From Kevin Williamson at National Review, Little Big Men:
Beyond amplifying the power of individuals, the Internet helps motivated people to exploit the power that can be had from recruiting a tiny slice of a large population. Fewer than 1 percent of U.S. households subscribe to the Washington Post, but that still puts the newspaper’s readership at more than 1 million. If your business can make a sale to 1 percent of U.S. consumers, or 1 percent of Chinese or Indian consumers, then you have a big business. And if you can get 1 percent of Twitter users to endorse your cause — even in the most low-cost fashion, with a like or a retweet — then you have an army of millions, or at least the illusion of one, which is enough to buffalo the New York Times or Disney or the University of Chicago. Getting a relatively small share of independent stock investors to rally behind your meme stock or joke currency can mobilize billions of dollars, if only temporarily. That’s real power — When a Wall Street swell derided the meme-stock guys as “retarded,” they replied with a variation on John Maynard Keynes: “We can stay retarded longer than you can stay solvent.”
Before Bitcoin, it was a great deal more difficult to extort a major corporation or a government. It is not as though the desire wasn’t there before; the right tool wasn’t. In 1975, you couldn’t go kicking in the door at IBM or Chrysler and expect to walk out with millions of dollars in your pockets, like a Wild West–stagecoach robber or the local mafia-protection-racket goon shaking down a Brooklyn liquor store. Today, technology has made that possible. In that sense, we have reverted to a high-tech version of the Wild West–stagecoach robbery or the early 20th-century bank robbery. And it is likely that the successful means of combating this crime will look a lot like a high-tech version of the kind of extrajudicial rough justice that settled the West. Wyatt Earp did not spend a lot of time reading the Cowboys their rights.
None of this is to say that a short squeeze or a meme currency is the moral equivalent of terrorism. The interesting issue here is structural: In important ways, political movements and financial bubbles are coming to resemble one another. It is not so much that they behave like Internet memes as that they are actually embedded in Internet memes. The coming generation of political leaders — left, right, anarchist, jihadist, whatever — will not have careers that look a lot like William F. Buckley’s or Noam Chomsky’s, or even Ben Shapiro’s: Their careers are going to look a lot more like those of Lil Nas X or Chiara Ferragni.
Which is to say, their careers will evolve in a way that is relatively free from the moderating and improving influence of mediating institutions. In the 1990s, the evangelists of the new digital culture celebrated disintermediation as a democratizing force that would liberate citizens from such archaic entities as hidebound newspapers and narrow-minded political parties, allowing for a more authentically free flow of information and ideas — and of political power. And so it has, producing some wonderful things and many atrocious ones. We need mediating institutions, because human beings are capable of extraordinarily evil things and very much prone to banal evil and petty corruption — and easily seduced by the crude stimulation of mere novelty. The meme investors and the tiki-torch Nazis marched in through the same door, and WeRateDogs is served in the same dish as Russian disinformation.
The Internet has knocked down a lot of walls and opened a lot of doors. It is perhaps time to rebuild a few of those walls and close a few of those doors.