Ah, the art of the meme! How to present an idea or talking point in a visual form appealing enough to cause viral propagation.

Memes are visual, and thus engage our brains differently than phrases, sentences, or paragraphs do. They follow the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words, and they are the 21st century layman’s version of editorial cartoons.

They’re also often completely divorced from fact, accuracy, logic or even common sense. Given that their origins are often shrouded in mystery, or that many sources that proudly “sign” their memes subordinate accuracy to that which sells, this is no surprise. Indeed, there are websites and Facebook pages devoted to debunking the spurious and often scurrilous memes of other websites.

About a year ago, I offered the term “meme-orialize” to describe the act of creating a meme in order to confer greater (and often undeserved) factuality/accuracy to a statement or opinion. I’d like to addendize that with the term “meme-fail,” wherein a meme is irredeemably wrong. This new term isn’t remotely original, but that doesn’t mean we can’t use it when deserved.

The attached meme is a classic example, at least as far as libertarianism goes (and, while I can deconstruct some of the other tags, I’ll stick to the one most associated with this blog).

Jabba the Hutt is described in Wikipedia as “the de facto leader of the Desilijic-Hutt Cartel, and the most powerful crime boss on Tatooine, who has a bounty on Han Solo’s head. Jabba employs a retinue of career criminals, bounty hunters, smugglers, assassins and bodyguards to operate his criminal empire. He keeps a host of entertainers at his disposal at his palace: slaves, droids and alien creatures. Jabba has a grim sense of humor, an insatiable appetite, and affinities for gambling, slave girls, and torture.”

I find little to quibble with therein – the description is pretty accurate. We do know that Jabba was a crime lord, that he trafficked in slaves (Princess Leia being one for a time), and that he did business with mercenaries and bounty hunters. In other words, Jabba had no respect for either individual or property rights. How or why the meme creator chose to assign libertarianism to such an obvious non-libertarian character is a mystery, given that no explanation is offered.

Nevertheless, we can guess, both from the balance of the meme and from what we know as common misconceptions about libertarianism (e.g. the “Somalia” trope).

Consider our heroes/heroines. Young Luke is a “good” liberal. Older Luke is a “good” Marxist. Leia mirrors European political structures. Daisy is presented positively in the language of the Modern Left. Jyn is a communist. Yoda is a green. Han is an individualist in a postmodern vein. Obi-Wan is a Constitutional Democrat (not a Constitutional Republican).

Now, consider the bad guys. We have a Nazi, an unfettered monarch, a fascist, an alt-righter, an anarcho-capitalist, and Jabba as the libertarian (but not a left-libertarian, heaven forbid).

Clearly, our meme-orializer has a favorable view of the various left-leaning political systems (and I won’t get into the fallacy that fascism is a “right-wing” ideology here), and, clearly, he doesn’t hold much regard for capitalism or libertarianism.

Thus, the fallacy that there’s anything libertarian about Jabba. Not unless one accepts the false conflation of lawless anarchy and libertarianism, which is the basis of the Somalia trope (for those unfamiliar, critics of libertarianism often cough up “move to Somalia” as a supposed rebuttal to suggestions that we could do with a bit less government and a bit more individual liberty).

And, thus, a meme-fail. A fail both for the specific instance that is Jabba-the-libertarian, and for the broader presentation of left-wing political philosophies as the province of heroes and heroines. As any student of history knows, communism and socialism have a higher body count and a larger tally of human misery than any other form of government, and that’s before we parse the fact that fascism is far more closely related to socialism and communism than to their socioeconomic opposites (e.g. capitalism, limited government, libertarianism, minarchism, and the like).

There is danger in meme-fails, especially pretty ones that tie in well with pop culture or have other appeals to drive their propagation. Casual observers will skate by the meme, get a chuckle out of it, and retain some of the associations stated therein. Thus, someone who might know little of libertarianism might accept Jabba = Libertarian, and project onto libertarianism what he knows about Jabba.

A big part of advocacy for a political philosophy is education: what it is, what its rules are, what it can accomplish when properly applied, what its positives are, and why it’s a good thing. This isn’t easy, especially when most people already have predilections and a desire to be correct in those predilections. It’s made harder by such stupidity as depicted in this and other memes. And, thus, I feel compelled to write eight hundred words parsing the fail.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.


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