Saturday, August 01, 2009

How Dumb Spreads

If I had another life to spare I'd like to do research in memetic epidemiology -- how ideas spread and mutate through populations. Yesterday, Glenn Beck publicized a deeply moronic piece of hysteria -- that, the Fed-run consumer site for the cash-for-clunkers program -- was the thin edge of a wedge of complete government takeover of everything on your computer!!!! Of course, there is approximately no basis. There is a bit of legalese on a page that is only for car dealers, consumers never even encounter the hideous piece of text that supposedly permanently hocks your computer's soul to Obama.

This looks like an interesting case, epidemiologically speaking. There appears to be a single source (Beck) and you can see it trickling slowly through the blogosphere. It's pretty easy to identify. Probably it won't spread too widely; even the wingnut sites have comments pointing out how silly it is.

What's amazing to me is the mainstreaming of this kind of stuff. It's one things for stupid memes to propagate over random blogs, but this is being instigated from a major television show, backed up by one of the largest media corporations. Kimberly Guilfoyle is if anything even more hysterical than Beck -- this is a woman who used to be an assistant DA and was wife to Gavin Newsome, mayor of San Francisco and likely next governor of California. People in stations like this used to have a smidgen of responsibility, but these people clearly haven't got the slightest interest in the truth, and are perfectly willing to spread bullshit if it helps stoke their narrative of the evils of the Obama administration.

Well, this meme will die out soon I predict. More significant winger memes include those the drive the birther movement (apparently infection rates in white Southerners are an astonishing 70% or higher) and the idea that that Obama's health care plan involves mass euthanasia of the elderly (some examples here and here). Ooooh, here is a neat convergence!
check out this perfectly usable (until the federal government got a hold of it) Volvo being purposefully destroyed because of this program...Imagine instead of a car purposefully being put to death its your grandmother or grandfather being put to death by the federal government.
The euthanasia meme is going to go far, I predict. It just has the perfect combination of ingredients -- simple facts inflated wildly out of proportion, gruesomeness, paranoia, the invocation of sacred family ties. And seniors are easily manipulated.

Gary Farber does a good job with this sort of thing.
Here, for example, he tracks the fauxtrage over a photo from the recent white house beerfest. But he's just one man and is not using systematic techniques. We need some serious analytics applied to this stuff.

1 comment:

goatchowder said...

We already have euthanasia in this country. It's called "being poor".

If you are poor in America, there's not very much of a safety net for you. Your days are numbered. The "death panel" of corporations has consigned you to the scrap heap, you clunker. Next!

And we do already have "death panels". They are insurance claims adjusters. And, the biggest "death panel" of all: your employer. Your employer is your master. They decide whether you, or your children, live or die. This is freedom? Sure.. keep it coming.

What we're seeing is another example of classic right-wing projection. It's a curious form of paranoia, possibly a defense against deep-seated guilt.

I've noticed this for years: the wingnuts are always accusing the left of doing what they themselves have already been doing. The louder their accusations, the more guilty the accusers are.

"Free market" globalized corporate capitalism is a Darwinian death sentence, not just for the individuals who can't compete and are trampled by the system, but with global warming, for the entire planet. Of course the wingnuts are terrified.