I hope Wholesome Memes are the start of a new paradigm.

2016 has seen a new genre of internet memes gain prominence – ‘Wholesome Memes’.

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I first noticed them on the /r/wholesomememes subreddit, and have since taken to following the Best of Wholesome Memes Facebook page.

These image macros are intended to be genuinely positive and happy. Here’s a few good ones

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What can be considered a ‘wholesome meme’ isn’t just restricted to image macros. For example I disovered this song on my Spotify which follows the same theme.

There is also nice Facebook pages like Genuinely Stoked Goats.

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The internet and social media is a very new phenomena, and trends develop. From rick rolling, to crowdfunding, to parties that get a million attendees, to fake news and clickbait, and online shaming.

A notable example is the Justine Sacco case – where a woman made an arguably tasteless joke on Twitter before boarding a plane, and the internet relished in causing as much trouble for her as possible before she landed and was back in touch with the internet. (This Ted Talk here gives a very good rundown of the phenomena).

It’s apparent that the internet thrives on attention. The content that will be successful- whether for good for bad, is content that engages internet users.

This why negative content can be so prevalent. Clickbait and fake news work by packing something interesting into a single sentence. Outrage and online shaming works by inflaming the emotion of anger – giving users a rush of adrenaline.

A ‘users are addicted to the internet’ model helps explain the phenomena. Imagine internet users collectively as a group of brain dead zombies looking for their rush or adrenaline or endorphins. They’re going to be seeking out content that triggers that reaction, and sharing content that will get likes, likes also providing validation and simulation.

The result is – all of this negative content can make us cynical and frustrated about the state of the world. And that can lead to a ‘just want to watch the world’ burn kind of attitude, that gets Donald Trump elected, or gets someone to go on a mass shooting.

But – content that makes us smile also creates engagement and causes a flood of endorphins. The answer seems pretty simple; even if people are addicted to the internet – is it a problem if what they’re sharing is happy pictures and gifs that make them smile or laugh? Is that not a kind of utopia?

My Facebook feed has pretty good recently. It’s mostly pictures of goats, puns, trippy gifs, and wholesome memes. If you subscribe to a ‘you are what you consume’ philosophy, this is a pretty healthy diet.

My hope is that this a continuing trend – that people are going to be more deliberate about the content they share and create, with intention of flooding the internet with happy, positive content.

Stop sharing your outrage about Brian Tamaki.

It started like this – a tweet by New Zealand journalist appears on my Twitter newsfeed:

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If you don’t know, Brian Tamaki is a relatively fundamentalist preacher in New Zealand who follows the ‘megachurch’ model of collecting donations from his parishioners and living a lavish style.

From context, we can see that he’s said something offensive, and here we go we’ve got a reaction going from people outraged by it.

Let’s look at Brian Tamiki’s twitter:

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Who does he sound like? Rich, has a large following,  says hateful things, believes there’s a media conspiracy against him?

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And it looks like he’s a fan too!

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I would argue that a huge part of Donald Trump’s success was that he would say controversial things – which would then get air time, and he grew in popularity.

I would say the best way to combat this kind of hate speech is to not give it the air of attention. 

Let’s think about it – what’s actually wrong with what Brian Tamaki, or Donald Trump said? It disrespects people? It encourages hate?

Ultimately it comes down to words hurt. 

If that’s the case – then repeating those words further perpetuates the hurt. It reminds me of a joke – where a man walks in to a bar holding some dog shit and says ‘Look what I almost stepped in!’.

What seems to happen is that some hateful person says some hateful thing – people see that – get outraged, and repeat the hateful thing to express their opposition to it – more people see it and they become outraged!

This twitter flurry does highlight the pervasive spread of hate though:

Step 1. Someone initially says something hateful (hate).
Step 2. People respond with outrage. (outrage).
Step 3. People like myself respond with outrage to the outrage. (meta-outrage).
Step 4. No doubt there’s somebody out there annoyed that I’m complaining about this. (hyper-meta-outrage).

And in the end we’re all feeling agitated. Ffs.

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Dealing with Trump president related anxiety.

I’m generally optimistic about the future of the world – and I disagree with arguments that ‘the world is getting worse’. People are more literate than ever, health care is improving around the world, people are more free to choose there career and so on. The 2014 Annual Letter from Bill and Melinda Gates reflects this sentiment.

However, like many people I was surprised by the result of the US 2016 Presidential Election, and experienced a range of anxiety, cynicism and worry about both the future of the world and the current state of society.

What’s to worry about?

I’d divide this in to two categories:

Worry for the future.

  • Causing a global war.
  • Causing an economic recession.
  • Increasing risk of terrorism.

Cynicism about society now.

It’s a little disturbing that so many people weren’t put off by some of Trump’s more awful remarks (‘We should bomb the terrorists familys’, ‘I’d bring back waterboarding and worse’).

The election result demonstrates that there’s more deep rooted hate than we’d perhaps anticipated.

A case against optimism.

It’s tempting to say ‘She’ll be right, things always work out in the end, look at the world now’.

I think we should be a bit careful here. Life isn’t a movie that always has a happy ending. And while our society right now is pretty good, there have been periods of turmoil in the past.

For example,  let’s take the the election of Adolf Hitler to power in 1933. Although 80 years later things have turned out OK for us now, things were not OK for the people living in Europe at the time, and saying ‘she’ll be right’ in that context, seems misguided.

So that’s my first warning – it’s not a foregone conclusion that everything will be alright – though of course that wouldn’t be the case had Hillary been elected either.

With that said – it’s valuable to make the most of your life, regardless of what the election results are. Generally stress and anxiety are disruptive or distracting (though presumably someone could use them as a positive to launch their political career or similar), so it’s good to be in a frame of mind where one proceeds with their life.

Empathising with Trump voters.

Empathising is the act of imaging yourself in the shoes of someone else – understanding what their thought processes are and what they’re feeling.

Empathising humanises a person, makes them more familiar, and thus less scary. I think it’s often the not understanding why someone acts a certain way, that we find frightening.

Let’s try an empathising exercise now. All this involves is engaging our imagination. Ask yourself, what is it like First, let’s acknowledge that Trump voters aren’t a monolith – people have voted for Trump for a variety of reasons.

  • Disenfranchised and relatively less privileged whites. Working class whites who relatively speaking have fallen behind in society. For example less educated people in manufacturing jobs, who have been laid off or their wages haven’t kept up with more modern occupations like IT. Combine this with increasing ethnic diversity and the awareness that they’re not being paid much more than a social group (people of colour) they’ve typically seen themselves as significantly higher than, and you see how someone would want someone to take action to give them their social status back.
  • Children of hateful parents. Imagine if you’ve grown up surrounded with racist and sexist rhetoric, and then more recently there’s been more attention to people calling this out as hate speech. Your very way of life is under attack! When a candidate appears that opposes these now long present forces, you like the guy who is batting for you team!
  • Bored people. Your life is unsatisfying and a bit overwhelming. You expect Donald Trump to cause trouble, and that’s going to stir things up.
  • Protest voters. I imagine that lot of people who voted for Trump, never expected him to win. People who were frustrated at the lack of options in the election – not trusting that Hillary Clinton had their interests at heart, and voted for Trump more to make a point, rather than genuinely preferring him as president.

When you think about things this way – how Trump came about is a lot more understandable – and for me, the feeling changes more from anxiety to sadness. It’s sad that so many people have lives like this that voting for Trump seems like a good move.

Accepting that we live in a world of assholes.

One of the disheartening things about the election result, is that it appears that a lot of people are gleeful, bitter, hateful or ignorant.

This may feel depressing, as the world isn’t full of the happy, loving, intelligent people we’d like a utopia to be.

But – instead of feeling like you’ve lost something, just accept that that’s actually how it is. Imagine you are a buffalo on the African Savannah. There really are lions out there want to eat you. Being depressed about this isn’t going to help – what’s going to help is being aware of it, and being strong in the face of it.

Or similarly – imagine that it’s discovered that in the forest near your park resides real genuine monsters, who’ll pop out at night and eat people. Instead of being terrified, or despairing that the world is worse than you thought it was,  accept it and change your lifestyle to suit. Start carrying a weapon, and avoiding the forest at night.

What this attitude means practically, is in your day to day interactions, perhaps being a bit more emotionally standoffish with people you don’t know – after all – they could be bitter or selfish. It also means looking out for the people who are intelligent, loving and full of life and actively seeking them out and appreciating them!

Life does go on.

Even if something bad happens, it may have long term consequences, but we still deal with it, and still move on. For example 9/11 really did happen, and it end up causing chaos in the middle east, and there was a global economic recession – yet we’re still here, things are still alright.

Now of course – for people who did die as the result of a terrorist attack or in one of the wars – things weren’t alright – so we should quite rightly be concerned about personally becoming a victim. But that said – every time you drive in a car, you also risk dying in a car crash. Personally – I don’t like driving for this reason, but in the wider context of things – and depending where you live, on the balance of probability, you can probably keep doing what you’re doing.

But if, in your assessment, you do need to take action – then take action! Become a doomsday prepper, or move to a safer neighborhood or whatever.

Blame social media/the media.

I think a large part of Trump’s success was that he sold headlines with the outrageous things he said. The media would report those things, knowing that people would click the headline to indulge their desire to be outraged. Whether it’s the responsibility of the media for producing the headlines, or the consumers for reading them, is a discussion for another time.

I think it’s a philosophy that’s worth considering – the reason that someone so outrageous has risen to power, is partly because we’re addicted to outrage and we feed it. Perhaps it time we get more choosey about the media we consume.

Conclusion.

Ultimately, I think the right response is a mix of optimism and agitation. Keep feeling positive and enjoying your life (we do live in a pretty golden age, after all), but also use this as an opportunity to be more inspired and motivated, and do your part to improve our culture.