Do Memes Violate the Non-Aggression Principle?


Recently I have found myself acting as one of the few critics of memes and other questionable internet culture paradigms. It has not made me very popular, to say the least, but the amount of resistance does tell me that I am on to something. Whenever a subject becomes beyond question or reproach, it becomes absolutely critical that we do question it to prevent new dogmas from arising in human culture whenever possible.

When questioning something it is helpful to run the subject through a number of different filters and to view it from as many directions as possible so that one can gain a greater understanding of its complexities and nuances. I often use the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP), the core philosophy of peaceful and voluntary association advocates of many types, as one of those filters.

The following is a conversation that occurred between myself and fellow contributor Michael Storm online. The exchange helped me to clarify my own thinking on the subject of memes and the NAP. While I was not able to draw a clear and direct connection between memes and a violation of the NAP, I think I was able to show that some connection between memes and the states aggressive forces does exist. If not more in spirit than in exact letter.

If we were to define passive aggressiveness as a violation of the NAP, however, I would have had that argument in the bag! After reading the conversation below I hope that you at least look at the meme phenomena a little more carefully. There is far more than meets the surface in memes, as with anything else. Unpacking the hidden truths lying beneath the surface of things is the most important part of thinking critically. And exploring ideas from all possible angles with an open mind is always more important than getting to the right answer quickly and easily.

The conversation began regarding an article I posted on Facebook, which claimed that 10% of college graduates thought Judge Judy was on the Supreme Court. The piece was itself below brilliance and insinuated some incredibly fallacious premises. This is how I introduced the article.

It is itself anti-intellectual to reduce human intelligence to the ability to regurgitate specific factoids. Even worse is the assumption that knowledge of the state and its bureaucrats should be a primary area of knowledge for every individual.
If you are judging people thusly it is quite likely that a lifetime of being conditioned in the states schools has reduced your own intellect.
Further, the association of intelligence with a college degree that is implied is also a fallacious appeal to authority.
I think you are mistaking obedience for intelligence, “Intellectual” Takeout.

Michael and I began to discuss in the comments how Judge Judy and other television court shows were actually more sound than the courts of the state, as ridiculous as they are, they are still not based on aggression, but voluntary consent to mediation over a dispute. Mr. Storm then mentioned that he had made some memes along these lines and shared one of them with me.

judge judy meme

At this point I took the conversation in a new direction, as I like bouncing ideas off Michael, and figured this would be a good opportunity to test a pet hypothesis I had been working on. The following is our conversation…

Joshua Scott Hotchkin- Want me to tell you how I believe memes violate the NAP?

Michael Storm- Don’t think that’s possible because it’s not actually forced on anyone, most people participate in stupidity of their own free will! 

Joshua- Compulsion is an act of aggression, and meme behavior has become compulsive.

Michael- Not sure I buy that you’ll have to clarify how compulsion is a violation.

Joshua- The NAP has long defined aggression as acts of force, coercion or compulsion.

For instance, the government doesn’t force you to use its roads. But you are compelled to by their monopoly on roads. Much of the problem of government lies not in direct force, but in the coercion and compulsion it creates through its edicts, sanctions and monopolies.

Michael- But that doesn’t apply to thought without force to back it up.

Joshua- There are social consequences for not taking part in this compulsion. If one does not want to be alienated or disregarded, then non-participation in the compulsive behavior forces them into isolation.

It is definitely more subtle, but the omnipresence of memes makes that subtle act of aggression a much greater one over time.

When you are effectively silenced for refusing to use the methods that create consent amongst the majority, your consent is removed from you. Compulsion reduces our agency and will.

Michael- I still don’t see it, there is no threat backed by force because there is no way for the memer to make the memie accept the validity or even the premise of the meme. It just is.

Joshua- One does not have to accept it. It is an environmental compulsion. Culture itself can be an oppressive force. And when that culture is shaped so heavily by the state, the cultural compulsions are rooted in deeper more direct ones.

I do not think memes would be so wildly popular if not for the reductionist oversimplification we are conditioned to in the states schools. Memes are an extension of one of the greatest examples of aggression in society, compulsive schooling. That which reinforces that conditioning is a continuation of that force.

There are some more obvious examples of memes as aggression. Take, for instance, the Hippy Feminist Liberal Girl meme. She would not consent to having her image used to promote discourse outside of her own value system. The exploitation involved is an act of aggression.

Michael- Too much of a stretch, you’ll have me backing petersen if that is the intended application of a core principle of the nap.

The meme is not a symptom of society manipulated by the state and in no way suggests that the meme would or would not exist with or without the state. It’s more a reflection of expedience and short attention spans, a symptom of modern society as a whole. People are ignorant as a default, education decreases that ignorance, even poor education, that is why many people still succeed at life even with a government education.

Using someone’s likeness and associating ridiculous thought with it, that has been addressed, the people vs Larry Flynt. It’s not aggression it’s free speech. Acting on that speech to aggress against that person for the thought expressed by the lampoon, now that’s a violation.

Joshua- Stupidity reduces freedom and liberty by making us more susceptible to aggressors. That which induces stupidity is therefore a contributing factor in aggression. While I understand that it is a bit difficult to make a really solid argument for my premise, I think it is quite easy to say that at the very least, memes violate the spirit of the NAP. The sort of society in which NAP supporters envision would be one free of the sort of rapid stupidity which is intrinsically tied into memes.

Free speech can be aggressive. The two concepts are incompatible since the NAP is a practice of anti-statists, and specifically granted rights are an activity of the state. I am disinterested in the states legal edicts, so court precedence is not a factor worth considering compared to thinking in the context of a truly free society.

From there we got sort of sidetracked talking about rights.

Michael- I wish I could believe that’s true, but we get the society we have because of the people, not the other way around.

The only other thing I wanted to address was the negative rights view. We both know that, whatever rights we have, that rights are not granted by the state, and given that the codified rights are protections against the state reflecting the need for the individual to be protected from the collective, those rights must be positive. While a court precedence means very little, it is a precedence that favors positive rights. Speech can lead to violence, but it is not in and of itself an act of violence, that is the statist view of natural positive rights. That they have limitations based on the presumption that something might happen because a person is free to _______.

Joshua- Rights are only granted by the state. You are born free, then the state usurps your freedom and sells it back to you for a higher cost with a lesser value, calling it ‘rights’. Rights do not exist.

Read: The Metaphysical Implications of Natural Rights

So what do you think? Are memes, if not direct violations of the NAP, at least a minor form of aggressive behavior worth reconsidering? Go to the UnicornWorld Facebook page and let us know what YOU think in the comments section of this articles posting.

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