Leadership is Dead, Long Live the Memes
You may not have noticed but our society is currently desperate for leadership. Demand has dwarfed the supply. The leadership market has been flooded with fakes, counterfeits, and phonies posing as the real deal. I partially blame the internet, which has brought about the democratization of many fields previously guarded by gatekeepers. That in and of itself is not a bad thing, though. It’s just a shame it has brought about a generation of leaders whose main tools are memes.
Democratization can take many forms. Martin Luther led the democratization of Christianity. The American Revolution democratized politics. Unions helped democratize industry. Artists of all mediums fight to democratize the arts. These are the natural progressions of liberalism. These moments we look back fondly on also weren’t perfect and took refinement to get right.
Luther created a sect of anti-Semites. The American Revolution democratized politics for white landowning men, preserved slavery, and inspired the French to hold “The Terror” (which I wholly support, but that’s a different article). Artists are regularly guilty of adopting the gatekeeping role once they ascend to a certain status of their field. There are always risks in granting power to the average person. And we are currently in the midst of a renaissance of imbeciles.
I wrote last week about how we occupied the dumbest timeline. Publishing when I did prevented me from mentioning the gas panic that led to people filling plastic bags with gasoline and setting their cars on fire. The governor of Oklahoma is campaigning against Joe Biden’s liberal agenda and claiming he caused a Chik Fil A sauce shortage. How could such idiocy be so rampant that our entire supply chain could crumble at the sheer worry that a shortage might occur? Easy, we are in an era of increased democratization and there are no controls over the consequences.
The clues for this are obvious. The last election saw astronomical voting numbers on each side, over 155 million Americans. More people than ever are participating in our democratic processes. People are actively engaging in protests throughout the nation for issues that span the entire spectrum. Politics and the news are the most talked about social topics and Facebook can prove it. Without context these seem like incredible steps forward for our republic. Unfortunately, this democratization era is rife with grifters and false information.
Evgeny Morozov warned readers to be wary of the apparent freedom bursting from the Middle East after the Arab Spring. In his book, The Net Delusion, Morozov throws away the idea that Twitter and Facebook were bringing about an end of ignorance. At the time, journalists were praising such social media platforms as giving a voice to the oppressed, allowing them to study their strife, and freely organize their revolutions without the watchful eyes of their oppressors. Morozov’s book was controversial for a while, until it was proved true.
Tools of revolution are only useful until the oppressor learns to use them too. Within months of the Arab Spring protests driven by false information became rampant. Power struggles led to military dictatorships. Progress died as fast as it was introduced and for some nations the step backward was catastrophic. Now that the flow of information could be controlled, false news could pose as real, overthrowing one government and very easily leading to a worse one. Morozov could see this coming and we are still ignoring the lessons.
The internet has absolutely allowed people to participate in politics at a never before seen rate. Unfortunately, it has broken us. Whether it gave voice to the crazies, gave power to bad actors to poison our minds, or both, society is currently being torn apart. Our leaders are powerless to defend it. The new leaders stepping up, armed only with memes, are disastrously unqualified.
Many voters believe their political parties have failed them entirely. The Democrats are tired of seeing the same old gerontocracy that has led the party since Reagan continue to trot out old ways and outdated views on compromise. Republicans have all but lost their party to the loudest and most loyal Trump apologists. Even when a Joe Biden or a Liz Cheney tries their best, the people aren’t happy.
Some have now turned to businessmen for leadership and it has proven equally disastrous. Andrew Yang may be the next mayor of New York. A walking cringe, Yang has backtracked and changed almost every policy idea he’s spouted off over the past 3 years. Without a successful business move anyone can explain, he somehow has credibility as a smart guy. Yet a closer look at his record shows some unsuccessful non-profit work (with huge grant wins) and getting lucky with a company merge. Hardly some genius with a history of revolutionary ideas or who has ever experienced a challenge.
Elon Musk is an even scarier example. At least Yang wants to participate in a system (granted he’s a grifter that thinks he can profit off it). Musk thinks he can throw millions at technology and be praised for improving humanity through science. When he’s bored he sends cryptic tweets just to watch the stock market fallout afterwards. Musk ignores regulation and consequences. During COVID he tried to keep all of his workers on the factory floor threatening to move the company out of California should they call for a stay-at-home order. He reminds me too much of Lord Farquaad from Shrek “Some of you may die, but that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.”
I’ve hardly scratched the surface of nonsense grifters and meme throwers grasping for power, but the examples serve a purpose. We currently have a new tool that has removed the power of the old gatekeepers. People have the power but bad faith actors continue to use tricks and lies to manipulate and horde that power. I think we’ll look at this time a bit like the Wild West. We’ll be amazed at the freedom corporations had and the incredible heights to which a wave of momentum will have carried some of these characters.