Two themes that I believe will grow in popularity even more over the coming years – two themes that wholeheartedly ascribe to – are bitcoin and localism. Whether the two political movements – both are political movements – are diametrically opposed to one another (the one being an essentially globalist movement, the other an increase of borders) is something worth exploring, but that’s not the purpose of this article.
The purpose of this article is to take the lessons I’ve learned from watching the one movement grow from an obscure magic internet money to a global financial asset over a short period of 12 years and see whether any of those lessons can be applied to another movement that is now only in its infancy (but growing by the day).
As a staunch advocate of localism, the most vivid and personally applicable manifestation of that idea, is the independence of the Western Cape. I hope, and believe, that the independence of the Western Cape, will not only save the Western Cape from the afro-nationalist cancer that is the ANC and EFF, but will spark a wider and broader movement that could save South Africa itself. Whether South Africa can – or even should – be saved in its current form is not a topic for another discussion.
This article is no highbrow philosophical or intellectual analysis of how bottom-up movements can grow (that I leave to the more intelligent and capable), but rather a fun, and hopefully informative, exploration of one of the things that I believe helped power the meteoric rise of bitcoin: the power of memes.
The incumbents can’t meme:
The internet has fundamentally changed the world to an extent we are only beginning to become aware of. It has broken down barriers of information and distributed power to the individual in a truly unprecedented way. Gone are the old gatekeepers (newspapers, television, etc.) where consolidation of money and power meant that the control of information (what the masses saw and heard) was easier to control. In its place is a world where individuals have a soapbox to stand on.
Of course, the internet brings about its own consolidation of power and censorship. The super aggregators of today – Facebook, Twitter, Google – are indeed acting a lot like the old media giants in their suppression of information as well as they can. But their power is severely limited. Once suppression becomes too much, information will just move to other platforms where it can get a voice. Some of these platforms – Gab, Signal, Parlour – will be the new places where information will find its home.
The internet lends itself to the aggregation of power to the likes of Google, but the barriers to entry for new platforms are fundamentally less (just form a capital perspective but not restricted to it) and thus you should see more competition as time progresses.
That the old structures of information have indeed been altered forever in ways we are only beginning to understand, I give you as proof the first King of the Meme: Donald J. Trump. His presidency – or his rise to presidency – was built on the back of the new structures of informational spread. His rise is the most vivid example I can give of the power of memes in the new world. His campaign was essentially driven by the meme, of which he is a master user. MAGA and capital letter tweets is the new norm, not some random accident. Trump’s presidency was a shot across the bow of the old establishment powers, which took all their might of old school mainstream media propaganda to overthrow again. And it was by no means the last one. Because in the new world, new skills are needed. And the incumbents can’t meme. Just look at any journalists’ twitter feed if you need proof of that statement.
The meme, by definition, is a ground up movement; something the powers that be have no idea how to do, or how to stop.
Turning to bitcoin:
Bitcoin’s rise from geeky cypherpunk fringe project, to global phenomenon in 12 years’ time, is another great example of how the power of how meme’s have changed the world.
Memes are by no means the only reason bitcoin has become so popular in such a short time. Bitcoin is God’s gift to anyone who wants to study the power of incentives. But the meme, and bitcoiners’ understanding of memes, has been an important factor. One that I believe can be applied in other movements like the independence of the Western Cape.
Bitcoiners understand the power of memes:
There are other people who understand the power of memes, but for me the power became clearly visible when I became interested in bitcoin a few years ago. By that time bitcoin culture, bitcoin memes, and bitcoin meme culture had already developed quite well. But I was lucky to be there early enough to see the community really develop an awareness of their own ability to meme, and how important that could be for their movement’s ultimate success.
Michael Goldstein is the king of the bitcoin meme. He does them well because he understands their power. He understands what makes a good meme, and he is relentless in pushing them out. He points out in his talk that bitcoin doesn’t need any one person because it is a decentralized network that will win out in the end as the macro economics of hard money does what it does, “which is dominate.” This in itself is a meme that is deeply embedded in the culture of the bitcoin community.
But I do take his point that the growth of bitcoin is more natural and that memes can only expedite the process. This is not true for the Western Cape independence movement.
There is no doubt that the bitcoin “community” (a very loose term in this case) very much understand the power of memes.
What makes a good meme?
I am going to unashamedly steal from Michael in this section. His ability to meme exceeds mine to such a large degree that it would be ridiculous of me not to.
The first important principle to understand is that memes are a form of rhetoric and not a form dialectic. Rhetoric, as defined by Aristotle, is the art of persuasion whereas dialectic is the art of argumentation. Memes are not made for discussions or explorations of truth; they are meant merely to persuade others of an already discovered or invented truth.
Once you understand that memes are used as propaganda, you can start thinking about what makes a good meme.
Memes have certain characteristics, some which I will try to explore from the perspective of bitcoin using some of my favorite bitcoin memes as example:
- Memes are propaganda, which means they need to be relentless. To limit their use is to limit their efficacy. If you can’t decide whether the situation you think about is covered by your meme, push it out anyway. “The biggest problem in the world is poverty.” Answer: “Bitcoin fixes this.”
- Memes should have an element of truth. Of course, the argument I used in the above example is not strictly true, a crazy roundabout answer could plausibly be given as to why bitcoin could end poverty. But the roots of the meme should lie in some more concrete truth. “Central bankers are printing money which is a tax on your savings.” Answer: “Bitcoin fixes this.”
- Memes should be short and concise. The trigram (three word) meme is the best. If you can distill complex arguments into short concise sayings, you’ve got the ingredients for a good meme. “Bitcoin has a capped supply which is upheld by game theoretic laws by a decentralized global computer network, thus no more than 21,000,000 bitcoins will ever be created; making it a hard money that central bankers can’t control and can’t create more of, effectively saving you from their inflationary money printing.” Compared to: “Bitcoin fixes this.”
There are other, less obvious, elements that play a role in successful memeing and they apply more on the people memeing rather than the meme itself.
- When you meme, you need to understand what the meme is about. You need to be able to explain why “bitcoin fixes this.” – even if you might sound a little ridiculous – or otherwise you will be found out.
- Memes need to be witty and fun. Boring things don’t meme well. It takes a creative person to create a successful meme.
- They should be used to drown out the opposition voices – remember, memes are propaganda.
Applying it to an Independent Western Cape movement:
In bitcoin this memetic culture has developed rather organically – it is truly the best of incentive structures that I have ever seen. One reason for this is due to greed. Bitcoin’s original movement and reason for creation is rooted in a fight for freedom. It just so happens to have one of the most powerful of incentives known to man as well: monetary gain.
The Independent Western Cape movement is rooted in a fight for freedom, but it lacks the immediate lure of monetary gain in the way that bitcoin does. “Number go up” is probably one of the most powerful memes in bitcoin; one that the Western Cape lacks. No doubt an independent Cape would be a lot more prosperous, but the pay offs are vaguer and more abstract than a 24/7 exchange rate that has grown at an astronomical rate in 12 years. There aren’t many more powerful memes than a graph of bitcoin performance compared to any other asset in the world to get people interested.
And I think that is why the IWC movement, which is still quite young, has not seen such a fervor of memetic energy the way bitcoin has. And therein lies one of the first lessons that can be applied to the IWC movement: we need to make people more acutely aware of how they would benefit monetarily. An Independent Cape is a wealthier Cape. An Independent WC is a more prosperous Cape. For everyone.
To ignore this factor because of its apparent appeal to greed is stupid. It is an important part of why we want to gain independence and it should be celebrated that we want to free ourselves from the shackles of economic repression that is the ANC government.
The IWC movement is a ground up movement that will only spread through word of mouth. Memes are the best instrument for this; they should be used relentlessly. Their power is undeniable. Our social media feeds should be full of IWC memes and they should be clear and concise. They should overwhelm the public debate so that it can no longer be ignored.
For those who are actively involved in the movement, an awareness of the power of memes is crucial. The way we protest has changed. Black Lives Matter didn’t grow from march to march but from tweet to tweet. And neither will the movement of an independent Western Cape. We do need the marches, of course, but while the marchers are standing around waiting to begin and are lazily looking at their phones, they should be bombarded with short and concise memes of an independent Western Cape.
The independent Western Cape movement needs to realize that the rules of engagement have changed, and that’s a great thing. They have changed in our favor. The ANC can march and sing, but they can’t meme. Instead of taking on the powers that be through their own methods, we should be using the tools we’ve been given and completely turn the tables on them. Play a different game, one that we can actually win.
Any ANC blunder should be swarmed by a stream Twitter and Facebook posts that claim, rightly, that “secession fixes this.” Because it does. And this should happen every day, every hour, and every minute, until the day we are declared “in remission.”