Randolph and Mortimer Duke bet one dollar that they could ruin Louis Winthrope’s life and turn Eddie Valentine into a respectable man. I wrote about “Trading Places” last week in regards to the Reddit “wallstreetbets” online mob that nearly bankrupted hedge fund Melvin Capital in a “short squeeze” on GameStop stock. Today, I want to focus on the $1 bet, updated to 2021.
(As an aside, I had privately predicted that GameStop would settle back in around $90. Indeed, it has. Tonight, we’re recording a podcast with one of the “wsb” insiders. Watch for it in the next few days.)
If I could say one thing in favor of the Redditors who extracted between $10 and $25 billion from hedge funds, and enriched Robinhood and its “market maker” platform Citadel Securities, who played the the role of “the house” in the online casino, at least the Reddit mob put up cold hard cash to bid up GameStop and other stocks. They were playing with their own money, and my guess is the ones who didn’t get out before the drop lost their cash.
However, it costs the online mob nothing to destroy people’s lives through harassment and cancellation. David French, in his latest cancel culture article, cited example after example of innocent people who have had their lives upended by the mob. Though intelligent, thoughtful people like Yascha Mounk, who wrote a piece for The Atlantic in June titled “Stop Firing the Innocent” have spoken out against the practice, the mob continues to rule and, seemingly at random, target whom it pleases.
In his Tuesday missive, Kevin Williamson noted how Benito Mussolini smoothly swung from a card-carrying socialist to a fascist and anti-communist. As comedian Ryan George would say in his “Screen Rant Pitch Meeting” videos, it was super easy, barely an inconvenience. The only thing that mattered is that Mussolini got to run things. That’s all that mattered to Lenin, Stalin, the military junta that just executed a coup in Burma, and all proper dictators.
In populist America, the mob has become the dictator. And the mob is shockingly disconnected from any moral anchors. Whether it’s stripping wealth from hedge fund managers (who should know better), or electing conspiracy-spewing politicians of both parties to high office, the mob is flexing.
All it takes to ruin someone is to assemble a mob through social media, incite them to harass the target, their family, their employer, their business associates, landlord, over some slight, whether in or out of context, innocent or long ago apologized for, and let the consequences fall where they may. To get a mob, all it takes is a leader, and the first follower. Watch this TED Talk by Derek Sivers titled “How to start a movement.”
Watch the “dancing guy” and how he attracts his first follower.
Now, notice that the leader embraces him as an equal. Now it's not about the leader anymore; it's about them, plural. Now, there he is calling to his friends. Now, if you notice that the first follower is actually an underestimated form of leadership in itself. It takes guts to stand out like that. The first follower is what transforms a lone nut into a leader.
This is America’s “mobulism” culture in a nutshell, happening thousands of times an hour on social media. It has become our new religion, and it has no god but power.
Want to raise money for a good cause? Put it on GoFundMe, or Facebook. Want to raise money for yourself by lying it’s for a good cause? Same answer. Want to help a family who just lost a job because of bad government choices? Publicize their situation and get the first follower or a blue checkmark Twitter to notice. Want to cancel someone? Same answer.
The mob has no moral authority. It only seeks power, to change things, many times for good, but lately, mostly for what most would consider bad, at the cost of a $1 bet.
A good leader is a servant. But the mob’s leaders are merely the first sheep through the gate, leading to a sheep stampede, until they join the next mob, and the next, and the next. There’s no personal investment in tweeting someone’s life away, or calling someone’s employer because they made some perceived insult, then notifying the media you did it to ensure action. What benefit is it to the person who ruins another’s life because of a misinterpreted hand gesture?
In this mob culture, everyone has become a potential secret policeman. Everyone can potentially film you, search your history, violate your right to quiet enjoyment of your life and property, and make you a public spectacle. From “revenge porn” to doxxing, to politicians “weaponizing” public statements, to President Trump summoning his followers to Washington D.C. on the day Congress must legally count Electoral College votes, the mob, once unleashed, is capable of enormous harm.
It seems that the leaders who stand up and speak against the mob themselves become the target of it, and it’s very hard to find the first follower who is willing to subject themselves to that kind of pressure. Celebrities and politicians with publicists, money in the bank, and access to powerful friends can weather the storm, but most of us can’t. So we step aside and let the mob do its damage. We give the online, and physical mob “room to riot.”
Property damage can be repaired. Insurance can be bought against future damage. Companies can write off vandalism and looting. But people who can’t afford those precautions, small business owners, and regular innocent folks who lose jobs and livelihoods, many times never recover.
Our confidence and faith in institutions like government, news organizations, the markets, health care providers, public safety officials, and schools has been, and is continuing to erode at a disturbing pace. The mob, in its quest for power, is undermining the foundations of these organizations far more than the leaders who hide bad actors (like the #MeToo predators in Hollywood, the pedophile priests in the Catholic Church and other denominations, the boy-abusing Boy Scout leaders to name a few) ever could.
Leaders can be replaced and held accountable. They should be replaced and face repercussions of their actions. But the organizations themselves, when they are devoted to good and moral ideas that benefit society, must continue. The mob can be useful to highlight where change is necessary. But left unchallenged, the mob simply moves to its next target, and the next after that. It consumes the organizations, the leaders, and eventually, itself in a never-ending Ouroboros self-eating snake.
Our society cannot survive if we become nothing more than competing and ever-forming mobs out to bet $1 to ruin someone’s life, or to take down an organization. It won’t serve our nation, and it will only empower the actual billionaires to do as they please without accountability—or empower America’s enemies in the world to set us against one another, one cancelled life at a time.
In other news…
The Racket News has reached a milestone, and we’re getting ready to move from “pre-launch” to launch mode. This means we finally have a slick new logo and new content. We’re excited. I don’t have a date to give you, but watch these pages.
As you might have realized, David Thornton is absent this week. He’s busy doing his real job, which requires a high level of dedication and training (if you fly airplanes, you’ll understand, and if you ride in them, you’ll appreciate it).
I mentioned above that we’re planning to record a podcast tonight. Our guest will be one of the “wallstreetbets” insiders, who was there way before the GameStop squeeze. It should be an interesting conversation.
Finally, thank you, each of you, for giving us a chance to write stuff that challenges you, and if you like what you read, please share this site.
If you haven’t subscribed, you can do it right here, and it’s free (for now).