Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Government put Tumblr in the water and turned all the Frogs Fash!

I made a conscious choice to disengage from the online culture wars and progressive identarian spaces some time ago. There are several reasons for this, but probably the two most pressing ones were a feeling of utter futility, and the sense of a new hierarchy being created, but an inverted one to the ones were were used to. Powerlessness became power, fragility became strength,  mental illness became a badge of honour, and to be the most oppressed person in the room also had meant you were automatically given the biggest platform.

There are understandable reasons for this, and some I will still stand by today, but at the same time, it was hard not to recognize that the culture had become so toxic as to completely disengage from the wider public and, indeed, reality. As soon as it became common practice for people to refuse to explain themselves, their positions, or their perspectives from even the slightest inquiry, the writing was on the wall - this was a dead end. A movement that refuses to seek out new adherents will not survive, and indeed I believe it is currently in its death throws. But the problem there, is that in a complete rejection of proselyting , and in their completely rigid hierarchies, they alienated a lot of people. Mostly young, mostly men, mostly white, - there was never really a strong place for them except way in the back, and that would only be if they accepted without question whatever the identarian dogma of the day was. Again, to an extent, this is understandable, but that human capital has been ceded to other actors - and flying under a banner of free speech and iconoclasm, they have embarked on a project to tear down the modern world.

Angela Nagle's book, Kill All Normies, brings back a lot of memories of this time, covering movements in the online culture wars from the original techno-Utopian ideals that were placed upon the information revolution as a means of fighting injustice as inspired by Middle Eastern uprisings at the turn of the last decade, all the way up to the recent election of US President Donald Trump. But this is not a history - in is instead, a tour guide, a primer, presenting the reader with the manifold aspects of what is now called the Alt-Right, and their most hated enemies, online social progressive and feminist movements mockingly dubbed 'Social Justice Warriors'.

The book largely focuses on the emergence of the Alt-Right, a blend of ethno-nationalism, hyper-masculinity, elitism, nihilism, bitterness, resentfulness, and hate. It speaks of the shift of the traditionally far more anarchic online forum 4chan into the nucleus of a contemporary authoritarian political movement, and of the wider eco-system of Masculine movements, geek culture gatekeeperism, and antiestablishmentarianism towards both sides of the political aisle. In probably the least interesting chapter, in details the philisophical underpinnings of the movement that its adherents have consciously or unconsciously picked up, from the Maqui De Sade, to Antonio Gramsci, even giving a brief acknowledgement t to Russian Neo-Fascist Alexander Dugin. Though nominally positioning itself as right wing, Nagle describes how the Alt Right positions itself against more traditional conservatism and even capitalism, which have long been the underpinnings of the right wing in the West, deriding right wing philosophies preceding them as failure that have sold out their societies to appease - well, the conspiracies that proceed from there go to all the usual places.

But in addition, it also presents one to what some (including myself) have dubbed 'Tumblr culture', after the online forum from where it emerged - how it positioned itself as a movement aimed at platforming socially marginalized people, how it because almost narcissisticicaly obsessed with personal identity, and how that culture spilled out into American college campuses. The later part I can give no great account on, as my experiences in Australian campuses have been pretty tame, but one strong connection the book draws between the 'Social Justice Warriors' aka 'SJW's of Tumblr and the Alt-Right is the mastery of online spaces free from traditional media, and a complete undercutting and distaste for establishment politics. 

Overall, as someone who is fairly familiar with a lot of these stuff, the book doesn't offer too much insight to me, though I do agree with its central thesis that if left wing values of egalitarianism, freedom, and peace are to be carried forward from this point on, a severe shift in direction is needed. I think its already began to an extent, as there's been a swing in a lot of left wing spaces back to material matters. I also wonder at the long term health of the Alt-right which, at the time of writing, is splintering and factionalizing. Though I don't believe the threat has passed, I do think that as a political project it cannot sustain itself without an appropriate enemy to focus on, and whilst the voices of the 'SJWs' get quieter every year, it has not yet found a new fetishized enemy with which to sustain itself with the same frenzy.

The book's a pretty light read, so I think my primary recommendation would be for people who are only tangentially aware of the online culture wars currently unfold and the part they had to play in the  rise of the Alt-Right. If you have a healthy knowledge of this topic, however, don't expect any great revelations..

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