The Right Can’t Meme (and this is why)

It’s commonly said that the right can’t meme. When it comes to transphobes, they tend to have one joke: I identify as (whatever it is this time). Not all conservatives are transphobic, and not all transphobes are conservative, but generally most transphobes are conservatives, and it’s a good example of the ways the right can’t meme.

They’ve done a lot of psychological research into this, and people who vote conservatively tend to be more anxious and fearful, and this causes them to put greater value on laws, institutions, customs, and religions. It also causes them to distrust that which they see as different or other. Conversely, liberals (using the global definition of liberal as left-wing, and not the US definition of liberal as centrist) care for people who are vulnerable. Both conservatives and liberals care for fairness – but think of it in different terms. To liberals, fairness is everyone getting an equal share. To conservatives, people should get what they deserve based on what they put in.

Conservatives reject “empathy” as a decision making tool for ethics because it is unfair. It leads you to treat people unfairly based on association and preferences instead of equally before the law. For example studies show that “empathy” leads to lesser punishments for the pretty woman and a harsher one for the ugly man.

Online Conservative

This would be a point worth considering if the laws seemed remotely fair, if there weren’t proportionally far more Black people in US and English prisons than there should be (I looked, but couldn’t find statistics for Scottish prisons), and if it weren’t humans who ultimately decided the punishment.

There have been a lot of studies into the correlation between humour and empathy. There’s a really interesting one on pubmed – if you don’t have an account, you can drop the DOI 10.2466/pr0.2001.88.1.241 into google and look for a free version.

A number of studies have shown that people who score high in humor also tend to score high in characteristics associated with positive and satisfying interpersonal relationships: social competence (Levine & Zigler, 1976), self-monitoring (Turner, 1980; Bell, McGhee, & Duffey, 1986), intimacy (Mutthaya, 1987; Hampes, 1992, 1994), generativity (Hampes, 1993 ), and
trust (Hampes, 1999). In addition, humor has been shown to be a factor in reducing stress (Martin & Lefcourt, 1983; Lefcourt & Martin, 1986; Nezu, Nezu, & Blissett, 1988; Fry, 1995; Newman & Stone, 1996; Abel, 1998).

Rogers (1980) defined empathy as the ability to understand and experience the thoughts and feehgs of another, and essential to intimacy, generativity, and trust. A person cannot understand the thoughts and feelings of another person, a large part of intimacy, unless they have the empathy to sense what those thoughts and feehgs are. The lund of caring associated
with generativity is also ddficult without empathy, as it is hard to care for someone, and even harder to help someone, without knowing and experiencing what they are feeling. Developing empathy with someone makes it easier to trust them since you are more likely to know what to expect from them, emotionally and otherwise.

W P Hampes

So, basically, the type of people who vote conservative are fearful and anxious, more loyal to their groups, respond better to authority, lack empathy for people outside of their social circles, and think fairness is getting rewarded based on effort.

And there is a direct link between empathy and humour.

So, psychologically, people on the right and people on the left find different things funny. Right wing humour is more likely to be aggressive and hostile, and often punches down – at the things they see as different or other, such as minorities.

Meanwhile, left wing humour is less likely to be aggressive and hostile, and often punches up – left wing people are more likely to defend those they see as more vulnerable and, at the same time, are more likely to challenge authority.

From this, we can see that the right and left genuinely cannot see the humour in each other’s jokes. There’s no crossover between “this is unfair and it’s Authorities fault” and “you’re different and that scares me.”

As to why they keep recycling the same jokes over and over… change is scary, and conservatives are terrified. The science told me that.

One response to “The Right Can’t Meme (and this is why)”

  1. […] A 2017 study by Sylvia Knobloch-Westerwick at Ohio State University about the effect of satirical news found that satirical news can engage people who otherwise would avoid political news. Additionally, satirical news increased the political efficacy feelings of Democratic viewers, but decreased the political efficacy feelings of Republican viewers. Perhaps this is related to the fact that those who are politically on the right can’t meme (according to SCIENCE!), which I wrote about here. […]

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