(The audio version of this essay can be found here.)
Each new generation develops its own way of sharing ideas. While the printing press, telephone, radio, and television all shifted the paradigm of how ideas propagate throughout a culture, the development of the internet and social media have exponentially accelerated that shift. The 1930s generation listened to President Roosevelt on the radio, the Baby Boomers grew up watching television, and even Millennials grew up watching cable news. No generation has had the sheer variety of news sources as Generation Z has today, however, and it is this variety that is shaping our world today.
The 2010s especially saw an explosion of alternative media channels, and the lines between content creator and content consumer became increasingly blurred. While the network and cable news organizations struggled to maintain their control over the flow of information, social media and YouTube allowed anyone with a voice to attract an audience. Four million people tuned in to watch Tucker Carlson last week, leading all evening cable news hosts. More than six million people watched the most recent Democratic presidential primary debate, a new record. Meanwhile, Swedish YouTuber Felix Kjellberg, better known as Pewdiepie, has more than a hundred million subscribers on his channel. Sure, that is quite an outlier – Pewdiepie has been the most-subscribed content creator on earth for half a decade now. Yet it is clear that Generation Z is influenced much more by personalities on YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram than they are by the legacy media.
Generation Z would often rather watch a Twitch streamer than play video games, and watch YouTubers break down a movie rather than watch it themselves. Whereas video games in my generation were stigmatized as an anti-social activity, gaming for younger people is inherently social, whether they are walking about playing Pokemon on their phones or voice chatting with their friends while playing Minecraft or Fortnite together. The younger generations are looking outside the traditional information channels, and the established media does not like losing their gated pasture. When legacy media celebrated the recent banning of Generation Z conservative Nicholas Fuentes from YouTube, they claimed it was because they oppose so-called “hate speech”. However, the real reason seems to be that they simply do not like the competition. Established news organizations have long enjoyed their position as the gatekeepers of knowledge in America, but their ability to control the flow of information is quickly dissipating in the modern era of social media.
Social media has changed the way in which ideas spread throughout a culture. In the long ages before the printing press, ideas were transmitted slowly. Books were hand-copied by monks, which meant only the rich could afford them. Traveling storytellers and bards brought cultural ideas from place to place at the speed of horse, or even slower if they traveled on foot. Culture developed and changed extremely slowly, because new ideas could only spread slowly. The printing press democratized ideas by making books cheap enough that most people could afford them, which spurred advancement in nearly every field. The Protestant Reformation, for example, followed directly on the heels of the printing press as lay people could suddenly afford to buy their own Bibles and see what they actually said instead of only relying on the clergy. The Renaissance began just a few years later as lost knowledge of the classical world began spreading again. It was the printing press that enabled American patriots to spread their ideas of revolution throughout the thirteen colonies. Thomas Paine could write up a pamphlet, print a thousand copies, and have them handed out to people from Boston to Virginia, spreading his seditious ideas very rapidly through colonial society.
It was this spread of ideas that sparked the American Revolution. In societies where information is tightly controlled, it is sometimes difficult to gauge how popular your own position is compared to your friends and neighbors. Sure, you could talk openly, unless you’re in East Germany or North Korea, but even then you still have the bubble effect, where you might assume that your views are more popular than they really are because you surround yourself with like-minded people. Pamphlets in pre-revolutionary America showed people that they were not alone, as writers such as Paine put into words what a lot of people were already thinking.
If the printing press democratized ideas, social media is democracy on steroids. Someone like Thomas Paine still needed access to an expensive printing press, not to mention the infrastructure for delivering those pamphlets after printing. Today, the world is full of bloggers, YouTubers, Twitch streamers, Twitter personalities, and Instagram influencers. Whereas Paine’s pamphlets could reach thousands in Colonial America and Great Britain, modern influencers can reach a worldwide audience using nothing more than a smartphone. You could even run a successful blog with no investment besides a library card if you really wanted to. Despite their claims of devotion to democracy, legacy media is doing everything they can to stop this information explosion. CNN recently aired a segment explaining that they are the only news source trustworthy enough to tell you that a banana is a banana and an apple is an apple. Washington Post added the slogan “Democracy dies in darkness” to its masthead, even as wages an endless campaign against the democratically elected president. The mainstream outlets have also used every trick in the book to try to silence and censor alternative sources of information. They have used their influence to get people and groups they disagree with banned from Twitter and YouTube, and sometimes even dox anonymous content creators. These mainstream organizations had grown powerful in their position as the gatekeepers of ideas, and they very much would like that position back.
The founders of our country recognized the importance of the spread of ideas in their own revolution and crafted the First Amendment to guarantee the rights of free speech and a free press. Modern technology has enabled anyone with internet access to have their own printing press, so to speak. Despite this, legacy media insinuates that the First Amendment protects journalists as a class, and they use that logic to justify their censorship of alternative voices who are not, in their view, legitimate press. Even conservative media has fallen into this pattern. During the 1990s and 2000s, conservative media played the role of counterculture to the left’s media monopoly. Fox News and Rush Limbaugh were rebels against a censor-hungry mainstream media. Today, however, the conservative media establishment uses the same tactics as the left to shut down ideas from their right. Last autumn, America First groups led by Nick Fuentes and Patrick Casey tried to engage the establishment conservatives of TP USA and Fox News. The establishment cabal, led by milquetoast conservatives like Ben Shapiro and Charlie Kirk, responded by calling them racist and trying to get them banned and deplatformed – the exact same thing that they accused left-wing media of trying to do to them. Despite the mantra about competing in the marketplace of ideas, it seems that powerful conservatives are no different in their desire to be gatekeepers of truth than their counterparts on the right.
Yet as the early internet pioneers liked to say, information wants to be free. It is hard to destroy an idea once it is out in the open. There is something called the Streisand Effect on the internet that describes what happens when the rich and powerful try to censor an idea. It was named after actress, singer, and general narcissist Barbra Streisand, who in 2003 tried to remove pictures of her Malibu mansion from the web. This backfired spectacularly, as the attention generated caused people to share the pictures far and wide out of spite and anger that someone would attempt such censorship. The act of trying to hide the information made it even more popular than before. The more technology enables ideas to be spread more quickly and easily, the more difficult it is to censor those ideas. In the 1500s, ideas were spread when the literate class read books, but only those with presses could write them. In the 1900s, ideas were spread by the television to the masses, but only a few companies controlled the airwaves. In 2020, ideas are spread by clicking “share” on a 50 kilobyte meme, and that is hard to stop.
The word “meme” was coined in 1976 by biologist Richard Dawkins to describe the way in which a concept or idea spreads and evolves as it moves through a population. This compares with the way a gene that contains biological information changes through many generations of reproduction. Like genes, a meme can spread through a culture, becoming subtly altered as it comes into contact new people. In modern web parlance, a meme is usually a picture with some text that spreads through various online communities. There is no way to predict or control how or why any particular meme will become popular. Big corporations and established politicians have tried to engineer their own memes, but they usually fail. Many of the most popular memes over the last two decades were started by anonymous users on 4chan and from there spread to other social networks.
Let’s talk about 4chan for a moment. You might have heard it described by mainstream news as a scary place on the internet, where hackers collude and where anti-social young men plot evil deeds. In reality, 4chan began as an image board for anime fans. Because of its entirely anonymous nature, it quickly gained a following for people who wanted to rebel against the established culture. There have always been countercultures in the world. The beatniks and hippies of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s were themselves counter to the prevailing culture of the day, which was socially conservative. At some point, these rebels grew up and took control of the culture, becoming the very “man” they once raged against. Today’s counterculture is conservative and traditional, because it is those things that are being crushed by the dominant forces of social justice. When 4chan began it was full of Millennials rebelling against the social order of the late 90s and early 2000s. Today, it is full of Generation Z – Zoomers – who are rebelling against the globalist homosexual multicultural social justice establishment of 2020. Concepts such as reading the Bible, going to church, marrying and building a family – these are the countercultural ideas being spread among the younger generations today.
Let’s look at an example of how a meme can influence people in a way that you might not expect. The pro-life movement began in 1973 when the Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that states did not have the authority to ban abortion. Despite billions of dollars, despite nearly fifty years of Republican politicians campaigning on promises to outlaw abortion, this barbarous practice still occurs routinely across America. The pro-life movement has tried to change hearts and minds, but it is a slow process, especially in the face of our dominant media and culture that treats abortion as if it were a secular sacrament. Pro-life activists march on the Capitol every January, proclaiming their support for unborn children, while various advertising campaigns have been tried with little success. The general idea in our culture is that the pro-life movement is made up of old church ladies, or worse of evil men who just want to exercise control over women’s bodies. Conventional wisdom says that young people are growing more pro-abortion every year. However, there is a traditional counterculture that goes unseen by both the left and the right, and they are generation ideas in a new way. I came across a meme recently, one that likely originated on 4chan but eventually found its way to Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and other social media. It shows childlike drawings of boys and girls, calling them “aborted older brother,” “aborted daughter,” and “aborted sister”. The “aborted daughter” meme has statements written in crayon such as “Hi Mommy, I miss you. It’s ok, I’m glad you have a good life.” The “aborted sister” meme has others, such as “I wish I could hug you. I’m sure Mommy had a reason; did I do something bad to her?” These concise memes have probably done more to change the minds of young people on abortion than half a century of the pro-life movement.
Clausewitz said that politics is war by other means. Well, memes are information by other means. Older generations always complain that young people have short attention spans. In that case, memes can deliver a lot of relevant information in just a few seconds. It is not just the younger generations, however. Life moves fast in 2020. Nobody wants to sit down and watch three hours of dignified debating, as we did in 1858 when Abraham Lincoln challenged Stephen Douglas for the Senate. We ingest information as fast as possible – Twitter is 280 characters or less, TikTok videos are only a few seconds long, and memes are just a single image with only a few words. President Trump has fully embraced this new reality, and he uses his Twitter feed in the same way that President Roosevelt used radio in the 1930s. Trump can easily bypass the gatekeepers of knowledge and connect directly to the people. Vox Day has written much on the difference between rhetoric and dialectic. While we like to think that we are logical beings who appreciate a rationality, the truth is that most people respond more to emotional rhetoric than to a reasoned argument. This is not a new concept; Aristotle was saying the same thing more than two millennia ago. Memes are a terrific method of transmitting ideas because they are almost entirely rhetorical, but often carry with them the seed of logic that grows into a rational idea the more you see it.
The other advantage to memes is that they are almost infinitely applicable. Ever since there were newspapers, there have been political cartoonists. Political cartoons are not usually amusing, rather they serve to jam a bunch of ideas into a single box that preaches to the choir, whether on the right or the left. In the late 19th century Thomas Nast famously began using a donkey to represent the Democratic Party and an elephant to represent the Republicans, and that shorthand has stuck. Perhaps the closest analogue to the old political cartoons is the webcomic. There is one in particular that has hit the cultural zeitgeist like no other and that is Stonetoss. According to the social justice left, the author of Stonetoss is a Nazi who should be banned and censored. A better term, however, would be iconoclast – the sort of person who relentlessly skewers the politically establishment in the way that the left used to appreciate when they were not culturally dominant. I have found a few Stonetoss comics that communicate a certain message in three or four panels better than an entire essay. Here is the example I mentioned in last week’s podcast:
This single comic so succinctly demonstrates how advertising has turned into a propaganda platform for social justice warriors who want to remake society, with no thought to the product they are ostensibly trying to sell. Lest you think that this satire is unrealistic, there was recently a fast food ad that did exactly what the comic suggests, showing more footage of a homosexual couple than any of the food that they want to sell.
The genie is out of the bottle and there is no going back. As much as the rich and the powerful establishment would like to impose 1984-style censorship on us, the existence of the internet has made it possible to share ideas at the speed of light. Now that the globalist left is culturally dominant, it was only natural that a traditional and conservative counterculture would develop as young people seek an alternative to the degeneracy and misery of our modern world. While Orwell said in 1984 that if there was hope it lies with the proles, John Derbyshire summed up our modern world when he said that if there is hope today, it lies in the comments section. Mainstream media has their narrative, but the truth will find a way out as long as there are people brave enough to question what they have been told. There might be no way to stop the decline and fall of America, but, like our revolutionary fathers, the ideas we pass around today will form the basis of our new society in the future.
Here is a list of alternative media sources that I suggest you follow. It is by no means exhaustive. Some are meme or comic artists, some are independent journalists, and some are amateur pundits and commentators. Check them out, bookmark them, and follow them on multiple platforms in case they get banned from the mainstream sites.
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