Thankfully, the misfit’s torment rarely ends in bloodshed. Revenge is more commonly sought through symbols. The thousands of instances of online abuse that torment people—particularly women—every day online exemplify this effort. But to weaponize that effort requires coordination, as in harassment campaigns like Gamergate.
Coordinated efforts require a lot less coordination when big money is behind them. An example of this entrepreneurial nerd revenge appeared during Prime Time last night, as if out of a nerd film gone awry. As reported by The Daily Beast, Palmer Luckey, the 24-year-old co-founder of the virtual-reality company Oculus VR, has been funding a pro-Trump, non-profit organization called Nimble America.
Among other things, Nimble America operates the Reddit channel r/The_Donald, which deals partly in creating and transforming memes into symbols of alt-right white supremacy, disseminated in support of Donald Trump’s candidacy for president. Facebook bought Oculus for $2 billion in 2014, making Luckey a near-billionaire. And Luckey confirmed that he used some of those proceeds to help fund Nimble America. He had apparently became interested in the group after seeing some of its image memes on Facebook and decided to help. What better way to troll than to become king of the trolls?
It’s not the first time. When it came to light that the billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel had revenge-funded Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker Media, many were taken aback with shock. But as I argued at the time, Thiel’s behavior looked a lot more like very well-funded internet trolling than anything else. At best, Thiel did it “for the lulz,” as they say on 4chan—just to take pleasure in watching the outcome. And at worst, as dark vengeance against the very idea of being slighted. Here, the consequences are less important than the feeling of victory for having brought about results.
The purpose of trolling is not the abuse, not directly, anyway. Its purpose is to demonstrate an ability among the ostracized to exert control.
Luckey-funded Nimble America is less veiled (and less stylish) than Thiel’s Gawker contretemps. It announces proudly that “shitposting is powerful and meme magic is real.” Posting to Reddit as NimbleRichMan, his Trumpist alias, Luckey told his fellow outcasts, “The American Revolution was funded by wealthy individuals … you can't fight the American elite without serious firepower.” If Thiel appears to support Trump in order to save capitalism from democracy, Luckey does so in order to help geeks become sovereign in this replacement society.
It may seem strange that Trumpism would find a home in socially liberal Silicon Valley. But the same fear of marginalization that draws white America to Trump also has a stronghold in geekdom. For the nerds, it’s not the twilight of mainstream, white power that terrifies. Rather, the endless night of dorkship’s impotence. This is also why libertarianism mates well with computationalism (the idea that the world is best understood and operated through computers). Both adopt a burn-it-all-down attitude toward the institutions that have held them back. What is “disruption” but the act of stripping everything from society and reinventing it inside the computer? Big business acts as a binder for all these ingredients. America’s long dream of electing a business leader as president (Perot, Romney, Trump, etc.) dovetails so well with Silicon Valley’s belief in entrepreneurial success as the ultimate sign of prowess and competence. It’s more surprising that everyone in the Valley doesn’t support Trump than that Thiel and Luckey do.