The Universal Language of Memes

Meme culture has given rise to a language that transcends boundaries, both real and imaginary. Memes are part of a globally shared pool of memory we dip into when we want to convey an idea with nuances beyond text. They call upon a sense of familiarity and shared meaning that exists despite our many differences. 

A meme entails within it, a complex relationship between objects that make the meme, one that can be applied to explain a wide variety of phenomena and evoke appropriate reactions. Perhaps there is a deeper theory here of humor as a universal language that acts as firmware for humans.

Since memes allow for easy explanations and higher information density even for complex issues, I wanted to experiment with creating a memeified version of an article that dealt with a complex idea to see if the format was appealing and useful to a broad audience.

I recently finished reading this masterpiece called The Uruk Series by Lou Keep. It is a 12-part series that talks about a number of important big-picture themes. Read the introduction here. You should read it, if you find yourself interested in any of the following questions:

Why do state-backed schemes tend to fail? 
Why do we have discontent despite growing economic prosperity?
What do we mean when we say capitalism?
Why do mass movements become popular? What ends do they serve?
Why do we see the rise of narcissism in the modern world?

Of these articles, Part 2, titled “The Meridian of Her Greatness”, talks about the in vogue questions surrounding capitalism and its discontents. This is an important question and most of us seem to be missing the point entirely, falling squarely under the category of not-even-wrong. The article is a first step in creating the right scaffolding so we can have productive conversations around the topic. 

A memeified version of this article can be found here

You can find a tweetstorm style summary of this article here. I used some of the memes in conjunction with text to make explanations easier. 

Let me know if you have any thoughts on the format! Enjoy!






reading list

Highlights from my Reading List – Week 48


  1. The Road Less Traveled – DeWayne Roy
    DeWayne on dropping out and hustling to find a job in SF.

  2. Industry Towns – Where You Start A Company Matters – Elad Gil
    A geographical analysis of where startups are funded and why network effects dominate in startup cities.

  3. Reflections on Refactor Camp 2019 – Venkatesh Rao
    vgr reflects on an eventful refactor camp. The theme this year was Escaping Reality.

  4. Mazes as Mirrors of Creation – Dan Schmidt
    The concept of idea mazes and why creating always involves detours.
  5. The Epic Story of Container Shipping – Venkatesh Rao
    A review of the book  The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger, by Marc Levinson (2006).

reading list

Highlights from my Reading List – Week 47


  1. Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox – Lina Khan
    A comprehensive review of Amazon’s relationship with antitrust regulation and how antitrust legislation has failed to keep up with business models in a networked age. 

  2. Quasiparticles and the Miracle of Emergence – Brian Skinner
    A simple explanation of quasiparticles and how emergence works at the atomic level.

  3. A peek inside Sequoia Capital’s low-flying, wide-reaching scout program – Techcrunch
    Founders have the best connections to other founders. Sequoia used this tactic to fund startups that would’ve otherwise flown under the radar.

  4. Facebook’s cryptocurrency partners revealed—we obtained the entire list of inaugural backers – The Block Crypto
    Details on FB’s foray into crypto. 
  5. How Amazon Is Beating Antitrust Before It Happens – Chris Gillett
    A great article on how Amazon is staying ahead of the curve wrt competition and regulation.

  6. The Day You Became a Better Writer (2nd Look) – Scott Adams
    Writing tips from Scott Adams.

reading list

Highlights from my Reading List – Week 46


  1. Semi-colon shaped people – Venkatesh Rao
    Talks about the oft quoted T-shaped (breadth followed by depth) work/career and why that choice may not be prudent anymore

  2. Half a dozen tips for staying oriented in the 21st century – Vinay Gupta
    Some advice on dealing with complexity in the modern world

  3. Why customer-first companies ultimately win – Kyle Tibbitts
    Kyle talks about why companies have lost focus on customers and principles to rectify that 

  4. Emergence: A unifying theme for 21st century science – Santa Fe Institute
    The Santa Fe Institute began exploring emergent behavior in science and society at its 1984 founding workshops, “Emerging Syntheses in Science,” during which every speaker dealt with an aspect of emergent behavior as well as the search for the organizing principles that bring about that behavior. 

    Indeed, some members of the Institute’s growing scientific community dreamed of creating a unified science of complexity through which complexity itself could be defined and quantified – and thus classify complex systems in some kind of grand hierarchical schema.

  5. Life Spirit Distillation – Venkatesh Rao
    A modern personal philosophy:

    The alternative to “growth” is not stasis or passivity, but a growing aliveness to the actual change that you’re undergoing in the process of generating responses to specific life challenges. If these challenges are real, then the way you change through responding to them is not entirely within your control.

    Life intensification is the process of consciously becoming increasingly real (and no, I’m not talking about being more “present” so don’t jump to that conclusion) by letting go more and more of your idea of what your life should be like, and embracing the possibilities of what it is actually turning out to be like. 

  6. On Lifestyle Rigidity – Venkatesh Rao
    Why has lifestyle rigidity gone up in the modern world?

    Vgr hypothesizes that lifestyle dark energy has gone up significantly, i.e. variables that determine lifestyle have grown exponentially and so has our energy requirement to sustain arbitrary standards of those variables under the guise of “lifestyle design”.

  7. How to Take a Walk – Venkatesh Rao
    Have you ever just taken a walk? Not a jog with your pets, not a stroll with your friends, or a grocery run. Just an aimless walk?
  8. What Entrepreneurs Can Learn from the Poor – Venkatesh Rao
    A book review of “Portfolios of the Poor” and why the poorest people have the most complicated mix of financial instruments to sustain their cash flows
  9. The Dead-Curious Cat and the Joyless Immortal – Venkatesh Rao
    I’ve been thinking a lot about curiosity lately. Specifically, about curiosity in the sense of  the proverb curiosity killed the cat: a potentially self-destructive pursuit of knowledge for its own sake that leads to unnecessary risk-taking. In humans such risk-taking often threatens not just the individual or even family/immediate group, but the whole species. Some people just have to go around figuring out new ways to blow things up, often with the noblest of intentions.

    Curiosity does not seem to be a fundamental drive, unlike what I am told are the  three basic biological drives (seeking pleasure, avoiding pain and conserving energy), so it is probably derived. Curiosity requires a certain energy surplus, since its visible signature is a restless dissipation of energy, but it does not seem directly motivated by energy conservation concerns. So is it derived from pleasure-seeking or pain-avoidance or some mix of the two? Does that make a difference?

  10. The Calculus of Grit – Venkatesh Rao
    On the dichotomy of generalist vs specialist and how those definitions change when using different frames of references.

    I think I now understand the reason I reject the generalist label and resonate far more with the specialist label. The generalist/specialist distinction is an extrinsic coordinate system for mapping human potential.  This system itself is breaking down, so we have to reconstruct whatever meaning the distinction had in intrinsic terms. When I chart my life course using such intrinsic notions, I end up clearly a (reconstructed) specialist.

    This new way of internal navigation is called “The Calculus of Grit”