Author’s Note: This piece was originally written for my regular ‘Sex, Drugs & Electoral Rolls’ column in Craccum Magazine. It was unable to be published in a timely manner there due to a mix-up with the vagaries of print-deadlines, so has been presented with some alterations for your enjoyment on TDB instead.
Late last month, US Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton made world-sweeping headlines for a campaign stump-speech in which she called out – by name – the previously internet-bound phenomenon known as ‘the Alt-Right’. That same evening, Newshub aired a resyndicated news story from abroad which mentioned in passing one Milo Yiannopoulos (widely regarded as a figurehead sine qua non for the disaffected gaggle of networked malcontents we’re talking about), while also addressing the ‘Alt-Right’ as being a “white nationalist movement”.
In the case of both Clinton and that errant news report, the claim and purpose of invoking these groups by name was much the same as earlier eras’ emphases upon shadowy yet monolithic Islamic terror networks, and vastly insidious Communist conspiracies – that is, to give a new and looming Official Boogeyman for Establishment figures (whether political or media) to point to as a creeping, subversive threat.
Certainly, in the climate of political upheaval being inspired by political moments such as #Brexit and the ongoing, inexorable rise of Donald Trump (alongside the consequent breaking and political bankruptcy of the US Political Establishment), it is very handy to be able to cast about and identify a single unifying phenomenon or philosophical grouping responsible for all of the above. Even better if you can seek to marginalize and reduce the cause you’re talking about by turning your reporting or speechifying on its underpinnings into itself an act of de-legitimating.
And there is, generally speaking, nothing less legitimate in the eyes of many than a bunch of anime-watching, LCD-tanning, adolescent (whether biologically or behaviorally) young men embracing notionally extremist political creeds drawn from the darkest, strangest, and most irrational-outrage-prone corners of the Internet – which, among other things, is what the Alt-Right is often regarded as being. (Presumably the main reason Key hasn’t attempted to attack Winston’s support-base like this is because the National Party stereotype of NZF-voters all being over 60 effectively precludes same from hanging out on image-boards) About the only thing which could possibly be regarded as more absurd and derision-worthy in association with a mainstream political campaign would be actual Neo-Nazis and cross-burning American White Separatists. Both of which, you’ll note, the ‘Alt-Right’ is often described as containing.
But while there is an obvious and potent rhetorical force to be had in describing your opponent’s core supporters thus (however true or otherwise it might be), the trouble with both politicians and con-men is that they eventually start to suffer the deleterious after-effects and clouding of judgement which almost inevitably accompanies starting to believe your own propaganda. Worse, there’s a curious property of the political realm that makes things you talk about as ‘mere’ narrative oratical flourishes turn into terrifyingly concrete reality (c.f the way there largely wasn’t an organized Islamic armed “Caliphate” up until US rhetoriticians started talking about one). The esoterically inclined might recognize this as a temporal manifestation of the Buddhist concept of ‘Tulpa’ – wherein sheer force of believe can actually make otherwise illusory objects real through the manipulation of Maya (because if everything’s vaguely unreal anyway, then forming unreality into things which are as tangible as ‘real’ objects isn’t actually that hard – a perfect metaphor for the modern operation of PR and rhetoric in politics).
By putting an increasing energy into ‘calling out’ opponents of Clinton, or the E.U., or Globalization, or any of the rest of it as being ‘Alt-Right’, and “White Nationalists”, and all the rest of the unsavory gumbo of slurs which we’re going to see unfold over the next few weeks … the Protectors of Orthodoxy are committing three grave errors.
First, and most obviously; Clinton, half the UK Conservative Party, and probably sooner or later John Key et co (in other words, your Technocratic Globalist Elites) engaging in this sort of rhetorical legerdemain, do so to fairly deliberately mischaracterize their adversaries. As I’ve covered in previous columns both in this magazine and elsewhere, the driving forces kicking back against Establishment Politics across the Anglosphere and even further afield are not what they’re being sold as. Instead, they’re disgruntled and disaffected working-class folks who’re fundamentally OVER the way they’ve been continually marginalized and passed over by the alleged benefits of Globalization and successive layers of economic ‘reform’. They are fulminating and fustigating, in the main, about being left behind and lied to by the neoliberal elites who’ve misgoverned and misruled over us for the best part of a generation. It’s the same phenomenon (and quite literally the same people) which adequately explain both Trump and Sanders, Corbyn and Brexit.
To insist, blithely, that all of the above is effectively reducible down to a veritable CARICATURE of a political movement as largely carried out over 4chan is not just to engage in the most comprehensive misjudgement of upheaving political forces since a certain previous prominent female naively presumed that a few cakes would put down the French Revolution … it is to also blatantly insult all the decent, mature people who’ve *actually* built up and sustained the above and aforementioned political shifts. Fifty Two Percent of British Voters are not Alt-Right, and nor are most of the people who fairly resolutely think Hillary is unfit to be President.
And yet … if you name something like this – give title and prominence to the ‘phenomenon’ – then like teenagers queuing up to buy suddenly outlawed ‘explicit’ music as a form of rebellion, it can therefore take on a life and vitality all of its own.
The second cardinal error, therefore, is something which an associate of mine termed the ‘backdraft principle’. Rather luridly, he described the ambit of such as being akin to standing outside of a burning building, and opening a great, heavy-set door. All of a sudden, “oxygen rushes into a previously enclosed space, rapidly adding intensity to the conflagration, resulting in an explosion”. I’m not sure of the precise application of thermodynamics here, but the metaphor is an apt one. If Liberal Voices mean what they say about this ‘Alt-Right’ being an even more dangerous adversary for that which they value than your run-of-the-mill Trump supporter, then perhaps the very worst thing Clinton could have done, from a long-term perspective, would be to give voice – her voice – to their Movement. In much the same way as the Ancient Greeks sought to destroy Herostratus … there are some iconoclasts whom, if you’re serious about curtailing their influence, all you can do is cease to mention them in public in the hopes of considerably aiding and availing their withering demise. To do otherwise – to lend them the legitimacy of mention in a Presidential campaign speech … is to give them an entirely undeserved respectability.
The third fault is perhaps rather innocuous, except from an academic’s or pedant’s point of view. There is no single monolithic ‘Alt-Right’ any more than there is a ‘unitary’ anti-West in the Middle East. Over the last eighteen months of running battles and skirmishes which I’ve had with an eclectic array of the ‘Alt Right’s’ online membership, about the only consistent feature of the term’s adherents is their diversity. You will quite literally encounter *everything*. Semi-reconstructed fascists duel with Pinochetian economic libertarians who share the former’s substantive enthusiasm for f(l)ashy uniforms. Raging homophobes are lead by a flaming homosexual. Former Eastern-Bloc Jews make common cause with Anti-Semites (I’m not even kidding – I’ve seen this a number of times). Hezbollah and the Islamic Republic of Iran are praised, while Muslim migrants are referred to as “rapefugees”. “Don’t Tread On Me” yellow-black Anarcho-Capitalists are found a stone’s throw from semi-ironic Stalin-enthusiasts. And an increasingly bewildering ‘rainbow’ array of reprehensible representatives of wildly differing ethnicities come together to make jokes about African-Americans and each other.
Truly, if we are to conceptualize the ‘Alt-Right’ as a “movement” (which would, itself, do almost irreparable harm to the concept of a ‘movement’ in politics), it must be the single most diverse political grouping ever conceived since the Fall of the Tower of Babel. From what I have seen, it quite literally makes the NZ Labour Party appear to be a bastion of staid white/beige hetero-dimensional ‘uniformity’ by comparison.
In any case, leading political figures should exercise a certain degree of care when it comes to ‘calling out’ their opponents. Particularly, as in this case, where it apparently involves an attempt to masque and market otherwise-ordinary middle-of-the-road types as being radical and radicalized extremists. As an associate put it – “the danger of being called a fascist is that if it happens often enough, eventually you might cease questioning it and just go with what’s expected of you”.
Because to continue down this road – of lumping the spectrum of more sensible objection in with extremism – is to invite extremists to take leadership of the sensible objection.
And if that happens, then all this present talk of the ‘Alt-Right’ as a mainstream (or ‘mainstream-threatening’) “movement” might very well make the leap to being ‘prescriptive’ rather than merely ‘predictive’, as it is presently.