Why Every Stock is a “Meme” Stock
Since its inception, the stock market has always been a game of chasing what other people have
The stock market isn’t irrational, it’s mimetic.
What we now see clearly happening in a few special assets (termed “meme” stocks) — movement fueling more movement — is merely an amplification of what has always happened in the stock market: price action matters because it is, above all, a reflection of what other people want; and what other people want affects what other people want. And that is a product of mimesis, not memes.
The great social theorist René Girard (1923–2015) speaks prophetically to us from beyond the grave in the writings he left behind. No thinker in the twentieth century has more accurately diagnosed the pathologies of the modern world. His central discovery was mimetic desire: the idea that people desire things mimetically — that is, imitatively — not intrinsically. This is especially true when the thing is totally abstract, like a stock.
According to Girard, we don’t choose the objects of our desires independently. There is always a model of desire involved: a third person or group that mediates the desire for that object. When other people want something — especially if we admire those people in some way — it imbues that object or person with a special, almost mystical, value.
We can only recognize meme stocks ex-post, or after the fact: when we see them taking off. But Girard allows us to see what was going on back at the mystical beginning when there were hidden secrets exchanged in subreddits and whispered at bars: the genesis of desire.
Nobody wants alone. A single person desiring something strongly enough will always attract a set of eyes — and with them, a second and third pair.
Those looks may be subtle and embarrassed glances from a stranger in a room. In our digitally connected world, they need not be subtle glances at all. They could be long and engrossing stares from behind a computer screen.
The eyes reveal desire, but our eyes are now hidden. And that’s part of the reason mimesis sneaks up on us. People are always looking. We just don’t know, or where, they are.