Memes: Vehicles for Poor Arguments

Occasionally, someone can come up with something clever that highlights the absurdity of an argumentative assertion and put it on a picture. More often, someone deliberately or unwittingly misstates a position, then points out its absurdity on a picture.  The internet meme is a great vehicle for concise straw-man arguments, and for the promulgation of misinformation. Hooray.

We’re all very busy, and most people don’t want to take the time to understand a given topic beyond our biases and assumptions. We take solace in the intellectual echo-chamber afforded by the vastness of the internet, and share memes that simultaneously reflect our deeply held beliefs and display our reluctance to engage in meaningful discourse, challenge our own assumptions, and possibly learn. Our current pendulum swing toward anti-intellectualism affords us the opportunity to bask in righteous indignation of those who spend endless pages of words on topics that we know can be summed up in two sentences (or less).

There are many, many examples of bad arguments promulgated through memes (nearly every meme, in fact). There was a particular meme that prompted this posting today, so I will share it here:


As noted above, this is a straw-man. The argument is not that asking for ID to vote is inherently racist. The argument is that there are specific laws regarding voter ID that are designed to deliberately disenfranchise specific demographic groups, especially that tend to vote along certain party lines. An example might be that a certain law allows one’s firearm license as a valid ID, but not a college ID. Another example might be requiring an ID that is provided in a restricted number of locations, which are generally inaccessible to certain populations. Some voter ID laws ignore the fact that an ID is required for registration, and that no more can vote than are registered. Documented instances of voter fraud – of which there are so few as to be completely insignificant in any election – often deal with properly registered voters voting in more than one district, which is a problem that an ID does not necessarily solve. Some laws have been legally challenged and been found by the courts to be broadly and fairly applied, and therefore the challenge fails. Others are found to be designed to specifically target certain groups, and are therefore overturned as unconstitutional or inconsistent with state law. (Also, some of the things in this list do not necessarily require presentation of ID, such as using a credit card, or bank transactions when using an ATM or a computer interface, or purchasing amusement park tickets.)

The larger point is that argument by meme is a sure way to misstate one or both sides of a position. It may be amusing, but it is seldom, if ever, effective. If you really want to take up a position, do a little research, and spend a couple hundred words to make your point. Even that is pretty superficial, but it’s better than a phrase on a picture.

Happy arguing.