Meme Morality

When I checked in with family and friends on Facebook Stories a few days ago, I saw a beautiful sunset in Hawaii, a message about racism at the border of Ukraine and Poland, and an image of a golf resort in England set to relaxing music. It struck me that these three messages encapsulated the ongoing mixture of experiences of all my Facebook friends.

Image from Boyce Duprey via Flickr

We all care about the war in Ukraine and we all try to express our concern, but we have our regular lives going on, too. We are all slicing our selves, and our moral standpoints, into many parts.

Recently, I posted this humorous image that was intended to draw attention to our dismay at rising gasoline prices. I thought it might raise a smile or two, resonate with some folks, and/or draw attention to the frustration of it all. Subsequently on my message feed were some memes indicating that it was inappropriate to worry about gas prices when we should be more concerned about the war in Ukraine.

It’s the “should” that bugs me. I resent being scolded by the implication that I should feel a certain way about Ukraine, or gasoline prices, or anything, really.

Currently there are a lot of things for us to care about, and support for Ukraine is certainly at the top of the list. But I can care about Ukraine and feel frustrated by rising gasoline prices, and at the same time be depressed by Alberta’s endless winter while celebrating my friends’ vacations. I want to be able to express all those things. It doesn’t mean that I feel they all matter equally in global or moral contexts. It just means I’m experiencing all those things at once.

Should any of us enjoy a vacation when people are dying? Of course we should. It would be hard to find a time when there is not war somewhere in the world, and impossible to find a time when there are no people dying.

Similarly, I can be frustrated by rising gasoline prices and, at the same time, be wiling to endure them knowing that this is a minor issue compared to the suffering of the people in Ukraine.

Most of us cannot do anything to affect, directly and personally, any major changes in the world. The only thing we can do is to indicate how much we care about particular issues. We cannot stop our lives, quit our jobs, ignore our responsibilities, and shift all our energies into the war in Ukraine. One or two people might be able to do that, but most of us have to care but then carry on with the day-to-day.

Carrying on means caring about multiple things and multiple people in multiple places in multiple ways. It’s confusing and emotionally exhausting, but it’s not a bad thing to be affected by a variety of unrelated concerns all at the same time.

8 Comments

  1. Totally agree, Anne. Such criticism arises from a basic logical fallacy: because I care about this, I don’t care about that. This fallacy also drives dinner of the idiocy I’ve read in comments about the truck convoy: if you are for vaccine mandates, you support a primer minister who wore black face in his youth. In other words, if you support the mandates, you are a racist. I think there are a couple of logical fallacies there, in fact.

  2. Completely agree and I LOVED your arm & leg gas price meme. It did bring a smile to my face and guess what? Crazy as it may sound, I actually still care about the folks in Ukraine. The whole thing speaks to a bigger problem of division and if you’re not this you must be that. It’s the “unfriend me if you disagree” culture as if we cannot have different points of view, find ourselves in middle ground of a debate or have deep conversations without alienating a friend. I realize this isn’t your point exactly, but I believe the gas price meme has people, (some anyway) feeling the need to put you on a side when there really isn’t a side to be on. I don’t think even the Russian people are for what’s happening to Ukraine, the rest of us understand the gas price increase, and that it won’t help Putin if we say “Dang the gas prices are high!” even if we say it in a pretty fun way. We’re in some pretty curious times.

    1. This polarizing of viewpoints is very troubling. I recently read an article in the Washington Post showing how the two US parties have lost moderate legislators since 1994. (How To Read This Chart by Philip Bump) Even though it was about politicians in the US it is also true of Canada and the UK. The absence of influential people in the middle ground makes it easier for the general public to adopt an Us V Them attitude. The idea that I should unfriend someone if I disagree with them is not only offensive, it makes dialogue impossible.

    1. Haha. You are probably right. It used to be done with a raised eyebrow or disapproving “hurumph,” but social media gave those small expressions amplification far beyond just a brief personal exchange.

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