Memes, Schelling Points, and the Right

(This post originally appeared on Social Matter)

In most of the West, the political party has traditionally been a major mechanism for political coordination. A coalition of compatible interests agree on their preferred policies and candidates ahead of time and advance them jointly, despite no particular member of the coalition having a stake in most of those policies. Environmental groups on the Left are happy to support candidates who are primarily concerned with, for instance, increasing immigration, because as members of the coalition their interests are also advanced when those candidates win.

Unfortunately, for the non-controlled Right, the political party is not a viable means of coordinating–both because right-wing goals are usually incompatible per se with democratic politics, and because genuinely right-wing parties are usually strangled in the cradle by the full weight of the Cathedral. The more noticeable and the more right-wing an organization is, the more dangerous it is for its members.
Conspiracies, which is to say discreet political organizations, can mitigate these risks, but can be limited in scale. They must by nature grow slowly, which means their capabilities are also limited. Certainly, they can be effective at advancing particular projects, and it may even be the case that enough semi-isolated conspiracies are effective at overall change. But relying only on small and discreet organizations for achieving political goals leaves resources on the table.
What is also interesting for the Right are mechanisms that allow us to coordinate without necessitating conspicuous communications channels between members.

The economist Thomas Schelling introduced the notion of a “focal point”, or Schelling point–a solution to a coordination problem that works not because it is a particularly good solution (although it helps), but because it is particularly conspicuous to the people involved. In other words: a shared understanding that allows coordination, without communication, and results in effective distributed action. Schelling gave the example of two strangers each realizing the other is in town, and trying to figure out where they would be most likely to meet. He provided Grand Central Terminal at noon as a plausible answer, based purely on a survey of students. Fittingly, his providing it as a literal textbook example made it familiar to anyone who has taken a game theory class, and literally memed it into existence as the strong default solution.

However, if those strangers know something more salient about each other, for instance that they are fellow reactionaries, they can make a better choice based on further shared understanding. In that case, Trump Tower would be a much better choice.

The Left has been extremely effective in building this sort of shared understanding, which allows them to very effectively coordinate a distributed conspiracy without explicitly handing out marching orders. We know based on saturation levels of memetic bombardment that whenever someone condemns disorder, he is a Hitler analogue. The appropriate response is distributed leaking to increase their attack surface, sacred demonstrations to delegitimize the imposition of order, etc.

What’s notable about these focal points is that they rely on narratives, and the meta-narrative of others believing what you believe, and knowing it. A known-to-be-shared mythos is an incredibly powerful coordination method.

Can we generate this same shared understanding on the Right, and is it likely to result in effective coordination?

Consider the most effective area of right-wing political activity, defense of gun rights, and the memes that enable that coordination. If you hang out on firearms forums or gun stores for a few hours, you will hear someone say “I lost my guns in a tragic boating accident.” The expression is older than the internet can reliably ascertain, dating at least to the 1990s. The gist of the meaning is that should unknown parties come inquiring about your inventory of firearms, the best thing to do is to claim to no longer be in possession of them, possibly hide them, and under no circumstances subject them to evaluation/registration/confiscation. There is an entire supporting memeplex, in notable works of fiction and nonfiction, that details the reasoning behind this, most prominently the idea of registration and disarmament as a precursor to genocide.

How does this meme reify in coordinated action?

State-mandated registration campaigns in New York, Connecticut, and by anecdotal reports California, have resulted in massive, distributed noncompliance, despite no significant organization making that their official suggestion. This is not risk-free; possession of an unregistered “assault weapon” in those jurisdictions is a felony, and there is often enough documentation already in the hands of state officials to draw up a list of plausible targets. However, it is much less risky when one is in the same boat as hundreds of thousands of other citizens. How is one to know one will be in such good company? The same way one knows to meet them at Trump Tower.

So what sorts of memes should reactionaries cultivate, if we want to coordinate? What are the memes that, like Grand Central Terminal, can be summoned merely by speaking their name, and what shared understandings let us model each others’ actions in important ways?

In the interest of the discretion so important to the Right, we defer on elaboration. More important is the knowledge that everyone is trying to come to consensus.

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