What is Meme Warfare?

Unshackle the Human Spirit!

The most precious natural resource is human spirit. A close second is human imagination. Spirit and imagination will do more than oil, gold and guns to determine the fate of the human experiment on Earth, an experiment that has never been as precarious as it is today.

Corporate capitalism is ideologically exhausted as the limits of its exponential growth economic model come into view. Whether it is out of inertia or corruption or degeneracy, capitalism's leadership can offer no solutions. But they nonetheless hold on to power. And they can continue to hang on for a very long time to come because of their monopoly on oil, gold and guns. We, The People, are in a war against an adversary that is entrenched, fortified and prepared for a long period of instability and popular unrest as life grows scarce. The strategy of the status quo is, as revolutionary philosopher Michel Foucault observed following the May 1968 wildcat uprising, to appear inaccessible to events by dissolving each spectacular uprising back into the regime's monologue. Their response to our leaderless storms follows a script. They will project a power that presumes to be invulnerable to our protests and then they will wait for us to grow weary and return to our homes. Force will be used to break our resolve and hasten a rout.

The strategic philosophy of meme warfare is syncretic mental environmentalism, an amalgamation of theories of social change developed and tested by revolutionaries, militaries and corporatists alike that target the spirit in order to achieve material political change. We see weakness in our adversary's over-emphasis on temporal power. A monopoly on power in the material and physical realms of life has left them weak on the immaterial plane. The Corporate-States are overconfident and vulnerable to a memetic war that pulls the people's allegiance out from under them. Our objective is to trigger a contagious paradigm shift that ripples outward from the individual to social networks to cities to governments and finally to the world stage. To win this war, we must split the atom, so to speak, and unleash the wild human spirit. Only a species-wide metanoia can release the tremendous forces necessary for a social revolution on the scale required. While others spread messages of greed or lust or hate, we raise our eyes to the greater path. We call for a spiritual reorientation toward the good. We use our memes to inspire humanity toward an old universal truth that is needed now more than ever. We prophesy a people's fellowship of leaderless equals united by self-rule, justice and mutual aid.  
Will life on Earth crash into the abyss or will our species glide to new heights on a renewed path? The future depends on whether our network of leaderless partisans can re-write the future using tactics of protracted spiritual insurrection. Our weapons are thought viruses and whether we are occupying Parliament or running a people's food distribution center or teaching each other in classrooms outside the corporate universities the contagious message is the same: we, The People, will run this world for the good of all. Civil society will be restored.

Meme warfare is intended to rout the corporations first from our minds, then our cities and finally our world. Meme warfare is the culture war. And here the goal is to overcome the corporate strategy developed by Proctor & Gamble. As we saw, Chairman Artzt's method was to adulterate our means of horizontalist communication by embedding logos, brands and commercial interjections into new media. This method of reality control has proved effective in pacification because when taken together all of these commercial messages form a cohesive illusionary world with its own storyline, cast of archetypes, and promoted ethics. This has resulted in the dangerously skewed inner-reality of most humans and the appalling lack of empathy that capitalism has engendered. Chairman Artzt's strategic thinking was that if a commercial-free media form - a place where corporations are excluded - were allowed to develop (and at that time, remember, the Internet was effectively commercial-free and many hoped it would stay that way) then eventually even the largest corporations would be pushed out of our mindshare and starved out of existence. The extent of the corporate victory, however, and their ongoing aggressive commercialization of the Internet has left them in an overextended position vulnerable to a sustained campaign of culture jamming against their brands that transforms each of their logos into its contrary: a rally cry to rise up against the world order the corporatists have established.

The first strategic objective of meme warfare is to recode the brands of the biggest corporations so that they carry our truth. Coca Cola, Nike, Goldman Sachs, Toyota (a full list would include a few hundred corporations and their multiplicity of subsidiaries) are global brands and as such they may function to orient and awaken a global uprising. The target is not Coca Cola, per se, but instead the amorphous global order that this corporation has helped construct. We hijack the corporate conceptual universe - the web of mental associations that have been constructed through decades of advertising - and turn the symbols of capitalism against themselves. The Situationist philosopher and revolutionary strategist Guy Debord called this procedure detournment. And a good example of culture jamming used strategically comes from North America where in the 1990s artists turned against the cigarette makers. Cancer sticks - what a wonderful meme our side created - had been ingrained into the American psyche through slick imagery that targeted youth demographics. Joe Camel's cartoon orientation toward attracting children and Marlboro Man's insidious masculinity drew the most ire from culture jammers who responded with the iconic Joe Chemo, the camel Joe in a hospital hooked to IV, and Marlboro Man's classic one-liner, "I miss my lung, Bob." The effectiveness of these early culture jams encouraged government spending on a sustained campaign of un-cooling cigarettes through a public campaign of authentic, youthful, viral visuals. One study found that visual memes distributed by The Truth, an anti-smoking activist organization in the United States that was funded by settlement money paid by US tobacco companies to 46 states, played a demonstrable role in lowering youth smoking in 2001. If culture jamming can save lives from lung cancer and deter a powerful addiction through a handful of carefully crafted infectious imagery, it can also take down the financiers, the oil industry, the single occupancy car makers and other big business mind polluters whose slick advertisements are sliding us toward the death of our planet. This begins in our hearts as a commitment to heal our inner world and our culture by un-cooling, spoofing, jamming, mocking, détourné-ing, or defacing the corporations who have colonized our imaginations.

Our quest to reshape the world begins in the individual. We use culture jamming tactics to weaken the psychological hold of entrenched corporations. Then we awaken and enliven the people with memes designed to create leaderless experiences in self-rule that grow exponentially and unpredictably. We leverage a culture war into a geopolitical struggle for world governance.

By de-commercializing human culture, we will unshackle the human spirit from the constraints of capitalism's logic. From this liberated collective unconscious will come the solutions we seek.

- Micah White

Posted: December 5, 2013


Micah White is the American creator of the Occupy Wall Street meme and former Adbusters editor.