Published February 25, 2017
“In reality, what more agreeable entertainment to the mind, than to be transported into the remotest ages of the world, and to observe human society, in its infancy, making the first faint essays towards the arts and sciences: To see the policy of government, and the civility of conversation refining by degrees, and every thing which is ornamental to human life advancing towards its perfection. To remark the rise, progress, declension, and final extinction of the most flourishing empires: The virtues, which contributed to their greatness, and the vices which drew on their ruin. In short, to see the whole human race, from the beginning of time, pass, as it were, in review before us; appearing in their true colours, without any of those disguises, which, during their life-time, so much perplexed the judgment of the beholders. What spectacle can be imagined, so magnificent, so various, so interesting? What amusement, either of the senses or imagination, can be compared with it?”
— David Hume, “On the Study of History”
It is strange to think how much things have changed over the past few years, and sometimes I feel obliged to stand back and reflect on how I ended up here, as I’m sure everyone does from time to time. Today I am a proponent of politics most people consider ‘extreme,’ but where have these politics come from? Many of you, who read my posts, have probably experienced similar trajectories as myself, others are outsiders and interlopers who have expressed curiosity as to how one becomes an ‘alt,’ a radical political internet troll, in the first place. For the former category of readers, perhaps hearing another’s story will be an opportunity for you to rediscover your own. For the latter category, perhaps I will be able to satisfy your curiosity, as I find myself in a reflective mood given the events of this past week.
We find ourselves moving so quickly through history these days that the years can’t pass quickly enough. It’s a race for the future, and political phenomenon that were central to our discourse only a year or two ago are being rapidly replaced by new innovations in the field of Political Radicalization. The ‘SJW,’ is just one of these kinds of concepts, as I believe the protests and riots this past week show that the SJW is on the verge of obsolescence, and that a new foe is on the rise, the Antifa. Let this article serve then as a eulogy for the SJW, the noble, the proud, the brave Social Justice Warrior. It’s been a long time coming, as the term has felt dated for some time now, and with the emergence of Antifa there can be no doubt we have entered a new stage of the game. Whether this game is one of any consequence, I can’t say I know for sure, not yet anyway, but on the off chance that it is, it’s important, I feel, to keep track of all the points and tokens accurately each turn so that we’ll be able to tally up a winner when someone finally drops the bomb.
When we stop experiencing events, and begin reflecting on the connection between them, we are thinking Historically. As historical cognition of a thing becomes possible, as we begin to gain perspective, that is precisely the moment where that thing becomes the past for us. With regards to larger scale political and cultural entities the process can sometimes take time, with a phenomena as enormous as Modernity, it can take so long that we end up losing our place and forgetting where we were.
Several years back I saw an SJW I met through an online dating site once or twice. That was before all this, before I began posting, before any of this had happened, when the ‘Dark Enlightenment’ was an embryonic digital curio and before the Altright emerged and captured the Republican party. When this girl told me she was a ‘Feminist,’ I really thought nothing of it, but when I met her, I was a bit surprised, and amused honestly, at what a character she was. She was studying at a local college, gender studies, if you can believe it, and she was my first introduction to the SJW movement, if there ever was such a thing. What I mean by that is that she was incredibly obnoxious. She was a ‘vegan’ crust punk who told me how she ate a beef burrito out of the garbage in order to impress me, and who wanted to introduce me to her homeless friends but couldn’t find them at the parking garage where they normally congregated.
My experiences in college had disillusioned me, and I felt I had no solid intellectual basis for any beliefs whatsoever, so I began, very slowly, to look into things myself in order to finally get to the bottom of it all. I started reading different books and seeing what stuck, and when I met this SJW I was reading about Cardinal Richelieu and Leibniz and was enjoying Don Quixote for the first time. When I tried to explain my interest to her she scoffed, what were these Dead White Males I was telling her about? The way she acted it’s as if she believed it was immoral to entertain even the slightest interest in the Patriarchal literature of the past. What I found most repulsive about her was not her affected political radicalism, but how she was proud of her own ignorance. It was a cover, an excuse she wrapped herself in, to avoid having to read and study in order to understand the world. It was motivated not by morality, but fear and insecurity, that the ideas and personalities were beyond her ability to directly engage with. It was after that encounter I began my first serious flirtation with the dangerous world of online extremism, it was then I first felt that there was something dangerous happening in the world that required active investigation.
Reading is a difficult thing to succeed in, more so than is usually recognized. It requires regular application, and whether or not students are adequately prepared by secondary schooling in the United States to read at a college level is something I generally doubt. By the time students attend university they are ill-equipped to read a work of serious philosophical stature, and so the universities have done their best to lower standards to a level where even the most ill-prepared can graduate. Only exasperating this is the subsidization of higher education, which has increased demand for college educations beyond the ability of institutions to supply them. Unwilling to give up the federal money which pays for these educations, universities have expanded, and English and Humanities departments have become a dumping ground for the excess inflow of inadequately prepared but well-subsidized new students.
I have followed the work of some organizations, like FIRE and the NAS with interest, and have read no shortage of think pieces defending the place of the ‘Western Canon,’ in our system of liberal education. Though I’m able to appreciate the sentiment, I believe these defenses have done little to justify the continuing relevance of our intellectual heritage. They have fallen back on the presumption that the works they single out, as cataloged by ‘Great Book’ lists compiled by 20th century pedagogues, are great in and of themselves, and for that reason merit our attention. Though it would be nice to believe so, that is not the reason Rousseau still deserves to be read, and it is not the reason why the culture of the past in general remains relevant to us.
In truth our intellectual heritage is a fragile thing. Different men and women, with different interests, working in different fields, over the course of centuries, have tried to develop and articulate an abstract model of human society; its culture, politics, economics and religion. They have worked in different genres of scholarship, science, and literature. They have taken up the questions asked by others and attempted to find workable solutions that could explain discrepancies in our understanding not only of the Natural world, but the Human one as well. Their discussions, over the course of decades, generated a huge mass of material, an abundance of intellectual content, and it is the job of the intellectual historian to map their approaches and answers, and to model the attempt itself by humanity to understand its own society through time.
Within this framework, of proposed questions and tenuous answers, humanity has attempted to construct and fortify his society. That our species has progressed in the way that it has is testament to the fact that our investigations have not been entirely in vain, and as even the corruptions of the human race can be traced back to breaks in the intellectual fabric of our society, there can be no doubt that regardless of whether its influence has been good or bad, our intellectual-cultural discourse has the potential to shape the social framework in which we live in a very significant way all the same.
Our ‘canon,’ whatever it consists of, is a projection of purpose and unity into a disconnected and disorganized cluster of material. By trying to shape it, we actively form the perception of intellectual consensus that is to become an active source of stability for society. Different thinkers provide different methodologies, different key observations or useful principles, and the library of Western culture is not so much a museum of ideas as it is a stable of tactics, which, together, are capable of synthesizing and resolving any novel problem liable to come up.
The canon became, during the era of SJWs, a highly contentious issue, and we have heard no shortage of stories about petitions and protests designed to symbolically remake it to give the appearance that our intellectual heritage is inclusive. Symbolism and Representation have been the points most in dispute, not the Applicability or Usefulness of the ideas in question. Conservative defenders, for all their posturing, are unable to present a decisive argument for the continuing relevancy of Adam Ferguson or David Hume, and have taken up the indefensible position of nostalgia for the American academy of yesteryear. This defense has done nothing to prevent young students, who find themselves unable to read or relate to the literature assigned to them, from demanding coursework they feel is more symbolically representative of the world their politicized professors tell them they should want to live in. What is holding this world back from emerging fully into existence? A failure to symbolize it into reality through a list of books people arbitrarily insist is important. The canon is something with authority, so books much be inserted into it order to baptize them as significant.
What were the issues though, that a writer like David Hume was concerned about? International labor competition, war financing through debt issuance, public bankruptcy, the balance of power in Europe. How can a wealthy nation, with high wages, remain competitive in international markets when slave labor in India or Asia can produce goods at significantly lower costs? What is the danger to national independence and sovereignty when public debt is held by foreign creditors? These are questions which have remained at the heart of economic policy debates down to the present day, but to listen to both defenders and detractors of the canon, the content of these books is entirely secondary to their symbolic function. Unquestionably this is the wrong way to go about the matter. It is not what the books symbolize that’s important, it’s what they contain, and though that may or may not always be relevant for every situation, it is always the applicability of the content that should serve as the justification for the continuing regard we hold works privileged by history in.
The era of the SJWs was one where these kinds of symbolic puzzles were always being brought before the public for consideration. Who had the right to be esteemed? Which authors were appropriate to name literary awards after? Who should we tell our students are the founders of our culture and civilization? The capriciousness of the arguments has, gradually, undermined faith in the ability of cultural custodians to determine what is significant or essential about our intellectual heritage, and though this process began decades ago, the SJW represented a radical acceleration of the crumbling of public confidence in our cultural, academic, and intellectual institutions.
If we want to locate the origin of the Antifa, we need look no farther than this, this disintegration and delegitimization of culture. The always popular Slovenian philosopher, Slavoj Žižek, in his discussions of Trump, compulsively underscores his “horror” at the rise of Trump, calling it a collapse of public morality. Those who point to Trump as the cause of this collapse, however, do not apprehend its true source, as for Trump to ascend the throne of our Neoliberal empire, it was necessary for the collapse to already have occurred. This collapse originated, furthermore, within the Academy, nowhere else.
By destroying all faith in the legitimacy of our culture, and replacing it with a homogeneous gruel of corporatized and politically progressive mass entertainment, the student protesters have only created a situation, on an impressively large scale, of cultural insecurity and disenfranchisement. The perception that there is a culture in operation across our society which can successfully mitigate between individuals, solve their disputes, and address problems that result from their diverging interests, is in some ways an illusion, but it’s a vital one. When the majority believes in and affirms the structure of society, all is well, and whatever issues arise are bound to feel isolated and workable. When the very ability to generate the perception of a working culture is destroyed, it is replaced by the much more insidious and dangerous perception that society is on the verge of collapse. Through the ages mankind has walked a line between these two extremes. Confidence has wavered, new ideas and intellectual strategies have been assimilated, old ones have been reworked or in some cases scrapped, but through it all the process has gone on, generating a collectively held entity, an ideal of culture grounding our society.
There do come times though when the established framework begins to completely give way, and it is then we should be most wary, as without a culture to ground him, man is driven to extreme measures to experience a sense of collective community in an imminent way, as something real before him, something which he is able to feel as living force. This is the point where the SJW becomes the Antifa and takes to the street. It is in the collective destruction of his environs that the Antifa feels what culture no longer provides, that his ‘society’ is capable of collective and organized activity. He becomes so desperate to this way he turns to rioting in order to conjure SOCIETY as a god of destruction, one whose immediate presence is felt by everyone in the pain and violence he inflicts on those who cross his terrible path.
It is not the case, at the end of the day, that we must return to an established mode of cultural consensus generation. The days when this happened in the Academy are, unfortunately, probably over for now. To revive the canon is a waste of time as the damage has already been done and the Antifas are unleashed. Putting Pufendorf back on college reading lists is unlikely to accomplish anything substantial in the way of repair. The only thing that can now heal the wound inflicted by the tenured radicals is a new culture, which goes back to basics to determine what about our intellectual heritage is useful in light of present circumstances. Nothing can be taken for granted. History must be reconstructed, and it is you, the reader of this essay, upon whom the responsibility devolves. In my own endeavors I have discovered the past is more useful than I ever would have guessed, but it takes effort continuously applied to determine the precise way in which a particular idea is to be best applied.
The Antifas race to capture the future, but the race to capture (and reinterpret) the past must not be neglected. Today the Antifas have a head-start, and begin from a stronger position than their Rightist opponents. It therefore occurs to me that maybe rather than out-mobilization, the strategy the Right should adopt is one of out-conceptualization. The whole of History can be a greater treasure to capture than a single Tomorrow, and the defense of Culture is a moral high ground that it is always desirable to occupy. There is no surer way to establish your own credentials to interpret the meaning of our intellectual heritage than by demonstrating your understanding of it as superior. There is a vacuum of expertise and cultural authority that is waiting to be occupied, and the Antifa, as anarchist, has little interest in trying to do so. It is up for grabs, and while they race for the future of Society, Culture, upon which Society is predicated, is waiting to be seized by the first party that picks up a book other than Harry Potter or the Hunger Games.