The Inevitable Decay of Online Movements
Robert Conquest had three laws of politics:
- Everyone is conservative about what he knows best.
- Any organization not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing.
- The simplest way to explain the behavior of any bureaucratic organization is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies.
It is the second law which we will be concerning ourselves with here: the inevitable decay of any organization, when it loses its way.
Labeling this decay as “becoming left-wing” is a bit of a misnomer. It’s not so much that a noble political movement gets taken over by some sort of Marxist infiltration; rather, it’s the break down of command and control. It’s a reversion to democratic, populist demands, and the lowest common denominator. If you ask 1000 people what they want, the only thing they can all agree on is “bread and circuses”. The reason this appears to be “left-wing” can be seen in Conquest’s first law: concern, caution, and responsible ownership are what we normally consider the “right-wing” of the political spectrum, while social spending and gimme-dats are typically viewed as “left-wing”. The reality is a bit more nuanced, but overall it’s fair to characterize Democrats as irresponsible populists, who are more than happy to smash down Chesterton’s fence to satisfy the momentary whims of whomever will vote for them.
Earlier I mentioned Marxist infiltration; feel free to replace this with any sort of subversion, whether it’s a religious charity being infiltrated by atheists, or a communist syndicate being infiltrated by capitalists selling Che Guevara t-shirts. The core mechanism which matters is the educated and serious-minded founders being out-outmaneuvered by newer entries to the movement, who lack the original vision. In David Chapman’s Meaningness theory, this would be the Sociopaths and Mops slowly working to marginalize the Geeks.
With leaderless movements this becomes all the more dire; particularly with the Internet as an enabling vehicle, and the rise of anonymous commentary. At most, these online movements have a handful of public figures who loosely inspire them, and there isn’t even the pretense of command and control. While these public figures usually rose to prominence through some sort of ideological or theoretical work, by the time the movement gains wide appeal they’re no longer in the driver’s seat. They’ve become responsive to whatever memetics the mob generates; a lightning rod for the idea-scape as a whole, rather than a general leading an army. And more often than not, they eventually make a misstep – they deign to disagree with the mob – and they find themselves sacrificed on the altar of the Summer King.
As Jim Goad once said, “Wherever the mob is, they got there too late, and for the wrong reasons.”
The rapidity with which mobs degenerate shines light on the problem of organizational decay. The aforementioned Conquest, alongside George Orwell, and Senator McCarthy, fought valiantly to halt the alleged communist subversion of the United States (allegations which were proven correct back in 1996); but in considering the similar degeneration of mobs, it’s not the subversives who are to blame, but the organization itself. The organization was begging to be subverted.
Think of our communist syndicalists for a moment, and ask how it is that t-shirts depicting a Cuban racist managed to become so popular? The founders of the syndicate were ostensibly in the business of making a bold, new experiment in human society; they were dedicating themselves to the humble work of becoming the Übermensch through socially responsible labour and toil. But what were they selling to the Mops? To them, they were promising the heroic glory of a revolution against their oppressors, but they offered neither armaments, nor any sort of uniform, so when the capitalist came along with his t-shirts the Mops were hooked.
The syndicate founders had neither a plan, nor a system of command or control, nor a concrete goal which they were trying to achieve. At the end of the day, all they were doing was signalling their self righteousness by pontificating Marxist theories over cups of Starbucks. And when the Mops were offered the chance to signal in this manner by wearing a t-shirt instead of reading ancient tomes, they quickly glommed on, and soon enough they’ll begin denouncing the founders as counter-revolutionaries.
So how does one form a successful organization, then? Or to put it more concretely: how might one run an adventuring party?
The Dungeons & Dragons Adventuring Party has become a staple of modern culture, and yet it seldom asks the question of why these companions choose to associate with one another in the first place. Why do they put up with the risk, the cramped sleeping quarters, and the intolerable personalities of their co-adventurers? In tabletop games, it’s because there’s only one Dungeon Master; leave the table, and you leave reality. In video games – and tell me, does this not speak to the narcissism of our age? – your fellow party members are just there. Apparently they have nothing better to do than follow you around because you’re the protagonist, and if you separate from them they stand around at the bar, twiddling their thumbs, and waiting for you to return.
But let’s say you wanted to form an adventuring party in real life. What would you do? Well, you might research Privateer Charters, Knightly Codes, and Pirate Constitutions for some organizational inspiration, but before you even start putting the party together, you first need to find two things:
- A dragon to slay, and:
- A source of funding.
With your goal and funding in place (even if it’s just the loot from slaying the dragon) you can now start forming your party; you can lay out the responsibilities, the expected standards of behaviour, and the dedication you expect from each member. Absent the dragon and gold, however, all you have is a social club.
And what inevitably happens in a social club?
Take a group of people – any group of people – and if they lack an explicit purpose for associating, as well as a command and control system to make sure that purpose doesn’t waver, their identity will eventually boil down to the lowest common denominator. And the lowest common denominator for any group is usually the fact that they’re not that other group. Their identity will become something reactionary and negative; by defining themselves as the opposite of that which they oppose, they will eventually allow that other group to define who they are. Often enough, their opposition will do the same thing. Soon enough, you have two groups who are mirror images of one another, fighting one another, and whatever principles or goals that might have started the two groups, are quickly reduced to nothing but slogans, and their former leaders are vilified for holding them back from the fray.
Thus, we have the death of online movements. There is no more purpose in them than there is in Star Trek fandom. It is a source of narcissistic supply, it is a source of identity, and the feelings of inclusion (while lacking any of the benefits that participating in a real-world community offers). There is no end goal, aside from being opposed to whatever the group isn’t, and fractional in-fighting is inevitable – since fighting made up enemies, and worshiping made up gods, is all that anyone’s doing anyway.
The Internet is a narcissism engine for cosplayers, and it’s driving us all mad.