What does Frederic Bastiat have to do with the meme economy? More than you might think. In the period between the establishment of the Second French Republic in 1848 and his death not long afterward due to tuberculosis, the French political economist Frederic Bastiat wrote a variety of short books, the most famous and enduring of which is the Law. One of the aspects of Bastiat’s thought that has endured for me is the way that he was able to concisely draw upon observation, reasoning, and experience to make short but powerful statements about fundamental and unchanging truths that deal with the relationship between people and the state that remain potent more than 170 years after the author’s own death.
What allowed Bastiat’s writings to be so short but so powerful is the same thing that makes the memes of contemporary conservatives so powerful. These memes are very brief, and contain little text, but contain a great deal of forceful implications about the folly of contemporary leftists as well as the hypocrisy and double standards that result from their defective reasoning and thinking. It is striking to compare the remarkable spare economy of conservative memes with the self-owns and rambling nonsense that passes for leftist memes that fail to get the point. Why is this so? There is nothing that inherently keeps leftists from being good at memes. Why is it that they fail to distill their thinking into pithy and obvious images that provoke thought and that encourage like-minded people in the same way that meme lords right of center have been mastering now for more than a decade?
There are several barriers to being able to effectively meme. For one, memes depend on a lot of implicit communication that exists between people. Memes are pictures that, if used wisely, can say a lot with a little bit of text, but it requires some skill to be able to use memes effectively. Once, for example, I created a meme addressing the hypocrisy of the leftist view of horse medicines by use of the Drake “Hotline Bling” format by which I demonstrated that while leftists reject the use of “horse medicine” like Ivermectin as a treatment for Covid-19, they are quite fond of pushing the use of different horse pills as abortifacients. The meme was short and elegant, and demonstrated the double standards of the left with regards to thinking on “my body, my choice.” A leftist would not make such a meme like that, but would create a rambling attempt at justifying how those two are not in fact a double standard that demonstrates their poor reasoning by its very rambling lack of clarity.
To the extent that we share the same context with the person we are communicating with, we need not go into great detail to explain what we are trying to say. A meme that shows the same figure doing two different things depends merely on a comparison of like with like. Those who disbelieve analogical reasoning in the first place have trouble with memes because the structure of a meme depends on the communication of both similarity and difference in ways that are striking and entertaining and pointed. Those who seek to write essays–as some of us are known to do–would do well not to attempt this trick when using memes, because it defeats the whole purpose for memes. Memes are meant to draw humor and insight from an economy of presentation, and if you cannot get to the point, one might as well try a more congenial genre of expression that does not play to one’s weak suit.