by Angela Nagle, Selections by R.U. Sirius
Weighing in at only 129 short pages, Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars From 4Chan and Tumblr to Trump And The Alt-Right (KAL) is the book to read this year. Everyone who — like most MONDO enthusiasts — have been steeped in counterculture values and attitudes needs to wrestle with its complicating vision. While it’s not a pretty picture, it’s a peculiarly fun read — excessive behaviors do tend to keep us fascinated.
While the so-called “alt-right” is the main target of this books’ critique/expose, the excesses of the culture-obsessed left are also sharply assessed. KAL spreads its blame around for the ugliness currently extant online as it spills with increasing vigor into the physical political realm.
Most interestingly, for MONDO readers, KAL takes on transgression, libertinism and other tropes of hip culture and, more or less, concludes that we are not doing the right thing.
Here I present the parts of the book I underlined. They may be a little out of context, but most of you will get the point.
The Technotopian Connection
The culture of 4chan, Anonymous etc., in the pre-gamergate days of Occupy and Anonymous could have gone another way. Long before this ‘geeks vs feminists’ battle, the libertarian left had its own pro-hacker, pro-computer geek, Internet-centric political tradition, which some in the early Anonymous milieu obviously drew influence from. Hakim Bey’s idea of the temporary autonomous zone was based on what he called ‘pirate utopias’ and he argued that the attempt to form a permanent culture or politics inevitably deteriorates into a structured system that stifles individual creativity. His language and ideas influenced anarchism and later, online cultures that advocated illegal downloading, anonymity, hacking and experiments like bitcoin. Echoes of John Perry Barlow’s manifesto ‘A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace’ can be seen in this earlier period of Anon culture and in analyses that reflect a more radical horizontalist politics, like Gabriella Coleman’s work. Barlow was one of the founders of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, anarchist hackers and defenders of an Internet free of state intervention, capitalist control and monopolizing of the online world. In a similar style to the rhetoric of 4chan and Anonymous (‘we are legion’), it warned: Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the home of Mind. On behalf of the future I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.
Just a few years ago the left-cyberutopians claimed that ‘the disgust had become a network’ and that establishment old media could no longer control politics, that the new public sphere was going to be based on leaderless user-generated social media. This network has indeed arrived, but it has helped to take the right, not the left, to power. Those on the left who fetishized the spontaneous leaderless Internet-centric network, declaring all other forms of doing politics old hat, failed to realize that the leaderless form actually told us little about the philosophical, moral or conceptual content of the movements involved. Into the vacuum of ‘leaderlessness’ almost anything could appear.
Transgession for the Hell of It
This culture of anonymity fostered an environment where the users went to air their darkest thoughts. Weird pornography, in-jokes, nerdish argot, gory images, suicidal, murderous and incestuous thoughts, racism and misogyny were characteristic of the environment created by this strange virtual experiment, but it was mostly funny memes. Poole has called 4chan a ‘meme factory’
In 2009, weev claimed to have hacked into Amazon’s system and reclassified books about homosexuality as porn. Once a part of the Occupy movement, he now regularly posts anti-Semitic and anti-gay rants on YouTube, has a swastika tattoo on his chest and was also the self-appointed president of a trolling initiative called the Gay Nigger Association of America. This was dedicated to opposing popular blogging and other mainstream activities, thought to be destroying authentic Internet-culture.
Perhaps the most significant theorist of transgression Georges Bataille inherited his idea of sovereignty from de Sade, stressing self-determination over obedience. Although rightist chan culture was undoubtedly not what Bataille had in mind, the politically fungible ideas and styles of these aesthetic transgressives are echoed in the porn- fuelled shocking content of early /b/ and in the later anti-liberal transgressions of the later /pol/. Bataille revered transgression in and of itself, and like de Sade viewed non-procreative sex as an expression of the sovereign against instrumentalism, what he called ‘expenditure without reserve’. For him excessive behavior without purpose, which also characterizes the sensibility of contemporary meme culture in which enormous human effort is exerted with no obvious personal benefit, was paradigmatically transgressive in an age of Protestant instrumental rationality
Another conceptualization of transgression that applies to this culture has been the idea of the carnivalesque. In The Politics and Poetics of Transgression, Stallybrass and White considered the carnivalesque to be a form of radical transgression against hierarchy and hegemony: ‘The grotesque tends to operate as a critique of a dominant ideology which has already set the terms designating what is high and what is low.’ This is very much how 4chan has long self-described and how it was described by its early ‘progressive’ boosters, except that the dominant ideology in the time of 4chan has been cultural liberalism, and the ‘low’ therefore meant un-PC poor taste, rudeness, shock, offence and trolling. The carnivalesque was also theorized by Bakhtin, whose ideologically flexible and ambivalent definition sounds much like some of the self-descriptions of trolls on what trolling is doing: “Carnival laughter is the laughter of all the people. Second, it is universal in scope; it is directed at all and everyone, including the carnival’s participants. The entire world is seen in its droll aspect, in its gay relativity. Third, this laughter is ambivalent; it is gay, triumphant, and at the same time mocking, deriding”…
It was the utterly empty and fraudulent ideas of countercultural transgression that created the void into which anything can now flow as long as it is contemptuous of mainstream values and tastes. This is what allowed a culture that has now been exposed in all its horror to be romanticized by progressives as a counter-hegemonic force. The truth I think it reveals is that both rightist chan culture and ultra-PC academic culture understood the countercultural dog whistle of disdain for anything mainstream.
Transgressive, Not Conservative
The whole online sensibility is more in the spirit of foul-mouthed comment-thread trolls than it is of Bible study, more Fight Club than family values, more in line with the Marquis de Sade than Edmund Burke. It is sometimes said that the right won the economic war and the left won the culture war. And as political theorist Walter Benn Michaels has argued, it is the recognition of identity that has triumphed over economic equality as the organizing principle of the Anglo-American liberal left and of mainstream discourse more broadly.
The libertinism, individualism, bourgeois bohemianism, postmodernism, irony and ultimately the nihilism that the left was once accused of by the right actually characterized the movement to which Milo belonged.
The rise of Milo, Trump and the alt-right are not evidence of the return of the conservatism, but instead of the absolute hegemony of the culture of non-conformism, self-expression, transgression and irreverence for its own sake
Richard Spencer regularly accuses those who fail to find the return of race separatism edgy and cool of being normies and basic bitches. Mike Cernovich was interviewed by the New York Times and said Hillary Clinton’s speech ‘was the stupidest thing she could have done’, adding, ‘Her social- media advisers are twenty-four-year-old basic bitches who feel triggered by us…’ When we’ve reached a point where the idea of being edgy/countercultural/transgressive can place fascists in a position of moral superiority to regular people, we may seriously want to rethink the value of these stale and outworn countercultural ideals.
The Unbearable Righteousness of Being Liberal
In modern politics, liberal leaders are forgiven for drone bombing as long as they’re cool with gay marriage,
One Twitter-famous intersectionalist admonished those who had called it the worst mass shooting in US history by reminding them that ‘the worst was wounded knee’. Other similar tweeters raged against the use of the term Latina/o instead of Latinx in the reporting, while still others made sure to clarify that it was the shooter’s mental illness, not his allegiance to ISIS and the caliphate, that caused the shooting. Not to be outdone, others then tweeted back angrily about the ableism of those who said the shooter had a mental illness. At one vigil to the atrocity where hundreds showed up, a young woman lashed out at the crowd: ‘There are so many white people here. That wasn’t a joke… Who are you really here for?’
In 2015, Iranian socialist and feminist Maryam Namazie was invited to speak at Goldsmiths University, London. Because of her militant secularism and open apostasy as an ex-Muslim, a style that makes Western leftists uncomfortable, controversy followed. The Islamic Society objected to her presence on campus and when she spoke anyway, a gang of men from the society sat in the front row of her talk trying to intimidate her. They shouted over her, squared up to her, turned off her projector, turned off the lights and for much of the talk she had to shout in order to be heard over them. Video evidence of the talk shows a level of intimidation that would be unthinkable if Namazie or her Islamist intimidators were white and western, and yet she not only didn’t receive solidarity from her Western comrades, but she was also further condemned and attacked by them over the incident… To put in context those who the liberal students were defending at the expense of Namazie, the President of Goldsmiths Islamic Society, Muhammed Patel, was a supporter of hate-preacher Haitham al-Haddad, who in an article titled ‘Standing up against Homosexuality and LGBTs’ wrote, ‘In order to combat the scourge of homosexuality Allah has ordained us to speak out, and that we should co-operate with others in righteousness and God-consciousness.’
… similar niche online subcultures in this milieu, which were always given by the emerging online right as evidence of Western decline, also include adults who identify as babies and able-bodied people who identify as disabled people to such an extent that they seek medical assistance in blinding, amputating or otherwise injuring themselves to become the disabled person they identify as.
Sex & the Angry Geek
The sexual revolution that started the decline of lifelong marriage has produced great freedom from the shackles of loveless marriage and selfless duty to the family for both men and women. But this ever-extended adolescence has also brought with it the rise of adult childlessness and a steep sexual hierarchy. Sexual patterns that have emerged as a result of the decline of monogamy have seen a greater level of sexual choice for an elite of men and a growing celibacy among a large male population at the bottom of the pecking order.
The pop culture cliché of the American High School movie, which adapted old archetypes, depicted a social world in which the worst sexists were always the all brawn no brains sports jock. But now that the online world has given us a glimpse into the inner lives of others, one of the surprising revelations is that it is the nerdish self-identifying nice guy who could never get the girl who has been exposed as the much more hate-filled, racist, misogynist who is insanely jealous of the happiness of others. Similarly, the idea of the inherent value of aesthetic qualities that have dominated in Western pop culture since the 60s, like transgression, subversion and counterculture, have turned out to be the defining features of an online far right that finds itself full of old bigotries of the far right but liberated from any Christian moral constraints by its Nietzschean anti-moralism.
The critique of the restrictive traditional male sex role gave way to a celebration of masculinity itself, while feminism became the political enemy force. This wave of more overtly anti-feminist men’s politics included the National Coalition of Free Men, who took influence from books like Warren Farrell’s The Myth of Male Power and Neil Lyndon’s No More Sex War: The Failures of Feminism. They rejected the idea of male privilege and focused on discrimination against fathers and violence against men. But even the most militantly anti-feminist forms of pre- Internet men’s rights activism now seem supremely reasonable and mild compared with the anti-feminism that emerged online in the 2010s. A more openly hateful culture was unleashed under the conditions of anonymity and it took on a more right-wing character, living up to the most negative feminist caricatures of men’s rights activism – rage-filled, hateful and chauvinistic.
The Reddit subforum The Red Pill has been central to the online development and resurgence of this anti-feminist politics online. At the same time as these anti-feminists were using the term to describe their awakening from the blissful mind prison of liberalism into the unplugged reality of societal misandry, the hard alt-right was embracing the term to describe their equivalent racial awakening. On AlternativeRight.com ‘the red pill’ and ‘being red pilled’ was one of the central metaphors and favorite expressions. On Reddit’s Red Pill forum, men discussed false rape accusations, female-on-male violence, cultural misandry, avoidance of ‘pedestalling pussy’ and ‘game’ – meaning a style of ‘pick up artist’ dating advice that began with Neil Strauss’s 2005 book The Game. Looking back today, Strauss’s book seems pretty mild and inoffensive, certainly compared to today’s online pickup artistry forums, which tend to read like a sinister Darwinian guide to tricking the loathed female prey into surrender. Discussions on these issues on various Reddit forums and other forums within the anti-feminist manosphere are a pretty relentless flow of sexual frustration, anxiety about evolutionary rank and foaming-at-the-mouth misogyny full of descriptions of women as ‘worthless cunts’, ‘attention whores’, ‘riding the cock carousel’, and so on.
One of the dominant and consistent preoccupations running through the forum culture of the manosphere is the idea of beta and alpha males. They discuss how women prefer alpha males and either cynically use or completely ignore beta males, by which they mean low-ranking males in the stark and vicious social hierarchy through which they interpret all human interaction. Some follow the pickup artistry of bloggers like Roosh V in order to rise from a ‘nice guy’ beta to a sexually successful alpha. Roosh (aka Daryush Valizadeh) began as a pickup artist, later self-described as a neo-masculinist and flirted with the hard alt-right, who he would have found common ground with in their shared belief that feminism is a major cause of civilizational decline. He positively reviewed alt-right writer Kevin MacDonald’s The Culture of Critiques and titled it, ‘The Damaging Effects Of Jewish Intellectualism And Activism On Western Culture’.
He became known first, however, for a series of books called Bang, which advocate the aforementioned style of aggressive, manipulative, social-Darwinist-tinged approach to coaxing women to have sex, in which he travels to different countries taking notes on strategy and then advises his followers. Always the romantic, he used the ebooks and blogs to detail the ‘ruthlessly optimized process’ that ‘enabled me to put my penis inside’ various women. His website, called Return of Kings, is one of the more notorious of the misogynist sites in the manosphere.
Fake Populism of the Alt-Right
Before the ‘ordinary people’ narrative became suddenly ubiquitous on the new online right after the election results, Milo could be seen in photo shoots wearing a ‘Stop Being Poor’ T-shirt, a quote from the heiress Paris Hilton, one of his idols. After the election results he was giving talks about the white working class.