Last week, Reddit brought Wall Street to its knees. The coordinated action of the members of a community within the online platform became the most impactful and effective challenge that big investors have faced in several years. To understand how the redditors did it, I recommend the brilliant article by Emmanuel Alejandro Rondón and Juan Felipe Vélez. The lesson of what happened last week has implications that go way beyond GameStop or hedge funds. They are a signal that everyone should pay heed to.
Drums in the Deep
The Reddit incident’s key element is not the fact that one of the world’s leading private equity firms was on the verge of bankruptcy, but that it took hours for the experts to understand what was going on. They watched in terror as GameStop’s stock climbed higher and higher, not knowing who was pulling the strings.
We can imagine them shaking in fear in their plush Wall Street offices, talking hysterically on their cell phones, banging on their landlines, and yelling at the secretaries to contact them with this or that stock market insider. We can also imagine their growing panic as they confirmed that it wasn’t any of the usual players and that no one even knew the spike’s source. It was hours later when they learned, to their astonishment (and even more panic), that the attack had come from a Reddit community whose users had agreed to buy GameStop stock and then acted in a coordinated yet decentralized way.
Even once they figured it out, the executives probably spent more hours trying to figure out what Reddit is, dumbfounded by a hit coming from the depths of an Internet they don’t understand. And they’re not the first people who have gone through this.
In June of last year, at the start of the U.S. presidential campaigns, hundreds of K-pop fans and TikTok users coordinated to ridicule the Trump campaign by ordering thousands of seats for Donald Trump’s rally in Oklahoma, never to show up. The images of the empty chairs at the BOK Center in Tulsa were a telling visual blow against Trump, whose narrative stems from a connection to the people, which is reinforced almost ritually at that kind of mass event. Maybe that punch alone didn’t define the presidential election in Biden’s favor, but boy, did it help.
Reddit, forums, and shifting loyalties
In both cases, we see the signs of a phenomenon that is becoming increasingly common. However, it usually happens so subtly that we don’t even notice it: Old loyalties are evaporating, while the communities they embodied become weaker, and new commitments, with their own communities, emerge in turn. Here is where things get dangerous for the nation-states. Let us see:
The nation-state paradigm arose from the treaties of Westphalia (in 1648). It then became consolidated through blood and fire during the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, by established nations as the primary players in the sovereign game, with “nation” being understood as a group of people who shared ethnic, religious, and cultural identity.
Later on, international migration and religious freedom resulted in the fracture of old ethnic and religious ties. Only cultural bonds remained. Now, however, these bonds are quickly eroding.
This happens for two reasons:
- The political narrative of Progressivism has focused on destroying the ideological consensuses and the nation’s founding myths. In America, this is clear from the left’s efforts to tear down (sometimes literally) the Founding Fathers, portraying them as oppressors rather than Liberators.
Trump tried to reverse that trend by launching the 1776 Commission. However, Biden disbanded it as soon as he set foot in the White House, and his administration doubled down on revisionist rhetoric, the result of which is a society increasingly ashamed of its national identity. It happens in the United States; it happens in Europe as well.
- Technology encourages people to generate new communities, not based on their birthplace but on the identities they develop for themselves. Reddit’s thematic spaces are a clear example; they are built around an almost infinite number of hobbies and opinions, allowing us to find ourselves with thousands of others who share our identities. Redditor’s bodies may be on the other side of the world, but (thanks to their screens) they are practically in the same room. These people become new families, and these communities become a new nation.
In other words, there are two simultaneous processes underway: one that erodes traditional loyalties and another that expedites and encourages the creation of new identities, which are also isolated from each other. 70 years ago we all watched the same television shows on the living room TV; then the parents watched their programs upstairs, while the children watched theirs in their rooms; now everyone watches what suits their specific tastes and socializes in spaces designed for themselves.
The result is cities and societies where the person who is physically next to us lives in a world utterly different from ours: he gets information from different places, values different things, assumes different identities. It is, in short, a citizen of a different nation.
The end of nation-states?
Now, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Platforms like Reddit (and the Internet in general) allow us to enrich our lives, forge friendships, and access new ideas. I think of my own life: I grew up in Irapuato (Mexico), a city so illiterate that for years there was not a single real bookstore in town. Yet, thanks to the Internet, I had access to a multitude of books and ideas that would never have reached my city. My identity was shaped far more by what I learned online than by the place where I grew up.
However, we cannot ignore that this phenomenon calls into question one of the pillars that sustain the worldwide social and political structure. For better or worse, nation-states will face very uncomfortable questions in the coming years as their citizens’ loyalty erodes and the paradigm of a nation’s community shifts to something different.
Progressives seem to believe that they can control this process and create a global community to manage at their whim. However, the successful movement of Reddit users against Wall Street bankers is also a warning to corporate progressivism, reminding them that their economic and political structures are also riding on those old loyalties that they have gleefully demolished for years. Also, the new communities and nations will not necessarily be under their full control.
The new world will not automatically be woke. The new world will just be.