When hashtags and memes collide
I have been thinking a lot about memes and hashtags recently, not because I am the father of two teenage boys who speak a dialect of English broken by both, but because of a sobering sentiment Bari Weiss expressed in her May 15 article "The Bad Optics of Fighting for Your Life." Bewailing the lack of factual content underpinning the social media that seemingly pervade her life, Bari noted that "[l]ies have replaced truth. Memes have replaced morality. Hashtags have replaced history."
As a self-proclaimed dabbler in religion and history, these words drew to the surface and brought into sharp focus something that has been gnawing in the back of my consciousness: cognitive dissonance is undermining our ability to engage in the free and open debate necessary for the care and feeding of the civil society.
Leon Festinger's quote, elaborating his theory of cognitive dissonance, often comes to mind when I make the mistake of watching political "debates" on TV or accidentally swerving into social media. "A man with a conviction is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point."
Recently, a friend of mine showed me two pictures of signs that, juxtaposed, elucidated the dissonance that seems to have replaced debate in our civil discourse. They were taken at a "Free Palestinian" rally. The first, a hashtag, reveals the feelings of the carrier by identifying a topic that surely affects him. A noble sentiment, "Stop Funding the Genocide," is handwritten with red, green, and black letters, evoking the Palestinian flag. The second, a meme, stated what I assume to be the cultural values of many attending this rally: "Palestine will be free from the river to the Sea"
Surmising that from the river indicates the Jordan to the sea the Mediterranean, what does this geography need to be free from? Democracy? Israelis? Jews? And what would replace this unidentified peril? The terrorist organization Hamas? The Palestinian Authority, whose president is in the sixteenth year of a four-year term? Iranian or Syrian rule?
When I consider the possible ways of achieving the goal of the Free Palestine meme, I cannot see many options that would not be in direct opposition to the hashtag sign eschewing genocide. I would really love to be a fly on the wall as the holders of these signs try to reconcile their disparate ideas.
Image via Peakpx.
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