Over at feministphilosophers.wordpress.com, Jenny Saul has encouraged the internet community to make a meme from this photo after seeing it at a Berlin museum.
In this photo, Jenny Saul says, “In the same exhibit I saw a much less famous picture. I don’t know who this woman is. But someone needs to make a meme. Surely the expression on her face gives one plenty to work with.”
Personally, I tend to think that the work that blog does is superior than asking others to make a meme. With that said, acknowledging who this defiant woman is can be seen as rightly recognizing her along feminist lines.
I just found it odd, and even pedagogically at ends with what philosophy does, to recommend that someone “make a meme.” Memes are pictures with text that occur in social media. They are shared uncritically. They are liked, regurgitated, and cycle between likeminded people, and occasionally disagreeing parties encounter them in a newsfeed only to brush past them as quickly as they’ve been seen.
Every meme asserts the conclusion that likeminded people share already as a commitment. This is why they are sarcastic, snarky, and they pale in comparison to a good solid philosophical argument. They are never effective in changing someone’s mind.
Now, let’s assume a group of memes can uncritically endorse true moral propositions like the ones that find their way onto the Feminist Philosophers blog–just as much as they can be a source of hate-filled, bigoted, and sexist ones circulated at places like 4chan and Reddit. For this reason, Saul is offering prudent advice. It might be prudent for someone to produce memes to battle those images, yet as a philosopher, however, that still means we are dealing only in images. In a Platonic sense, the images are generated by the people who walk with the silhouettes of those images by torchlight, and if we participate in that type of discourse, we perpetuate the very images we oppose precisely because we do not get above and beyond them to true moral knowledge. Showing people what a good critique or argument about bad memes is more productive. There’s something more productive when we show why conclusions should be presented with supporting premises rather than just merely asserted. To call for memes to be produced is to lower the conversation in general philosophically–no matter how prudent it is.
If we can agree that one (certainly not the only one) goal of philosophical education is imparting self-reflective habits of intellectual autonomy to others, then encouraging someone to advance a conclusion without those habits goes against the goal of philosophy.