Guest Post: PJ Manney on GameStop and the Power of Populism

I have many thoughts on the GameStop stock/stonk play. Big movements in complex systems are difficult to write about, because many things that seem paradoxical can be correct at the same time. At different scales or frames, differing takes have validity. So forgive what may seem contradictory. For those not familiar with the topic, let’s start with this @Vox article as the baseline.

In populist movements, the participants are attracted by and manipulated through memetics. We see what begins as a meme becomes hype, then a mass network memetic swarm effect, as happens in the promotion of everything Modern Meme from Bernie Sanders to cryptocurrencies to QAnon.

That the GameStop play has appeared to hurt some predatory shorters and their hedge funds means we will see more #stonk in the future. Success breeds repetition. The latest on r/wallstreetbets is an attempt to wrestle the silver market.

Why did the subreddit readers and social media followers do it? On the face, it’s economically irrational, which is why the hedge funds and investor class didn’t understand it at first. All the investor class cares about is making money above all else. Driving up a stock to protect it from a short will only lose money in the long term. Gamestonk is willing to hold and lose big to make a statement about loving GameStop and hating Wall Street. Reddit’s wallstreetbets subreddit has nearly 4 million self-called “degenerates” alone. And that’s why the Street never saw this coming at first. The combination of paradoxical motivations for this mass behavior is remarkable. Protection, vengeance, anger, fun, gaming, bitcoin play, populism, power, anarchy. One could even say that Gamestonk is the Pokémon Go of 2021. When such a combination of emotional forces can be rallied to a single cause (see the US Capitol on January 6, 2021), anything can happen.

Now add the effect of mass network swarm activity. This can be a weapon, as in QAnon or Internet troll farms. Gamestonk is weaponized investing. When most conflict theorists think of swarms, they think of organization from a single body that sends out many agents of chaos or destruction with a single purpose, coming from every direction. But in this case, so many are in it for the lulz and all those paradoxical motivations listed above, that all they need is a single common interest: take down the Street predators. Everyone has their reasons. They don’t need to be organized.

The Street isn’t a victim. There is no logic behind markets anymore and hasn’t been for some time. Manipulation on all sides, and the decoupling of Wall Street from Main Street, and the end of fundamentals means whoever has the power to define the market does so. And usually, the big institutions run the show and get bail outs when it spins out of control. The only people who suffer are “the little guys.” But when the little guys rally as one? Especially when the world is filled with “money” and no one knows where to put it safely? Anything is possible.

Populism is a powerful and unpredictable political force. It forces reaction or reorganization by the establishment regardless of your position to the cause, because anarchy is the alternative. And institutions hate anarchy. Wall Street wants modellable certainty. No one can predict which way populist-fueled movement will go, because populism is usually about being against something. Not for building a better alternative. See the Russian and French Revolutions, and Brexit as dangerous populism that had ideals but no plans.

But sometimes a plan emerges just in time. See the American or Singing/Baltic States revolutions. Or the New Deal. The reason a populist movement succeeds long after they win is through a combination of cooperation, compromise and construction. We have to build something that benefits most of us, together, to successfully ride through a populist revolution.

If we could get all those people who threw some crypto into the GameStop, AMC or BB&B pots to swarm anew and reorganize healthcare, or law enforcement, or the rest of the predatory financial cycle, that would be something.

Senator Elizabeth Warren is already calling for financial regulation in this case, but to fight the shorters, not the social media/Mom & Pop retail investors. Let’s hope the SEC follows suit. This is part of the constructive, cooperative future, and Wall Street ignores the clean-up of their swamp at their peril.

PJ Manney is the author of the P.K. Dick Award-nominated (R)EVOLUTION, book 1 in a series with (ID)ENTITY, and the upcoming trilogy’s completion (CON)SCIENCE, as well as non-fiction and consulting about emerging technology, future humans, and empathy-building through storytelling. She was a former Chairperson of Humanity+, teleplay writer (Hercules–The Legendary Journeys, Xena: Warrior Princess, numerous TV pilot scripts) and film executive.

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About Cat

Cat Rambo lives, writes, and teaches by the shores of an eagle-haunted lake in the Pacific Northwest. Her 200+ fiction publications include stories in Asimov's, Clarkesworld Magazine, and the magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Her story, "Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain," from her collection Near + Far (Hydra House Books), was a 2012 Nebula nominee. Her editorship of Fantasy Magazine earned her a World Fantasy Award nomination in 2012. She is the current President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). She is currently working on Exiles of Tabat, the third book of the Tabat Quartet. A new story collection, Neither Here Nor There, appears from Hydra House this fall.
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