In 2008 I had just graduated from a Philosophy degree with the University of New Brunswick. We learned about Plato’s disdain for people who are swayed by rhetoric and satire rather than reason. We learned logic. We learned proper argumentation. And this was our mode of communication for political, ethical, scientific, or religious thoughts.
Politicians who use empty rhetoric are offensive to our breed. It’s like fingernails on a chalkboard. So in the early 2010s when politics was more and more being discussed via memes rather than rigorous analysis it was disheartening to see reason losing to not even stylish rhetoric, it was reason losing to amateur graphics.
It was everything Plato warned us about and cautioned us would lead to societal decay – governance by uncritical thought. It was everything Aristotle stood up to. It was everything Augustine chastised.
And in 2015, Canadians lost the election largely due to memes. I mean that in every sense, Canada lost when Trudeau was elected and he was elected with people sharing ill-thought-out nonsense that was easily refuted.
Memes were being shared that were critical of the previous prime minister’s economic record, although Canada had been the economically top performing G20 country during his tenure that happened to coincide with the financial crisis. This is a sample and there was no shortage of absent-minded memes spreading through Canadian social media.
I had a bit of a change of heart with an app development company I had. Our quote of the day apps were doing well so I decided to make one for Martin Luther King Jr. When I began reading his quotes and essays, I was expecting rhetorical eloquence, and he didn’t disappoint. But I noticed he often spoke in implied syllogisms (he spoke logically):
If P then Q.
It is the case that P.
Therefore it is the case that Q.
It’s possible to have rhetoric and reason. There’s nothing inherently wrong with being stylish, or having something catchy that grabs people’s attention, wrongness pertains to truth. Rhetoric and satire aren’t good or bad, it’s how they’re used that can be good or bad. They’re a tool.
Also, length doesn’t necessarily add truth. The shortness of a proposition doesn’t negate its meaning. E = mc2is only five characters and yet it’s a profound proposition.
Murray Rothbard once said, “If taxation is compulsory, it is therefore indistinguishable from theft”. That one line gave intellectual credence to a movement and its a philosophy that should be shared. And it’s only one line.
Memes can also point to higher realities. Not just pithy brilliance but also point us to more abundant material. They can be the key that unlocks the door to a richness of literature.
Therein lies one of the main points. Our movement has a richness of literature. We have enormous stacks of economic textbooks, that people are largely ignoring. The racists and protectionists of the alt-right along with the thoughtless socialists of the left aren’t turning toward Smith, Mises, or Hazlitt when it comes time to vote. The strictly rational approach, with no catchy graphics, has failed to resonate.
Socrates was voted to die by the masses. The masses cried out for Christ’s crucifixion. Excogitations don’t necessarily lead to mass conversions. If the philosophy of liberty is to grow to where we can truly emancipate ourselves, or even if the philosophy of loving truth is to grow, flashiness, rhetoric, satire, intrigue, shouldn’t be disqualified from our toolbox.
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