Yudkowsky is celebrating GME shortsqueze as an example of a new way of forging cooperation — but I don’t know if there is so much to celebrate. It is kind of funny, but in essence it is just a flashmob in capital markets. It is as funny and as disruptive as it was in Macys. The problem is that we seem to turn everything into entertainment — and Qanon shows where that is heading.
Entertainment in politics has always been and important element and often it was in the form of ‘giving the middle finger’ to the elites (the same sentiment as in the GME short squeeze) — but it’s role surely is growing. The Pirate Parties in Europe was one thing — but in 2016 it decided the presidency of the number one global superpower.
Lets not be too carried away: I wish politics was about rational decision making — but there is the problem: voting in a democracy bigger than a few hundred people is not very rational — your vote weights too little to justify the effort of learning all that political stuff. So politics in modern democracies have never really been about finding the best decisions (or voting for the candidate who makes them) — but rather about finding ways to make people vote for you candidate for any reason that does not require too much effort to understand. So maybe it is not such a big change.
Now we see the same mechanism deployed in capital markets. With internet it is easy to find a lot of people to do something funny. Especially in an epidemic when all traditional entertainment is closed (see The boredom market hypothesis by Matt Levine).
One implication of doing something for entertainment is that people are mostly not very serious about it. That is why WallStreetBets members often call themselves “autists” and “degenerates”, and use the other silly slang terms like “stonks” for stocks. That is why there are so many crazy photos from the Capitol Hill Riots — but there weren’t too many serious consequences for a violent takeover of superpower legislation centre. There needs to be a balance of seriousness for something to be fun. It cannot be completely without any outcome because that would not excite anyone, but it also cannot have really serious consequences — because that would throw people into a different mood. The outcomes need to be big enough to be exciting — but they need to seem benign.
When you look at many mass protests: like the Ukrainian Revolution of Dignity, or what we have in Poland now with a famous pink unicorn protester and I guess many others there is often this festive trait, and it seems to be a positive one, it filters out many ideas that don’t mix well with this mood, like using guns. Surely this is good — but it is kind of very weakly linked to the longer term results — because long term analyses are not fun.
Qanon shows one workaround for that weakness — their adherents don’t realize that they are doing it for entertainment — so many of them can be quite serious. There is also a whole genre of movements that seem to reject even the notion of seriousness, like the church of Flying Spaghetti Monster or Flat Earth believers.
I am sure that there will be more workarounds because it looks like a powerful mechanism and many people working on how to use it to their own ends. I am afraid that it will be mostly about misleading people — about hiding the serious consequences from them so that they can have their fun.
James Surowiecki on GameStop: https://marker.medium.com/gamestop-proves-were-in-a-meme-stock-bubble-b3f39163a77f
Update: Maybe LARPing is actually a better category/metaphor for all of this: https://alexdanco.com/2021/06/05/civic-larping/