meme sub delta

July 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

Last night there was another missile launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, about 5 miles from my house, testing an ICBM (minus the payload) and dropping it on Kwajalein Atoll — a small islet in the Marshall Islands, home of the irradiated legacy of the Bravo test, now owned by the Bechtel company. There was also a protest against this missile launch. A friend, mentor, and brilliant researcher by the name of Andy Lichterman has done some fantastic work talking about these delivery systems, and why opposition to them is so important, and yet I didn’t go to the protest this time, as I have in the past. Not out of apathy, but out of questions of efficacy.

I’m twenty-five years old and I’ve been an activist since I was fifteen. In that time I’ve tried to affect social change in approximately seven hundred and fifty two bajillion ways for every cause under the sun and a few that exist only at night time, and in the process of reflection, I’ve become haunted by the question of efficacy. Some actions, like kicking military recruiters off of my university campus, really seemed to work. It’s not the militancy that makes things happen — less active means, like supporting Mariah’s work with the Catholic Worker house or having a conversation about everything with my cousin Matthew as he begins to question his socialization and the world, gives me the same feeling of efficacy. A protest nobody sees in front of an air force base in the middle of nowhere at midnight, when all you’re doing is standing around listening to a couple speakers, sending out a press release, and going home — what the hell does that do?

If a meme is the elemental unit of culture and we’re looking for social change, I’m wondering out loud here if we can come up with an essential unit of social change. Call it meme sub delta, if you want to be a nerd about it (and I do). I don’t know how useful terminology like this would be, since I can’t think of any clear way to measure social change. Do you measure only the extent to which something lasts (after a food not bombs serving, hungry people are less hungry until they become hungry again) or does the degree count as well (by performing a gender-queer identity, you are attacking conceptions of gender itself while the mainstream focus is merely on acceptance of sexual preference)? Does meme sub delta not count if your action has already been coopted into the mainstream spectacle?

It seems to be a giant bundle of uselessness, but I’m going to keep playing with it anyway. I’ll have a recurring theme here, posts tagged with “meme sub delta”, detailing little bits of culture I think are in need of fixing, and arcs in the cultural narrative that might be able to fix them.


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