The Go Brrr Effect

The Go Brrr Effect


A meme from a few years back has a distressed econ scholar telling the Fed chairman why we can’t just print money to fix an economic downturn.

Haha money printer go brrr, he replies.


People talking is a good thing. Under most conditions, it means people's minds change; it means a synthesis of multiple perspectives and all parties moving closer to truth.

Though the Internet is not “most conditions,” most of us have been on it enough for it to change us. What happens with increasing frequency when people talk, then, is something else: the meme above.

Someone with a platform or power says something brief, terse, quippy. They don’t need to reply to critics or back up their words with data. Like a man on a subway running up and punching a woman only for everyone to stare dumbfounded as he runs away, they move on and no one stops them.

Others then step in and try to refute them. They may succeed on a logical level. They may have big audiences. Thinkpieces proliferate. The fact that this is how the refuters operate – wordy, cerebral, burdened with the chains of accuracy and data and "being right" (how quaint!) – means they tend to have neither the audience numbers of their opponents nor their stickiness, their brief terse quippiness, their outrageousness, their hold on the audience’s attention. They remain the bespectacled young man in the meme.


The never-ending flow of new instances of "haha X go brr" are like chunks of meat thrown to piranhas. We’re too busy, distracted, isolated, and stressed to do things about them and the root of them (total corporate dependence) but perfectly able to consume content about them. The content machine itself goes brr. We cackle and bicker over it and the ultra-rich do the same about us; every minute we're doing so is another minute we're doing nothing about them.

The correct, naive solution involves everyone disengaging from media consumption and doing specific other things. In theory if not in practice, we could all just do what we know works, historically speaking: people power, organization, tried-and-true ways of doing "the impossible” like winning women's suffrage or ending segregation. Emulating groups like Food Not Bombs in Houston or the Electric Power Board of Chattanooga. Mutual aid, urban gardening, open source software, land restoration, all built up into lasting public institutions.

But apart from the dual crisis of isolation and inflation for the middle class, and apart from a government that can pass laws or flick a joystick in Nevada to stop any local movement in its tracks, there’s a third obstacle, both to large-scale simultaneous change and the grassroots, door-to-door, face-to-face kind. Not a particular instance of two parties participating in the go brr effect, but the effect itself — a way of interacting that has to be addressed at every scale.


There’s an old fable about mice who acknowledge their collective need to deal with a cat. They don't have the means to defeat it but being more agile than the cat they resolve to put a bell around its neck, letting them escape when they hear it coming. The real problem: none want to volunteer to do it. Maybe they keep arguing with the cat's points. Maybe they argue with each other about who should do so and the best way to go about it. But the bell needs to go brr at some point, or the cat will.

Scrolling and posting are breaks from the gnawing need to bell the cat, and we do need breaks or we'll go mad, but scrolling and posting, as we young people currently tend to do it, plays into haha X go brr, day in and day out, making the need for belling the cat increasingly dire. It behooves everyone, influencers most especially, to start using social media differently, less for distraction and argumentation and more for coordination and action.

If my generation wants to stop being this bespectacled young man talking to Jerome Powell, it no longer makes sense to entertain our opponents with either tirades or carefully-reasoned arguments. When we hear an absurd point that no sane person would agree with, whether in person or online, we must dismiss it. If, in a city meeting, we hear someone say that upzoning ten square feet of land will destroy the character of a neighborhood, we should laugh at it. There are times, both in person and online, when arguing with it just helps it to go brr. We need to learn to go brr ourselves when the moment calls for it.