You know what would be a perfect title for this...?
thought digest, 03.23.23
I’ve had… quite the week. More on all that later.
First, some housekeeping:
I’m back on Twitter, shilling my writing, selfishly hoping that each hot take will attract more of you here, on Substack. The bad news (for my loved ones, at least), is that this strategy tends to work after a couple of weeks of take-mongering. Let the countdown begin for the bird site to start making me grumpy.
Second order of business:
Today, I’m hosting our March Film Club on Discord at 6PM CT.
I’m seriously considering ending this perk. Not because I don’t enjoy chatting with you all, but because my schedule is so variable that it inevitably becomes more stressful than fun. It might also be time to throw the ‘I’m an accessible Internet personality’ towel in and focus more on being a writer. But you know, these things change.
Anyway, here’s this week’s thought digest.
I have a pretty idiosyncratic view of the alt-right. Or, at least, what I’ve been told is idiosyncratic. I—maybe pedantically—think it’s worth distinguishing among “alt-right,” “dissident right,” and “e-right”/“online right.”
I see the e-right/online right as a larger, overarching ecosystem that includes diverse movements and, therefore, a diversity of thought. The alt-right is one such movement; the dissident right is similar but separate, though maybe a spiritual successor. Dozens more exist. Some are explicitly political (e.g. wignats, BAPists, NRx), and others bump up against the e-right ecosystem for myriad reasons without necessarily having political goals or even being a formal part of it (e.g. the incelosphere or the manosphere).
There’s also a lot of overlap. Being in one movement doesn’t preclude membership in another.
So, back to my view of the alt-right.
As I’ve written about Tumblr subcultures, I feel like the alt-right that the average not-very-online person was aware of was a “shadow” alt-right.
That is, there was an online movement, or possibly several online movements, that were misreported, creating a weird feedback loop where a separate group based on media storytelling was created. Then, from that media awareness campaign, the one that created an “adaptation” (for lack of a better word) of the genuine alt-right, the alt-lite could come into focus, a watered-down version of the alt-right, designed for content monetization.
It's these shadow movements or adaptations that end up working their way into the mainstream conversation. It’s a game of media telephone.
This same cycle is happening with the dissident right. Podcasters and culture commenters scrape the ecosystem for content, misrepresent it because we miss the nuances only obvious to people who are marinating in these communities for longer periods, and create shadows.
From there, new movements are born.
Take this piece by Mary Harrington. This isn’t a perfect example of the kind of misreporting that I’m talking about—not by a long shot. It’s not shlock, it’s not the product of content mining, it’s a well-written article, and it makes a compelling argument.
However, I bring it up because I think it does offer a good example of subtle misunderstandings that end up defining the broader conversation.
The tl;dr of the piece is that masculinists on the e-right, BAPists in particular, overprice feminism and underprice technology as contributing factors to the misery of modernity.
She uses the Taliban as a lens to explore this, writing that once the adventure of war ended and bureaucracy began in Kabul, they had the same complaints about modern life that e-rightists on Twitter do:
But though Talichad won the insurgency, could he still lose the peace? Young Taliban fighters, whose daily life has been transformed by victory, have been interviewed for a new report — and it turns out many don’t like it.
Put to work in Kabul’s bureaucracy, they find office work dull and restrictive, and they miss the excitement, fellowship and lofty moral purpose they felt as insurgents. Not only do they loathe office work every bit as much as the West’s much-discussed “quiet quitters”, but peacetime urban life appears to be making them soft and, well, less Taliban-ish.
This, in turn, raises some questions for the online masculinist Right in the West: the men who made a totem of Talichad. For the Taliban’s predicament now offers a counterfactual to a doctrine from these circles, that’s now leaking into the mainstream: that every facet of modern male malaise is the fault of women, and especially of feminism.
Mary is right that many people on the right make this mistake. I also agree with her about the impact of social media on masculinity and how the Taliban offers an interesting case study on this.
However, I don’t know if this piece is in conversation with BAPists per se.
Maybe trads, who long to “RETVRN,” often to the 1950s (and bafflingly not to some point before the 1920s); maybe people throughout the manosphere; maybe just garden variety American right-wingers who, until recently, offered very little in the way of meaningful criticisms of technology.
Let me offer a pretty big disclaimer here. I am not an anthropologist of the e-right, nor do I intend to position myself as an ambassador of their ideas for normies. However, from what I understand from interviewing BAPists, celebrating the success of the Taliban wasn’t because they “defeated women.”
It’s that the Taliban defeated ZOG: Zionist Occupied Government. It was about the triumph of the guerrilla. Think more militia movement than MGTOW (men going their own way). And this isn’t a footnote, either.
Because for all the diversity of thought in the e-right, there is one thing many, even most, of them agree on, something that often gets glossed over by people on the outside looking in. The e-right is fundamentally antisemitic. There aren’t some antisemitic cliques and then a sea of rightist communities that don’t care one way or the other.
Antisemitism is a key component of e-right politics.
For them, feminism is downstream of Jewish power. And, for that matter, so is our perverted relationship with technology, which they’ve examined ad nauseam. (Somewhere in my notes is a quote from a BAPist who claims that they’d been “medium-is-the-message-posting in 2018,” as proof of why I am unoriginal. But the abuse these people send my way is neither here nor there..)
As the “longhouse” concept has percolated out of group chats and Discord servers, so too has this correlation grown more accepted, between emotivism, safetyism, suffocating egalitarianism — and the rising prevalence of women in public life.
I wouldn’t imagine these guys are any great fans of feminism, but in these group chats and Discord servers, women aren’t the main event. According to a BAPist interviewee, “That [fixation on women] hasn’t been true since #GamerGate.”
So what are they talking about, then?
Maybe about how #BillionsMustDie. A meme, but one that speaks to their true political goals: to exterminate what they consider lesser forms of life. The moderates among them may only wish to separate the races. But think about it… why care so much about race science—another special interest of the e-right—if you don’t intend to use it?
Then there’s that open space Mary writes about and BAP himself refers to:
Bronze Age Mindset chafes against a sense of life lived in captivity, where all space is already “owned” and freedom of action always already circumscribed.
That “open space” has another name in these circles, one that might reveal something important about their worldview: lebensraum.
As for the Longhouse—I think us journalists have got the causality all wrong. From the BAPist vantage, as it’s been explained to me, the Longhouse is the fault of weak men, not the triumph of women.
You exit the Longhouse through conquest and vitality.
Think maybe most proper formal way to delineate between "alt right" and its successive discontents is a frame where capital's ruthless reification mechanisms took an aberrant social construct/assumption group and *rationalized* it.
It's easy to forget that for a remarkably long time (2 years or so) posting racism/antisemitism etc *actually did* make a discursive dent. It has ofc now been walled off into a discrete marketing demo. Alt right was briefly a kinda spooky spark with real political potential-- Marx's "tragedy". Later iterations operate rationally in their historical conditions... Marx's "farce".
There's an obvious OWS resonance here that is tired and hackneyed but also obviously true.
So, what or who is the actual alt-right? It seems a bit like hipster aesthetics to me — the writers I’ve heard of are fake crap, the *real* right-wingers are some guys I’ve never heard of. I’m not sure anything coherent exists out there.