by the Chicago Civil Servant
We’re observing the emergence of new (old) ideologies, and rapid political realignments punctuated by heroic calls for action and decisions. How do we deal with it? Let me take you through some old-school sociology before looking at the latest ideological calls for “decisions” and the suppression of speech. This is necessary to understand and navigate the online wars, the internet upheavals and strange ideological quarrels of our day.
I’m a simple man who has learned to distrust ideologies and ideologues over the years. By material circumstances (or moral inadequacy), I was forced to confront existence without the luxury of being able to maintain ideological consistency. The result is that when I hear someone making ideological claims, I no longer just pay close attention to the content of their ideas but also to the problems they’re trying to solve on a personal and institutional level. This approach often exposes their motivations, the amount of power they have, their attitude toward me, and what I can expect from the implementation of their ideological imperatives. This isn’t materialism or historicism, by the way. I don’t claim ideological propositions necessarily lack truth. This is more a mindset I’ve adopted to survive and protect myself against the harmful consequences of ideologies. The debates about the good and the true probably are still valuable but, depending on the context of the ideology, I’ve learned it’s often better to scrutinize the motivations and station of the ideologue.
Several years ago, a sociologist named Mary Matossian wrote a short, schematic article on the morphology of “Ideologies of Delayed Industrialization,” in which she identified structural similarities among seemingly contradictory ideologies ranging from Marxism-Leninism, Shintoism, Kemalism, Fascism, Nehruhism, all the way to Gandhism. Matossian speculated that the impetus behind these ideologies and the cause of their similarities related to common psychological and social context variables present at the foundation of each ideology.
The variables were an undeveloped community with exposure to the western industrialization and modernization technological cultural package for a certain amount of time, a partially westernized native educated class, and the psychological needs of the native intellectual.
In the presence of such variables, there emerges an ideal type: the Assaulted Intellectual. The Assaulted intellectual is torn between two worlds: the modern west and his traditional native culture. He is partially of the west because of his education and is therefore unable to completely abandon it. He is also partially rooted in his traditional culture, usually with a higher station than his average fellow citizen, and because of this position feels compelled to defend it against the assault of centuries of western scientific, technological, legal, social, artistic, and religious innovation.
The modern western package, comprising everything from jazz to air conditioning, hurts the Assaulted Intellectual’s ego by juxtaposing his culture and its claims to centrality and omnipotence with the stark, contradictory reality of western cultural superiority. Confrontation with the industrialized west results in the destruction of his traditional institutions and values, forcing him to reorient his relationship to the west, his nation’s past, and the masses of his own people.
The reorientation process places the Assaulted Intellectual in an uneasy and ambiguous position. He is ashamed of the socio-economic conditions of his own people relative to the west and feels defensive, as if something must be done to modernize his country and restore its pride. Being a creature partially of the west, his attitude toward himself remains ambivalent as he agonizes over his inauthentic mongrel nature.
Because science and technology – the domain of the west – cannot repair his ego, he seeks solace elsewhere through ideology. His ideology is at once a rationalization for his people’s asymmetric development relative to the west and a call to action, and is necessarily utopian because it focuses on “changing a social order that is already changing.”
Matossian documented a schema of propositions adopted by the Assaulted Intellectual to protect his ego and expand his influence vis-à-vis the west, which immediately feel familiar in the current year:
The “assaulted” intellectual works hard to make invidious comparisons between his own nation and the West. He may simply claim that his people are superior, as did Gandhi: “We consider our civilization to be far superior to yours.” Or he may hold that his ancestors had already rejected Western culture as inferior…More often the intellectual says, “We are equal to Westerners”, or “You are no better than I am.” Around this theme lies a wealth of propositions: (1) “In the past you were no better (or worse) than we are now”, (2) “We once had your good qualities, but we were corrupted by alien oppressors”, (3) “We have high spiritual qualities despite our poverty, but you are soulless materialists”, (4) “Everything worthwhile in your tradition is present or incipient in ours.”
These defensive postures lead the Assaulted Intellectual to adopt xenophobic, xenophilic, or a mixture of both attitudes. Gandhi, for example, was more the xenophobe than Nehru, who expressed admiration for western culture. Ataturk adopted another common method: expressing xenophobia toward outsiders and reclassifying alien cultural imports as native Turkish innovations. Marxist-Leninists blended both, selecting certain western imports as “progressive” and discarding others as “reactionary.” In every case, the purpose of the attitude is to render the Assaulted Intellectual’s nation or people equal or superior to the west while also remaining to some extent apart from the west.
A related ideological trait emerges through archaism, by which the assaulted intellectual selects a gilded age, like the slavophile’s interest in the peasant mir and orthodox christian practices, the Shintoist revival of emperor worship, the resurrection of Confucious in China, and Gandhi’s return to the Rama Raj. Matossian identified a more subtle example of archaism in Marxism that explained the ideology’s success in the developing world and failure in the west. Marxism, according to Matossian, appeals to the peasant’s nostalgia for the gilded age of the village ruled by the patriarch and nature, and promises that the harsh edifice of industrial society will “wither away.” Lacking large peasant classes, Marxism failed to find a large welcoming audience in advanced western countries.
Given the importance of archaism for the assaulted intellectual, it follows that ideologies of delayed industrialisation must exhibit a tension between archaism and the power of western futurism. The most explicit example, addressed in a recent article to which I’ll return below, can be found in Italian fascism, where a golden age of Rome is recovered simultaneously alongside a call for the abandonment of tradition in favor of a new, technologically sophisticated futurism.
The assaulted intellectual here is tasked with picking a gilded age that is strong and not just idyllic or simple, because he needs his culture to be superior to the west in both theory and fact. Thus the past is often used to sanction the adoption of western innovations. In advocating for the adoption of western social mores, Kemalists claimed that in ancient times they behaved just like English gentlemen, before they were corrupted by uncouth Arab interlopers. Here Matossian identifies “manifest” archaic ideological content utilized to enforce “latent” futuristic ideology.
Reflexively, the embarrassing aspects of traditional culture – the uncouth Arab elements for Kemalists – must be purged if the Assaulted Intellectual is to solve his problem of weakness. Thus, while discovering that his people once had great virtues in the past, he simultaneously publishes research that exposes undesirable elements in his culture as foreign, or in the jargon of Marxism, as “reactionary” imports. Russian Marxists, Matossian notes, held that the preservation of peasant vernacular language over foreign and high vernaculars was “progressive,” but also championed Peter the Great as “progressive” and denounced Dostoevsky as “reactionary.”
Finally, the Assaulted Intellectual has to confront the reality of his own people – his subjects. Once again, his position is often ambiguous in this respect. Matossian asserts that “he looks up to ‘the people’ and down on ‘the masses’.” The people, like the past, might possess great virtues, but they are plagued by unacceptable backwardness. The Assaulted Intellectual knows that because of their backwardness, the people can never elevate the nation above the west. To get the people organized so that he can impose his will on the west, the Assaulted Intellectual needs to provide the people with doses of flattery and criticism, to offer them an “emotional New Deal” so that they will join him in battle with the west.
Thus an ideology of delayed industrialization often ends up demanding that the masses accept unequal positions and unequal rewards relative to the Assaulted Intellectual. In attempting to assuage his assaulted ego, and in attempting to gain superiority over the west, the Assaulted Intellectual often ends up condemning the people to hardship and servitude and reinforcing his already superior institutional position over the masses.
In hindsight, the subjects of these nations may have been able to avoid a lot of pain and suffering by asking basic questions about why they endured a low standard of living for centuries before the rise of the west, why their intellectuals denounced the west after receiving western education, and why the new ideologies demand that they materially and spiritually subordinate themselves to these intellectuals.
“Informatization” is an ugly word, but I used it because Wikipedia told me it’s the successor economic age to industrialization. In light of the resurgence of ideological writing and new political realignments in the past decade, I thought it worthwhile to investigate whether something analogous to the Matossian approach could help navigate our current ideological morass. What might we find if we abstracted away from Matossian’s industrial age and understood ideology as the response of intellectuals representing semi-insular groups and institutions to a novel external pressure arising from a more advanced technological and cultural force?
I think a collection of phenomena surrounding the information age is the primary force at issue here. As economies became more information-based, technologies exposed what could metaphorically be described as a space in which a new culture developed. This new space and the culture it produced overlapped and intruded upon the old spaces of power, from academia to finance.
There are other more exhaustive discussions of our new age but I only want to focus on a few salient aspects of the new space. Population growth, increased democratization, a global lingua franca, increased literacy and education are important factors, but they only constitute this new space when paired with the near instantaneous, globalized, pseudo-decentralized, pseudonymous communication facilitated by the internet.
This space is a staging ground and arena for direct challenges to existing institutions of power. Like the mediterranean sea before the rise of the Greek Thalassocracies and the global oceans before the rise of Anglo maritime power, this new space is haunted by freebooters able to challenge the influence of even the most powerful traditional institutions and individuals.
I’m a lazy writer and am drinking on the train, so here’s a list of relevant characteristics of this space:
- People can collude with others of like mind across the world and criticize the claims of any institution. Upstart academies and fora with high cultural and argot barriers to entry for the old power elite can be found everywhere; and ideologies can be evaluated and changed by individuals just as easily as I change a pair of pants in the bathroom during court.
- Access to information, particularly academic and scientific knowledge, has been broadly democratized, reducing the monopolies once enjoyed by the power elite. Graphic evidence of war and brutality is available for all, unmediated by Hollywood or the press.
- The passive, pseudonymous nature of internet communication opens up a space fit for the spirit of sexless, jobless, introverted men. Their energy is unlocked for something besides war, petty criminality, or jobs in government, for which it traditionally has been reserved. Normal people living outside of the cultural and economic epicenters of the world are similarly empowered to reverse the unidirectional distribution of culture and technology.
- The democratization of indirect communication, not just in terms of technology but also content, enhances social sophistication. Irony, for example, has always been a necessary part of every counter-cultural toolkit, from the hymns of the Rig Veda to Socrates. But instead of just being the domain of aristocratic poets and philosophers, NEETs and other ordinary people wield it today to dissemble, protect their egos, or persuade.
- Whether it be a religious parent, liberal winemom, or government, all gatekeepers must contend with the fact that their children and subjects are exposed to direct communication with unwanted foreign interlopers. And most importantly, access to the gatekeepers and power-holders themselves is less mediated, with the President’s Twitter account being the most prominent example.
These factors and more allow powerless and previously marginalized individuals and institutions to challenge their traditional oppressors and competitors. Thus the new space has seen the development of a culture of hyper transgressivism, incivility, and confrontation under which the prestige, authority, and values of traditional cultural institutions like the academy and press are being eroded. Indeed, the journalist of yore encounters an alien world on the internet today with millions of socially, philosophically, and technically sophisticated challengers. The many layers of irony and nihilism, and the courage to confront terrifying taboos, shocks and scandalizes them. Instead of jazz, rap, sexual liberation, and air conditioning, we have 4chan crowdsourcing military targets for Assad, democratized irony, and NEETS earning 25,000% returns by algorithmically trading shitcoins.
Traditional institutions of course have tools for maintaining their power against challenges. Human power is often acquired through competition with the winner subsequently seeking to monopolize the means he used to acquire power, like the Germanic pagan king who acquired his throne by the old ordeal of mutual combat but then outlawed mutual combat in the name of Christianity to retain his station. Older religions shield their dogma from exposure to critique behind firewalls of language, hermeneutics, and priestly castes eugenically controlled by networking, credentialism, and nepotism. Secular institutions like academia, government, finance, and journalism rely upon identical mechanisms.
The new information space is making it harder to maintain these firewalls. For example, with the acceleration of discourse, the dilation of time permitted between critique and response makes custody of the dogma by traditional institutions far more difficult to maintain. The immensely rich and voluminous output of blogger-journalist Steve Sailer, which dwarfs the op-ed and book review cycle of newspapers and even television, is the gold standard here.
So what is producing these new (old) ideologies? I think it can be reduced to something like Matossian’s ideal type: an intellectual representing an old institution or ideal who is also at best only partially ensconced in the new space, but also occupying a prestigious station. They’re energized by memes, creativity, and democratization, and seduced by the imagery and sexuality, but also feel assaulted by the incivility, taboo, and challenges to their authority and sense of cultural centrality. They’re embarrassed by how their institution or “team” was caught off guard by internet culture. They understand in some sense that they have to adapt but they also want to maintain their ego and power. Like Matossian’s Assaulted Intellectuals, the problems they’re trying to solve are figuring out what to import from the new space, what to retain from their past, and how to structure their relationship to the masses.
- Traditional Leftist and Christian Ideology
The most salient ideological tool of a traditional institution for retaining its authority is apologia, or the partial incorporation of the new into the old through creative re-interpretation and interpolation. Early Judaism and Christianity selectively incorporated pagan philosophy in much the same way as Kemalists and other ideologies of delayed industrialization incorporated western cultural elements. Conversely, western intelligence agencies incorporate elements of traditional cultures they’re attempting to neutralize while denouncing reactionary or unassimilable elements.
Today there are many fascinating examples of ideological apologia, with Wakandas, Aztlans, and Hyperboreas, the New York Times’ 1619 project, and people praying to Odin or the Water Mamma to cover their Netflix bill. I won’t talk about these because they dont interest me and because they aren’t direct responses to the challenge of the information space. Instead I’m going to focus on two categories of Assaulted Intellectual – the old American leftist and the American traditionalist Christian – because they’re more plugged into the information space and because they’re closer to my own political interests.
These ideologues are dealing with the assault and the problems it poses in predictable ways. Their first step in reorienting themselves toward this powerful new space is to dig into the past and indulge in archaism in order to justify either incorporating or discarding some effective or threatening aspect of the new space and its culture.
Amber Frost, a featured member of an immensely lucrative socialist podcast called Chapo Traphouse, responded to the irreverence and incivility of the new space, which was scandalizing court liberals at Vox, by invoking the great tradition of left-wing incivility. Her team, Amber contends, invented incivility to power first! Consequently, the incivility of the new space can be imported by the old left without offending their sensibilities. In the context of Chapo, this has given rise to the “Dirtbag” left, Frost’s label for left ideologues’ rediscovery of their roots in populist incivility.
Another traditional leftist, Angela Nagle, authored a book entitled Kill All Normies documenting the transgressivism of the new space. In the course of her narrative, she recasts the entire space in its initial paradisaical form as a left-wing achievement. Nagle discovers a gilded age where left-libertarians gave birth to the free, decentralized space in the idyllic Bay Area before it was co-opted by reactionary outsiders, much as Gandhi’s mythical Indian scientists of antiquity independently invented western technology and then abandoned it because of its spiritual-moral deficiencies.
The traditional left doesn’t agree on how to contend with these assaults on its authority. Nagle, like Gandhi, prefers that the alien transgressivism of the internet be completely eschewed and old taboos reinforced. Others, like the Dirtbag Left, wish to import the progressive elements of the new space to project their archaic superiority into the future. Nagle is openly hostile to mainstream leftists adopting memetic culture like this because only real “cultural capital” can be earned by being civil. The functionally conservative message of her book is further driven home by her use of an especially harrowing story told by conservative pundit David French about being trolled on the internet.
On the right among Orthodox Christians and Catholics, ideologues have selectively incorporated that portion of the new space which helped animate the Trump revolution and voiced disillusionment with Reaganite conservatism and modernity. Tara Burton, a prolific Anglo-Catholic commentator on internet nihilism, discovers that virtually every effective spiritual aspect of internet culture is already present in her tradition. The radical anti-modernism popular on the internet reflects Christian hostility to the disenchanted world of modernity. The efflorescence of strange communal identities and ideologies constitute the formation of secular-spiritual “churches,” which of course Burton’s own institution has already provided. Burton also recasts her Christianity as a “frequent opponent” of Social Justice Activism, suggesting that Christianity was a progenitor of the internet’s revolt against political correctness.
Such reclassifications have been used to justify, for example, the Catholic Sohrab Ahmari and Daniel DeCarlo rejecting the “civility” of conservatives like David French in favor of getting dirty and importing the successful political tools of the new space for use by Catholics. Burton, in contrast, rejects the incivility of the “Dirtbag” Christian right and suggests such attempts by Christians are fundamentally pagan and therefore wrong  – a difficult conclusion for Burton to make as she frequently agonizes over her mongrel spiritual nature, which encompasses not only her “eros” for God but also for the sexual vitality of internet nihilism .
Having imported what is valuable, threatening components must then be identified, contextualized, and discarded. Regardless of their differences, virtually every traditional left and right-wing ideologue responding to the assault of the new space has chosen to position Nietzsche and fascism, or some variation thereof (such as paganism or atavism), as the undesirable “reactionary” element which must be discarded. Instead of confronting the underlying spatial change giving rise to the new criticism and nihilistic beliefs, all of these thinkers reclassify the threat to their ideology in terms of Nietzsche and fascism.
On the right, Burton argues that the more spiritual forms of both right- and left-wing thought emerging on the internet all originate with Nietzsche . Daniel DeCarlo has gone even further, classifying all non-Christian elements of the internet Trump coalition as byproducts of Nietzschean ideology.
Likewise with the left, Nagle traces the genealogy of left- and right-wing libertarianism to the “cult of moral transgression” inherent in Romanticism and other reactionary tendencies. In Nagle’s narrative, Nietzschean nihilism seduces the ignorant masses and allows them to subsume the progressive early internet, resulting in a backward cultural ghetto that “dehumanizes women and minorities.”
Indeed, Nagle is particularly worried about the sudden adoption of a “proletarian righteousness” by transgressive voices on the internet. A nihilistic or reactionary culture shouldn’t, according to Nagle, appeal to the powerless because these cultures naturally traditionally espouse a “subcultural elitism.” Nagle must therefore reinterpret the wild democracy of the new space to reflect an ancient reactionary foe of the traditional left – aristocratic elitism – and absurdly suggests that trolling normies off the internet is analogous to Nazi eugenics.
The archaic Christian-Marxian foe of Nietzsche is thus called to stand in place of the democratized culture of critique of the new space. Instead of acknowledging that the assault on her station emanates in part from a new space occupied by the powerless, she classifies internet culture as an extension of old reactionary politics and calls for a return to the “great movements of the left, like the one that began on campuses like Berkeley in 1964.”
The traditional Christians likewise voice concern about the susceptibility of the ignorant masses to nihilism and pseudo-religious beliefs, suggesting that a return to the great movements of faith, like the ones that began in Christian institutions, is necessary. Just as Nagle claims that the libertarian commitments of the internet’s mythical founders blinded them to the reactionary tendencies of the masses who would misuse their wonderful technology, so the Christian ideologues believe that the freedom of the internet will lead the ignorant masses to paganism. As with ideologies of delayed industrialization, the masses must take a back seat to the ideologues.
Most Christian ideologues see in the nihilism and reaction of the internet a spiritual deficiency, just as Gandhi saw a spiritual deficiency in western modernity, which had to be cured by purging the west. Consequently, Christian ideologues like Burton, DeCarlo, Sohrabi and others have chosen to join the left in its calls to restrict freedom of speech and expression, and in its deep suspicion of, and willingness to use state power to suppress, participatory democracy on the internet.
- Assessing the ideologies
Is Nagle’s story of the idyllic early internet accurate? I too recall traditional leftists being more prevalent on the internet in its early years; but nihilists and right-wing extremists had been there for just as long, if not longer, and certainly were there at the foundation of some of the more central features of the internet. And what of the provenance of incivility – is it left-wing politics? The Marquis de Sade certainly wasn’t a leftist. Tyrannical barbarians who overrun old aristocracies are never civil, either.
What’s telling here is that the left had to rediscover that it invented the internet and incivility. In reality, the traditional left of the early internet abandoned a space created by people from every political persuasion to assume positions in traditional institutions of power like academia and Silicon Valley. Pioneers who espoused views not welcomed by traditional institutions, like James Bowery, were bankrupted and remained online while Leftists assimilated into the culture of civility and taboo, leaving the internet for the real Dirtbags of the world.
What about the Christian right? Did Christians inaugurate internet incivility, political incorrectness, and hostility toward social justice activism? Probably not – although Catholics and Orthodox Christians seem to be among the most vociferous critics of social justice activism, even if they abhor incivility. They also enjoy a long tradition of criticizing the disenchanted world and advocating for a spiritually meaningful existence. But why, now that they’re under assault by the culture of the new space, have they decided it’s time for calls to action?
My primary question is: Where have these old ideologies been for the last fifty years? Organized labor collapsed, wages stagnated and declined, but leftist ideologies and ideologues persisted as fixtures of powerful institutions; and only now have they re-emerged to confront a wild pseudonymous global democracy which challenges the authority of the entire capitalist superstructure. Only now must they discover their incivil roots and reassume their position as founders of the internet in order to do battle not with capital or its superstructures, but with…internet culture. Why, after all these years, is the most important work to be done the suppression or control of internet culture?
The Christians are just as suspect. Burton makes a forceful case that the world is already enchanted and that therefore internet culture’s search for spiritual meaning outside of Christianity is misguided . The case is the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ in history, which in concept offers metaphysical assurances nihilism can’t. But there are plenty of more recent, vivid examples of sacrifice-victimization and metaphorical resurrection which are forced into the minds of every citizen by government, media, corporations, and schools, with slavery and the Holocaust being the most prominent examples. Just as the vivid Christian narrative and chronology once persuaded millions of Judaeans and Pagans to convert, so the vivid imagery of slavery and the Holocaust today capture the minds of otherwise secular Americans.
These enchanting, meaningful stories are far more prevalent than fringe internet delusions, and have been so for a long time. For example, the now-infamous former FBI Director and Sunday school teacher, James Comey, remarked in 2015 that “the Holocaust is the most significant event in human history.” Evidently Comey, a “Christian Pessimist” in the mold of Niebuhr according to Burton, has no need for the metaphysical succor provided by the history of God becoming flesh and his sacrifice.
With few exceptions, there hasn’t been a single objection to this wholesale usurpation of Christian imagery from Christian “theologians” and ideologues. With secularization and corruption within traditional Christian institutions having increased dramatically over the last sixty years, the most important issue for Christian ideologues of today is – wait for it – internet counter-culture or “Nietzscheanism” and “paganism.” It certainly was never a concern to Christian ideologues when activists in the real world intentionally usurped the imagery of Christianity (hey, take a look at the back cover of Night by Wiesel – does that look familiar?) Is there any wonder why people are seeking new perspectives that actually stand up to the establishment in institutions besides Christianity?
Maybe I’m being uncharitable. Maybe these new (old) ideological propositions are broadly true and their imperatives fundamentally correct. As a pragmatist, I need to know what I can expect from giving these ideologues control.
DeCarlo proposes that the Trump revolution, largely premised on hostility to mass forced labor equilibrium with the third world, should be given over to “integralists” like Adrian Vermeule, an advocate of mass forced labor equilibrium with the third world .
Indeed, the policies of the integralists have been quite telling in their similarity to left-liberal policies. In addition to more immigration, they’ve stood up in favor of eroding other historic liberties of the masses, like gun ownership and free expression. DeCarlo’s Leninist call to restrict free speech on the internet by “any means necessary” is the primary means by which all representatives of traditional institutions, left and right, confront the challenge of the new space. Suppressing speech allows law and government coercion to gain a foothold on the internet outside of its traditional spatial domain in the nation-state.
Burton seems less optimistic about the future of Christianity, or at least Anglo-Catholicism, going so far as to suggest the future is one of pagan battling pagan . Apart from a few impassioned words about the uniqueness of Christ in history, she doesn’t seem very interested in helping the subjects of her analysis. Her main focus appears to be analogizing right-wing aspects of spiritual internet culture to ISIS, presumably in order to intensify the already irrational religious hysteria of establishment partisans and justify the same censorship Integralists advocate.
The message from the orthodox left isn’t exactly compelling, either. Their explanation of the world is that globalism and the destruction of non-state, non-market institutions is inevitable, so opposition to these forces should be ridiculed as “reactionary” on ironic podcasts. To the extent that they’ve reconciled themselves to engagement in the new internet space, the result is often cringe-inducing unintentional parodies of the internet, like the suspended Twitch streamer and Young Turks journalist Hasan Piker, who, until recently, spent his time playing video games and telling his adolescent audience that girls with penises are natural and therefore good.
Whether they’re humiliating themselves with such displays or furiously churning out divisive screeds demanding “decisions” and Leninist state action to suppress parts of the internet, the reality is that these ideologues represent and benefit from existing institutions of power. They’ve been assaulted by the democratized culture of critique online and are incensed that the dirty laundry of their cliques can now be investigated and aired for all to see by anyone with an internet connection.
Why didn’t Christian ideologues do anything about the widespread usurpation of their imagery in mainstream culture? Why don’t the leftists care about the total replacement of their materialist agenda with left identity politics? Because they’re okay with being deceived and sleeping through heresies that make internet trolling look saintly by comparison. The secular liberal mythos buoys their own lifestyles and keeps them content.
And why are both camps so obsessed with Nietzsche and “paganism”? Rightwing Nietzscheanism and paganism, and manifold other heresies, proliferated on the internet because they’re heterodox ideas that have been proscribed in traditional spaces of power. Indeed, it is precisely because they don’t influence institutions of power that they flourish online. Once upon a time, reactionary nihilism may have been a force to be confronted in the United States, as can be gleaned from a cursory read of this brutally atavistic speech by one of America’s great Brahmins, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. Today it would be unimaginable for Justice Elena Kagan, a professed admirer of Holmes Jr., to deliver such a speech at Harvard.
When I look past the ideas to the ideologues, all I see are representatives of old institutions trying to prevent powerless people from testing their worth in a new space. I only hear a command to kneel and continue to accept their rule and the disagreeable status quo. If you want my advice, whether you lean left or right, ignore the ideological hair splitting, the calls to action, and keep doing what you’ve been doing – keep exposing inconsistencies and hypocrisies in traditional institutions of power – keep doing what drives these ideologues to dedicate massive tomes to their experiences of being challenged online.
Indeed, for professed globalists, these ideologues seem awfully concerned about global anonymous democratic communication. The information age is for now a fractured age, like the early years of the age of discovery when Europe lacked a shared global consciousness that contemplated the new space opened for human activity. The information age has likewise opened a new space, but the holders of power have yet to “close” it with a new, shared order. They dropped their guard for a moment, but now, in response to the assault, traditional institutions and their ideologues are clamping down, redrawing friend-enemy distinctions in favor of the status quo, and blocking the paths they once used to acquire their own power.
The openness of the new space is by no means a foregone conclusion. Like the Chinese destroying their Treasure Fleet armada, which had opened up vast new spaces for Chinese activity, pioneering companies like Google are partnering with old institutions of power to destroy the freedom of our new space. These enclosures are, and will be, accompanied by explicit and implicit ideological justifications. Make sure you have the right mindset to navigate them.