Thursday, 5 June 2014

What You Eating That For, Cunt?

The only slightly overrated Douglas Adams once wrote-

'The History of every major Galactic Civilization tends to pass through three distinct and recognizable phases, those of Survival, Inquiry and Sophistication, otherwise known as the How, Why and Where phases. For instance, the first phase is characterized by the question 'How can we eat?' the second by the question 'Why do we eat?' and the third by the question 'Where shall we have lunch?'

It’s a neat idea, and one which I'm going to awkwardly shoehorn to fit my argument. That our politics is largely post 'why' is a well worn path. Nobody tries too hard to change other’s minds, or to challenge fundamental assumptions, it wouldn’t work anyway. There are few seminal thinkers left among the elite of society, everything just sort of carries on. Sure, there are slight managerial tweaks to be made, but in some sense we are past the end of history. Even this year’s supposed great challenge to the neoliberal consensus, courtesy of Thomas Pickitickity, takes place within the framework.

I’m not even sure this is a bad thing, the world is a better place than at any time in history, and is getting better every day. Capitalism outcompeted everything else in the marketplace of ideas, its monopoly may be deserved. For a good chunk of the population of the west, we know what’s on the menu, all that’s left is to find a nice restaurant.

But that gets boring fast, and boredom breeds conflict. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, you’re the apocryphal middle class ciswhitehetman in a society that provides you with anything you could ever need. There’s a billion people to talk to, but nothing important to talk about. Having climbed Maslow's pyramid, you want to be different, just like everyone else. Desperate, you stumble upon the fourth Great Question-

‘What you eating that for, cunt?’

Obviously there is no ‘why’ here, no new insight into the workings of society, nor even an attempt. What it is, is a provocation masquerading as debate, and it’s what passes for radicalism today. I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to identify groups that fall into this, but I want to briefly talk about the worst.

The neoreactionary movement began about five years with a stupidly named blogger called Mencius Moldbug, and has grown at an unprecedented pace, to the point it now has several stupidly named twitter accounts and a stupidly named subreddit. Its main hallmark is a deliberately obfuscatory writing style, but once you fight through the nonsense, it’s pretty simple. Misanthropy, narcissism and contempt for anyone different. Neoreactionaries venerate IQ because they have slightly above average IQ scores. They oppose immigration because they aren’t immigrants. They loathe democracy because they don’t like other people. The paradox is that a movement that is so avowedly anti-modernity is so much a product of it. It’s UKIP for the selfie generation.

But why? What drives people to these depths? It's all signalling, iconoclasm is low cost and socially desirable. You're looking for conventional wisdom to challenge, and the obvious targets are progressive isms, feminism, anti-racism, tolerance. If you spend your entire life online you may even convince yourself they’re pervasive. Of course, challenging them in this way isn't a real political philosophy, our society has passed the point one would be relevant, it’s edginess for the sake of itself. A low rent comedian promoting your fringe show on the back of totally unchecked privilege. There’s a certain beauty to the way structure matches function here. An ideology devoted to your own superiority, written and deployed in a way to gaudily display that same superiority. Contrarianism is cool, and this is the lowest common denominator. 

And if you want to show that you’re even better than any of this? I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.

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