Satire as a Meme Vaccine

This post is by Jesse Galef

Sorry for the lack of posting; I’ve been guest-blogging for Daniel Florien at UnreasonableFaith.com. Stop by and say hello!

I had a thought I wanted to share. In an earlier post here on FriendlyAtheist, I said that we’re not fighting against religious people, we’re fighting against the harmful memes that are infecting our society. Following the metaphor, critical thinking skills of various kinds build up a strong immune system against these mind viruses.

I started musing further in a post on UnreasonableFaith.  Perhaps we can push the metaphor further: is satire a vaccine against mind viruses? Satire introduces a mostly harmless variation of craziness such that we can recognize the similarities in other forms of idiocy and resist them.

The satire has to be close enough to the real argument to be recognizable, obviously. Jon Stewart’s recent parody of Glenn Beck is a prefect example. The impersonation was definitely recognizable and Stewart exposed the faulty logical leaps and techniques that Beck is known to employ.

Some mind viruses are difficult to vaccinate against – we have trouble finding satire that doesn’t trigger the harmful effects in some people. For example, it can be too difficult to tell the difference between a satirist and a fundamentalist believer (see Poe’s Law).

How far can we push the metaphor?

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverFrog

    Surely a Poe is like a booster shot after you’ve already been vaccinated? An advantage of course is that those who are not immune can often fall for a Poe and later on develop a degree of resistance themselves.

  • bill

    if you liked jon stewart’s glenn beck parody, you should watch the new south park….

  • keddaw

    Has Jenny McCarthy come out against this yet?

  • muggle

    Works for me. Poes can be difficult to ascertain from the real thing but when you can it’s great.

  • llewelly

    Satire made me a soulless autist.

  • http://www.romsteady.net/blog/ Michael Russell

    llewelly, did you at least get a stupid T-shirt out of it?

  • http://davidernst.net/blog David

    People satirize good ideas as well as bad ones. If satire builds immunity to ideas, it just means another way in which memes battle each other.

  • jtradke

    Jon Stewart’s recent parody of Glenn Beck is a prefect example.

    Gah! Show, don’t tell! Where’s the link?

    Man, I am so behind on my Stewart and Colbert.

  • Angie
  • Jesse Galef

    Thanks Angie – I was just looking for a link.

  • jtradke

    Whew, thanks!

  • http://lagunatic.wordpress.com/ Lagunatic

    Satire, schmatire. I’m all for blatant loud infantile mocking. However, if you have an education above the 8th grade level I guess satire could work too.
    Know your audience and flog them accordingly I always say.

  • Miko

    The Beck impersonation was so spot on that I couldn’t stand to watch the whole thing.

  • Pony

    OMG! Satire causes Autism!?

  • http://seangill-insidemyhead.blogspot.com/ SeanG

    I agree with Hover Frog. It’s like a booster. I don’t think people who like Glenn Beck would get the satire at all. It would just make them angry.

  • PolyLan

    HOLY $DIETY! This was EXACTLY the thing I was thinking of! (I even brought it up to Michael Shermer at a local event he did here in Michigan, but he we drinking with colleges and seemed disinterested :\ )
    If meme’s are mind viruses then yes, satire is the closest thing i can think of to vaccines. just remember, as with a real vaccine, the effectiveness is greatly diminished by the length of exposure to the initial pathogen. It’s not a cure, just a preventive measure. (The booster shoot reference works here too!)