The Radical Center
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The Radical Center

Reddit, GameStop and Envy

When this GameStop/Reddit nonsense started I argued it was going to be a disaster for a lot of naive, often first-time investors. They could push up the price of a stock simply by paying more and more for it, but they can’t give it inherent value equal to the price they paid.

They tried to prop it up but huge numbers of them suffered massive loses. Bizarrely all the Reddit crowd managed to do was give a lot of the “billionaires” they wanted to punish, a chance to unload their shares at windfall profits. They put money in the pockets of the very class of people they were trying to punish — in what strikes me as a fit of envy, a very self-destructive emotion.

The Washington Post reports today:

“As GameStop’s stock plunged 60 percent Tuesday, the online horde that had raced to invest in the “meme stock” scrambled to reckon with the financial bloodshed, wavering between a desire to sell and settle for heavy losses or stick with their online peers who had admonished them to ‘hold the line.’

In interviews Tuesday with novice traders on r/WallStreetBets, the gleefully reckless Reddit forum that helped fuel the onslaught, several said they were holding out hope that the hyperinflated stock would turn around.”

The Post tells the story of Evan Oosterlink from the Netherlands who used school loans and savings to pour almost $10,000 into buying GameStop shares. He’s lost about 90% of it so far but says the forum on Reddit assures him it will come back. He admitted, “Being a part of WallStreetBets, it’s like a religion you’re devoted to.”

Game Stop share prices

Many people naively think envy is a positive emotion. They assume saying, “I envy you” is a compliment. It isn’t. In a nutshell definition Ayn Rand called it, “Hatred of the good for being the good.” In essence it is that, but an expanded definition description is necessary.

The envious individual desires something the person they envy has. It may be wealth, looks, intelligence, love, etc. It can be virtually anything. The envious want it, desperately. And often are willing to do anything to achieve it. More importantly, not only do they want it, but they also want the person who has it to loose it. They want to snatch away from that person the very thing they desire for themselves. They desire to inflict suffering on those who dare have, what they want for themselves.

They don’t think having such things is evil, they just think others who have them are and should be made to suffer for it. Envy is thus a very negative and destructive emotion.

Envy politics is found on both the Left and the Right, just in slightly different forms. One of the very real difference between the Trumpians and the “Libs” they are constantly desiring “to own,” is the former tend to be poorer, less educated, less successful. We know they are heavily evangelical in theology and all the demographics of evangelicalism show it to be the “faith” of the socially and economically dysfunctional. They want success, but don’t have it.

To achieve it they gain instant status — in their mind — by asserting they are God’s chosen, they know what God wants and others don’t, they alone will go to heaven while the rich and educated will burn in hell. They’ll spend eternity walking on streets made of gold — literally. In this life their main desire is to have power over others — both spiritually and politically.

Into that Trumpian pool add the white supremacists — individuals who want to imagine superior status for themselves based entirely on their skin color. When they attempt to justify their ideology they assert their supremacy comes from the accomplishment of “the white race.” In other words, these people attempt to piggyback on the accomplishment of others.

The National Socialism of Hitler was another philosophy that relied on envy. As I wrote elsewhere:

Jews were prosperous and successful, which is why the Nazis both appealed to the lower classes and preached anti-Semitism. The same is true of socialism in all its various guises. Those who do not reach the levels of achievement of the great, but who drink long at the well of resentment, are attracted to ideologies based on hateful envy.

These ideologies promise them that the “first shall be made last.” They promise the “people” that the great “exploiters”, that is those who achieve, will be humbled if not destroyed.

Much of the desire for the failed systems of socialism relied upon envy to fuel the demand. The theme was often that the rich must be made to serve the masses, where the Right often demands the masses be made to serve the great — with greatness often being the equivalency of race or nationality. Each wants privileges, but each also wants to destroy the other “class” as well.

In most envy becomes a destructive emotion, a desire to tear down those who have what the envious wish they had. Each wishes to find a way to “own” the class of people they hate. It is fundamentally a negative emotion and a destructive one.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once wisely observed, “Violence may go to the point of murdering the hater, but it doesn’t murder hate. It may increase hate. It is always a descending spiral leading nowhere. This is the ultimate weakness of violence: It multiplies evil and violence in the universe. It doesn’t solve any problems.”

A descending spiral leading nowhere multiplying evil well describes the impact envy has as well. With both hate and envy — which are more alike than different — we see a descending spiral. I would also argue that negative emotions — all things considered — probably do more harm to those harbouring those emotions than it does to those being targeted.

Those who follow Trump think they were cheated. It’s someone else’s fault they never went to college — or in a number of cases, never finished high school. It’s the system that makes them poor and unemployed even if their drinking caused them to be fired from their last three jobs. It’s the blacks, the “Libs,” or those damn gays, who are somehow responsible for them never achieving the things they want.

The very fact others have those things is twisted into proof they were cheated. It is a means by which one absolves themselves of responsibility and blames the groups they hate.

I realize this will anger a lot of people on both Left and Right. Each side wants to imagine it applies only to the other side. It applies to humans and each side is equally human and equally flawed.

I’ve seen multiple reports and gloating social media comments about how the Reddit mob was “slaying Goliath” and bringing those billionaires down. It was largely inspired by envy and, in some cases, unrealistic and naïve greed.

It was a negative campaign more than a positive one. It was “own the billionaires” not “own the Libs.” But in essence it was the same self-destructive emotion.

Sure some billionaires lost money but they can afford it. So did lots of young investors with little to lose, and for them that’s a tragedy. It may be a self-induced tragedy, but tragic it remains.

King was right about hate and the same is true for envy. Both are destructive. The envious and the hate-filled both imagine they will “own” the class they despise, but in the long run most the harm will be self-inflicted.

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A blog for the Moorfield Storey Institute: a liberaltarian think tank.

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James Peron

James Peron

James Peron is the president of the Moorfield Storey Institute, was the founding editor of Esteem a LGBT publication in South Africa under apartheid.

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