Have you ever asked yourself, what is the European Union? Have you ever been asked by others to explain, what the European Union is? Probably, the question is difficult, especially nowadays, where so many things are put into question, but the answer is a Meme.
What is the meaning of Memes?
Currently, it seems to be true once more, crisis are the most creative times for memes. Now, facing Corona and its unforeseen impacts, we are facing a new surge of memes on the Internet. From another perspective, Corona is just another dimension of crisis to the many crisis, that has been haunting the European project, not just this decade, but since its foundation in the 1950ies. However, do you have any idea, what comes next, where the European Union should evolve?
This is the moment, where memes kick in. Memes, as a term was once coined by the British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in his renowned book “The selfish meme”. In accordance to genes, who are forced to spread to survive, memes have to do the same purpose. Meanwhile genes follow the patterns of selection, variation and adaption to shape evolution, he argues, memes are cultural units, in form of virus and genes, that search to replicate themselves alike. In that sense, memes according to his thesis, are the shapers of our cultural evolution. Expressed in other words, memes are ideas in form of virus, that infect us to spread themselves.
Memes are more than that?
Obviously, the meme hypothesis is quite controversial not just in academic circles. Nevertheless, the term meme has achieved a tremendous career. According to USA Today, no electoral campaign today, can disdain the services of an ever-growing meme community, sometimes turning politicians themselves in „walkable memes“.
Memes in a sociological sense are virtual representations of ideas. This is were the additional value for especially political education and many other subjects it about to kick in. Visual representations of ideas, concepts have one advantage:
“A picture says more than 1000 words.”
This advantage unfolds its power in three dimensions:
- Visual Value: If you have the choice to read 100 pages or follow a comic strip, what would you chose? Pictures in comparison to written text address more than one sense at the same time. Already little children can read pictures without reading a single letter.
- Visual Performance: Once Konrad Adenauer argued: “We all share the same heaven, but not the same horizon.” Dealing with visual representations, due to our personal experiences, culturalization, each spectator conceives a picture from another perception.
- Visual Persuasiveness: Eventually, a picture is about to convey a certain message, indicating, what is the core, the controversy, the gist or the genuity of a situation/ topic.
Summon the Memecommissioner!
Memes might sound far away, but they are part of us. According to the pedagogist Kersten Reich, the world of education can be split in three parts. The symbolic defines us as sharing a certain societal, cultural background, the imaginary, how we perceive the world on our own, as eventually the reality, as we see it, reducing complexity by selecting certain excepts from it. Often, facing the many complexities of democracy and especially unity in diversity, sometimes, it requires a decent amount of creativity to retrace all the threads of that political ravel. However, exactly, this is what makes explaining politics in lectures and classes entertaining.
Remembering my time at school, political education, was learning by heart not by mind. Therefore, memes offer a new way, how to make European education conceivable as enjoyable.
Imagine the European Union would be dissolved!
You have one last meme of memory!
Dealing with that kind of strange question, there are three steps to follow.
Construct: In that phase, students can be very creative, just brainstorming around, what they would like to know, what they already know, as how they would like the topic to be known.
- Question: What is my role in the European Union? What is my role in a democracy?
Reconstruct: After having a central idea of what the topic is about, students are encouraged to link it with existing knowledge, searching for a decent meme material and meme it anew.
- Question: What is the European Union? What is democracy?
Deconstruct: In the final phase, students come together, do not explain their memes, but let it be explained by others. This way criticism can be expressed as new solutions can be found. Especially here, fakenews, propaganda can be refuted, reading the message behind the meme.
- What is freedom of opinion and plurality, what is fakenews and propaganda?
MEU, Memes and More
According to Meme theory, there is a virus, that is affecting the way how we think and act. The philosopher Dan Dennett calls those viruses dangerous, as they are manipulating us. Obviously, this can be argued a lot about, however, what is quite obvious as well is another virus, influencing us. Corona with all its still to be discovered uncertainties let fakenews, conspiracy theories propagate and replicate, infecting and polarizing our democratic society.
Therefore, against this virus, democracies have to be vaccinated by a democratic fundament. What is the European Union? What is democracy? Do we have any idea what will happen next?
Democracies are based upon the ideas of the democratic society, therefore memes can give an idea, what is democracy based upon, as what it is made for, as what is our idea of democracy.
Memes are fun and entertaining, inviting people to participate and share. That is the idea of democracy, which is based on shared values of equality and the participation of citizens.