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Inside the Very Online War on Liberalism
As elite illusions collapse, new identities arise.
A great deal of attention has been given recently to the rise of extremely online illiberal movements. These movements are politically extreme, on both the Right and Left. They also tend to find their expression primarily online, through people who spend a disproportionate amount of their social life on various forms of internet-related social media. Through the “alt-Right” and “Tumblr social justice left,” as they’re called, online illiberal movements are steadily gaining in influence and voice in mainstream politics.
Yet few commentators understand—and even fewer can adequately explain—their significance. To do so, I’ll make two main claims. First, the origin of today’s cyberpolitical subcultures can be found through the postmodern concept of self-constructed identity, which spilled out of the elite university system into mainstream culture. Most people today have accepted the idea that we can define who we are through branded consumer goods and services marketed by major corporations. Cyberpolitical illiberalism is deeply averse to this postmodern consumerist ethos while adopting the core concept of the self-created identity.
The result is an array of online subcultures devoted to helping participants create their own identities, in large part through transgressive behavior against the mainstream “normie.” I aim to provide a model for understanding how members of these subcultures perceive society, politics, and culture.
Second, I claim that online extremism is the result, rather than the cause, of political polarization in American society. The extreme out-group aversion in these illiberal movements emerges because individuals feel thrown—or “projected,” in a Heideggerian sense—into unchosen, preexisting, and antagonistic political cleavages. The transgressive mode of discourse serves to heighten these tensions, prioritizing purity-spiraling behaviors aimed at identifying the self in opposition to hypocritical and immoral “others.” While certainly one could argue that these illiberal groups intensify the growing entrenchment of politics into a kind of Schmittian conflict, it should be clear that they are an effect, not the cause, and eliminating these groups will not solve the fundamental problem at the center of American politics.
Contextualizing the Extremely Online Age
Illiberal cyberpolitics did not emerge out of a void. It found fertile soil in the transformation of the 20th century, which was essentially formed by Christian cultural and religious symbols, into the 21st, in which those symbols are dead outside of certain subcultures. The context of the rise of cyberpolitics is this transition to a society in which religion does not play a significant role in the construction of identity and worldview for ever more people, even among those who nominally practice a faith tradition.
In modernity, the kind of knowledge-production that Plato identified as anamnesis, of which a small part is tradition, has been devalued to the point of negation. A well-functioning society will provide a set of meanings and values that are apprehended by the individual as if they were intuited or remembered. Eric Voegelin argued that the philosopher places these ideas and values against his own not in order to disambiguate the symbols, which would destroy their meaning, but to strive toward an understanding which might illuminate their meaning beyond mere literalism.
Instead, modernity rejected any form of non-personal sources of knowledge, especially with regard to identity and politics. Modern philosophy and political science collapsed Voegelin’s differentiation into either a positivist mode, which makes these things objects of external study rather than participatory social self-interpretation, or else into the gnostic mode of utopian political revolution.
Cultural and political institutions like the universities and mainline religious organizations are thus no longer participants in a society-wide project of rational discourse with one another and the past over the meaning of symbols, ideas, and politics. They have instead become manufacturers of ideology and objects of power contests. Gnostic utopian political ideology, which symbolizes experience against reality rather than within reality, transformed participatory cultural discourse into coercive power production. Therefore the hermeneutics of suspicion are the only valid mode in which to interpret any cultural and social idea in the present day.
Absent an anamnetic form of collective knowledge-production, republican institutions begin to shut down. In The Machiavellian Moment, J.G.A. Pocock presents republics as historically self-constructed entities. Unlike monarchies, which vest themselves with a mythology of immemoriality, republican institutions are defined by the act of foundation and the personae of the founders. They rely on narratives of continuity and virtue to secure their legitimacy. These inherited narratives provide the citizen with identity, meaning, and purpose in their political lives, as well as the fundamental justification for solidarity among citizens. Whereas in a monarchy the people are united by the Crown, they are united in a republic by a shared history which centers on the regime’s founding fathers. When this history is shattered, so are the people in a republican society, who inevitably turn to other forms of self-articulation such as class, religion, or ethnic identity.
In the wake of these changes, the transition from television to the internet as the primary mode of mass acculturation led to a radical shift in perspective by those people, mostly younger, who embraced the new technology. With television, the viewer is a passive observer who is situated outside of the program, in the space of their ordinary life, and who receives the transmitted information in a collective mode, alongside other distinct, individual persons. Nick Land described the technological perspective shift of the internet as the destruction of the first person as it exists for the television viewer, with its resultant demolition of the mass-society solidarity established by the pioneers of mass-media in the early-to-mid-20th century.
In cyberspace, by contrast, the perspective of the user is not outside but inside the program. Internet users do not perceive the content as one person alongside many; all users share a single, anonymous, ubiquitous perspective. Compare, for example, an action film in contrast to a first-person shooter. In the former, the viewers are situated on chairs or sofas, watching a film star take part in the action. In the latter, the digital context decenters the action and destabilizes stardom. All players share the universal perspective of the player U.I., and all player actions gain and lose attention as pieces of content in the program’s universal archive of clips. The result is a new understanding of self.
In cyberspace, the identity of the “I” is not set, but can often be customized and interchanged with others. Instead of confinement to the bounds of an independent, subjective person, users can act and identify as a part or component of an impersonal and anonymous internet subculture. “I am Anonymous” takes on a whole new meaning, obscuring where the user ends and the cyberculture of the internet begins. In a space that operates in the wiki format, how can the quintessentially human craftsman of Hannah Arendt’s philosophy distinguish his work from that of others?
To enter into this space is, as Land says, to strip oneself of the membrane that separates the self from the other, or the I from the multitude of other identities, and to become an anonymous self, defined only by temporary, interchangeable data-suits of avatar identity.
Postmodernity and the Constructed Self
This context proved hospitable to a worldview that thrives in the environment of cyberspace, albeit unintentionally and in a manner adverse to that worldview’s original purpose. The “liberal ironist” of Richard Rorty’s Ivy League circle seems far from the world of gender-transgressors and neo-Nietzschean internet trolls. But in his heart, Rorty’s ironist has much in common with the denizens of the very online world.
In works like Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, Rorty defines his worldview as that of a “self-creating historicist.” His aspiration is to convince the elite that all inherited aspects of personality are contingent and infinitely malleable, capable of being redefined in such a way as to meet the needs of society and strive toward a utopian ideal. Rorty links his ironic perspective to Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Foucault. He put it forward as the basis for a new kind of conversation grounded in the humane curiosity and creativity of poets, novelists, journalists, and professors.
Needless to say, this perspective is deeply elitist, as Rorty admitted. The quest for self-creation by the ironic thinker belonged to a tiny minority of creative-class elites and “young, college-educated managers” with personalities formed by high art, literature, and scholarship. The vast majority of people can never fully embrace the ironic perspective, and so must be nudged toward liberalism and compassion by works of literature like those of Charles Dickens or George Orwell. The elite, however, must both practice their inward projects of ironic self-creation and outwardly practice the pragmatic “cultural politics” of liberal philosophy.
That ostensible elite has steadily grown. In his 2014 essay “Right is the New Left,” Scott Alexander proposed a way of understanding the spread of fashions and ideas that illustrates how Rorty’s ironism slowly bled out of the Ivy Leagues and into mainstream consciousness. Everyone wants to appear higher class, more sophisticated, and more educated than they are in reality. And for many people, Ivy League intellectualism looks like status.
But as a fashion spreads through society, it must be made available in lower-quality and lesser brands so that it might be affordable to the middle-class consumers who wish to emulate elite fashion. A middle-class person might not be interested in modeling his life on the ideals of a 19th-century novelist, but with enough advertising one might be convinced to center personal identity around a girl with a laser sword, a young wizard with a special destiny, or a plethora of superheroes designed to fill every consumer niche.
Kenneth Galbraith argued in The Affluent Society that a shift occurred after World War II as rising wealth eroded material poverty: non-essential consumers took a leading role in driving corporate profits. To make this tenable, the consumer had to be instilled with the belief that the artificial needs created by advertising are urgent and must be immediately sated to avoid harm. What better way to do so than with a slightly off-brand substitute Rortyism—mass-media and commodified cultural products for the non-elite consumer? Up into the breach rose the mega-corporations of the modern oligopolistic economy urging consumers to “follow your heart,” “discover who you truly are,” or “become the best that you can be.”
Just as Galbraith argued, for the most part these goods (or services) have a marginal utility of zero, or even a negative marginal utility, costing more than the value they return in actual human welfare. But the ideology of self-creation through cultural consumerism prioritizes consumption as a means to self-actualization. This is convenient for advertisers who belong to, or were educated by, the creative class of young, urban, college-educated elites.
Rorty encouraged his students to find the best of what humanity has said, written, or done and reinterpret themselves in an act of cultural criticism, to place themselves within the contexts of these works of art and literature. In their popularized form, these same postmodern ideas are used to persuade consumers to define their life and identity in terms of the products being peddled by mega-corporations interested solely in squeezing a little more revenue out of a debt-leveraged population. This generation of young people constructs self-identities out of mismatched fragments of popular culture, music, franchises, brands, and ideological fads, and then declares into the mirror that the result is “beautiful”—aping in a secular way God’s pronouncement on the goodness of his creation.
This process is the proper context for understanding what it means to take the red pill.
The Illiberal Rejection of Commodified Identity
Angela Nagle’s book Kill all Normies identified another element of postmodernism in modern online culture which coexists uneasily with the “self-creation” culture of ironism: the culture of transgression. Since the Counterculture of the 1960s and its attendant second wave of feminism, transgressing cultural and moral norms was seen as a mark of intellectual and moral authenticity by the American Left. The Left described this culture of transgression as a form of liberation from externally imposed standards of identity and meaning.
This tradition differed from Rorty’s in that it was not essentially liberal. Rorty argued that the transgressive elements of writers like Derrida and Foucault were dangerous because they risked losing real social gains provided by political liberalism in their quest for liberation from the religious and metaphysical conceptions of human life inherited from the Christian tradition. This emphasis on transgression by elite American intellectuals was driven primarily by the psychological need of radical Humanities professors to do something related to their field in the service of political change, even when the actual effects of those actions were either meaningless or counterproductive to achieving progressive policy preferences. Rorty modelled himself instead as a pragmatist who confined his transgressive rebelliousness to private acts, while emphasizing liberal policy achievement in public life.
Nagle identified elements of this Left-transgressivism in what she called the “cyberutopian left” of the 2000s: the left-libertarian online culture revolving around anarchism and media piracy, which connected its online activity to political ideas of “radical horizontalist” social organization. From these roots, she traced the origins of the “Tumblr Left” of gender fluidity and intersectional identity politics.
Right-wing transgressive styles, she argued, emerged from several sources, including the aesthetic appeal of cyberdystopian literature like Fight Club and The Matrix, tactical adaptation by New Right figures like Andrew Breitbart, and political realignments which pushed left-wing groups into right-wing camps, such as GamerGate.
It was not transgression culture alone, however, that drove the trend of cyberpolitical illiberalism. Transgression culture combined itself with the fracturing effects of Rorty’s self-constructed identity, forming a toxic blend of politics that elevated narcissism and aggressive attacks against out-groups to the highest form of political expression.
It is impossible to understand the rise of so-called “red-pilled” political ideas without reference to the counterpart “blue pill.” While references to The Matrix are more common on the online Right, the fundamental experience of this “pill” divide crosses ideological boundaries. Extremely online politics exists as a reaction against the “normie,” or the person who has adopted the mass-market worldview of commodified constructed self-identity described above. The only group of people the cyberpolitical Left and Right hold in greater contempt than one another are the masses who populate mainstream online platforms and express a self-identity grounded in consumerism. The reason for this is at the core of the red pill metaphor: before they became “woke” or “based,” they were first normies themselves.
Consider the scene from the film that inspired this reference. When Neo took the red pill, he didn’t achieve a beatific vision of the divine. He awoke in a vat of liquified human remains, plugged into a machine that commodified him into a source of sustenance for his enemies, the Machines. His realization was not one of ascendance but a fall, an understanding that he was nothing more than an object of exploitation and degradation. This is the fundamental characteristic of the illiberal rejection of postmodern neoliberal modernity: the realization that the popular culture of liberation and self-construction is in fact a culture of dehumanization and slavery.
The self-identity constructed out the shards of popular culture and brand-name commodities is not an object of beauty or art, but a collection of garbage. What was a limitless horizon of endless possibilities in the creative-class milieu of consumer culture becomes in the digital world an all-confining repository of exhausted references. The red-pilled initiate sees his blue-pilled former self as a person constructed from the detritus of mass-culture consumerism, or in the words of Fight Club’s spacemonkeys, a “toxic byproduct,” the “infectious waste of creation.” Bronze Age Pervert describes modernity as the state where “the world is pounded into garbage,” and the essential problem of modernity as the inability of the individual to see himself in this light.
To complicate this realization, the transfer of countless dollars from the pockets of working- and middle-class individuals to the wealthy, urban, educated creative class elites could not have occurred without the compliance and cooperation of the victims of this scheme. The creative class sold empowerment, liberation, and self-creation to gullible, blue-pilled masses who paid in dollars, years of their lives, and ultimately their inner selves—and none of this violated the principle of Consent at the heart of all dominant liberal political ideologies..
The extremely online illiberal can only be understood when it is clear that everyone who is now “woke” or “based” was once blue-pilled—once participated in this exploitation—and shares in the guilt and self-revulsion of having previously been like those people who still cling to their brands, their shows, and their franchises as counterfeit personalities. In chapter 5 of Fight Club, the narrator’s apartment is meticulously described in such a way as to illustrate the vacuity of his life. In the conversation with the detective, the narrator says of the apartment, “I loved my life. I loved that condo…. That was my whole life. Everything, the lamps, the chairs, the rugs were me.” Like Tyler Durden, the red-pilled individual must blow up this entire life and clear it out until nothing is left but a concrete shell of a condo. The red-pilled seek to remove the rubbish and determine if there is anything else there inside themselves other than trash.
It is only in an act of self-destruction, as Tyler Durden explains, that a real person might emerge out of the landfill of consumerist life.
The Self on the Rack
The language used in this essay primarily overlaps with the right-wing subjects of Nagle’s work, Kill All Normies, but could just as easily be described in the left-wing terms of “wokeness,” “privilege,” and the like. All these movements share a fundamental rejection of what they perceive as mainstream society, a sense of guilt and revulsion at participating in that mainstream society, and a language of self-salvation. The divergence in language occurs because the essential experience of being awoken or red-pilled is filtered through the pre-existing dimension of society’s fundamental social and political cleavages.
The individual exists as thrown or projected across the polarized socio-political landscape of modern American society, which now appears more Schmittian than merely partisan in its friend-enemy divide. Where people fall across the pre-existing trenches of social conflict will provide them with the contextual vocabulary to express the experience of their red pill. The mainstream normie and parasitic elites will be defined in terms of the other side of the dichotomy, while the manifestation of the red pill or becoming “woke” will take the form of the totemic ideals of socio-political allies. A person who is projected onto the left side might define the normie in terms of racism or sexism, while a person projected onto the right side of American politics might define the normie in terms of political correctness.
What needs to be made clear, and is often misunderstood in discussions of this topic, is that the basic social cleavages in American society and their hardening into a hyper-partisan friend-enemy dichotomy precede cyberpolitics as a cause, rather than an effect, of extremism. The growing trend toward drawing racial, class, and religious differences as rigid, pillarized cleavages demarking battle-lines in American politics establishes the conditions whereby transgressive modes of cultural expression become part of a cultural cold war of the kind described by Schmitt in The Concept of the Political. The extremely online individual cannot be understood as choosing a social or political position, because these positions come to the individual pre-selected according to the fixed, unchangeable characteristics of their person through the context of their social life. The “battle of ideas” gives way to a battle of identities.
By aligning political coalitions around these fixed characteristics, individuals who find themselves thrown among them seem to have no choice in their allegiances or ideological positions. As these cleavages continue to polarize, political identification seems to result from self-defense against aggressive factions mobilizing on the basis of skin color, social class, religion, or combination of these factors. Their transgressive behaviors are a reaction to these pre-existing sclerotic social cleavages and partisan political battle-lines. The root cause of this escalating approach to political life was never young people on the internet, but a political and social establishment which already marked out and exploited these differences for political gain, and powerful interests with an economic incentive to suppress real cultural heterogeneity in order to sell more homogenous consumer goods.
It becomes much more difficult to cross these trench lines as they become more rigidly defined—and so the social landscape now prioritizes other forms of political communication. Attempting to compromise with members of the other side becomes far more difficult and far less effective as a means to accomplish social and political goals. Identity-affirmation and out-grouping are more effective tactics in ensuring one’s social status in a culture which has begun to resemble a bipolar international system like that of the Cold War.
The result is a relative shift in status from cooperative to transgressive modes of cross-cleavage interactions, which serve to elevate and benefit those individuals who primarily express their identity in these kinds of illiberal, “not-Us” terms. Attempts to moderate intergroup discourse become signs of in-group betrayal, and political coalitions begin to circle their wagons and center their priorities on ensuring dogmatic adherence to group norms. This provides the perfect environment for a group of people whose identity takes the form of a transgressive rejection of the designated Other. The red-pilled experience of betrayal by mainstream society flourishes when given a designated enemy on which to project those feelings of guilt and self-revulsion.
The internet provides the perfect environment for the expression of this transgressive rejection of society in its various manifestations across the American friend-enemy dichotomy. Having rejected the normie identity constructed while among the mainstream, the existence of a space where identity is fluid, disposable, and anonymous became a petri dish of identity experiments aimed at tearing down the perceived Other across the socio-political divide.
One response to the experience of the impersonal, anonymous nature of online space was hyper-individuation, an attempt to define oneself in increasingly unique and complicated ways as a rejection of the more common identifications used by the bulk of society. The proliferation of genders, or the recent obsession with genetic testing for ethnicity, reflect this desire to become something that stands apart and against the nameless, faceless, blue-pilled masses of the other side. By choosing for oneself a hyper-individuated identity that transgresses against the norms of the other group, the extremely online individual becomes a living repudiation of that group’s values and symbolic meanings. It escalates transgression from a mere action up to the level of an existential status, and in so doing confers that identity the highest form of authenticity available.
Another way the red-pill experience interacts with online space is the association of the self with a mythic-anonymous identity. In an act related to the mystery cults of antiquity or the gnostic articulations of Marxist revolutionary movements, the users subsume themselves into an eternal or mythic personality such as a political movement, ahistorical racial identity, or apocalyptic society.
As Nagle mentioned in her book, “Anon” became a kind of self-identity that doesn’t denominate a singular individual, but, as Land described, blurs the line between “I” and “we” to the point that it becomes difficult to tell where the person ends and the collective begins. Identity becomes nothing but a mask that is worn and then disposed of when it is no longer useful. What remains is a secret, anonymous user and a formless, eternal, collective, pseudonymous identity. This anonymous user takes the expressiveness of blue-pilled self-created identity and spurns it with disgust.
The individual must always be hidden, and self-expression belongs entirely to the pseudo. The achievements of online communities in this mold are not credited to individuals, but to Anon or to the Movement—because the user is not an identity. The shared pseudonym alone has identity.
These two modes of expression, the hyper-individuated user and the mythic-anonymous self, dominate cyberpolitical discourse. They do so because these new forms of identity draw from the essential experience of the red-pill as a rejection of the garbage-identity of normie sociality. They conform to the technological aspects of cyberspace as a new space in the human conception of reality rather than a mere medium of communication. This makes the new, cyberpolitical illiberalism difficult to understand from the perspective of those whose identity and perception of life was not primarily formed on the internet, or who don’t share in their fundamental revulsion against normie consumerism.
For this reason, attempts by the mainstream political powers to assimilate or suppress this new illiberal movement have largely been ineffective. The context of these movements differs so greatly from mainline liberalism and conservativism that the barrier to understanding and interacting with these movements might be insurmountable. Those interested in such engagement should consider the following observations closely.
Solutions to the Rising Tide of Extremely Online Politics
There are three common approaches to cyberpolitical subcultures: two that have failed and one that might succeed, but at great cost. A new approach that works within the framework of 21st-century online culture is now needed to address these movements in a productive and useful way.
First is the approach that Michael Anton mentions in his article “Are the Kids Al(t)-Right?” This is to engage the extremely online with reasoned discourse and expose fallacious arguments. Referring to Bronze Age Mindset, Anton rightly concludes that “the talented kids who found this book aren’t listening to us…none of that has made a dent.” The broadly cyberpolitical Right is not a group of university-trained intellectuals who came to their beliefs through debate and research of various primary sources. Bronze Age Pervert rejects Reason as a source of insight and demotes it to a mere means of discourse. He argues for placing action at the center of life in place of hollow dogma and discourse.
A movement born of the great emotional upheaval and revulsion of the red pill experience is not susceptible to argument. One cannot persuade away disgust or disdain of the repulsive. The attempts to “talk down” the extremely online Right will continue to fail because those who make that attempt fundamentally misunderstand what is driving these individuals to reject the principles and ideal which the mainstream Right represent. The tendency on the mainstream Right to fixate on refining rhetoric from past political conflicts and 20th-century victories, rather than directly addressing the problems of the 21st, only reinforces the common accusation by those like Bronze Age Pervert that the mainstream Right is a club of designated losers, a controlled opposition which doesn’t endanger the elites’ hold on power and wealth. The phenomenon of the extremely online Right is not rhetorical and ideological but existential and aesthetic.
Second, both Richard Rorty and Angela Nagle argue that the Creative Class must use their influence and control of the means of communication to delegitimize transgression as a morally serious means of expression in order to prevent it from undermining the achievements of liberalism. Rorty proposed that one do this by “pulling up the ladders” behind liberalism and confining transgression to the sphere of private expression of self-identity, while requiring public expressions of identity to conform to liberal norms. While transgressive expression was useful for overturning the cultural norms of Christian and pre-liberal societies, Rorty argued that they are now being used to undermine liberalism and therefore should be abandoned.
Rorty’s great error is to think that his ability to completely privatize his constructed self-identity is universally human, rather than contingent on his particular brand of New England post-Protestant liberalism. This unique cultural attribute might be common among the class of educated elites for whom he was writing, but the last few decades ought to have made it clear that these constructed identities require validation in the minds of the vast majority of people. Having built themselves according to their own dreams, it is only human for them to want others to marvel and approve. But identities constructed under an ethic of transgression, as most of these cyberpolitical identities are, will necessarily contain elements which are irreconcilable with the “other” group against which the identity transgresses. This means that the concept of peaceful coexistence with the “other” group is not a matter of mere disagreeableness or disdain, but of fundamentally repudiating one’s own identity.
Diversity, in other words, is in this case not a strength—it engenders a constant war between identities.
Take, for example, the section in Darel Paul’s book From Tolerance to Equality titled “The Opposite of Homosexuality is Christianity.” For those homosexual activists who define their identity in terms of transgression against sexual norms, specifically Christian sexual norms, to agree to coexist with Christians means a repudiation of their entire self, for to coexist with Christians means to no longer define oneself as their opposition and negation. This explains the pattern that Paul finds in the data that shows as toleration of homosexuality goes up, toleration of Christianity always seems to go down in direct proportion. For this kind of homosexual identity to exist, Christianity must be increasingly marginalized to the point of negation, because to admit that Christians have a legitimate right to exist as Christians is to admit they have a legitimate right to reject and negate the constructed self-identity of the transgressive homosexual. When a kind of homosexual identity is fundamentally grounded as “not-Christian,” even toleration of Christianity becomes anti-homosexual.
What is occurring among these transgressive, extremely online identities is a similar effect multiplied across every conceivable mode of self-identification and writ large across the whole of American political culture. As transgression is always a negative identity centered on the “not-Me,” any attempt at reconciliation with the Other destroys the Self by denying to it the fundamental criterion of identification.
It is also the character of transgression to reject attempts to delegitimize its expression, since transgressive behavior is ordinarily targeted against mainstream norms and attitudes. For subcultures defining themselves as not-normie and not-mainstream, committed to seeing themselves as already marginalized, the notion of discrediting their mode of discourse is absurd. How can one discredit what identifies itself as rejected by the accrediting body? Extremely online illiberals define themselves by transgressing against what is respectable for the blue-pilled mass of society; they won’t be influenced in the slightest by those same people attempting to delegitimize their expression of self-identity.
Third, these extremely online political subcultures are deeply dependent on this internet environment in which they operate and interact. The rising power of the technology oligopoly provides an opportunity to essentially “drain the swamp” by eliminating freedom on the internet. Because of the overwhelming market share of a small number of corporations, it is entirely possible to reform the internet in such a way as to abolish anonymity, privacy, and secrecy in cyberspace. This process has already begun with increasing attempts at censorship and the requirement of real-name login credentials to access large swaths of cyberspace.
By accelerating these tendencies—for example, by requiring real-name Facebook or Google logins to access most or all content on the internet, and by banning web spaces which permit anonymous participation—individuals can more easily be punished through the loss of jobs, credentials, or simply widespread public opprobrium at those who express unpopular opinions on the internet. However, as Madison explained in Federalist #10, sometimes the cure for political discord is worse that the disease itself. Turning the internet into a speech gulag would have the effect of destroying the great gains provided by free speech online, as well as being a deep violation of the very principles which liberals claim to hold. The notion of destroying liberty to save liberty rings hollow and absurd.
The rise of encrypted communication and currency suggests that such an attempt might also fail—as digital technology is easily used to prevent as well as enable surveillance, and can be used to reroute itself around boundaries as well as erect them. The attempt to control digital speech might even have the effect of exacerbating the very problem it is meant to solve, heightening the potency and power of transgressive groups.
There is, however, another approach available.
One of the great strengths of Bronze Age Mindset is that it provides a clear image of a way of life: of life well lived. The red pill is a crisis of American identity; those who have repudiated the corporate consumerism of mass-culture are not seeking a political ideology but a new self. Bronze Age Pervert is providing those young men a new, better image of who they can be, and a promise of how the future might be better than his imagery of a bugman landfill reaching to the horizons. The story of the Pirate Lords at the end of the book is aspirational; BAP’s pirates are free of the festering trash-heaps of modernity.
Anyone who wishes to engage the extremely online illiberal movements must forget about dry discourse and must illustrate a better way by becoming better—by inspiring loyalty and support through charismatic expression rather than rational discourse. What is required is not another political theory but a vision of a future worthy of humanity’s intrepid spirit, which appeals beyond mere material wealth or bourgeois comfort to the virtues of hope and courage. The pirate havens of BAP and identity-fluid cyberutopias of the Left appeal on the level of aesthetics, not reason, and any hope to compete with these ideas requires an appeal to a future that is sublime.
The Last Men of modernity are looking for a leader to show a better way, and today’s generation of liberals don’t seem to have what it takes to provide the leadership that this generation needs. If liberalism cannot provide, another –ism will, and it might be significantly more uncomfortable if men of wisdom, integrity, and courage fail to fill this void. The ugliness of the urban creative class and their consumerist chokehold on society is clear. Who else can provide these young people a better alternative?
The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.