Published April 27, 2015
When I was in college I noticed a peculiar change take place that seemed to transform contemporary youth culture into what it has become today, it was the birth of Nerd (or Geek) Culture as we now know it. This was around the time that the current wave of comic book movies was starting, and I remember how excited all my friends were for the release of The Dark Knight and Iron Man.
What was strange to me was how artificial their enthusiasm seemed. Suddenly everyone I knew was an aficionado and expert on comic books. Copies of The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen circulated around my dorm. There was a class at my university on comic books that generated a lot of buzz. Out of nowhere everyone in their early 20s had become an out and proud nerd. Before this moment I don’t really recall anyone caring particularly about comic books.
Nerd culture is many things. As is the case with every movement of culture there is both an interior and an exterior, a spiritual core and an external presentation, an idea and various trends, interests, and attendant symptoms connected in and through that idea. Nerd culture, as we know it, can be traced back to the 1970s and 80s, when post-counter culture teenagers with long hair listened to metal, smoked weed and played ‘Satanic’ role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons while eating pizza on a Saturday night.
Nerd culture has subsequently evolved into an industry. Back in the 70s and 80s publishers of computer games and role-playing systems weren’t the corporate juggernauts that they are today, they tended to be hobbyists publishing little rule books out of a garage somewhere. Going back to 1999 and 2000, before the current renaissance of Nerd Culture, even a major player like Marvel was hardly the success story that is today. In 1999 Marvel was bankrupt, with $250 million in debt and only $3 million of cash on hand. They employed only 200-250 people and their stock was valued at less than $1 per share. By the time the company was acquired by Disney in 2009 that number had soared to $54 per share.
Everything today has been Nerdified. As I said, there is always both an exterior and an interior. The exterior here includes all the particular interests and fads associated with Nerd Culture. Conventions, Cosplaying, Comic Books, RPGs, Tabletop Gaming, Super Hero movies, Video Games, TV shows like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. The enthusiasm is unprecedented, everything within popular culture is in the process of being systematically related to the idea of Geekdom, to the idea of Nerd Culture so as to capitalize and exploit this contemporary enthusiasm for anything that can be packaged and sold to Nerds as a sufficiently Nerdy preoccupation or interest.
Even hobbies like cooking and woodworking have been subsumed under Nerd Culture as a geeky pursuit. Nerds are dilettantes, dilettantes with money, and they’re all too happy to buy a bunch of overpriced kitchen implements that they don’t need if it makes them feel like they’re connoisseurs or aficionados of any hobby or practice they take up.
People are boring, and this is one of the core appeals of Nerd Culture, that it transforms every pursuit into a kind of interesting hobby that people can pretend to be obsessed about. The stereotype of Nerds as being Autistic obsessives is largely, perhaps indisputably, true. For a long time, during the classic era of Nerd Culture it was all about weirdos who, instead of interacting and making connections with the real world, retreated obsessively into an encyclopedic knowledge of made-up fantasy kingdoms, toy-lines and comic book trivia. The last true nerd I ever met was while working at a fast-food restaurant during high school. He was in his 40s and possessed a disturbingly complete knowledge of every Transformers toy ever produced or sold.
Today you have articles like this, where boring women endlessly maneuver for Nerd credibility on the basis of a completely manufactured enthusiasm for throw-away comic books that were designed and marketed specifically to appeal to their vanity as conspicuous consumers. It’s an interesting change.
This change has been so pervasive that it has ignited, or perhaps reignited certain cultural tensions with #Gamergate. Previously, I have been largely ambivalent towards #Gamergate and some of the underlying reasons for its existence seem altogether completely obvious. Old school Nerds clearly resent the mass appropriation and sale of their identity and that’s somewhat understandable. To them Nerd Culture has become something to defend and safeguard against intrusion.
There has been a lot of debate and discussion as to the politics of #Gamergate. There can be no question that the people who oppose #Gamergate are of a Leftist or Progressive political persuasion, almost without exception, but #Gamergate itself seems largely divided as to where the movement stands politically, preferring instead to cling to a kind of forced apoliticism. This is a self-conscious maneuver on the part of #Gamergate to avoid the inevitable conclusion of all opposition to Progressivism. If they stand against a pack of Lefties, there can be no doubt, they must therefore be a bunch of Right-Wing nutjobs. #Gamergate is loathe to be backed in to this kind of association.
Neoreaction and #Gamergate then have become uncertain allies, but #Gamergate is clearly not entirely happy with this arrangement, and attempts, whenever possible, to play up its Progressive sympathies.
And here is where I’d like to comment. What is the relationship of Neoreaction to #Gamergate and to Nerd Culture generally? Certainly Neoreaction opposes Social Justice. It can also not be denied that many Neoreactionaries, being young men in their 20s, have been born and raised within Nerd Culture. Neoreactionaries are, unfortunately, into anime, into gaming, they watch Hollywood Blockbuster movies etc. Neoreactionaries tend to be autistic Nerds.
Outwardly Neoreaction may have this in common with Nerd Culture, but inwardly the two appear to me to be fundamentally opposed. For a moment let’s dispense with all the outward manifestation of Nerd Culture and focus on the idea: The Idea of Nerd Culture is that despite not being conventionally attractive, despite being a bit weird, a bit goofy, a bit quirky, a bit fat, Nerds are really special. They’re smart, they’re creative, they’re funny, they’re enthusiastic, they’re interesting. The rest of the world is made up of boring people who go along with the crowd and who have no sense of imagination, or wonder. Nerds are makers and artists and creatives and they have created this entire world of Nerd Culture around them to reflect this inner creativity, imagination, humor, quirkiness and enthusiasm. A world populated by super heroes, zombies, steampunk Nazi mechas, wizards, goblins, orcs, space ships, dragons etc etc etc.
That this idea has been so successful in being reproduced and proliferated over the past ten to fifteen years is hardly a surprise, and that it should pair so nicely with the ideologies of Social Justice and Progressivism appears to me to be entirely natural. Nerds are different, they’re special, they have long hair, they’re maybe a bit overweight (but that’s okay), they have peculiar, involved interests not shared by the mainstream, hey, maybe they’re even gay, or trans. That Social Justice has been incubated so well by this cultural idea shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.
There was this amusing article published a while ago: Chrono Trigger: An Unconventional Model for Monarchy. It raised an interesting question, one that Neoreaction has really struggled with. You have so many Neoreactionaries coming out of this world of Nerd Culture, who grew up playing video games, who enjoy anime and appear, on the face of things, to be Nerds. Antidemblog is of course the classic example of this, as he blogs a lot about anime, and Game of Thrones, and Avatar: The Last Windbreaker and who is adept at reading all kinds of Neoreactionary themes into these Nerdy TV shows.
I would warn however that Nerd Culture cannot be the source of Neoreaction, as the very idea, the seed from which all of Nerd Culture is grown is antithetical to the idea of Neoreaction. Neoreaction does not celebrate difference for the sake of difference. On the other hand I would also argue that it is a mistake, as some Neoreactionaries do, to celebrate conformity or adherence to the Social Order for its own sake. Neoreaction privileges difference for the sake of competitive advantage, it privileges those who are different in order to distinguish themselves.
I do not believe, therefore, that Nerd Culture has really raised up Neoreactionaries and lead them to their social, political and economic ideas, as the the core of Nerd Culture is in fact rotten. To try to reclaim and reappropriate Nerd Culture as inherently Reactionary or Neoreactionary is an error and a miscalculation. Neoreaction does not value what is different, what is eccentric, what is whimsical, cute, inventive, or imaginative, it values what is superior, and this is not Nerd Culture.
Currently there is a vacuum in the world of intellectualism, with regards to art and the history of ideas. Social Justice Warriors and Nerds and, increasingly even academia are bogged down in a war over the meaning and significance of comic books, television shows and pop culture. Meanwhile literature and art have largely been left to languish. The majority of Feminist hand-wringing is targeted at Disney movies, not the interpretation of Samuel Richardson’s Pamela.
This change has been the result of our societies changing understanding of and approach to higher education. Standards have undeniably been lowered, especially in the Humanities as the influx of ever more students has caused the Humanities to be turned into a sort of holding pen for those students who are only attending university as a result of our society’s effort to ensure that every student, no matter how ill-equipped does so regardless of interest or ability. Standards, as I said, have consequently been lowered to allow students incapable or serious intellectual or scholarly work to attend university.
To focus on the battle over Nerd Culture, to try to salvage it, or save it from the influence of Progressivism is to miss a much larger opportunity. Neoreaction has been, rightly I think, criticized from every direction for its lingering and persistent associations with Nerd Culture, and until it distinguishes itself as a movement centering around the superior, it will never shed this unsavory appearance.
In short, Neoreaction, while remaining sympathetic towards #Gamergate, must set its sights higher than the reclamation of Nerd Culture, as Nerd Culture is, from a Neoreactionary perspective, not actually something worth saving. The goal of Neoreaction must be to reestablish cultural hierarchy, to place back beauty and art where it actually belongs, above the fray. It must reestablish the existence of an ideal in art and culture to be striven after, a poetic absolute.
Such a task is fundamental if any elevation of contemporary art forms is to be possible. There is a sort of muddled debate that you see a lot, as to whether art forms associated with low, or popular culture have any inherent merit. Many are resentful towards the notion that comic book or video games might possibly not be art, in a proper sense, and for that reason seek constant qualification from the defenders of beauty that their preferred art forms might be recognized as meritorious.
I’ve never been a big fan of this debate, and see it as fundamentally confused. In my opinion nothing should be recognized as art that does not aspire to an absolute standard of beauty and poetry. Popular culture is characteristic, it proceeds endlessly like churning foam, like a machine, incorporating fashions and trends and everything that is current, relating it to the idea of popular vanity. This sort of art relates more to the physical than to the moral. What unites art is the relation of things to a higher ideal, to an absolute of beauty or poetry that derives, transcendentally, from our soul, rather than from contemporary conditions of our society. For such an art to occur there must be those who set up such an ideal, hierarchically, above all other ideas around which art might be produced.
When critics, and scholars, and intellectuals and philosophers have clearly established the supremacy of such an idea, only then can those artforms birthed by contemporary culture proceed in their development to a mature state and become beautiful and worthy of genuine admiration.
One question that no one in Neoreaction has done much to answer surrounds how Neoreaction is ultimately to influence. How is it that Neoreaction is going to bring about a new Aristocracy? Neoreaction does not seek to rule, and considers the aristocracy of the future to largely be the West Coast wealthy tech entrepreneurs. What role then is Neoreaction to play in their eventual ascendency? This is a very significant question that I do not feel has been properly addressed. I’ve talked to people here and there who imagine a sort of situation where some Silicon Valley billionaires take a shining to Neoreaction and simply give us all a bunch of money. Needless to say I think that’s a bit unrealistic if we’re being honest.
The consequence of Marxism has been to destroy the bourgeois, as he is the bulwark separating the aristocracy from the proletariat. The bourgeois is more than just a middle class, it mediates between the aristocracy and the masses, allowing the two to be distinguished from one another. The bourgeois does this by abstracting out the cultural absolute of beauty. It gives this to the Aristocracy and defends it from the efforts of the masses to pull it down. This creates a high culture which legitimizes the elite. The bourgeois in essence becomes the intersection of these two worlds, where the masses and the aristocracy meet, and for a brief instant, become a single entity. The Aristocracy in turn rewards the bourgeois by providing it with its own particular, formalized sphere of activity and influence.
I have more or less exhausted all I wanted to say at the moment, I started with a simple comment I wanted to make and as usual have written much more than I intended. I’ll return to this train of thought at a later time to further explore some of these themes but for now I’ll break off here.