You finally found the others. You were so sure of it. They believed what you believed, got outraged by what outraged you, and had the same aesthetic tastes as you, not to mention the same enemies. It felt nourishing, therapeutic, even tribal.
Memes — in the colloquial sense of the word — were being circulated within your tribe, liked and shared again and again, reaffirming your shared beliefs. These captioned images seemed cute and harmless enough, but another type of meme was being shared alongside them: “units of cultural transmission,” as Richard Dawkins phrased it.
Memes have the power to captivate an entire group of people. In the internet age, these groups are referred to as “memetic tribes,” and there are many of them. Some coexist peacefully, others not so much. These tribes have a meme complex, or memeplex, which can enthrall a group by offering its members what they most desire: a sense of belonging.
Who are these memetic tribes? Some are from the left or right of the political spectrum, others claim the center, or float up to the meta. The more vocal ones currently are issue based, focusing on gender, race, and other causes surrounding social justice. Some are not political at all, and are tribal around spiritual or religious lines, concerned with things like justifying God’s existence or attempting to undermine the justification of God’s existence.
All tribes speak to each other in a language of memes. From the safe distance of the internet, these shared languages provide a sense of connection and affirmation that makes us feel understood. And more importantly, they make us feel right.
But these emotions are fleeting. Boredom creeps in as belonging fades. Genuinely questioning the contours of your tribe’s meme space will get you in trouble. You will be labelled as foolish, a “concern troll,” or worse, a traitor. You soon learn there is no room for dissent, and you begin to intimately understand the boundaries of your tribe.
You find yourself pushed to the margins. From there you can see the edges of memetic foreign lands. Other exiles stand at those edges, questioning their tribes’ meme space. The content of their questions is quite…