Without question, the tone in Reddit’s infamous WallStreetBets community is juvenile and offensive. Users refer to themselves as “retards” and “autists,” call anyone who doesn’t share their blind optimism a “gay bear,” and hardly go a minute without referring to their dicks and balls. When a stock price rises, their dicks are “so hard [they] could cut diamonds.” When it falls and they hold their positions, their balls are “so big you could see them from the moon.” These are among the more articulate comments you’ll find in the community. The banter often devolves into grunting and rocket emojis, or goes fully nonverbal, with users expressing themselves through memes (many of which are both hysterical and astute, to give credit where it’s due).
On top of all this, the enterprise is singularly obsessed with making fast money off volatile stocks, risk be damned. It’s one of the last places on Earth I’d expect to be moved by how people treat each other. But I am.
I believe it’s an important spiritual exercise to look for beauty in strange places. That doesn’t mean condoning the ugly parts — we can hold two truths at once. It’s just so important to look for what’s good in people, especially young people, and to tell them what you see when you see it. I think the long-term value of that practice, spread across an entire species, is self-evident.
We do ourselves a disservice when we define spirituality narrowly, shroud its constructs with airy talk, and act like it’s so far out of reach, either ephemeral or exclusive. We ought to be able to discuss it in plain terms and seek glimpses of it everywhere, every day, without condition. Lately, that’s what I’m trying to do — look everywhere.
I check in on WallStreetBets with some regularity, mostly out of my fascination with such a strange cultural manifestation. And I have to admit, I find the spectacle of thousands of strangers working together, genuinely encouraging one another’s success, a spiritual one. I cringe at the way they talk, but I see more beneath the surface. More than a few times they have managed to melt my heart with their unconditional, starry-eyed camaraderie.
What’s most touching is seeing the little bulls run with the big bulls. Among the few high-performers in the community — many of whom trade tens of thousands of dollars at a time, and according to their “gains porn,” sometimes net millions on those bets — are countless little bulls, guys who barely scrape together a hundred bucks to buy a few shares of a meme stock like GameStop, not as an investment strategy, but for the thrill of running with their big brothers, for the hope of being a part of history as market dynamics shift under the influence of democratic hoards, and maybe, to make enough to replace an old couch. Their enthusiasm, their gushed feelings of belonging, and the extent to which they support and encourage each other, is often breathtaking.
I can think of few public squares that boast such raw, honest camaraderie, emerging from thousands of strangers no less. I’ve seen a lot more personal attacks and vindictiveness in various highfalutin and intellectually rigorous communities on Reddit than I’ve seen in WallStreetBets. And unlike other mobs of late, these people are not driven by conspiracy-fueled hate, nor are they flagrant lawbreakers. There’s some animosity expressed toward titans of the financial industry, but the predominant focus is on collective flourishing.
Camaraderie in itself does not make something virtuous. There are plenty of instances in history when humans have banded together, marked by cooperative spirit, and the results have been disastrous. I don’t anticipate that happening on WallStreetBets, but it’s up to them, ultimately.
As many new eyes turn their attention to this community amidst recent news making, I see an opening, an opportunity for redemption on the grounds of their tone. Perhaps they can recognize the constructive spirit flowing among them, and feel big enough to cut some of the crap.
Years from now, many of them will look back and cringe at the puerile banter. And as they reflect, it won’t be a belly full of tendies they remember most vividly, or a Lambo, or the thrill of buying their wife’s boyfriend a new suit. What they’ll cherish most is the memory of being a part of something. After all, it’s that soaring feeling of belonging — not some meme stock — that sends us to the moon.
Note: In the week since I wrote this, WallStreetBets has earned international attention and its number of followers has at least tripled, with a wide variety of agendas represented, including hedge funds using bots to spread misinformation and attempt to influence user sentiment.
The aggregate tone has at least temporarily shifted away from boyish hijinks. As much as anything right now, WallStreetBets is a conduit of populist rage. The discussions are getting deeper, more articulate and more righteous. There are additional things to salute now, but I won’t get into that. I just want to make note of the tone change in case anyone visits and doesn’t find the banter mentioned above (however unlikely that may be).