Making Memes

Tim Walker writes about meme entrepreneurship. I love it. Go read it. Unless I misunderstand the point, it seems like a lot of folks are already working in that vein—writers. Just glancing at my bookshelf, there’s Florida and his Creative Class, Friedman and his Flat World, Weinberger‘s Miscellany, Anderson‘s Long Tail.
I don’t mean that to sound flip, because I think these all occupy an interesting middle ground. The ideas aren’t quite as heady and broad as, let us say, praxeology (brilliant though it is). But they’re a step up from the mundanities of something like Six Sigma. For the most part, the far ends of that bell curve can be safely ignored, unless it happens to be your pet interest. But if you’re paying attention, strong arguments in that middle ground can force a conversation. That is what great memepreneurs do well.

Tim brings out a political example to contrast bad memes with fruitful memes. “Bush is stupid” vs. ‚ÄúBush pursues dangerous ideas—expensive dangerous ideas.‚Äù The latter is more effective because it comes across as not a simple couched argument or opinion, but an invitation to explore. Provocative, sure. Good memes usually are. But more than that, it’s actually a functional starting point. The best memes are forward-looking.1 That’s one reason I always liked political theory more than any other field of political science. I get to escape those messy details of policy and history and think about what could be.

I’ll let Tim close it out:

We need better memes in the world to counter all the stupid ones that drive so much of our behavior. I would say “that drive so much of our thinking,” but in fact the purpose of many of these memes is to relieve us from thinking, so that we reflexively reach for the products we’ve had marketed to us, or reflexively reach for the attitudes that favor certain special interests within the society. (Note that these special interests can be political, commercial, religious, or what have you. I take the broad view here.) But those of us who are awake to these tendencies can work to shape them in other, better directions.


1. Bureaucrats and pundits are not. Though I’m willfully ignorant talking-head culture, I’ve seen enough to convince me that they tend to be far more concerned with digging up old grievances and winning now than actually caring about the future. It’s the nature of the gig. See “Property Rights and Time Preference” [pdf]

One thought on “Making Memes

  1. Thanks for the link, Mark. And yes, the best writers have always done this. Emerson did it. Cicero did it. My goal now is to do it a little more explicitly, with a little more forethought.

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