I've defined the term "meme" a few times, sprinkling it throughout my posts, but I thought that, while I deferred the rollout of my series on acceleration (the first can be found here, and the second here), I would pause to clarify the term a bit, specifying better how I use "meme" in my posts.1 I want to do so by way of answering a question, one that seems to occupy people less these days, though it's undoubtedly been a primary mode of web 2.0 criticism of Donald J. Trump.
Is Trump Like Hitler?
From a memetic perspective, which is a framework that applies the algorithmic study of information to cultural evolution and analogously to genetic evolution, the question–"Is Trump like Hitler?" is an all too human mode of inquiry. Let me begin answering this question by way of an easy stab at an alt-right meme, one which purports to explain the fundamental unit of information transmission, the meme.
In most cases of pedestrian meme warfare coming from quarters of the right—not reducible to the alt-right political style, though they remain the most notorious—they do not understand that of which they speak. See this image, for example, which engages in analogical thinking, missing the whole point of the memetic scientific project, the text "explains": “DNA by its nature is memetic. So never forget, we are all dank memes.” However, memes are genes are not the same thing—when Richard Dawkins coined the term “meme,” he only needed to do so to escape the genetic determinism of information theory as applied within biology. Memes and genes do share in common their function—the replication of information; while both are encoded, memes replicate cultural units of information. It is asinine to equate “cytosine,” or any other of the four nucleotides, with an algorithmic evolution of culture.
I am of the humble opinion that this question is a moot starting point, at least for serious evolutionary understandings of culture—and by extension, of information in historical context, if not conversation period. There's no analytic value in arguing that Trump is "like" Hitler, no matter how satisfying this charge can feel as one Tweets if one despises everything he rep—sand no matter whether, or not, he identifies with any form of Nazism. Pertinent, but analytically irrelevant to the action of history, figurative language (e.g. any simile, any "like" statement of comparison) is a bag of tricks; hiding material reality, the human practice of analogizing offers language that is sometimes beautiful, even descriptive, but objectively inadequate, a substitute of a model for a diagram where it's needed; this is the classic paradox of modern representation.
In the case of discussing memes, Trump is more like what, writing during the Cold War-context of nuclear warfare's daily threat, psychologist and materialist philosopher Arthur Kelser called the "ghost in the machine," which he meant as a dig at the core tenets of Cartesian dualism. I think his imagery works nicely here as well, but as a dig at the idea that the "soul" of a political ideology like Nazism can be passed on through people rather than patterns. In lieu of a question that invites one to start off, in responding to it, with a survey of Trump's psychology or behavior, seeking to pin down how he is akin to Adolf Hitler, there's another way: Trump the man is a vessel—arguably—for Hitler-like memes, be they behavior, policy, or small syntactical patterns. As an informatic parallel, or a viral hyperreal object which infects the Transatlantic politic from time to time, Trumpism and other fascist styles of politics—if you think Trumpism is a neo-fascism—is about more than the man whose image is the monicker of the loose movement. It's a memeplex: one which does indeed borrow heavily from Weimar Germany's ascendant Nazis and their memes (e.g., Lügenpresse/"fake news"), but Trump—the meme, not the man— is like the ghost in the machine. He's no governor, this president.
Could this be? If so, I suggest it’s the case because, by definition—if it is not a discourse or ideology but information in entropy, accelerated primarily through cyberspace—Trumpism is a hologram: A 2D program for thought, one accessed on our glass screens. It contains all of the information of the (political) universe within which it exists, but scrambled across its event horizon. Trumpism is more like a black hole than Trump is like Hitler.
On Adding Memes & Stirring
General semantics and universal grammar are significant in memetics, which can help us understand alt-right politics and history-telling broadly. It is a mistake to attribute to the grammatical coordinates of alt-right politics any nominal status as a positive residence in the body politic (erroneous, analytically and ethically), as is appropriate in the case of a movement brought into consciousness by the violence of subjection, righteous in its articulated indignation. Alt-right political ways of knowing and being, well I would say that they haven't metaphysically earned a noun. On the other hand, if justice is to mean something now, that part of speech—in truly "free speech"—belongs to the righteous realists. This is not a mere judgement on my part, a sort of normative dismissal: If #BlackLivesMatter is a meme qua hashtag, which makes an argument, performing a normative case with a verbal phrase ("Black lives do not matter as they indeed do, not only should."), then alt-right politics is a modifier of that which is truly built, through the labors of the exploited and oppressed, the stuff of history, of facts. The former realizes, and the latter augments.
Alt-right politics is a pattern and presence, an execution of what feminist physicist and theorist Karen Barad calls "agential realism," writing in the context of new materialisms towards a unifying theory of information on the left, not a dismissal of Marx despite popular misunderstandings among ideologues. This is the quantum state of reaction to pure abstraction. Is "the Trump voter," conceptually (both in an optic and semantic sense captured by the complementarity of quantum physics giant Niels Bohr) both a particle and a wave? Is Trumpism a political superposition? Who's the observer, liberals and their myths? These are better questions.
Synesthesia and Historical Experience Across Time
These are the sort of synesthetic politics I spend most of my time blogging about here, and these are their questions above. In his "extraordinary year," 1905, Albert Einstein published on the awing ability of gravity to bend light in his theories of general and special relativity, spurning Newton's three-dimensional universe of discrete objects moving through absolute space and time. In its place, he proposed a four-dimensional model of a unified cosmos constituted by "space-time, " a new model of the fabric of the cosmos that, a few decades later, would allow a quantum mechanics to develop a theory of light that expanded upon the classical representation of light waves with correspondent positions on a spectrum. Quantum physicists showed that, with a more unified theory between the classical and quantum realm, light can be either a wave and particle, superpositioned. Can Trumpism be thought as superpositioned political coordinates?
As my posts will continue to elaborate, it's important to put the modern left-right spectrum into historical context insofar as it can be pictured as "slices" of coherent left-right antagonisms across time, but they are changing slices—the memes evolve, mutate. Since at least the sixteenth century, the Ancient Greek fascination with the light spectrum installed a number of memes into human culture and our perception of reality. They were transformed in the scientific revolution, which marked the beginning of the journey to figure out whether or not light was a wave or particle—that is, whether or not light was a thing, a positive residence in the world, or a pattern; later, information theory and quantum physics would alter the grounds upon which those questions were asked. Einstein's theory of relativity left this an open-ended question, later answered by quantum mechanics in astonishing fashion: light can be both a wave and particle at the quantum level. Waves and particles doth not meet in classical physics, not as a category that can be occupied in either form. The left-right spectrum, which was born from the import of the social memetics operative in the French Revolution and the Newtonian Revolution into a parliamentary idiom of left- and right-"wing" politics, it still tells us a story, it says something about how the social expression of Enlightenment-era natural sciences has given meaning to political lives. But significance is not only made significant through causal chains of discrete objects—people, interest groups, etc.—because patterns also matter the world.
It is between "synesthesia and metaphor" that memetic patterns come to signify hsitorical meaning, through memeplexes like political ideologies—be it communism, liberal democracy, or Nazism. Let me briefly cover this history through the countercultural revolution in the 1960s and the present-day understanding of "mind-manifesting" drugs (i.e. psychedelic drugs), because both the non-Euclidean politics, which I discuss in other posts, and our scientific understanding of synesthetisa, which comes from it.
Early 19th-century psychology doctoral student, Austrian George Sachs, began writing about synesthesia, publishing the first study of the topic, his 1812 thesis on his own synesthesiatic experiences. In the late 19th century, historians turned to synesthesia in the last two decades, much of their writing anticipating current findings in the neuroscience and genetics research on synesthesia. Early twentieth-century interest, in written terms, declined; with the rise of behaviorism and its incorporation into a liberal disciplinary state. This turn is remembered in popular culture, at least by anybody who has taken an introductory psychology course at the university level, by its memes that signalled its downfall, like the "Little Albert" experiments. During this period, which witnessed the rise of sensory deprivation (and the dark side of induced psychedelia in project Kubark), as experimental scientists turned their attention to sensory deprivation rather than synesthesiatic perception.
The rise, fall, and revival of academic interest in synesthesia happened in parallel to the rise and fall of the great behaviorist welfare state in the United States. In the late 1980s, about three decades after the "cognitive revolution," synesthesia experienced a multidisciplinary renaissance. The behaviorist welfare state's decline was convivial with the "cognitive revolution" in the human sciences, through which gay libertarian activists made their case to the APA. In 1989, neurologist Richard Cytowic published his landmark Synesthesia: A Union of the Senses; following the publication of that crossover book wherein Cytowic laid the parameters for future research, two major events cemented synesthesia within the current landscape of academic inquiry into the mind. First, Cambridge psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist Simon Barron-Cohenn verified from for the first time the veracity of the claims made by synesthete; second was the advent of brain imaging technologies that, in their own technological synesthesia of code, allowed researchers for the first time to "see" the neurological wiring and activity involved in synesthesia-technologies like electroencephalography (EEG), position emission tomography (PET), and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
And most recently, psychedelic drugs have been front and center, with researchers at the University of Warwick in 2016 sharing with the world, for the first time, brain scans of individuals who had taken lysergic diethylmide (LSD)—"acid"—the scientific writeup sounding almost like Focuault on genealogy and archeology, the authors speaking of "high-level" and "low-level" pillars of thought presented to the LSD consumer in synesthetic terms of global functioning of the brain:
This increased communication between high-level (association) and lower-level (sensory) cortices might represent a collapse in the normal hierarchical organization of the brain such that the boundaries between lower-level systems anchored to the external world and higher-level systems operating more autonomously from sensory information become blurred.
In light of these developments, my work on right-wing memetics, in particular, but the whole spectrum broadly, proposes a notion of a reactionary configuration of the body politic that operates through a negotiation of synesthesia and metaphor à la memes. It's rendered, I beleive, an aesthetic which I call "neo-reactionary psychedelia," this model towards which I'm writing and blogging, one wherein political history is conceived of as memetic evolution. Memetics is the most significant framework, in all of this, in understanding historical change of what we call "the political." It also heeds the urgency to incorporate the quantum and information revolutions into our understandings of subjectivity, the very synesthetic technologies upon which such machine vision like fMRI uses to "see" into the mind. As all of my posts will cover more extensively, Einstein's departure from the universal laws of physics towards the cosmological, with his 4D conception of the universe introduced "relativity" into our minds and also our body politic.
Extracting from the purportedly sophisticated analyses of NRx thinkers like Mencius Moldbug and Nick Land, memetic strategies—from its anti-modern theories of discourse and ideology—are what Richard Spencer calls "meta-politics" (a praxis he established his National Policy Institute to pursue in policy and culture). As always, between seriousness and a joke, one post on /pol/ lays out "the most redpilled drug combination" as: "2 cups of coffee in the morning," "50 ug LSD (microdose) for creativity," "8 hours of honest, hard work in a STEM field," "1-2 bowls of marijuana to help you sleep at night." (the post is now deleted, but I have the web archive). Alt-right "redpilling" is not only information warfare, and though it does have a body count, waves and beams do the work; there is little bludgeoning. There is little room for comparison of discrete actors and scenes. To quote Trump: "the leaks are real, the news is fake"
Information Patterning and the Weakness of Historical Analogy
"Seeing like a meme," from the "meme's eye point-of-view" (per Susan Blackmore) also avoids an emergent point of trend of analysis among critics of "the" alt-right on the left: the perrenial problem of additive frameworks for thinking historically.
Anti-fascist watchdogs, academics, and independent scholars, simply remind readers and listeners that the alternative right is not merely white nationalist but also patriarchal. The argument is usually two-fold, couched within an ambiguous qualification of the alternative right as the same but not the same old thing: 1) alt-right politics is not just white supremacist/nationalist, but patriarchal; and secondly a historical point, that patriarchy (militarism, traditional gender roles, etc.) have been historically constitutive of the former.
Yes, but adding misogyny as merely another angle— while often less than sincerely gesturing towards a concern for feminist analysis (rarely is the term "intersectional" used, though), aiming in more sincere terms to halt any jouissance invoked by the term "fascism"— replicates a historiographical conundrum that historians of gender, sexuality, and race spent decades debating the analytic value in additive frameworks. What Joan Scott called in the 1980s heyday of these debates the "evidence of experience" is still apt in the case of what might be (cautiously) called multicultural neo-fascism. in particular, the psyhotic signatures of "meme magick" (most associated with "Kekism") speaks to the inadequacy of additive approaches, which, in their primary efforts at halting the breaks as packaged within a seconeary feminist concern of analysis, ignore the significance of Western esotericism (its significance in Weimar Germany amd Nazi cosmology is widely known, but only until recently has it been interpreted as anything but a marginal, as a "merely spiritual" issue that is even more suspect for classical Marxist and post-Marxist framings of the superstructure), its inextricable relationship with psychoactive drugs (in particular methamphetamines and hallucinogenics) psychosis (often linked to stimulant drug use), and the incredibly powerful significance of the broader NRx intellectual and political movements within within which alt-right politics including meme warfare is couched.
Memetics Is Beyond Simile
Now, back to the nitty gritty catalyst for posting today: WTF are memes? First, not only what is a meme, but also: How does the act of knowing its definition affect political identification, particularly on platforms like Facebook and
Twitter, where language fails so often?
Richard Dawkins founded memetics long before ubiquitous social media and memes (as we narrowly know them) in The Selfish Gene (1976), deriving , "meme" from the Ancient Greek "mīmēma", meaning "that which is imitated," from which Dawkins extrapolated memes as "a unit of cultural transmission" and a "unit of imitation." Memetics attempts to go beyond genetics for an account of the substrate of evolution; moving from organismic biology to cultural information, adding a second "replicator" to genes -memes. Memes' success is a product of natural selection; like DNA (the "replicator" in genetics), memes must be and so are imitated. Algorithmically, some succeed over others in the "meme pool." As an evolutionary theory of information, memetics theorizes the Universalist Darwinist natural selection of iterative information, or memes; in this schema, DNA as incidental to evolution (not "by nature memetic," per the alt-right meme I opened with), the information being the important "stuff" that makes up both genetics and memetics being information.
Susan Blackmore's definition of a meme is quite simple, but capacious, building upon Dawkins': "Memes are instructions for carrying out behaviour, stored in brains (or other objects) and passed on by imitation." The memetic nature of political history-making is easily recognized in alt-right "meme warfare" and "meme magic," even if they only get it half right quite often. This is the case as well with tendencies of Trump himself. From his iconic "Taco Bowl" Tweet declaring "I love Hispanics", to his main infrastructure proposal, "the wall" (and its "big, beautiful door")- all of these are memes, the DNA of Trumpism (pardon the metaphor). Trumpist memes propagate as conspicuous alienation in the whole body politic, left and right, each profile dangling in cyberspace like a metastatic lymph node.
If the atomic structure of memetics is the meme, its molecular analogy is the "memeplex," which in terms of human and post-human communication- reside in the virtual linguistic zones in our minds, between "synesthesia and metaphor." From this space, the spectrum doesn't look binary, not in actual possibility, not if augmentationthe opening for a new political constituencies made up not by convivial interests living in discrete bodies (i.e., a constituency) but instead meme-makers and sharers. In the case of neo-reactionary movements like the alt-right, they are abstract and hyperreal reactionary ones, which are wrought not from analog personal identity, but digital metadata. Like all political programs, when seen from a "memes-eye point of view," Trumpism is what Dawkins called a "coadapted meme complex."
But memes are not "like" anything; to quote Blackmore again, simile will not do to describe the algorithmic alienation of our moment: "Evolution uses its own products to climb upon." As instruction and substance, iterative memes are not "like" an idea, but are themselves real units of information. Like biological evolution, an algorithm implies that "if x then y"-in other words, if x happens, then y not maybe, but must happen.
Beyond this post's main pupose—to of survey key ideas and historical context of memetics insofar as it sheds light on a theory of history narration—which i hope to inject into the aesthetic and historical study of reactionary politics: If Trumpism's entropic nature manifests primarily as an infrastructure crisis in informatics, as i will argue, then one can conclude (as I do) that Trumpism reverberates secondarily in the social and cultural thermodynamics of the nation. In the void of this disjuncture between the virtual and the actual, Richard Spencer can say things like: "We memed alt-right into existence," and it actually makes sense, and literally so: kneading out new dimensions of depravity through politics; it's quite artisanal, memetic warfare. This is an augmentation of reality, but animposition of a virtual one.
If the atomic structure of memetics is the meme, its molecular analogy is the "memeplex," which—in terms of human and post-human communication— reside in the virtual linguistic zones in our minds, between "synesthesia and metaphor." From this space the spectrum is not binary in actual possibility if augmentation is a political constituencies—a reactionary one wrought not from analog personal identity but digital metadata—but it is also any number of dimensions. Like all political programs wh...Trump—if the question of historical parallels is significant now to so many struggling to understand Trumpism— is not so much "like" Hitler, not in any way whereby ideology can be personified and figuratively captured by simile, but he is instead more akin to onion skin like Hitlers, kin by code rather than personage, entangled as phenomenon across time indeed, but not "like" one another. A more memetic and aesthetic historical analogy does hold in terms of Trumpism, if understood in memetic and aesthetic terms.This post-human, cruel joke of a politics, with all its too human consequences, Trumpism, rose to power with though the battle has been fought primarily online,.
Trumpism—being a memeplex, the political battlefield is meta-political—is a waterpond rendering of fascist contagion, one wherein ripples are more important than pebbles; it’s less a domino theory bound to linear causation's discursive forms, instead modeling movement in non-classical terms, wrought not as a narrative analytically faithful to sociological ties between bodies of individual (and plural, group or identity-based) political interest. It’s a political theory of mind that theorizes consciousness and perception in the most capacious terms of materialism. Likewise alt-right politics—with the hyphenated phrase serving as a modifier of politics, not acting as a nominal thing itself—are best understood as a memetic style of changing the memetic algorithms by which the modern left-right spectrum produces and regulates political identity according to a dimorphic metaphysics of political identity, as alt-right modifications to the fabric of the national body, a neo-fascism pattern of tendencies and less "a fascist movement."
Astrophysicist Max Tegmark writes: "I think that conciousness is the way information feels when being processed in certain complex ways." To what new dimensions of thought can memes grants us access? Are memes : epigenetics
::genes : genetics? Politics, in this ratio, were it visually rendered: 4D, just as epigenetics frames issues such as the racialization of the BRCA gene in Black women and Ashkenazi Jews? Memetics might help in understanding Trumpism as consciousness itself in personal and collective entropy, narrating history as neither nihilistic "final solutions" (towards fascism) or ideological contrad Information Patterning and the Weakness of Historical Analogyictions (towards revolution), but indeed "repeating itself,"" a drama played out in part by "Great Men" imitating their forefathers, executing the farce in different structural situations, in "different," "complex ways." Memes matter, and they're real. The archive, one day, will be more than paper, but virtual images of floppy disks, as the question of augmentation becomes more important to history than what "really happened."