If facebook had a “turn memes off” button

Would you push it?

I might a lot of days. I say that as someone who has posted my fair share. I still laugh at quite a few. But, some days it’s a lot like hearing nothing but knock-knock jokes over and over again.

Steven Pinker offered some words about one-liners in How the Mind Works that seem almost eerie that he wrote them before social media in light of modern meme posting:

But oddly enough, humor is also a prized tactic of rhetoric and intellectual argument. Wit can be a fearsome rapier in the hands of a skilled polemicist. Ronald Reagan’s popularity and effectiveness as president owed much to his facility with one-liners that quashed debate and criticism, at least for the moment; for example, when deflecting questions about abortion rights he would say, “I notice that everyone in favor of abortion has already been born.” Philosophers relish the true story of the theoretician who announced at a scholarly conference that while some languages use a double negative to convey an affirmative, no language uses a double affirmative to convey a negative. A philosopher standing at the back of the hall shouted in a singsong, “Yeah, yeah.” Though it may be true, as Voltaire wrote, that “a witty saying proves nothing,” Voltaire was famously not above using them himself. The perfect quip can give a speaker an instant victory, deserved or not, and leave opponents stammering. We often feel that a clever aphorism captures a truth that would require pages to defend in another way. (pg 549)

But, how long will we be able to say, especially in the context of more serious discussions, that the tactic is “prized”? Like one too many knock-knock jokes eventually the punch is lost from the outset.

This is not even to mention other potential problems that Pinker hints at when he says “tactic of rhetoric and intellectual argument” and “the perfect quip can give a speaker an instant victory, deserved or not.” As the medium shapes the message and memes become more ubiquitous does it become harder and harder for us as individuals to weed through the rhetoric of one-liners and determine whether an intellectual argument is valid or not?

At any rate, by all means keep posting your memes if you’re so inclined.  I probably should just invest some time in getting better at filtering things and not whine on my blog about it. But facebook, if you’re listening, and we all know you are, a button that I could toggle off and on a couple days at a time would save me some effort …

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