The neo-feudal world and its aristocracy’s quest for trollightenment. Also its aristocracy’s recruiting of the disaffected to further its agenda. MRAs, Gamergates, the “endarkenment” (endimming?), the new gilded age. trolls, Moldbug, Bannonism All those who, losing their hopes to recent economic and political trends, blame people who benefited in any measure for masterminding diabolical conspiracies and want revenge. Multiculturalism and tolerance and its discontents. Are the institutions of neofeudalism capable for fostering human progress?
My favourite intro was Andrew Barton’s quick guide to the Trollightenment:
The latest idea making the rounds of the fringes of the Libertarian Right (and, to be fair, the Libertarian Right is a fractal body that is 99.999% fringe): Neoreaction, also known as Libertarian Monarchism or, among those partial to wearing fedoras and goatees, the “Dark Enlightenment”; the idea that, perhaps, the Enlightenment and the rise of democracy wasn’t such a good idea, and a return to absolute monarchy would be better for freedom.
The Moldbug blog is a fascinating read for its internal market positioning; It’s probably a better read if you grew up in the USA without any political studies after your compulsory “civics classes” (is that what they are called?) and have internalised the local oddities of their particular political discourse. I wander what e.g. an Australian targeted one would look like?
How to build an autocracy is a (fictional) missive from the dystopian future correspondent reporting on a soft autocracy:
The business community learned its lesson early. “You work for me, you don’t criticize me,” the president was reported to have told one major federal contractor, after knocking billions off his company’s stock-market valuation with an angry tweet. Wise business leaders take care to credit Trump’s personal leadership for any good news, and to avoid saying anything that might displease the president or his family.
The media have grown noticeably more friendly to Trump as well. The proposed merger of AT&T and Time Warner was delayed for more than a year, during which Time Warner’s CNN unit worked ever harder to meet Trump’s definition of fairness. Under the agreement that settled the Department of Justice’s antitrust complaint against Amazon, the company’s founder, Jeff Bezos, has divested himself of The Washington Post. The paper’s new owner — an investor group based in Slovakia — has closed the printed edition and refocused the paper on municipal politics and lifestyle coverage.
Meanwhile, social media circulate ever-wilder rumors. Some people believe them; others don’t. It’s hard work to ascertain what is true.
Nobody’s repealed the First Amendment, of course, and Americans remain as free to speak their minds as ever — provided they can stomach seeing their timelines fill up with obscene abuse and angry threats from the pro-Trump troll armies that police Facebook and Twitter. Rather than deal with digital thugs, young people increasingly drift to less political media like Snapchat and Instagram.
Trial balloon for a coup has a yet-darker take on a hypothetical militarized kelptocracy, based on, you know, reality:
[…]if combined with the DHS and the FBI, which appear to have remained loyal to the President throughout the recent transition, this creates the armature of a shadow government: intelligence and police services which are not accountable through any of the normal means, answerable only to the President.
(Note, incidentally, that the DHS already has police authority within 100 miles of any border of the US; since that includes coastlines, this area includes over 60% of Americans, and eleven entire states. They also have a standing force of over 45,000 officers, and just received authorization to hire 15,000 more on Wednesday.)
I’m not a huge fan of framing geopolitical events in conspiratorial terms usually, but it’s worth measuring how far Bannon does wander down this road.
There is a tendency to cite “American Authoritarianism” here, but I’m not totally persuaded by the attached “activation” model of the generation of authoritarian sentiment. More on that when I have actual data to make an actual case. Don’t hold your breath.
I’m curious to see the demographics behind the Trump vote after this piece, which has some good lines, and a rather different and more interesting take on the dangers of video games than I am used to.
In particular, this one’s not about disgruntled white baby boomer males, but about disgruntled disenfranchised youngish white manboys, and their proactive, rather sophisticated and techo-savvy mobilisation as a factor in the Bannonisation of politics.
Gamergate: Anon Defends his Safe Space […]
gamergaters believed that online sleuthing would uncover a tangible conspiracy about how game creators colluded to further a “Social Justice Warrior” agenda. Among many others, they hacked the Skype account of the indie game developer I was working for at the time, presumably reading our conversations about the game we were making looking for the moment when we uttered “now to further the secret SJW agenda”. What they found instead was my boss patiently explaining to me the best ways to make a video game. […]
All that work cracking Skype accounts with wordlists did not yield the tangible reward of evidence of a cabal. The real world behaves differently than a video game. There were shades of grey. It disappointed. What you did and what you got for your efforts were muddled. It was more challenging than the safe spaces of a video game, carefully crafted to accommodate gamers and make them feel — well, the exact opposite of how they felt interacting in the real world — effective. In the fantasy world of the game, actions achieved ends.
It was almost as if all these disaffected young men were waiting for a figure to come along who, having achieved nothing in his life, pretended as though he had achieved everything, who by using the tools of fantasy, could transmute their loserdom (in 4chan parlance, their “fail”), into “win”.
For a cultural-studies take, see Postmodern geekdom as simulated ethnicity.
Anyway, moving on. An archetypical, if not the most dire, example was the aforementioned “gamergate”, where some boys were pissed that merely most, rather than all, video games, are for them. They ran around being shrill online and managed to legitimate a movement that habitually sheltered angry boys who like righteously making rape threats at a putative conspiracy of women who were asserted to have been influencing video game coverage using their vaginas.
I’m not presuming angry reactionaries are people without legitimate grievances, although I really want to think about the reactionary and disproportionate and possibly long-term self-destructive responses here; esp scapegoating of that another party on the basis of being visible, other and/or involved, rather than plausibly to blame or malevolent, or free from oppression themselves Just because the response is disproportionate, or ill-considered, or is harnessed for reactionary ends, should not be taken to mean something bad did not happen to the aggrieved people. Although if the thing (people) they are blaming is not the root cause and their strategy is not a real remedy is of course an interesting question. For a lefty version of this problem, see The Soft Target:
Even more modest reformist goals sound increasingly forlorn at this end of modernity. […] All the institutions and systems involved in what seem to be the most awful, oppressive or unjust dimensions of everyday life in the 21st Century seem to be vulnerable to nothing but their own frailties and contradictions. The powerful are mostly behind walls, inside fortresses. They have the money and the influence to outlast or overwhelm most legal challenges. They don’t particularly fear mass protest, not that there seems to be much danger of protests being genuinely massive in the United States as they have been in many other countries. The political process is drowning in oligarchic money, and even if reformers get elected, they often find it nearly impossible to challenge entrenched interests or do much beyond tinker with the status quo.
Most targets are hard, both in the sense of “difficult” and “protected”. So what has happened in a lot of what passes for democratic politics in the 21st Century, particularly in the United States, is a preference for soft targets: institutions that have to remain ‘open’ in some sense to protest and dissent, or individuals and groups who are compelled for some reason or another to remain accessible and responsive to public criticism.
Directable generalised rage is a fungible coin in modern politics. See: “I don’t have a job because black people/asians/latinos/women took it”.
Toxoplasma of rage by Scott Alexander
More important, unarmed black people are killed by police or other security officers about twice a week according to official statistics, and probably much more often than that. You’re saying none of these shootings, hundreds each year, made as good a flagship case as Michael Brown? In all this gigantic pile of bodies, you couldn’t find one of them who hadn’t just robbed a convenience store? Not a single one who didn’t have ten eyewitnesses and the forensic evidence all saying he started it?
I propose that the Michael Brown case went viral – rather than the Eric Garner case or any of the hundreds of others – because of the PETA Principle. It was controversial. A bunch of people said it was an outrage. A bunch of other people said Brown totally started it, and the officer involved was a victim of a liberal media that was hungry to paint his desperate self-defence as racist, and so the people calling it an outrage were themselves an outrage. Everyone got a great opportunity to signal allegiance to their own political tribe and discuss how the opposing political tribe were vile racists / evil race-hustlers. There was a steady stream of potentially triggering articles to share on Facebook to provoke your friends and enemies to counter-share articles that would trigger you.
Wanna root for disco? This article is a start: Arthur Chu’s Of Gamers, Gates, and Disco Demolition: The Roots of Reactionary Rage, and an earlier version of overdogs rising up to crush their non-oppressors.
Underdogs, make no mistake, can be vicious and cruel and evil, all the more so because they have a grievance to justify their viciousness. But to be an underdog is to lack power. It means, by definition, that you’re weak, where the overdog is strong.
I didn’t think how “legitimate criticisms” — like the legitimate criticisms of the materialism in the “disco lifestyle,” like legitimate criticisms of the cliquishness of the tiny indie video game scene — get used as fuel by reactionary hate mobs. And to be an overdog who thinks he’s an underdog is, therefore, worst of all.
A few other reading snippets: