Argument by meme: an anti-socialism argument


This is socialism


This meme doesn’t look much like an argument: no premises are identified, no inferences. Even the conclusion is not stated explicitly.  Nonetheless, it is clear that author is trying to get us to believe something about socialism, and it’s not supposed to be pretty. Those poor Millennials who want to live under socialism are being told that they are incredibly deluded: socialism is very, very bad. The picture and the caption are presumably intended to give us some sort of reason to believe that conclusion.  But is there any way to reconstruct an argument out of this with any chance of being sound?

First effort:  The caption seems to assert that socialism just is what is being depicted, namely taking an innocent person and shooting her.

Anti-socialist argument 1:

(1)          Socialism just is taking innocent people and killing them.  [Premise]

(2)          Anything that is taking innocent people and killing them is very bad. [Premise]

(3)          Socialism is very bad.  [1,2]

The argument is valid. But only an idiot, or a completely ignorant person, would believe the first premise as stated. To be fair, there were innocent people who were summarily executed in state socialist countries, but to define socialism as this practice would be absurd. No state in the history of the world has embraced an ideology of shooting innocent people as their sole guiding principle. The democratic socialist countries of Scandinavia, which don’t even have the death penalty, would be particularly surprised to find that this is the sole characteristic feature of their governments.

So how can one revise the first premise so that it has a chance of being true, and yet still have a valid argument?  One might try this:

Anti-socialist argument 2:

(1)          Socialist governments have killed innocent people. [Premise]

(2)          Any form of government that has killed innocent people is very bad.  [Premise]

(3)          Socialism is very bad.  [1,2]

Now premise (1) is true, and I’ve added a second premise that will allow the conclusion to follow logically. But now the problem is this: if the author of the argument affirms premise (2), we could run a parallel argument against capitalism:

Anti-capitalism argument:

(1)          Capitalist governments have killed innocent people. [Premise]

(2)          Any form of government that has killed innocent people is very bad.  [Premise]

(3)          Capitalism is very bad.  [1,2]

Or we could say this:

Anti-democracy argument:

(1)          Democratic governments have killed innocent people. [Premise]

(2)          Any form of government that has killed innocent people is very bad.  [Premise]

(3)          Democracy is very bad.  [1,2]

The point is this: arguments 3 and 4 are just as good as argument 2, for premise (1) in each of these arguments is simply true, and premise (2) is exactly the same as in the anti-socialism argument. So the proponent of that argument cannot deny that premise here but affirm it in their own argument. In other words, unless you are willing to accept the consequence that any form of government is very bad, you aren’t likely to believe premise (2).

Perhaps I am construing the anti-socialist meme too narrowly. Maybe the image is just supposed to convey that socialist governments did many bad things.  Then the argument would be:

Anti-socialist argument 3:

(1)          Socialist governments did many bad things. [Premise]

(2)          Any form of government that did many bad things is very bad. [Premise]

(3)          Socialism is very bad.

However, of course we could then run parallel versions of this argument against capitalism or democracy, for it can hardly be denied that capitalist, democratic governments have done many horrible things. So, again, premise (2) in this form is quite implausible.


I’ve been working to find some way of construing the meme above so as to provide us with an argument for the claim that socialism is very bad. So far, the suggested interpretations have either involved laughably false premises (as in anti-socialist argument 1) or premises that might look somewhat plausible, but which could be the basis of an equally good argument against capitalism or democracy (as in anti-socialist arguments 2 and 3). So if there is a decent argument to be seen here, I haven’t found it, but I welcome efforts to spell one out.

Of course, perhaps the meme wasn’t mean as an argument. Maybe it wasn’t meant to give anyone an actual reason to reject socialism. Instead, perhaps it was just a blatant attempt to manipulate emotional reactions without any attempt to provide reasons at all. In that case, perhaps it shouldn’t be included here as a bad argument, for it is not even reasonable enough to make it to the category of argument at all.  It’s too bad to be a bad argument.

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