Jung, Peterson & the Uses & Abuses of Chaos Memes in the Current Year
Recently, I have been mulling over the idea of memes and their uses as a subversive art form in the modern world after responding to a very good comment on the nature of art from my recent article on Sam Hyde and art on the Right.1 A few things have come my way randomly that I will link to here. Over the years, I have observed that a sort of synchronicity happens when you have a question or topic on your mind for long enough, as if things fall into place in such a way that it enables you to follow the rabbit hole of thinking down just enough to allow you to concretize those thoughts. This very article is about synchronicity.
Now, in case you have followed along this election cycle and the general “banter” thrown about on the internet in regards to “kek” and “meme magic,” I will not go into a lengthy explanation here, but the idea of Pepe the frog being a sort of chaos deity, a figure of latent dynamism and spiritual energy, has been explored in depth before, such as in a less-than-serious, but more-than-serious article at The Right Stuff.2
Without being too critical, the article was jarring to say the least, and I do not generally prescribe to this way of deifying internet memes, even if it is a tongue-in-cheek piece. There are some criticisms, as a person who has studied Zen and a fair bit of Hindu Vedanta, about such comparisons of Pepe to the great wisdom traditions of the East, and I would say the article is verging too close to what a favourite radioshow host of mine says, which is: “Today’s banter is tomorrow’s sincerity.” But, nevertheless, there is something to be said about the nature of memes as an artistic medium in the Current Year, especially in this age of our growing distance from the traditions, wisdom and sacred mindset of our ancient ancestors.
As I have stated in the response to a comment on my article, the use of memes in a way is a chaotic element in current political discourse. Pepe, like all other memes (though none are as widely-used and effective) is evanescent, ever changing, and transmutable. It can go into and absorb other mediums and pockets of culture, thus creating an infinitely repeatable set, a “chaotic abstract machine of assemblages,” to use terminology from Deleuze and Guattari. This is where the pure happenstance of things comes into play when thinking over a question, for I happened to have stumbled upon an excellent conversation between the famous (or rather infamous) professor of psychology and culture warrior Jordan B. Peterson and the Orthodox scholar and carver Jonathan Pageau.3 In it, they discuss Pepe from a Jungian perspective, and how the Right — the side traditionally associated with order and stability — is employing a device of chaos, an ever-shifting entity that has waged psychological warfare on the “official” methods of discourse in “mainstream” society, be it the media, organizations like the S.P.L.C., or even the Democrat party. Pepe harbors a deeper message as a near archetypal and unconscious conveyor of mythos. Peterson and Pageau go into the mythology of the frog as a night creature, an amphibian that can penetrate multiple worlds, both light and dark. The Grimm fable of the frog prince is mentioned, which will have significance in relation to Pepe. But, first, the political implications of memes is brought up.
Discourse on the internet has effectively unravelled the discourses of mainstream media and has boggled the minds of the Leftist academic intelligentsia and cultural gatekeepers. Internet memes, from my observation, seem to be the end-result and manifestation of post-structuralist and post-modernist deconstructions of language, along with the politicization of all avenues of life. Everything is “banter” on the net, everything that is discussed and all memes that are spread come with a hidden conceit of humor and trolling. Movements come and go, groups converge and fall apart — the “meme war” as it were is emblematic of the psychological insurgence against the consensus reality crafted by the culture industry and the globalist media machine, etc. However, I say this is a “post-modern” reality because of the elements of virtuality and simulacrum (concepts anyone who is a fan of Deleuze or Baudrillard will know about) that go into discourse on the internet. There can be only intangible truths and haphazard clouds of thoughts expressed. In fact, the impersonal nature of it has led to some quite interesting and startling results, such as the reinvigoration of tribalism, the ability to “design one’s reality” by carefully crafting what we consume, and, yes, the ability to be swept up in waves of politicized or de-politicized meme trends.
What Pepe has done is show the Left its true shadow-self, its unconscious negative, and the way this is accomplished, as Pageau has outlined at the end of the video, is by Pepe the meme being all things at once, both the negative and positive aspects of cultural expressions; by being the things which “oppress” (i.e., the anti-Semite, Nazi — go down the list of “isms” and “ists” the modern Left hurls at everyone and pretends is political discourse), and by simultaneously taking on roles and cultural images of the “oppressed.” Pepe has, in a way, destabilized the official political narrative. The Left filters out all the other aspects of Pepe and all the internet-subgroups that have used Pepe, and only chooses to focus on the aspects they attribute to the Right obsessively. Everyone can see the irony of this, and by taking Pepe as some dog-whistle, the Left has effectively given us a window into their own souls, showing us their own feats of schizophrenic projection.4
Despite all the iconography and trans-mutational roles Pepe has adopted, Peterson and Pageau state an interesting aspect to this analysis that has compelled me to write this piece: like in the Grimm story of the frog and the princess, there must be an end, there must be a purpose for all this utilization of chaos. In the end the frog must plunge the depths of the lake (bodies of water being a symbol of the unconscious in Jungian analysis) and retrieve the golden orb or sphere. To Peterson and Pageau, this is the obvious symbol of the sun, of the divine logos, the word, divine truth. The frog must come out of the darkness of the water as it were, and bring the light of the orb to the surface, thus transforming (transmigrating) into his princely form, or else something else might appear from the unconscious waters — the shadow might break through the surface.5
Now, this is all metaphor, of course, and as Joseph Campbell observes, metaphor is a term we have sadly mischaracterized in the modern age. Memes themselves don’t have some inherent special power which certain types who frequent anonymous imageboards seem to think they do (however, I can see how memes take on a near archetypal and metaphoric character because they are an important mode of expression in our own episteme or zeitgeist). Pepe can be characterized as a form of internet synchromysticism in some ways,6 and it is no coincidence that the frog is taken up as a primary entity of memeification when we consider the symbolic meaning of such a creature.
As Peterson notes, the reptilian dragon of chaos, the ouroboros, is a symbol for endless unborn potentiality, one that encompasses the beginning and end, rebirth and transformation, order into chaos and vice versa, and is completely self-contained and self referential (the dragon or snake is always represented as eating itself). It is a snake with wings, therefore it encompasses both the metaphoric ground and the sky, or, as the Hermeticists say, “As above, so below.” The ouroboros in its embryonic form is that primordial chaos which encompasses everything across all temporal and spatial locations, everything yet to be explored, the consciousness that animates experience.7 The frog is often equated with reptile symbolism, so to follow down this Jungian way of thinking, the frog must overcome itself — the metaphor of individuation — and can only do this by coming up from the tumid dark waters with new insight, and only then can it transform into the prince-self. To extend this to the modern meme phenomenon of Pepe, this process is happening on a collective level. Pepe sows the seeds of chaos, plunges the depths of collective psyches in both those who perpetuate the meme and the groups that the meme targets and seems to be able to synthesize and take on every aspect of life, as life can be replicated inside the meme-medium. But this process must have a stage of completion, of mass individuation, of coming into the divine-self as Peterson explains, or else the disastrous consequences are what we can see inklings of now.
The consequences are, bluntly put, the ability of certain people to take the memes seriously, to make banter into sincerity, to turn the synchronous internet manifestations of primordial inner longings into a full blown quasi-religion. The ones who are using Pepe to destabilize political discourse are still operating in the same post-modernist vacuum as the groups they fight against. This is the nature of post-modern meme culture; you can attempt to place significance in the chaos of net discourse and meme warfare, but ultimately, if there is no genuine spiritual meaning or political liberation at the end of the strategic use of chaos, then we are left in the same predicament of Western liberalism, nihilism and moral apathy as we were before.
Pepe, like all memes, is an ephemeral deterritorialized communicative device, and, as such, any attempt to reify it as some simulacrum of actual divinity or make it a placeholder for real political discourse will only serve to add to the utter rootlessness and confusion we face in modernity. Memes slowly have taken over the thinking of a shocking number of people, hence their chaotic nature will further pollute the capacity to engage in real discourse and find true inner development. As E. Michael Jones states (following Plato’s lead), art reflects life; if we have a chaotic art, a chaotic mode of expression and political engagement, then our inner lives, our spiritual states will be filled with nothing but chaos.8
This is cultural politics in the 21st century; memes taking on the role of placebos for æsthetic-ethical self-cultivation, hence why I am skeptical of memes being a part of the artistic revolt on the Right. Such an idea smacks of resignation to the forces of inner disorder and materialism, and can only lead to shifting planes of meme-stratums, memes piled on top of each other in a sedimentary fashion without any tangibility to them.
As for the argument that it is only “irony,” and that irony is an effective tool to challenge the globalist establishment, that may be true up to a point, but irony is more of a poison than a medicinal supplement. Take the average hipster who lives a life of solid and unrelenting irony: in a very succinct article that has shockingly come out of The New York Times, the modern trend of ironic hipsterism in all its forms is vivisected, and the real world political implications of irony is stated as such:
The ironic life is certainly a provisional answer to the problems of too much comfort, too much history and too many choices, but it is my firm conviction that this mode of living is not viable and conceals within it many social and political risks. For such a large segment of the population to forfeit its civic voice through the pattern of negation I’ve described is to siphon energy from the cultural reserves of the community at large. People may choose to continue hiding behind the ironic mantle, but this choice equals a surrender to commercial and political entities more than happy to act as parents for a self-infantilizing citizenry.9
If we live through the irony of memes, worship an ironic meme-chaos deity, have an ironic set of political beliefs associated with said memes, then we have abstracted ourselves further from reality, and we have further distanced ourselves from the divine. Think to that Hermetic principle once more — “As above so below.” — what happens in our fleeting subjective worldly reality has higher spiritual implications, hence why art is such a solid reflection of the collective psyche of a population, and why archetypal imagery is manifesting itself in a digital or virtual medium. If that psyche is inhabited by the forces of chaos and irony, then it is no surprise that our society and culture often is defined as lacking any inherent order apart from the controlled anarchy of the leviathan state that is increasingly taking over every aspect of our lives (but more on that in another article).
Meme warfare has also had the unintended consequence of further investing large portions of the Right and that portion’s attention on the political, solely capitulating the hope of liberation from modernity on a set of political solutions. I fear that politics in its basest forms is not the answer, politics will not spur us to embrace tradition, politics certainly will not provide a catch-all solution to the malaise and moral decay of the West.
So, in conclusion, be skeptical of the memeification of life, do not fall so heavily and blindly for the Twitter crowd’s ironic pseudo-slactivism of meme-magic destabilization politics, and embrace that which can provide real alternatives to the slow decline and fall of Western society. Memes may be a giant feat of participatory art where the elicitation of a response, positive or negative, from a targeted crowd is the work of art itself; but again, there cannot truly be an æsthetics of existence, a political-æsthetic ethics built from the ground up on a foundation of ironic banter.
1. Look in the comments section: https://westcoastrxers.com/2016/12/27/political-art-the-diagnosis-of-the-rights-ideas-being-made-reasonable/
2. Murray, Lawrence. “Esoteric Kekism, or Kek as a Bodhisattva of Racial Enlightenment.” The Right Stuff. [http://therightstuff.biz/2016/08/14/esoteric-kekism-or-kek-as-a-bodhisattva-of-racial-enlightenment/]
6. For more on synchromysticism, see: Valis “The Cryptic Cosmology of Synchromysticism.” Reality Sandwich. [http://realitysandwich.com/1377/the_cryptic_cosmology_synchromysticism/]
7. Peterson, Jordan B. Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief. (New York, London: Routledge Press, 1999): 146-149.
9. Wampole, Christy. “How to Live Without Irony.” New York Times Opinionator. Nov, 17, 2012.