and Jonathan Chait drone on about how terrible beltway/insider/conventional wisdom is these days. (Duh!) And in doing so hit upon something that I thought was quite brilliant though probably an accident. They, of course, move on and ignore the significance of it. I wanted to bring it back up as it's part of the discussion of language we should be using when trying to engage the conventional wisdom and beltway tribalism that we face and the uphill battle against it. From the original article by Chait:
Gerald Seib has a column in today’s Wall Street Journal about how sad and disappointing it is that the two parties cannot come together and solve problems. (“What's lacking is an attitude among the capital's politicians that, while acknowledging they have different views, they must agree that they need to solve problems despite differences.”) That is the same point of a recent column by the Washington Post’s David Ignatius, an editorial in The Economist, and vast swaths of commentary by the most respectable members of the mainstream media. It all runs together, day after day, an endless repetitive drone of elite sentiment.
The drone of right-thinking sentiment has certain distinct qualities. One is that it is, in almost the purest sense of the term, a meme — a way of looking at the world that individuals pass one to one another without a great deal of conscious thought, even though thoughtfulness, or the appearance of thoughtfulness, is one of the qualities the opinion imbues upon its proponents. They don’t engage with alternative analyses. They seem to have no idea that their own ideas even could be contested. They are merely performing the opinion journalism equivalent of wishing passersby a Merry Christmas.
Memes. Everything they say, is simply a meme of one kind or another. LOLCats. Honey Badgers. Koreans on imaginary horses. This is the quality of discussion we get from the beltway. It's not reasoned. It's not reasonable. 90% of the time it requires that we actively ignore reality for it to be "logically" acceptable. Chait (in a very soft way) calls the beltway insiders out for basically speaking only and always with memes. Bipartisanship is a meme, Tip and Ronnie is a meme, deficit reduction is a meme, Social Security/Medicare cuts (I will never use the word entitlements, and neither should you) are memes. And just like all memes, all of these discussions are by their nature unserious and distractions. Their use in policy conversations should be taken as a red flag that the person using it is at least uninformed and at worst, quite probably a fraud.
And when you hear someone using these memes you should treat them as though they were injecting LOLCats into the discussion. That is to say, they should be chastised for not doing any serious thinking and possibly derided for falling back on the meme. This is confrontational but necessary. At the end of Adkins piece where he quoted the above, he states specifically that the best way to handle all these meme issues was to simply ignore the pundits and the Sunday shows, etc. But letting them get away with these ideas is a MISTAKE.
Attempting to ignore sloppy thinking doesn't make it go away. Ignoring the calls for trickle-down economics didn't make it go away. Hell, the disasters that resulted from implementing trickle-down economics didn't make it go away. Calling people on the carpet for this lazy self-serving drivel is an important job that must be done. Corrente is one of the few places that does this regularly, but there's no reason why it can't be spread to the dinner tables and the diner counters as we move forward. Calling things out as memes is a very easy and powerful tool in those conversations and it should be encouraged everywhere we go. It's also an easy way to point out the intellectual fallacies of a person's argument without actually directly calling them stupid. Most people aren't stupid, but memes are by their nature hard to get rid of. Unless of course the person propagating the meme knows what they're doing, then only merciless derision will do.
So much of the elite beltway opinion, and as a result popular opinion, can be summarized as simply popular memes people are using to feel clever and smart and in control. But like all memes they have no real place in serious discussion. When someone says deficit reduction is what this country should be focusing on, point out that this is LOLCats. The country will hit the debt ceiling and run out of money. Honey badger don't care. And if you want to, it's really not hard to say reduce unemployment and you reduce the deficit. No spending cuts required. Also, we print our own money. We can't run out. Easy. We have to start taking back the conversation from these people. And calling people out when they use their memes would be a powerful tool to add to the arsenal that's both easy and effective.