What's a meme? To quote Wikipedia, the term was coined by the British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene (1976) as a concept for discussion of evolutionary principles in explaining the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena.
Most memes live because they are simple. They can be grasped quickly by most people and in their structure they follow the most straightforward and primitive lines of thinking. The best memes are felt, not understood.
So, why should we care about all that "job creator"-nonsense in the first place? The answer is: Sometimes killing the meme is killing the movement.
Not long ago, I stated in a comment that it was my conviction that Daily Kos had to become an "effective think-tank of the Left." I got a disillusioned half-sentence written back in the vein of "dream on, you idealistic ..., well, dreamer". But I still and strongly feel that we should refrain from all the whining and silly sarcasm and political vanities this site is often too preoccupied with. We can create ideas, we can create memes. I had the pleasure to witness the creation of the "Caribou Barbie" meme on this site. That was nice and it was probably not quite ineffective in defining Palin. But we need more:
Our task is to identify, analyze and counter the present main memes of the Right.
We do that by, in the best tradition of the Enlightenment, using our "god-given reason" in combination with the scientific method of hypothesis and refinement by experiment (aka try and error) to, in the end, reach powerful memes of our own. The elections of the 21st century are decided not by money or establishment power, but by thoughts. And it is so damn easy to have one.
Now, let us happily and in a concentrated and at the same time relaxed mood start our analysis. More below the fold ...
A. Structure of the meme
Their meme is three-parted:
1. The rich are the ones who employ you.
2. Employing someone costs money.
3. If we give them more money, they will employ more people. Perhaps you.
Here we see the suggestive strength of the argument: 1. and 2. are obviously right and everyone immediately gets it. 3. seems like a perfectly logical conclusion. The flaw, now that we have analyzed the meme more thoroughly, is obvious: There is no causality between "A rich person has money" and "A rich person spends that money to create a job". Why? Creating a job is a business decision. You only create a job if it will bring you more in a year than all its costs combined.
Would you now create a job if you had the money?
You don't know? It is not that difficult. Are you convinced that the additional goods you can produce with the help of your new employee will all be bought, therefore giving you a profit?
To determine that, you take a look at demand: Are people buying? At the moment, they are not. Why? They do not have enough money in that economical climate.
So you probably won't create a job if you think that demand will not be better. That's it. It has been decided: You will save the money, bring it to the bank or invest it in, I don't know, something safe like real estate, derivatives or donate it to a Trump-2012-PAC. But you won't create a job, because you probably will lose money by that.
Well, there it is, our new-found truth: The meme of the other side is false. By the way, a zillion economists have walked that path before us and, miraculously, they agree.
So, step 1 is done: We can now confidently try to debunk the false meme.
B. Devising an Anti-Meme
Will we be successful if we simply and logically state the fallacy of the argument?
No, of course not.
Paul Krugman can write a thousand times that "demand" is important, and noone will listen. Why? Because, as mentioned, the good memes are felt, not understood, and the one we want to fight is a very good one: It is shaping the policies of the GOP and determines much of their economical ideas since the times of Reagan. And hell yes, did the Gipper communicate some memes!
It is a very mighty meme that can swallow the unprepared and never let them go. That way, it is a bit like the most effective memes of elaborate cults. But is it, in a way, insurmountable, invincible, indelible? No, of course not: It is rooted in the human mind, it is carried by the human mind and therefore it is dependent of the human mind. A symbiosis only works for so long.
So: Every meme can be replaced.
The meme we encounter is one that is, I would say, of medium-to-strong resistance in itself. It is weaker in that respect like, for instance, religious memes that are often accompanied by "protective memes" that are supposed to, at least to a certain degree, safeguard them from attack, from fading away or from repacement: The threats of punishment, the direct attacks to the worthiness of the ones who is “leaving” the meme etc... Those, in the form of a fine-tuned ideological system, are memes powerful enough to shape the history of the world. Those are the memes embedded in all strong ideologies like the monotheistical religions, most sects, fascism and communism.
We are dealing with a weaker form here:
There are not clearly and distinctively labeled punishments for not believing it. The punishment here stems from the deep association with a certain block of society that is conservative or very conservative. Those people in most cases base their political beliefs on their religious beliefs, therefore making the former close to the strong memes above in its subjective and deliberate unassailability. When a meme, like the one we want to fight, stems from such an ideologized environment, the members of that environment will cling to the meme because it is neccessary for their sustained membership in the ideological group. Otherwise, they would run the risk of being "politically excommunicated" (a term I read for the first time in a chat room shortly after Obama's win, when the angry mob was referring to the "traitors" who they deemed too moderate to be Republicans. And damn, were those guys excommunicated). In a way, conservatives have an advantage with their base: Since, as has at least been found in two independently conducted studies, conservatives tend to be more guided by fear, anxiety and anger than voters describing themselves as liberal (in my view, a natural consequence of the open mindset of free-thinking humanists like us), those conservative voters are more prone to memes centering around that "triangle of manipulation". Furthermore, their often more pronounced religious fervor has already prepared their mind to the kind of obedient acceptance of and devotion to simplistic messages that split the world in black and white, good and evil, perfect and abominable.
What can we learn from that?
Conservatives are already lost to us, we need to convince the middle, the so called "moderates", "independents" etc... Those people are not firmly attached to voting for one party or the other, but they are prone to memes like everyone else without aggressive countermeasures. After all, taking the freedom to let oneself be convinced by something new might be the foremost and adamant pride of the non-conservative mindset.
And now to the core of our investigation: How can we convince them?
We need to find a meme strong enough to replace the existing one.
What does "strong enough" mean for our meme? It needs to work quickly, taking you by surprise like a great melody or a catchy line in a stand up or tv show. It needs to be emotion, not thought. It needs to touch as many people as possible, leaving them impressed. It needs to be able to fend of the initial attacks which are: Marginalization, labeling, invaild counterarguments. People must want to believe it. That is the weakness of the existing meme: It seems convincing, but it does not truely grab you emotionally.
C. Practical Application
Therefore, my idea for our meme might be demonstrated by the following dialogue that stages a confrontation with the existing one (someone reminded of Galileo?). It begins ...:
A talk between to persons, somewhere. They year: 2012.
Conservative Person: "We need to give to the rich, because they are "job creators". If they have money, the will create jobs and everyone will be employed again. America will be fine again. So, to do that, we must LOWER TAXES, ELIMINATE REGULATIONS, SHATTER UNIONS, and so on ..."
Other Person: "The rich are no job creators, the American people are job creators."
C. P.: "Ehm, what do you mean? Obviously the people don't employ anyone. The corporations do."
Other Person: “No, I am convinced that the American people have the power to overcome our present situation and to safe the economy. We, the people, will create the jobs needed to bring America back again."
C.P.: "How do you want to do that? What do you mean?"
O. P.: "Who is America?"
C. P.: "What? Uhmm, we are America, the descendants of the Pilgrim Fathers, we, the god-loving people."
O.P.: "America is everyone, the people are everyone: The middle class, the hard working ones worrying for their jobs, the poor trying to find one, but also the academics who invent and innovate for the sake of our economy. Everyone is helping together.
But corporations: They are there to employ and to produce goods for the people, but as we have seen, they cannot help us now. They are reluctant, they think people won't buy things, they think demand stays low.
If I gave you 10.000 $, would you hire someone to produce goods you know you won't sell? Would that be a smart investment? Well, you never know, perhaps tomorrow people would spend more, but again, as it is: You never know. Why should you risk it?
So, I don't blame corporations, they are mostly acting reasonable, they aren’t causing the crisis. They are suffering like everyone else. They would love to hire people if they thought that would be wisely invested money. They don't want to lose money for nothing. So they can't help us, they are bound and are dependent on those who buy their goods. They only offer and can't force anyone to buy.
The people, the buyers, the American People are the key. And I repeat: There is hope! We, the people, will conquer this crisis, like we have conquered so many more in our history. We will do it.
The people need more money.
The people need to live a good live, they deserve it. And I am not only talking about the poor, I am talking about everyone. How can that be wrong: All Americans working together to conquer the crisis. We will win.
How will the people win? We will provide them more money for them to spend. This is our plan. It is often said that you should let the tax-cuts for the rich expire. Well, 'what is the use?', many say. And they are right. If some millionaire has to pay more, what good is it for the people? If government got the money instead, it would go from one rich hand to the other, people might say, and perhaps they might be right.
What we will do is: We will let the rich pay more, their tax-cuts will expire. They are Americans, too, they are part of the American people, and they have to give their share, too, and they will do that willingly and immediately, I am sure, because they know what’s at stake.
But not a single cent will go to the government. This will be a tax-neutral measure: Every cent that the rich will pay, according to their duty as American citizens, and I am am sure they will gratefully fulfil it to help you all, every cent of that money will go to you. The expiration of the tax-cuts for the rich will finance tax-cuts for the rest of the American people. It will be "tax-and-spend", sure, but in a way every American citizen can agree with:
The government will tax and the American people will spend.
And by spending, by buying things again for your beloved ones, your children and family, by raising your standard of life, by rightfully spending in pursuit of your own happiness, one group will not be forgotten: The so called rich, who are simply businessmen who want to sell. And they will sell, and they will earn. And then, then finally, they will create jobs.
But it will be jobs created by you, by your dreams and well-earned investments. It will be jobs created by the American people. The American car you buy will create a job in a car factory for a fellow American, the food you buy will make new jobs available in factories all over the country, and if there will be time again for a great vacation with your family, to visit the great places we have in that beautiful nation, the money you spend during some of your greatest days of the year will help other Americans come back to their feet and will create new industries long thought dead and written off much too early. We can come back! The American people will recreate the American Dream by living it. That is our plan, that is your future.
Don't let them take it away from you, don't let them prevent you from having it, prevent you from restoring your country. This is no dream, this is real:
Do it and I promise, we will give you what you fight for."