This spring semester at CSU, I’m in a group project (based on this paper) studying how political risk arises from the internet to affect international relations. Our thesis is that the internet can develop a global, reasoned, normative consensus, giving rise to an epistemic community non-state actor capable of exerting power over the sovereignty of nation states.
Which brings us to the Bernie Sanders Dank Meme Stash.
When I joined BSDMS a few days before the Iowa caucus, there were 30,000 members. Two weeks later, it’s now closing in on 200,000. The constant churn of content, from images to comments to posted links, is best described as what the center of the sun might look like if you could see atoms crashing into each other at the speed of light. You see something appear in your feed, and almost immediately it’s gone, replaced by another meme. Most crucially for the formation of a non-state actor capable of challenging the sovereignty of nation states – BSDMS exhibits the mythical traits of the trickster.
Comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell described the trickster thus.
“Almost all non-literate mythology has a trickster hero of some kind. American Indians had the great rabbit and coyote, the ravens, and blue jay. And there’s a very special property in the trickster: he always breaks in, just as the unconscious does, to trip up the rational situation. He’s both a fool and someone who’s beyond the system. And the trickster hero represents all those possibilities of life that your mind hasn’t decided it wants to deal with. The mind structures a lifestyle, and the fool or trickster represents another whole range of possibilities. He doesn’t respect the values that you’ve set up for yourself, and smashes them.”
Scholars would recognize BSDMS as the early embryonic days of Anonymous, formed in the stew of 4chan, featuring the trickster’s key attributes – irreverent, often purile & lewd, boundary breaking, limit testing, value smashing. The Arab Spring, the most studied internet event of the 21st century, featured online only protests in Iran during the Green Movement of 2009, “spheres of strife (protest) and hegemony (power), wherein claims to information, ideas, values, and identities are contested and ruptured…” Another trickster, which would again arise during Occupy Wall Street.
BSDMS is a unique and brand new trickster in many ways. It resides on Facebook, a walled garden, rather than the wilds of the open web where 4chan boiled for years before spawning Anonymous. Members are generally not anonymous, posting with their own names and faces. BSDMS is also a contested online space, with rules that are regularly broken then enforced by moderators. Anti-Bernie posts get swarmed upon like white blood cells on a germ, and then get deleted. Technology allowing anyone to create graphic designs delivering powerful messages with one look, i.e. the meme, is creating new political power before our eyes. And it all happens in seconds, every hour, of every single day.
Thus, right now, within the movement giving rise to the US presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders, the internet, with the flair and god like power of the trickster, is creating precisely the reasoned normative consensus that can arise as a non-state actor capable of threatening the sovereignty of nation states. Scholars would call this a transnational dialogue, Marxists might call it a dialectic, an ideational non-state actor whose power resides in each of us buying into new ideas which challenge the existing order. It’s boiling core might be the Dank Meme Stash, but the same dynamic exists everywhere online.
So what’s the consensus this non-state actor is developing? Vote, and vote for Bernie Sanders. Within that consensus, a reasoned (trickster dominated) debate is raging online about why. Once that consensus is formed, there is ample proof that it simply cannot, and will not, be stopped. Media, and Sanders’ opponents, have dismissed the online dominance of the Sanders campaign, even citing BSDMS, as “BernieBros”, young males behaving badly. This is utter folly.