What the Left Can Learn From The Right: New Perspectives on Stagnation
By Sandra Hajda –
As our loyal readers know, COTO is all about ‘The Art of Thinking’. We want to start new conversations and embrace all the opportunities for fresh solutions in this time of seismic cultural change. We explore alternative viewpoints and explanations as to why things are as they are. We want to hear things we may have been told we should never listen to. We want our audience to be able to explore and synthesise ideas from all over the political spectrum, and be open, in particular, to ideas outside their ideological comfort zones. – The COTO team
Among some cultural commentators it has become fashionable to lament a general sense of malaise and stagnation in the world today. Nobody is quite clear on what the source of the feeling is. That is not a bad thing — it is probably correct to assume that many forces have conspired to halt the pace of change around us.
By “change” I mean the type that encircles the world and affects everyone. Sometimes in cartoons from last century they would show a scene with a pot of delicious stew and a tendril representing an aroma rising from it. As the tendril rose it grew arms and then fingers that reached through the windows of sleeping characters in the village and woke them up. That is the type of thing I’m thinking about — the sort of innovations that bubble and boil in Silicon Valley, scale well, and enter all of our homes, making themselves felt in our lives.
Well guess what? It’s not happening.
Yes, in the early ‘90s, the internet swept into our lives and most of us did our first Yahoo or Altavista search circa ‘95. Then in the mid ‘00s, Silicon Valleyers made their presence felt again via Myspace, then Facebook, which is still part of most people’s daily lives. It is even said to have unleashed an epidemic of narcissism, and stunted the development and mental health of an impressionable, socially anxious cohort who use it too much. It has now been ten years since that last earth-shattering development happened, since that aroma rose from Zuckerberg’s stew, twisted and tendril-like, wafting into all of our homes.
What are the reasons for this, and for the other manifestations of lethargy we see around us? Here are some thoughts, and some of the best and/or most interesting arguments going around.
The suppression of all modes of analysis not allowed in “The Cathedral”
“Today it is impossible to have an honest discussion…the Overton window is so narrow and pushed so far to the Left that something big has to happen, a big, tumultuous event has to happen and I believe that event is the Trump presidency.”
The above is a quote from a video interview with provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, a Breitbart tech editor who made waves when he was banned from Twitter. Yiannopoulos was suspended for allegedly “encouraging” his followers to send hateful tweets to Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones. Milo, who calls himself a “free speech fundamentalist,” insists that he did not encourage anything and that he was singled out and banned by Twitter just for “being popular.”
Yiannopoulos is often called a spokesperson for the alt-right — a loose collective of right-wingers who reject mainstream conservatism, many of whom were not alive when the Berlin Wall fell and are too young to regard the post-World War 2 order with a sense of grave responsibility, or as something that must be defended. Milo has said in interviews that he considers himself “an occasional fellow traveler” with the alt right movement, though not a member.
The alt-right has its roots on notorious websites 4chan and 8chan, thus many of its adherents are millennials or even younger. Casual observers often recoil when they witness the glee with which the alt-right will create and spread, say, anti-semitic memes. Yiannopoulos (who came to be associated with the alt-right after the Leslie Jones saga and who, incidentally, is Jewish and openly gay) has defended them thus:
“It’s not because there’s a spontaneous outpouring of anti-semitism from 22-year-olds in this country. It’s a mischievous, dissident, troll-y generation who do it because it gets a reaction.” Milo Yiannopoulos
They do it “because it gets a reaction,” says the alt-right’s fellow traveller, evoking an image of a new generation who are comfortable on the web because they grew up on it, and therefore realistic about what to expect (rule number 1: prepare to be offended; if you can’t accept that you will be offended then stay off), and eager to slaughter the sacred cows dear to their elders.
Irish Times has provided a summary of some of the terms used by the alt-right. A useful term that has sprung from the movement is “Cathedral,” which is used to describe the post-WW2 liberal-socialist alliance (particularly the media-academic elite who push a particular PC, liberal, intersectional-feminist worldview.)
By giving it a name, alt-righters have allowed many commentators to see the beast (“The Cathedral”) for the first time. It has burst into the foreground, outlines suddenly sharp as if somebody hit the colour-picker and clicked it in Microsoft Paint.
Neo-reactionaries, a cohort of the alt-right exemplified by figurehead Mencius Moldbug, describe “the Cathedral” in a slightly different way: as a complex of Ivy League universities, the New York Times, and other elite media institutions, Hollywood, and other sectors of society that function to craft and mould public opinion so as to silence opposing viewpoints.
The Cathedral is for alt-righters what The Patriarchy is for feminists: a multi-faceted, many-pronged, pernicious, ever-present mind-warping mechanism that is difficult to detect at first — so deeply embedded is it within the fabric of our everyday lives — but which must be recognized and fought so that our freedom may be wrenched back from those elites who put so much energy into sustaining it. In a piece about the alt-right, Patrick MacDougall summarized The Cathedral as “a media-academic mind-control apparatus.”
The schematic below shows some of the modes of analysis that young bloggers have started using in defiance of the restrictive, illiberal Cathedral (note that while discussions of Political Philosophy and Economics are obviously allowed in the Cathedral, the way the neo-reactionaries discuss them, and the thinkers they choose to emphasize, are not).
This diagram also shows figureheads in the alt-right. Captain Capitalism is a Youtuber who gives advice to would-be college majors, warning them against what he calls “worthless degrees” in subjects like women’s studies or African studies. Chateau Heartiste and RooshV are manosphere blogger who will advise readers on PUA techniques and such topics as “where to find sluts in Toronto.”
All are grouped according to the previously-forbidden modes of thought they have embraced, in defiance of the wishes of the New York Times elite and other Cathedral figures.
Not all are acne-ravaged teens or alienated white males. A neoreactionary blogger who falls between the Femininity and Christian Traditionalism areas is Thinking Housewife. Thinking Housewife is Laura Wood, and she has written thoughtfully about the differences between the genders and the honor and stimulation available to a woman who opts to be a traditional homemaker. Her piece “On Gentleness” is very beautiful. “Here is something perhaps most apparent when it’s absent,” Laura writes.
Wood has also written about “male genius,” addressing the topic of why men have excelled in certain spheres where women have floundered. Third and fourth-wave feminists would have us believe that’s down to patriarchal oppression, lack of opportunities afforded to women, and the internalized misogyny carried by women everywhere who have lived under the fist of The Patriarchy since the day they were born.
Wood, like her predecessor Camille Paglia, writes that it is probably the increased proclivity for risk-taking in men that has led to this achievement discrepancy.
“Men tend to be the worst and the best. Women tend to fill the middle. This is the curse of female mediocrity. But it is only a curse in the eyes of the greedy and envious. Women may seldom be geniuses, but they also tend to be less represented among history’s abject failures. To be average is better than being awful. Women are amply compensated in the long sweep of history by having escaped the ruinous consequences of intense competition and masculine focus, and by the ability to excel in areas that will never garner Nobel Prizes.” – Laura Wood
Camille Paglia also speaks about how men produce most of our geniuses and also most of our idiots and criminals (women tend to cluster around the middle of the IQ range, with exceptions of course) in many of her entertaining interviews.
Paglia and the Femininity bloggers embrace the notion that gender differences are grounded in biology and hormonal differences; the aggressive energy that is characteristic of masculinity allows that small number of high-potential males to hone their skills via intense focus and take the rest of us forward via leaps in technology, legal innovations, engineering ingenuity, etc.
Paglia writes that “male egotism, so disgusting in the talentless, is the source of their greatness as a sex,” which sounds like encouragement to quickly commit to the best man you can, or join a harem coalescing around a super-nerd if you fear you may end up with one of the duds.
Which brings us to the neoreactionary Masculinity bloggers — figures like RooshV and Chateau Heartiste. There are definitely harems forming in the millennial hookup scene, but they do not favour nerds — the purpose of many of these blog posts is to give the men who have been left behind a leg up by advising them about self-presentation, the “true nature of women“, and how to “approach” to maximise your chances of getting laid.
No-one is shooting for C/C++ coding nerds in the nightclub — rather, girls form those harems surround egotistical, muscled alphas who may or may not be intelligent but are definitely pretty heartless when it comes time to deliver a “pump and dump.” Women who fall victim to this become even more likely to swing to the regressive left, forming man-hating thought patterns, and lobbying the state to remove our remaining freedoms, according to many manosphere writers.
You have never seen a gender-based analysis of society quite like this before. You get analyses of how smartphones affect women and “turn them slutty”, how the contemporary SJW-tinged college culture corrupts women and discourages them from marrying and living happy lives, what sort of degeneracy you can find in modern Toronto, and how it differs from that you will find in contemporary Washington (etc).
The “get back in the kitchen, sweetheart” sexist jesting of the 1950s disappeared from sight for many decades as the mainstream media narrative was made woman-friendly by the innovative second-wave feminists, who were able to exercise their influence over a small number of players who completely controlled what went on TV and in the newspaper.
Then suddenly, with the rise of the internet, a new group of angry men reeling from the excesses of third-wave feminism found one another on the web and gave misogyny a new look, complete with a jacket from a fresh ’10s collection, a lot of extremely (sometimes nauseatingly) vivid observations about contemporary America, and references to Plato, Descartes and even the geometry used by Greek scientist Eratosthenes to calculate the circumference of the earth (repelled by what they see as corrupt and hyper-feminized college campuses, many of these young men look back to Ancient Greece and Rome for tales of manly prowess and examples of masculine achievement.) Their work can be very fascinating reading.
Camille Paglia (not an alt-right figure but an inspiration to some of them, and definitely a sharp thinker whose ideas fall outside “The Cathedral”) writes about why there are so few female geniuses in art, mathematics and philosophy. She is convinced that male conspiracy and patriarchy cannot be blamed completely. True genius “is not checked by social obstacles,” it is strong enough to overcome them,” Paglia writes.
“[Throughout history] women have been discouraged from genres such as sculpture that require studio training or expensive materials. But in philosophy, mathematics, and poetry, the only materials are pen and paper. Male conspiracy cannot explain all female failures. I am convinced that, even without restrictions, there still would have been no female Pascal, Milton, or Kant. Genius is not checked by social obstacles: it will overcome…. Even now, with all vocations open, I marvel at the rarity of the woman driven by artistic or intellectual obsession.” Sexual Personae, p. 653
Paglia states that while she believes in biologically-based gender differences she also believes “we have to defy nature.”
“I’m a romantic, I believe one must shake one’s fist in the face of nature,” says Camille, speaking about her love of early feminists like Amelia Earhart who “admired men.”
Her message is that, rather than adhere to the man-hating orthodoxies pushed on them by third- and fourth-wave feminists, women today ought to study and show appreciation for the awesome things men have achieved. Then, “shaking your fist in the face of nature”, power forth and try to emulate them.
Femininity and Masculinity discourses are not the only territory alt-righters wish to reclaim and revive. Many alt-righters are fierce nationalists and opponents of globalism, and many have raised eyebrows by questioning the value of Democracy at this point in history.
Chief among the anti-democracy figures is a philosopher named Nick Land, a leader in the neo-reactionary group of alt-righters, focused on demolishing and reconstructing contemporary interpretations of Western political thought — particularly ideas like Liberalism, the Social Contract and Egalitarianism. The neo-reactionary group Land leads has interesting origins — it reportedly sprung from debates that people were having on the LessWrong.com community blog. That blog was originally set up by a Silicon Valley machine intelligence researcher, Eliezer Yudkowsky, who was studying human bias in a cognitive science context, including bias in political thought and philosophy.
Land coined the term “Dark Enlightenment,” and argues in his treatise on the topic that “Enlightenment is not only a state, but an event, and a process.” In other words, the West must diligently continue the Enlightenment project, rather than sink into a self-hating bog, defining itself only by its openness to the Other — other cultures, waves of immigrants, the voices of the marginalized like women and gays, etc. Land traces his critique of Democracy to Hobbes, who famously envisioned a “state of nature” (where men are not bound by law) as a brutal and unpleasant place. Land criticizes Leftists as cleaving too uncritically to the Rousseau-ist tradition (in his own influential writings, Rousseau envisioned the human child as a pure creature brimming with goodwill and potential, who is then corrupted by the State, with its restrictive laws, rules and legal mechanisms.)
“For the hardcore neo-reactionaries, democracy is not merely doomed, it is doom itself…. The subterranean current that propels such anti-politics is recognizably Hobbesian, a coherent dark enlightenment, devoid from its beginning of any Rousseauistic enthusiasm for popular expression. Predisposed, in any case, to perceive the politically awakened masses as a howling irrational mob, it conceives the dynamics of democratization as fundamentally degenerative: systematically consolidating and exacerbating private vices, resentments, and deficiencies until they reach the level of collective criminality and comprehensive social corruption.” – Nick Land
A profiler in the Awl wrote that Land’s critique of democracy is insightful though his favored alternative (a “corporate dictatorship”) will seem shocking to many.
“The democratic politician and the electorate are bound together by a circuit of reciprocal incitement, in which each side drives the other to ever more shameless extremities of hooting, prancing cannibalism, until the only alternative to shouting is being eaten.
Where the progressive enlightenment sees political ideals, the dark enlightenment sees appetites. It accepts that governments are made out of people, and that they will eat well. Setting its expectations as low as reasonably possible, it seeks only to spare civilization from frenzied, ruinous, gluttonous debauch. From Thomas Hobbes to Hans-Hermann Hoppe and beyond, it asks: How can the sovereign power be prevented – or at least dissuaded — from devouring society? It consistently finds democratic ‘solutions’ to this problem risible, at best.” – Nick Land
These and figures like Yiannopoulos, Lauren Southern, Aaron Clarey and Stefan Molyneux represent a youthful new right-wing, all of them eager or at least willing to use things like race and gender as lenses in their analyses. It is proving to be a surprisingly enriching exercise precisely because the liberal establishment have been trying to ban or heavily regulate the way such lenses are used for so many decades now.
Nancy Fraser has written an excellent essay about the end of progressive liberalism, summarizing the perils of what has come to be called financialization.
“Even as it endorsed such progressive notions [as feminism and multiculturalism], the Clinton administration courted Wall Street. Turning the economy over to Goldman Sachs, it deregulated the banking system and negotiated the free-trade agreements that accelerated deindustrialization. What fell by the wayside was the Rust Belt—once the stronghold of New Deal social democracy, and now the region that delivered the electoral college to Donald Trump.”
Back in the nineties, the democratic party under Bill Clinton, “bent on liberalizing the capitalist economy, found its perfect mate in a meritocratic corporate feminism focused on ‘leaning in’ and ‘cracking the glass ceiling.’”
This unholy alliance between consumer-feminists and politicians beholden to Goldman Sachs started to crack when the economy crashed in 2008 and the prospect of endless, strong post-war growth looked questionable for the first time. Those gender studies and homeopathy degrees — foisted on students by greedy colleges that now function more like corporations, eager to take students’ cash then leave them unemployed in a barren job market with a big student loan — are definitely not going to get you rich in today’s economy.
In a striking twist, it was the boldness and carelessness of financial speculators that made the 2008 crash happen in the first place. Increasingly complex and hard-to-regulate financial instruments such as credit default swaps allowed bankers to enrich themselves at the expense of the rest of us.
On the Right, Paypal founder Peter Thiel has also spoken about financialization in a number of his speeches and video interviews. The influential Silicon Valley leader argues that the US trade deficit is out of control and the importation of alarming amounts of capital is “biasing our economy towards more banking and more financialization.” This is coming at the expense of growth in areas like technology and building.
“[T]he sheer size of the US trade deficit shows that something has gone badly wrong. The most developed country in the world should be exporting capital to less developed nations. Instead, the United States is importing more than $500 billion every year. That money flows into financial assets. It distorts our economy in favor of more banking and more financialization, and it gives the well-connected people who benefit a reason to defend the status quo.”
In his book Zero to One, Thiel laments the rise and rise of a new suite of managers (he cites Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer as a prime example of how not to lead a tech enterprise) who are more concerned with making sure the accountants are doing exactly what they should be doing, than in setting a bold, clear and daring vision for the company.
Thiel admits that this is symptomatic of a larger trend in our society towards what he calls “indefinite optimism” — a vague sense that things will get better, accompanied by no vision for how things should or even could look ie. precisely how they could or should be different.
Thiel worries that in the early 1980s, Americans abandoned the definite optimism mindset for the indefinite optimism mindset. Schools are part of the problem, he argues. We’re trained to take a range of classes and become “well-rounded” so that we’re prepared for whatever happens after we graduate. Instead, we should move through school with a plan and develop specific skills. That way, we don’t aimlessly move through adulthood or idly wait for opportunities to happen.
Thiel makes a compelling argument in Zero to One that huge innovations like The Manhattan Project and the moon landing began with a clear and precise (if wild and ambitious) vision — somebody, somewhere, had a plan to achieve something and went ahead even with the knowledge that they might fail spectacularly. Thiel argues that such “definite optimism” is the way to go, but this type of thinking is discouraged by the present corporate culture, with its emphasis on getting through the day, dealing with office politics, not rocking the boat, submitting paperwork on time and keeping accounts in order. Corporate America is dominated by ever-wearier baby boomers who are disinclined to think in epic terms, perhaps because their lives have been “so much easier than the lives of their parents, or their children,” as Thiel said in his speech supporting Donald Trump.
Perhaps due to the post-war financial boom context in which that group grew up, the boomers also had a tendency to inflate various kinds of bubbles. Thiel argues in his videos and interviews that the boomer generation, giddy with optimism as a result of having lived most of their working lives buttressed by healthy economic growth and robust GDP, encouraged policies and cultural movements that were based on “over-optimistic stories.”
Everything from the war bubble, which took America to war in the middle east again and again in the mistaken belief that victory was “just around the corner,” to the housing bubble, which led millions to invest unwisely and lose big, to the tech and sub-prime mortgage bubbles, to the higher education bubble, and even the crudely-named “pussy bubble” (which encouraged women, via a slew of upbeat articles about “having it all” and a crop of films depicting what fun it is to live alone in New York City, to break up their families and weary themselves with all sorts of debauchery) was the work of cultural changes and policies spearheaded by the boomers.
The consensus among many leftists at the end of the disappointing Obama administration is that the Right-wing actually has a better critique of what is happening “right now” than the Left does, though leftists beseech everyone to remember that the Left will still offer the most humane prescriptions. Right-wingers point out that too many Leftists today promote a hollow progressivism more concerned with minority rights (gay, immigrant, trans, and women’s rights) and special cases (eg. attacking a Christian baker who refuses to bake for a gay wedding) than in advocating for the massive numbers of working-class people who live in, say, the American rust belt (recall how eagerly Hillary Clinton, the figurehead for that style of 2010’s pro-financialisation, minority-pandering, meritocratic consumer-feminism, dismissed that whole group as a “basket of deplorables”).
The people for whom the Left is supposed to advocate were not only forgotten by the Democrats in the last election — they were openly attacked and mocked.
A focus on gadgets over buildings and infrastructure
“Twitter is a great business but there’s [a] sense that it’s not enough to take our civilization to the next level… We need to do things not just in the world of bits, we should also be trying to do more things in the world of atoms… [Twitter is] a specific success that’s perhaps obscuring a lot of general failures. The cell phones that distract us from our surroundings also distract us from the fact that our surroundings are strangely old — that we live in these old cities where transportation systems are from the 19th or early 20th century, where a lot of stuff has not changed in a very long time.” Peter Thiel
Thiel has spoken in a number of his speeches about the way that tech gadgets have become the great totems bearing the energy of change today. Perhaps sadly, gadgets bear that energy all alone, morphing shape as the greed and/or ingenuity of distant Silicon Valley wizards peaks and ebbs.
The street you live on may not change its look in a whole decade, but the gadget in your hand may be changing as quickly as once every few months. “We are so distracted by our smartphones, we don’t notice that the environment around us is old,” Thiel said in one speech.
Why is this? Some have argued that land use restrictions and over-regulation, as well as real wage declines in the industry, are to blame for stagnation in the construction sector.
When Ivanka Trump spoke about her father’s love of building (“Maybe it’s the builder in him, but my father cannot stand to see an empty plot or an unused patch of land”) it was a promising development to many who would like to see great structures rising in our skies again.
“He is a builder. And we are going to rebuild America!”
Even many on the Left, who support such measures as a Universal Basic Income and an expanded welfare state, agree that strict building regulations have got to go. This was one area where a large number of never-Trumpers found themselves reluctantly agreeing with the president during his campaign.
The pathologization of everything
Culturally libertarian magazine spiked argues that the proliferation of safe spaces on campuses (designed to protect young people from “triggering” ideas) and the out-of-control therapy culture at school and work are discouraging young people from performing their natural role of questioning the system, innovating, and taking society forward.
“Where once young people were thought of as being rebellious, full of new ideas and ready to go against the grain, now they apparently can’t even study the philosophy of a dead white male without suffering a meltdown.” Frank Furedi
While it is true that young people are frozen out of a sluggish and nepotistic job market, often by virtue of their energy and verve (a lethargic, buzzword-regurgitating approach and cynical attitude will get you much farther in today’s boomer-dominated workplace than any hint of individuality), it is also true that they are coddled by a therapy culture all too eager to pathologize their bad moods, telling them they have, say, dysthymia (low-level depression) or PTSD, and then also to assure them either that it is not their fault or there is nothing they can do about it (it probably came about because they suffered in a toxic family environment, under an oppressive father-dominated nexus.)
Personality disorders today have long strings after them that serve as evidence of the expansion of therapeutic culture, which is growing like a fat larvae and will evidently not stop until every tiny variation in human personality is processed and pathologized as symptoms documented under the DSM-5. Treatment is offered from our therapeutic overlords (you can have a borderline personality with histrionic and paranoid tendencies, a narcissistic personality with sadistic/anti-social tendencies, an anti-social personality disorder with narcissistic tendencies, or almost any combination imaginable). What was once just called a “personality” is now called a personality disorder; what was once called sadness or a bad week is now treated with Zoloft and diagnosed as depression.
It begins at school, where people are told that their feelings are all-important and encouraged to retreat to safe spaces when they feel the slightest sense of discomfort. It continues into adulthood, where a uniformly-grey, PC corporate culture forces people into submission, a therapy-minded media establishment tells them that their family/the Patriarchy/their partner or some childhood trauma is to blame for any problems, and a counsellor offers to discuss issues, taking $400 and prescribing some pills.
Once upon a time, in a less regulated world, people would have recognised such low moods as the transient things they were, to be treated by continued engagement with life and by involvement with contemporaries rather than with a pill. They would have found release for their present problems in some aspect of the culture, through their personal relationships, or even in some massive achievement that they worked towards slowly, step-by-step. Everything today is so over-described and over-provided-for by the ever-present Therapeutic State — there is no incentive to discover totems in one’s own life and leave them glowing, excalibur-like, through the application of your own personal energies (both good and bad).
While genuine mental health conditions must obviously be treated, and patients given all the support they need to live healthy and fulfilling lives, the pathologization of ordinary things like sadness and fleeting feelings of alienation has got to stop.
Young people have now spent their whole lives in a therapeutic environment that encourages them to see personality disorders, depressive symptoms, and other pathological conditions in themselves and in all the people around them. As researcher Christopher Beckett put it in his insightful piece for spiked:
“We need to challenge the view that young people are not in control of their destinies. Young people need to rediscover their capacity to make history and shape the future. They don’t need ‘coping’ strategies, they need to organise and formulate new ways of understanding the world that aren’t founded on their own vulnerability. Then, they need to get out on to the streets and take hold of the opportunities that being an active citizen gives them.”
No more new frontiers to breach
Thiel is an advocate of building new cities and whole new societies on massive platforms in the oceans, in the hope of harnessing those fresh and vital energies that tend to spew out when man moves to a new frontier of any kind. The last time this happened and the Europeans settled the Americas, there was such an outpouring of vital energy that the new Western colony quickly surpassed its European predecessors in military, economic and cultural strength (we are still feeling this today.)
Something about building new things together in those unfamiliar lands brought forth ideas and impulses in those settlers that led to spectacular innovations, firstly in the legal realm — America’s much-vaunted constitution and Bill of Rights were drafted by men who saw with the fresh eyes of people in a new and unfamiliar place. Suddenly cut off from their root culture, the settlers knew that there was nothing holding them back from organising a society the way they wanted to. They drew on all their ingenuity to do so, drafting a Constitution with an unprecedented emphasis on concepts like free speech and the civil liberties of all men. That document, in turn, fostered the creation of an economy and culture more powerful than any the world had ever known before.
It is not always Necessity but sometimes Freedom from Precedent that is the mother of all invention.
The Leftist critique that slams the American frontiersmen as genocidal imperialists is, of course, a valid one. It would be truly appalling if the atrocities committed by the early settlers against the Native Americans were forgotten and their crimes stricken from the record. However, the glorious aspects of the American frontier adventure — and what it reveals about human nature — must not be forgotten. There is something about finding oneself in a new land, in an uncharted territory, that forces man to pull resources and ingenuity from deep within himself — assets that one perhaps didn’t even know one had. It would be almost as terrible if we forgot this lesson of history. And for what it’s worth, the next frontiers our technological leaders wish to reach (the red planet and the surface of the middle of the ocean) are not occupied, a far as we know. In striking out into these new territories, we will hopefully experience all of the exhilaration felt by past explorers, without having to commit the crime of usurping the place of rightful landowners with a deep connection to the land forged over centuries.
With no geographical frontiers left to breach on earth, Peter Thiel, antsy for innovation, hopes to recover that feeling of euphoria and endless possibility on his ocean platform societies. Thiel’s Paypal co-founder Elon Musk hopes to take us to Mars, where new ideas for how to live together on the red planet will swirl around before eventually settling into a firm shape.
Thiel even believes that to achieve our big, vivid new visions, we will need to sacrifice some of our democratic ideals. “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible,” Thiel declared in 2009.
Some in the alt-right have offered critiques of Democracy that resonate with Thiel’s vision of “definite optimism.” Some have offered a vision of the nation state owned by a corporation, with citizens the shareholders to which it is accountable. The tech roots of many alt-right figureheads come through here. Asked who he would put in charge of such a nation/corporation, alt-right figurehead Mencius Moldbug suggested Thiel’s Paypal cofounder Elon Musk. “It’s easy to say ‘put Elon [Musk] in charge, he’ll figure it out,’ and he might well,” Moldbug quipped.
In short, because “hard decisions become political suicide” under democracy, we are not likely to see our leaders aiming for the definite visions Thiel says we need to develop, according to Nick Land.
“Democracy is structurally incapable of rational leadership due to perverse incentive structures. It is trapped in short-termism by the electoral cycle, hard decisions become political suicide, and social catastrophe is acceptable as long as it can be blamed on the other team.”
A sluggish, PC corporate culture
The SJW movement, which has its roots in the intersectional-leftist campus activism of the last century, has entered the lives of internet-users around the world, fuelled by social media and fanned by an ever-more-vocal group of women’s rights, LGBT and minority activists who attend the ever-more-stridently-Leftist college campuses in the West today. SJW (social justice warrior) culture has had a devastating impact on free speech — the raison d’etre of many such activists is to hunt for small instances of sexism, racism (etc) in social media posts, viral thinkpieces, or news articles, and spark a hostile “callouts” or Twitterstorms, encouraging their friends and followers to attack the writer or creator of the offending article or graphic.
Certain ideas are now forbidden and cannot be expressed — this has had a stifling impact on contemporary political discourse and innovation in general (contrast the strict “terms of debate” demanded by SJWs with those of the Silicon Valley-affiliated alt-right debaters on LessWrong.com — the latter were actually encouraged to voice their thoughts and observations with as little regard for feelings and causing offense as possible, because of the wild and productive debate that this could potentially spark up.)
Corporate culture has not remained untouched. The people who succeed in offices now tend to be those who are best at blending in, filling out paperwork, exchanging empty platitudes at water coolers, using the latest buzzwords, not getting too close to others and not offending anyone with racism or sexism. Not exactly a recipe for breakthroughs.
Innovation tends to happen when those who are almost dementedly passionate about a topic work together at close quarters, expressing their thoughts freely and letting off steam when necessary. Not possible in an environment where human impulse and spontaneous, independent thought have been regulated right out of the picture.
Paradoxically, while corporate culture has become more hollow and unproductive, it has also become more toxic in a highly pernicious way –perhaps all that aggression that people are not permitted to express directly must find an outlet, and so it is vented indirectly, like dangerously-hot steam spewing sideways from a slit in a steel pipe. The office has become a baby-sitting service for a certain type of 30-60 year old who needs an arena to work through their high school and childhood issues, not with direct aggression but using a passive-aggressive style. Witness the gossipy HR girl who sabotages a new recruit by spreading half-truths gained from stalking social media profiles; the IT professional who gaslights his colleague, insisting untruthfully that he never said a feedback report would be ready by today; the consultant who ‘forgets’ to pass on information that her colleague will not attend a scheduled teleconference, thus making the other woman look a fool; the network architect who brazenly puts his name on another person’s report, making it look like he did the work, etc.
This is an area where many on the Left and Right agree — regardless of one’s position on the size of the welfare state, most who see themselves as cultural libertarians (such people are found on the economic Left and Right) agree that, as long as fundamental worker’s rights are provided for, companies ought to be allowed to set their direction and culture as they see fit. This will provide the best outcomes in terms of innovation and overall employee and employer satisfaction.
We would all benefit from allowing corporations to set their values as they see fit, rather than conforming to that one “adhere to liberal orthodoxies” requirement enforced by the state. A bit of variety would be good and healthy for everyone.
Before starting a contract, we’d hear whispers about the gruff culture of one place, and be able to trace it historically to the influence of a pair of founders who were miners or sportsmen. Another company might have a strict policy of adherence to the liberal feminist orthodoxy that was in place when its own founder graduated college circa 2011, but they will have it because they chose it. This will make a big difference.
There are already calls to do this at a nation-state level — to allow nations to be “repositories of mutually agreed values,” as they once were, rather than allowing everything to come under the control of a great, beige globalist empire with long tentacles. The calls have started to come in the wake of the Trump presidency, as the Bill/Obama/Hillary era closes and people feel freer to critique the premises and assumptions of that style of globalist, PC, (neo)liberalism.
Nancy Fraser’s analysis is a good one — our pre-2017 leaders mouthed PC platitudes but the system they represented fostered corruption and inequality as much as any that came before it. Incredibly, some of the new calls calls for more self-determination and less interference have come from The Guardian.
Columnist Simon Jenkins writes hopefully about the prospect of “a ‘post-identity’ liberalism..”
“[It’s time for] “a ‘post-identity’ liberalism” built round a restoration of the nation state as repository of agreed values. This may mean accepting such majority concerns as the pace of immigration. It is one thing to ask a small community to take in two Syrian families, but impose 200 and liberalism will have an eternally uphill struggle.”
Yes, that’s right, Jenkins concedes that, “This may mean accepting such majority concerns as the pace of immigration.” Can you imagine reading something like that in The Guardian before Trump shattered the Overton window?
“With its over-defensive advocacy of minorities, the left has jeopardized half a century of liberalism.” Simon Jenkins
Sociologist Frank Furedi, writing for spiked, expressed his hope that the populist impulse that emerged last year and found expression via the Brexit vote and Trumpism, will now develop into a healthy conviction that “being a citizen matters.” Rather than escape into pill-popping, fond identification with subcultures or (even worse) exotic personality disorders, or slavish adherence to lifestyle groups, or the lifestyle advice meted out by globalist corporations, people will find one another in common spaces again. Some of the common ground allowing people to get involved with each other in a meaningful way might be based on a mutual identification with national sovereignty — and perhaps that’s nothing to be afraid of.
“What is needed [in 2017] is a turn away from the divisive politics of cultural identity towards the democratic and liberal values of the Enlightenment. Such a politics should encourage identification with popular and national sovereignty, rather than with subcultures and lifestyle groups. The healthy populist impulse that has recently emerged should be developed into a conviction that being a citizen matters.” Frank Furedi
Postmodern thinkers reject the Enlightenment belief in a fixed reality that can be measured and understood. Western reason must not be privileged over such modes of analysis as astrology and witchcraft, according to postmodernists.
That means that the extraordinary outpouring of ingenuity, and the groundbreaking scientific discoveries, that happened during the Enlightenment are not worth elevating and are on par with such discredited modes as reading fortunes in tea leaves in a cup. After all, we’d be both racist and sexist to dismiss the truth claims of the tea-leaf reading Slavic babushka, wouldn’t we?
Students are now taught postmodern ideologies in many humanities courses at university — Lacan, Adorno, Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari remain de rigueur.
The West’s loss of faith in its own project (the glorious Enlightenment and all those innovations and breakthroughs it gave us) and the failure of our elites to pass on to youths a sense of what is grand, great and special about their own tradition, could not be made more explicit. (Refreshingly, you will not find any postmodernist talk among the alt-righters, though some like Mencius Moldbug have taken to mimicking the high-stepping prose style of the French theorists. Thankfully, the content of their writings contains no hint of postmodern relativism — they are worshippers of technology, reason, science and innovation, with a clarion call along the lines of “Elon Musk for King.”)
In one of his reviews, Richard Dawkins quotes Peter Medawar, who said “[Postmodernism] has had a deplorable influence on the quality of modern thought…” Noam Chomsky has written that postmodernism has “ominous implications” for the future of the Left.
If there is no objective reality, if nothing is grounded in fact or determined by biology, and everything is subject to questioning (remember, it could just be a lie told to us by the Patriarchy, or by neo-colonialists), how do we even answer the first question feminists must ask: who actually counts as a woman?
As Phil Burton-Cartledge writes in Left Futures,
“Unfortunately, it’s [the intersectionalist] legacy of postmodern feminism that gets replicated in the social media wars of 3rd Wave Feminism, albeit on a larger, pathological scale. It appears as if convulsed by identity wars, of authenticity vs faux feminism, of privilege vs underprivilege, of contestations of who counts and who doesn’t count as a woman.”
- Cover Image: Title: Business success solution concept as a machine gear or mechanical cog breaking through a maze or labyrinth as a metaphor for disruptive technology or ground breaking innovation. Image ID : 49949731 Image Type : Stock Photo Copyright : lightwise (Follow) Link: Copyright: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/profile_lightwise’>lightwise / 123RF Stock Photo</a>
- Title: Step 1 – Step 2 – Step 3 (step, success, evolution) Image ID : 43951661 Image Type : Stock Photo. Copyright : convisum(Follow)Link: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/profile_convisum’>convisum / 123RF Stock Photo</a>
- Title: Inside the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Spain Image ID : 43110344 Image Type : Stock Photo (Editorial image) Copyright : joserpizarro(Follow) Link: Copyright: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/profile_joserpizarro’>joserpizarro / 123RF Stock Photo</a>
- Title: Neoreactionary Areas of Concern. This is an elaborate April 2013 map of the wider Dark Enlightenment categorized by theme, made by Scharlach of Habitable Worlds.
- Still from RooshV Vlog on the Subject of Women and Education
- Title: Woman vacuuming the room housewife housework comfort retro style pop art. Also the theme of the hotels and hospitality service Image ID : 44951589 Image Type : Stock Vector Copyright : Валерий Качаев(Follow) Link: Copyright: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/profile_studiostoks’>studiostoks / 123RF Stock Photo</a>
- Nick Land. Still from Discussion Panel at Hacked Matter Workship, Shanghai Maker Carnival. 2013.
- Nancy Frasier. Still from Reset Doc-Dialogues on Civilisations. 2010.
- Frank Furedi doing a talk on whether baby boomers had it better economically than milleniels. 2011.
- Low Mood Meaning Broken Hearted And Heartbroken. mage ID : 47453799 Image Type : Stock Photo Copyright : Stuart Miles(Follow) Link: Copyright: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/profile_stuartphoto’>stuartphoto / 123RF Stock Photo</a>
- Elon Musk still from “How to Build the Future.” 2016.
- Title: working here sucks! Image ID : 28959966 Image Type : Stock Photo
- Copyright : Vladimir Nenov(Follow) Link: Copyright: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/profile_nenovbrothers’>nenovbrothers / 123RF Stock Photo</a>
- Retro vintage 80s 90s fashion seamless pattern. Trendy geometric elements in Memphis style. Vector illustration in black and white. Image ID : 67592397 Image Type : Stock Vector Copyright : Danyil Pryma(Follow)
COTO is a platform for expressing and exploring fresh, maybe controversial, but definitely thought provoking ideas that allow people to understand contemporary culture in new ways.