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Memeing In the First Republic



Some people might think that the 1st memes invented were Keyboard cat, Philosoraptor and the numa-numa guy.

That would be very, very wrong.

Imagine you lived in a Kingdom that was one of the most powerful and influential in the world but, it had fallen on hard times. The king was, by all accounts, a corrupt incompetent dolt. The people were hungry and the spoiled, foolish Queen, when told there was no bread for the peasants said let them eat cake.

While this might sound uncomfortably familiar to modern Americans, this was the climate that gave rise to the French Revolution. It was also the fertile ground for the French satirists who I submit were early generation memers. What people fail to understand about memes is they are much more about ideas than humor but the combination of the two makes them that much more powerful.

What we call memes is an evolution of an ancient idea called satire more succinctly defined as the illustration of the absurd with absurdity.

Every middle schooler naturally knows about satire because that is when they inevitably meet an incompetent and bungling bureaucracy. One must take care with satire as to be a proper smart ass, you must first be smart. Otherwise, you are just an ass.

There were many French satirists. I would like to focus on a gentleman named Voltaire.


Voltaire and the French satirists used their wit to point out the myriad hypocrisies and inequities of their political and social situations. Like Charlie Hebdo, many of the French Revolutionary era satirists faced rather deadly blow-back from those that failed to see the humor in their work.

This was an amazing era and one that the modern democracies owe much to because many of the things we see as foundations of democracy were first discussed by the thinkers during this era. They were seeing the end of the monarchy as a practical form of government and looked forward to imagine what the next step would look like.

See if you recognize any of Voltaire’s ideas:

  • I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
  • Judge a person by their questions, rather than their answers.
  • To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.
  • It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong.
  • Common sense is not so common.
  • It is hard to free fools from the chains they revere.
  • Prejudices are what fools use for reason.
  • As long as people believe in absurdities they will continue to commit atrocities.
  • When it is a question of money, everybody is of the same religion.
  • Superstition sets the whole world in flames; reason quenches them.

Voltaire would have been hell on wheels if he had internet access.

Be suspicious when you hear people in power discount the ideas of others. Those silly memers that poke them right in the hypocrisies have quite the history. So, when you see memers banned from facebook or twitter, what you are really seeing is da man swatting the Socratic gad-fly that stung him in a sore spot.

Only a fearful tyrant censors speech. He is afraid that you will tell the people just what a putz he really is.


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