Meme Wars

With Memes the Medium is the Message
“Politicians So Misconstrues Reality That
Their Memes are Never Dank Enough to Reach the Soul…” JG


We know from 20th Century media guru Marshall McLuhan that “the medium is the message…” [1]

The medium that carries the information is its own message. That seems especially true of our 21st Century hyper-connected Internet virtual reality. The sign both contains the meaning and becomes the meaning. [2]

Political discourse is morphing into Meme Wars, and sometimes into street battles. The symbol becomes the meaning.

For example, consider the image of the US Capitol surrounded by barbed wire.

An Unintentional Meme

Even without words, a powerful message is displayed. The contrast between the Dome of the Capitol, an image rich in associate meanings such as the Sovereignty of the People and representative democracy contrasts with the barber wire which conveys an opposite meaning.  Thus, the image embodies the tension between the image and the significance that defines the concept of the Meme.

I recommend reading Josh Weltman’s book Seducing Strangers. [3] In it he makes a fascinating observation, one of many, starting with a term from Aristotle’s Rhetoric, “Enthymeme.” [4]

He connects the term to Internet “memes” — a word that was originally a play on the term “gene.” [5] A meme is an idea (embodied as a catchphrase, image or the like) which spreads throughout a society in a fashion not unlike the way genes spread through a population. Or like viruses are said to spread.

The point he makes is that there is a certain pattern to the use of Internet Memes that makes them powerful persuasive tools.  “If the first part… confuses, the second part must explain. And if the first part explains, the second part should confuse.” [6]

Aristotle’s Enthymeme is a logical construct where the “first term” of the syllogism is assumed to be understood by the listener.  The second and third terms of the argument are more persuasive since the first is already in the minds of the listener.

For Internet image memes this can be generalized to: If the image confuses (or shocks, or astounds or amuses = surprises) then the words should explain; if the image explains, the words should surprise.

An Advertising Meme

To a degree the image above is an example of the process. The retro-image is typical ’60s California and carries with it the whole meme complex of California Living.  The words pull it into the present, starting with the then current year date and become a warning to those doing business in California that the changing rules will impact them and require attention.

The average attention span of the average Internet user is very short. Just seconds. [7] Notice mainstream TV, for example. The editing cuts (especially for ads) are often the length of a heartbeat, sometimes two or three. Hardly ever more.

Thus the Internet Meme, with its rhetorical tension between image and word, is an ideal tool to get the message through the medium and into the minds of your audience — in the concise form needed by modern attention spans.

Internet communication is becoming a battleground of memes – a virtual Meme War. This is especially true regarding political opinion communications.  The carefully orchestrated censoring of Internet legacy media (such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook) which (shades of Apartheid) “banned” thousands of users (including your author) due to their political opinions, just prior to the 2020 USA elections, is widely seen as an attempt to control the election results by preventing the exposure of the way the elections were rigged. [8] During the same period that the legacy media were driving hundreds of millions away uncensored platforms such as experienced exponential growth. [9]

A good example of how Memes are used to organize political activism can be seen in the World Wide Demonstrations occurring every other month since March 2021, targeting the COVID Declared Pandemic masking, lockdowns and increasingly mandated Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) inoculations.

With the legacy media banning all mention of the Worldwide Demonstrations the organizers focused on using to coordinate.  The main Worldwide Telegram chat has 58,000 subscribers. [10] Every nation and many provinces, states and local communities have Worldwide chats as well.  This small group of people from across the world have orchestrated increasingly large and coordinated events, involving up to a hundred nations with some cities hosting hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, defying lockdown and masking mandates.

Under the powerful memes WWG1WGA (Where We Go One We Go All), “One Day Everyone Together” and #WeWillAllBeThere images are created that convey the world-wide scope of the effort. Note the use of the hashtag (#) which is itself an Internet Meme, originally intended to enable easier Internet searching of social media.  It now conveys the concept that what follows is a label that relates to meme-like communication. It becomes a meme of itself, thus both violating and confirming the semiotic concept of a sign that signifies something other than its self.

What makes a “good” (effective) meme? Why did my young interlocutor assert that politicos can’t meme?

He says it is because they have a highly distorted perception of Reality (in the Misean sense). Now I agree that statists of all stripes misperceive Reality, believing that collective nouns (like party, class, nation, corporation) can engage in Human Action.  They cannot, as Mises showed – only individuals think, plan and act. [12]

Misperceiving the basic nature of our social interactions must distort the human action that results from the dissatisfaction triggered by the misperception. Truth is a precondition for effective human action.

So what does Truth have to do with meming? Can a false meme be effective?  Is “propaganda” simply false meming?

Since the Internet meme is usually built on the tension between the image and the word, if either is false to the communication sought to be made, the power of the whole to communicate is diminished. But what if the person offering the communication wants to communicate a lie?  Then the rhetorical structure of the meme can be seen to be a two edged sword.

In ancient Greece rhetoric could be used to defend truth or to deny it.  To utter grand philosophic ideals, or to condemn Socrates to death.

My Millennial Connections tell me they call what is happening The Meme Wars. Some of the most popular online groups are built around what are called “Dank Memes.” [11] The more dissonance between the image and the words, the better. And so it goes.

If the image astounds, the words explain. If the image explains, the words astound…


[1]  – “The medium is the message is a phrase coined by Marshall McLuhan meaning that the form of a medium embeds itself in any message it would transmit or convey, creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived.”

[2] “In semiotics, a sign is anything that communicates a meaning that is not the sign itself to the interpreter of the sign. The meaning can be intentional such as a word uttered with a specific meaning, or unintentional, such as a symptom being a sign of a particular medical condition. Signs can communicate through any of the senses, visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, or taste. …. the sign as a triadic relation as “something that stands for something, to someone in some capacity””

[3] Workman Publishing, 2015 – ISBN 978-0-7611-8495-9 (Co-producer of the TV series, Mad Men)

[4]  – “An enthymeme (Greek: ἐνθύμημα, enthumēma) is a rhetorical syllogism … used in oratorical practice.”

[5]  – “In 2013 Dawkins characterized an Internet meme as being a meme deliberately altered by human creativity—distinguished from biological genes and Dawkins’ pre-Internet concept of a meme which involved mutation by random change and spreading through accurate replication as in Darwinian selection.”

[6] Weltman, – see page 25.

[7]  – You Now Have a Shorter Attention Span Than a Goldfish




[11]  [Gary Johnson’s 2015 Dank Meme Stash was on Facebook but no longer accessible. A newer example of a libertarian-oriented meme stash is at  — here is a collection of memes from that site:


Subtle is better…

[12] At the very end of Human Action, Mises warned us all –

“Man’s freedom to choose and to act is restricted in a threefold way. There are first the physical laws to whose unfeeling absoluteness man must adjust his conduct if he wants to live. There are second the individual’s innate constitutional characteristics and dispositions and the operation of environmental factors; we know that they influence both the choice of the ends and that of the means, although our cognizance of the mode of their operation is rather vague. There is finally the regularity of phenomena with regard to the interconnectedness of means and ends, viz., the praxeological law as distinct from the physical and from the physiological law.

The elucidation and the categorical and formal examination of this third class of laws of the universe is the subject matter of praxeology and its hitherto best-developed branch, economics. The body of economic knowledge is an essential element in the structure of human civilization; it is the foundation upon which modern industrialism and all the moral, intellectual, technological, and therapeutical achievements of the last centuries have been built. It rests with men whether they will make the proper use of the rich treasure with which this knowledge provides them or whether they will leave it unused. But if they fail to take the best advantage of it and disregard its teachings and warnings, they will not annul economics; they will stamp out society and the human race.”

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