In 1999, Lisa Gabriele directed a short film on Vice‘s historic relocation to New York.
Since its founding five years earlier by Canadians Gavin McInnes, Suroosh Alvi, and Shane Smith, the independent magazine, described as “the new generation’s Rolling Stone” and “the most popular streetwear mag in North America” by Smith, had transformed Montreal into a cultural stronghold and heartland for its brand of mischievous, oversexed, grunge-inflected hipsterism.
McInnes, who joined Alvi as the goofy cartoonist when the periodical was still Voice of Montreal and subsequently soared to the position of assistant editor by the time the second issue came out, describes Montreal as “irreverent”, “stupid”, and “fun”, but loathes the censoriously prim “Canadian mentality”, and lauds the fact that, in New York, even the convenience stores have vegetarian menu options.
“We own Montreal”, McInnes’ business-savvy boyhood pal Shane Smith proudly exclaims, mentioning the free drinks and fulsome shout-outs; Alvi says that the three men “live like kings” in Canada’s commercial capital.
None of this, unsurprisingly, allays the tropophobic angst of the film’s otherwise intrepidly punk rock subjects, all of whom battle some kind of enfeebling somatization for the duration of the moving process, as Alvi delineates:
“The worst thing that would happen would be: one of us falls ill, one of gets sick with something more serious than a cold […] And…you know…there’s signs of it already.
It takes its toll: Shane’s got some kind of an ulcer, Gavin’s had these weird kind of hives on his back, I’m losing my hair, and… yesterday, Shane was seeing stars and he thought– we thought he was going to have to go to the hospital, and we talked to him last night and he said, “If it was something serious, I’m out the door! I’m not in this to be dead at the age of 29 or 30!”
Shane Smith would go on to become the billionaire CEO of VICE Media; under its imprimatur, Suroosh Alvi would travel the world, producing scintillating reportage from Pakistan, Iraq, Palestine, and the Congo. McInnes left in 2008, catalyzing his metastasis into the middle-aged enfant terrible of a burgeoning populist Right in North America — crediting the jihadist attacks on September 11, 2001 and Pat Buchanan’s reactionary screed The Death of the West for waking him up from his chaotic, herbivorous anarchist slumber.
In his book, Buchanan, who was the White House Director of Communications under Ronald Reagan from 1985-7, describes the idea of “an end of nations and the creation of world government” as a “Christian heresy”. He condemns globalization as it is instantiated in organizations and institutions like the United Nations, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, he advocates the abolition of the World Trade Organization and “a return to bilateral trade treaties enforced by the United States and its trade partners”, and he calls the post-Cold War North Atlantic Treaty Organization a “neoimperialist bloc” that “asserts a sovereign right to attack and invade” weaker nations that do not threaten the United States. Buchanan argues for his country’s total disentanglement “from ideological, religious, ethnic, historic, or territorial quarrels that are none of America’s business”.
In his chapter on then-contemporary Mexico-United States relations, Buchanan describes migration from Mexico as an “invasion” by people who have such a patriotic, and in many cases chauvinistic, attachment to their homeland that they have “creat[ed] Little Tijuanas in U.S. cities”, and changed border towns into warzones where law enforcement engage in armed resistance against gangsters which are, in some cases, simply the proxies of the Mexican state and military.
In a 2015 interview for The Hollywood Reporter, when probed on his reasons for parting ways with Alvi and Smith, McInnes said:
“We stopped liking each other, really. It happens. Me and the other founders. We just didn’t respect each other. We didn’t get along.”
When he was interviewed by InfoWars editor Paul Joseph Watson in May 2016, McInnes expanded speculatively on what he thought were the probable causes of VICE Media’s apparent decline and deterioration into what the former characterized as a “certain morass of SJW pandering”:
“Well, I mean, it’s conjecture at this point ‘cause I’m not there, but I handled almost all the content back then and it was relatively controversial; and it wasn’t so much about a ‘right-wing agenda’ or some sort of conservative plan — it was just to keep it interesting: everyone in the media was doing the whole Obama ass-kissing thing, so I said, ‘let’s do the opposite of that’. And eventually the sales team got sick of going against the grain, ‘cause it’s not as profitable, and so after I left, this…the sales team took over the editorial, and if you wanna make money, if you wanna generate dollars, you have to go with the young demographic, ‘cause they have the most money, and the young demographic is wildly politically naive; I mean, they think North Carolina bathrooms are more important than this flight — as you pointed out earlier! They’re just as bad as the British Tourism Board [sic].
So, fine! — if it makes dollars, it makes sense! And now the sales team is focused on pleasing millennials; and if you wanna please millennials politically, you need a lobotomy.”
McInnes favours a decidedly less indulgent approach to the “young demographic”, as evinced by a recent brainchild — a far-right anti-feminist and nativist organization called The Proud Boys, which was founded in 2016.
In her recent book Kill All Normies, Irish journalist and cultural critic Angela Nagle breaks down the movement’s central code, which reads like the anachronistic National Lampoon parody of the martial doctrine of an ancient Bronze Age civilization:
“The scene produces its logos, tattoos and imagery in a punk-inspired leaderless DIY way. It also has a quasi-ironic frat-style system of hazing and again a system of levels.
First level Proud Boy simply requires declaring yourself a Proud Boy. To ascend to a second level Proud Boy you must adhere to ‘No Wanks’ (they use the hashtag #NoWanks), meaning you limit pronography and masturbation to once a month, and you also have to get a beating until you can name five breakfast cereals. The third level involves getting a tattoo declaring your allegiance to Proud Boys and No Wanks.
Masturbation and pornography are central to the (like Vice, sort of tongue-in-cheek but sort of not) Proud Boys philosophy.”
Someone on the right, who thinks that the increasingly ubiquitous upsurges of sectarian infighting threaten to fracture and disintegrate the cluster of reactionaries and conservatives to which they belong, can respond in a number of ways to this apparent crisis.
They could accept it as inevitable, the ineluctable result of sincerely-held philosophical discrepancies, locate a faction cosigning most if not all of their values and beliefs, and situate themselves there, and distinguish themselves. They could accept it as inevitable, not join any faction whatsoever, deride anyone who does, and distinguish themselves as stridently individualist contrarians and gadflies, fiddling as the little sanctuary town for senile, incontinent phrenologists, medievalist LARPers, and embittered pseudo-wonks that they have helped build is slowly reduced to a glowing rickle of carrion, bowties, oleaginous hairpieces, bent and molten lanyards, torn green Kekistani flags, and collectible Reagan Bush ’84 campaign buttons. Or they could accept it as inevitable and do nothing at all; ditch politics and recede into a stoic quietism (which, in practical terms, is just a humourless version of the previous option). Or they could accept the impossibility of mending sincerely-held philosophical discrepancies, and also refuse to accept the inevitability of intra-ideological strife, arguing that what could rightly be called “Right unity” on the basis of a shared sense of disdain for prying, intrusive government outweighed any dissension brought on by the banality of conviction.
Gavin McInnes favour the “Right unity” option, expressing scorn for the ‘siblicide’ talked about in Part I, describing it as a “liberal thing” and “retarded”, reminding people that “everyone on the Right wants less government”, and that “the worst Republican candidate is better than the best Democrat” (though it is probably the first and only scuffle he feels at all timorous about).
This call for a united front against statist and collectivist busybodies is also the underlying message in “How to Understand the 14 Different Groups on the Right Wing”: in the video, McInnes compartmentalizes his reactionary and conservative peers and contemporaries into fourteen categories, from the ‘Alt Right’ to ‘Libertarians’, to convey heterogeneity.
One saw the usual suspects — Richard Spencer (placed in the ‘Alt Right’ category), Pat Buchanan (slotted into the ‘Paleocons’ category), Jared Taylor (also in the ‘Alt Right’ category), Mike Cernovich (put in the ‘Outcasts’ category).
I didn’t think there was anything out of the ordinary there. Then came the real shock — the inclusion of comedian and performance artist Sam Hyde.
I first encountered Sam Hyde back in 2013, when he trolled a TEDx talk, pretending to be a war correspondent and documentarian who had just returned from Somalia to discuss his ecological and technological predictions for the next six decades and their wider sociological implications, parodying the completely vacuous, gloopy, sententious, white-collar humanitarian gibberish of ‘thought leaders’.
It could have so easily been the type of insufferable edgelord dreck anyone with a thesaurus, a Chris Hedges book, and an eidetic memory of every single George Carlin compilation uploaded on Youtube, could have churned out in twenty minutes in a moody status update, but it wasn’t: there was the sense that that kind of self-importance (which is noxiously sententious in its own way) was also being slain at the altar.
There was a kind of charming self-deprecation about the whole thing — the performer, too, couldn’t believe the nonsense he was coming out with, and he was just as bemused as his audience, and, even though it can be read as a satire on the cynicism and hypocrisy of bleeding-heart Friedmanites, he didn’t at all seem like he wished to chastize the people watching and listening to him for their complacency (like the “self-flagellating” liberals Nagle really deftly demolishes in a piece for Current Affairs published back in February).
Instead, Hyde sort of joined them in play.
But this ‘critique’ of ‘globalization’ and of the back-slapping cognoscenti that it births, could also be, and has been (as the provincial effusions of Pat Buchanan make transparent) wielded by the right, especially the extreme right: in fact, Hyde talks about impending race riots and how it will be a ‘knock-out game’ that white people “will eventually get tired of playing”; he mockingly refers to “state-enforced homosexuality”, children using 3D printers to make “Muslim Barbie dolls”, and sarcastically mourns the destruction of Israel.
It didn’t even register to me that Hyde’s anti-humour exploits constituted incendiary political statements — leave alone incendiary Rightist political statements — until early last year, when I saw that he was listed as one of the ‘Outcasts’ (where he was positioned between Alex Jones of InfoWars and Redneck Manifesto author Jim Goad) on Gavin McInnes’ aforementioned Rebel Media video on the different right-wing groups in North America.
And it wasn’t until I watched him chanting “Heebs will not divide us” with a mob of celebratory Trump supporters at the HEWILLNOTDIVIDE.US installation in the Museum of the Moving Image in New York that I started to see him and entire schtick as, basically, early ‘90s Tom Green if someone had forced him to channel Tom Metzger.
But when I asked Angela Nagle about Hyde back in May, she was much less overwrought in her remarks than the bulk of the commentariat, and much more circumspect about where to situate him in the far-right subcultures she has studied and written about it.
She even goes so far to say that Hyde is “kind of like somebody who could’ve gone to the left in another time”. For Nagle this is evinced by Hyde’s conversation with comedian and Adult Swim stalwart Tim Heidecker on his podcast Office Hours:
“So there is a funny bit where Tim Heidecker says ‘oh you know, you don’t need T.V. any more — It’s the Internet Age’ or something like that. And then Sam Hyde gets very angry and says: ‘I can’t afford health insurance. Like, I can’t live, I don’t have any income.’
So I mean, you know, and Sam Hyde is kind of slightly different from the others in that I almost feel like…like he always refers to — for example — college debt, and feeling that college was basically some kind of scam.”
Similarly, when Hyde talked to McInnes, at around the same time, about the variegated responses from liberals to the cancellation of World Peace, the two men balked at how personalities like Michael Ian Black apparently treated the incident as just another manifestation of the exigencies of the free market.
Hyde mockingly asks if Black has converted to libertarianism, and McInnes, who is so often counted on to come to the aid of humiliated entrepreneurs, says that it has nothing to do with the free market, and everything to do with “economic terrorism” — an unambiguously leftist construction, and an expression that, I think, rightly holds a lot of weight in anti-authoritarian leftist circles, especially after the recent Ciccariello-Maher and Rania Khalek controversies.
Nagle tells me that she detects in much of what Hyde says a stark, and almost enfeebling sense of someone who is perpetually cognizant of precarity and economic insecurity:
“[Y]ou know, you can hear that he has…financial pressures always seem to weigh on him when he talks.”
Another reason is that Hyde is not, unlike Yiannopoulos or McInnes, an ‘opinion writer’, or a ‘polemicist’, but an ‘artist of a kind’, and a febrile experimentalist who’s much more galled about being pinched by constancy and coherence than any framework of social justice:
“…[H]e comes across as a completely different person on some videos: if you just look at him on Gavin McInnes’ show on Compound, he comes across as a very reserved kind of person — you know, when Gavin McInnes is trying to get him to make fun of black comedy, he says, ‘well no, I actually really admire that particular era of black comedy’.
So you know, it’s really weird he does contradict himself all of the time.”
Hyde is, in Nagle’s purview, therefore, a transgressive artist first, a political animal second, a stickler for consistency dead last: had he cut his teeth as a performer or a videographer in the Reagan era, one would have likely seen him cavilling the burgeoning neoliberal political establishment and the decrepit Christian conservative clique that hovered around them.
Though it appears in quite an advanced stage in Hyde, self-contradiction ails other major public figures of the alt-lite, who have a decidedly harder time praying in aid artistic license; it’s just intellectual laziness, according to Nagle — an unwillingness to buttress what is a “gift for media” –“They’re all really good at making an argument in five seconds,” she tells me, “They’re all really good at social media, kind of manic in their own way” –with anything like a robust philosophical rubric.
Illustrative of this point is the rise, fall (and possible strange rebirth) of Milo Yiannopoulos.
Milo Yiannopoulos seems to have begun his reporting career as a rather straightforward gay Catholic social conservative commentator, then gained notoriety (especially in gaming circles) as a ferociously anti-feminist writer on tech, and eventually attained the status of a cause celebre as a result of being an incendiary promoter of the xenophobic boilerplate of far-right populists and anti-feminists on university campuses.
After audio from a guest appearance on the Drunken Peasants podcast re-surfaced, in which Milo described consent in the context of sexual relations between adults and pubescent children as an “arbitrary, oppressive idea”, the 32-year-old journalist lost his Simon and Schuster book deal, his speaking engagement at the Conservative Political Action Conference, and, most decisively, his post at reactionary news site Breitbart.
His career was over…for just over two months: in late April, a few days before I spoke to Nagle, Yiannopoulos had announced the launch of Milo Inc., a business venture with 12 million dollars in funding, and an intent to “[m]aking the lives of journalists, professors, politicians, feminists, Black Lives Matter activists, and other professional victims a living hell”.
Daniel Oppenheimer wrote a book two years ago about writers and intellectuals for whom socialism and communism had given them political birth and their respective metamorphoses in later years into key luminaries on the American Right. It was called Exit Right. Until I found out about Milo Inc., I (half-jokingly) portended to friends a similar trajectory for Milo Yiannopoulos — that Milo was going to lie low for about six or seven years, and then re-emerge as an atoned, contrite Beltway commentator, writing forebodingly, in the New Statesman and The Daily Beast, about the menace presented by the illiberal pest that he had for so many years nursed and incubated, winning the flattery of some oppositional faction of illiberal pests, and making friends with the serially ineffectual.
But no, we won’t be seeing an ‘Exit Middle’ for Milo (or at least, not yet).
Nagle sounded unperturbed by these developments.
She recounted her own changing perceptions of Milo, from seeing him as basically the latest, hippest iteration of the ultimately boring garden-variety Tory polemicist, who’d incessantly bash social liberalism — and, it must be said, occasionally hit the mark and explode whichever of its easily discreditable dogmas happened to be in vogue — to something much more toxic:
“I mean, Milo was like real– when he first kind of appeared and became a big celebrity, he blew up like dynamite, actually; and then, after you saw him a thousand times, you realized he was repeating himself constantly — you know, the whole kind of I’m-gay-so-therefore-I-can’t-be-right-wing thing got really tedious, and he got quite personally nasty as well— …And I remember a particular scene where I thought, ‘Wow, he’s really crossed over into something quite sinister now’.
It was the event where he was, like, basically…like…heckling– well, he was…yeah, he was just shouting at these women who were wearing headscarves– Muslim women in the audience. And they walked out, and he kept the whole crowd shouting at them. He was really whipping up this mob to shout at them. It was really horrible and…
And I remember thinking, ‘There really was a time when Milo was interesting, and when call-out culture and campus culture had become so absurd that it kind of needed someone to come out and criticize it’”
Two years earlier, Milo Yiannopoulos was editor-in-chief for the online tech journal The Kernel (which was acquired by Daily Dot Media in 2014); at this time, he could still at least convincingly affect scruple and judiciousness, so long as the issue was sufficiently grave, and could be argued to be burdened by some kind of civilizational gravitas.
The inundation of the Ghouta suburb of the Syrian capital of Damascus with rockets containing sarin gas on August 21, 2013 was just such an issue: he took part in a televised debate, alongside Mehdi Hasan, Shami Chakrabarti, and MPs Seema Malhotra and Damian Green, over the defeat (by 13 votes) of a government motion in the British House of Commons on military intervention against the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
Milo argued that the decision was “disturbing and irresponsible”, found that the use of chemical weapons was “a red line that should never be crossed”, and execrated the Labour Party’s “horrible political posturing” and its “level of inhumanity and disreputableness” for just standing back and actually worsening the crisis.
Well, how about that? Milo Yiannopoulos — defender of national sovereignty, the literary mudguard for revanchist border militants, friend of Alex Jones, foe of globalists (literally) everywhere, the effete, ostentatious version of the guy with the really loud Powerpoint presentations linking the multiculturalists to the supranationalists, and the supranationalists to the multiculturalists — sounding like a teenybopper-friendly Samantha Power or Tony Blair, and making the case for some kind of humanitarian intervention to shield a stricken population in a former European colony from the depredations of their leader; the man who’d make a desperate, craven anti-war plea nearly four years later on the premise that it would lead to Syrians fleeing war and persecution, who were nothing more than humanoid vectors of rape culture and theocratic totalitarianism, infecting the West.
But back then, he wanted to save them all, and rued the day that Ed Miliband and his fellow-travellers stood in the way of their immediate rescue. In the main, he wanted Britain and the United States to function as a kind of international constabulary.
Milo didn’t elucidate his position on the future of the Ba’athist state following their reception of what would have doubtless been a smouldering lesson in international legal norms and agreements from the Tories and their allies in Barack Obama’s Democratic administration. Were we going to have ‘removal’ or ‘containment’ here? If it was going to be the former, who would be the inevitable custodians of the political settlement that would eventuate when the dust had settled, if not the anti-Assad opposition that Yiannopoulos had described as a disunited, disorganized collection of armed factions who were all remarkably bad when it came to negotiations?
Or was the plan, or even the ideal, to have Syria transform into a British or American protectorate? The inability to produce even a modest sketch of the post-bellum Levantine situation did not at all, of course, arrest Yiannopoulos’ steadfastness, and the unwavering case for intervention he made in the late autumn of 2013 can be rendered as follows:
 – Bashar al-Assad was responsible for using chemical weapons on Ghouta
 – The use of chemical weapons constitute a flagrant violation of international law
 – Such a crime mandates punitive military action as a response from a states like the United States of America and Britain
 – Refusal of states like the United States of America and Britain to respond militarily to flagrant violations of international law exacerbates the humanitarian crisis in Syria
 – The exacerbation of the humanitarian crisis in Syria leads to the diminution of “international standing” of states like the United States of America and Britain
THEREFORE, it is incumbent on states like the United States of America and Britain to take military action against the forces of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad
Nagle doesn’t find such a plain about-face — going from attaching to, and affirming, with panache and a simulacrum of insight, a tough, affirmative liberal internationalist narrative on Western foreign policy and geopolitics, to associating with a constellation of beliefs and concepts that was radically contradistinctive to that, flamboyantly, with even more panache (and so much the worse for the simulacrum of insight, and the facts too) — particularly odd or perverse, of course.
She doesn’t find any of it really impressive or interesting either, and certainly not suggestive of the kind of “journey” across one province of the ideological spectrum to another (although if it was, the apposite title here would probably be Exit Right, Exit Righter, Exit Rightest):
“I don’t feel that Milo is very sincere. I think he– I think the fact that he changes his ideas is not a problem. I think that’s it’s a good thing, the fact that he changes his ideas.
But I don’t feel that he’s changing them because he’s really thought about it, and then reconsidered. I think he’s, like, constantly going: ‘Who can I align myself with? What’s gonna sell?’, and so on. The thing that made Milo and the alt-lite people so good at media also made them ultimately kind of shallow, and they didn’t really have any ideas; and the worrying thing that’s happening now is that those who became famous first are finding that they don’t really have — beyond the kind of very shallow level of quickfire rhetoric, and funny comebacks, and mean stuff like that — they don’t really have ideas.
And you know, the…Richard Spencer’s kind of right when he says that– he says that Milo doesn’t really believe in anything; and when he’s pushed he just has pretty standard liberal views, actually. He’s for free speech, he’s for… I mean, he has this line that he always drops out: ‘I want to be able to live in a society where you can say, think, do whatever you want’.
That’s just a nothingy idea, that’s not– I mean, yeah, no, that would be nice, fine.
But it’s not going to…it’s not going to challenge anyone’s view of the world.
It’s not a new idea, it’s not an interesting idea.
Whereas the Alt-right, I mean, they have horrible ideas, but they are Big Ideas, you know?”
What are the “Big Ideas” driving Nagle’s cultural criticism and social commentary?
Her work rarely seems to be congested by ideas of the “nothingy” sort. She is an impassioned supporter of free speech, and excoriates the herd mentality of identitarians on the left and the right. Her writings also betray a sense of spirited defence of the legacy of the Enlightenment — an affirmation of reason, of cool, independent judgment, and an unshakeable hostility towards orthodoxy form her ethic, at a time when such attributes seem to be viewed with scorn and contempt by some comrades (not by me, of course) as a kind of bourgeois hindrance, the sort of thing that some wet-faced grease-mound of a patrician, Dorito-chomping dullard would fill his trousers screeching about (if not even worse than that).
I reminded her that this appeared to make her something of an anomaly on the radical left — her nearest contemporaries being Nathan J. Robinson, followed by James Heartfield, and possibly Kenan Malik.
I then returned, briefly, to the realm of incredibly small ideas — to the news site Breitbart, and to a conceptual invention of one of its better writers, Allum Bokhari, with whom Milo Yiannopoulos has co-authored a number of pieces for the pro-Trump echo chamber.
One such piece called for the emergence of the ‘cultural libertarian’ to stand up against incursions from what were labelled the “cultural authoritarians” and the “entertainment police”.
‘Cultural libertarianism’ essentially refers to a broad-based movement of intellectuals and creative people, mostly neoliberals and various kinds of conservatives, who are opposed to censorship and the bowdlerization of art and other forms of expression, from not only the state but various special interest groups as well. Nagle is very much a part of the radical left, but I asked her if she felt any affinity for the cultural libertarian point of view.
Nagle, whose sagacious, comfortingly humanist style marks her in the same lineage as Thomas Paine, included in her reply a paraphrasing of the famous adage by Paine’s greatest rival, the conservative thinker Edmund Burke, that “manners [were] of more importance than laws”.
Though she thinks that they are right to oppose censorship and favour free speech, the ‘cultural libertarians’, in their monomaniacal fixation with avoiding anything akin to pollution by “authoritarianism” and “collectivism”, have happily allowed themselves to become proponents of a completely toothless, lifeless sort of cultural relativism — or as Nagle says, “a real kind of everything-is-just-like-everything-else kind of ‘non-judgmentalism’”:
“[S]o, absolutely I oppose censorship and favour free speech; but that doesn’t mean everything else is sort of fair game, and I think that people should adhere to—
Have manners, and not racially abuse other people. So, in other words, if we actually—
If we regulate ourselves by behaving in a decent manner, then we won’t need laws to do any of that; whereas Milo thinks, ‘Get rid of the laws, and I can say whatever I want without judgment’.
Whereas I think, ‘absolutely people should be able to speak freely and express themselves, and everything, but that also means we have to, in some way, try to not behave like total pigs’”
One needn’t, of course, be a Burkean to assent to this virtue and Nagle, obviously, stressed that she wasn’t one (and, if it matters, I think I’d sooner have myself trapped in the brutish, cruel, puke-smothered, pastel-coloured nightmare of an MDE skit as a doomed minor character than live in a world where the hypocritical, finger-wagging elitism and near-pornographic obsession with ‘civility’, ‘taste’ and ‘decorum’ of Burke’s tediously Pharisaical heirs reigned as the dominant ideology).
In fact, it was probably given its most sonorous tribute by a legendary figure of the anti-authoritarian left, someone of an unwaveringly revolutionary caste of mind — Mario Savio, one of the principal leaders of the Free Speech Movement on the campus of University of California, Berkeley, who spoke eloquently about how the achievement of the right to express whatever opinion or idea one wanted necessitated, or entailed, the ‘responsibility’ to be reflective about the significance of those ideas and opinions, and to earnestly consider how the ideas and opinions people express affect the lives of people around them, and to the larger social unit of which they are the constituents, and in the end to favour and promote ideas and opinions that could be said — no, vigorously argued — to be societally ameliorative.
Is Nagle making a similar plea for people to be more ‘socially responsible’?
‘Socially responsible’ — I kind of, like, almost was trying not to say that because it sounds…boring, or something. I just think we should be striving for: ‘How can we make the culture better?’, ‘How can we be more humane and actually raise the bar of what public debate is?’
I mean, for example, if there was really rabidly racist, anti-refugee stuff in all of the newspapers every day of the week, I wouldn’t be saying, ‘Oh well, I live in a world where everybody can say, think, do whatever they want’, you know what I mean?
That would be irrelevant because what you’re saying is, ‘I’m taking a moral, or aesthetic, or whatever judgement about what is before me, and the question of the law is separate from that’, you know? So I absolutely, as I say, am ‘with’ them in the legal stuff and the free speech question in general; but I do think that a part of that is the responsibility that you actually have to use that freedom to try to express something that is humane, that is intelligent, and has value”
One person inserted into the ‘cultural libertarian’ camp by Bokhari for whom Nagle has a tremendous fondness is journalist Cathy Young, who first came to my attention in the early part of the decade through her work as contributing editor of libertarian monthly Reason.
In the autumn of 2016, shortly after debating him on British radio, Young wrote a piece in The Observer attacking Milo and his followers for instrumentalizing a critique of political correctness popularized by libertarians and liberals like herself as a weapon against minority communities.
Nagle, whilst acknowledging that she is “definitely pretty militantly anti-socialist”, is inspired by the example of Young, who had two years previously, so far from being one of his opponents, partnered with Milo Yiannopoulos, and Who Stole Feminism? author Christina Hoff Sommers, in a debate over Gamergate:
“She actually maintained her own standards of basic decency and not being dragged into mob behaviour, and actually standing back and saying, ‘well, what do I think about this?’, being independent-minded [sic]. That’s really admirable to me.
There’s not enough of that around, and it’s why the whole ridiculous…like, so much of the online culture wars for the last couple of years was just so…unedifying, and just like mobs fighting each other, basically. There’s a total lack of independence of thought.
And also it’s a moral thing; I mean, she looked at them and said, “I don’t care if I kill my career for saying this, what they are doing is going to harm a lot of people if they get any power.” Milo just went: “I don’t care! I’m riding this wave to the top, and anyone with their ‘moral concerns’ can just languish behind”. You know?
And that’s like a perfect little encapsulation of their characters.
That’s really what I mean about the whole ‘free speech/cultural libertarian’ thing: you have to have some basic moral core to what you’re doing.
If everyone’s just flapping their gums and nobody’s saying anything of any value, then the ‘cultural libertarianism’ is sort of irrelevant, in a way.”
Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right by Angela Nagle
Zero Books, 120pp, June 2017, £9.99/$16.95, ISBN 978-1-78535-543-1
CORRECTIONS AND CLARIFICATIONS:
1. An earlier version of this article described 9/11 as “jihadist attacks on New York, Washington and Pennsylvania”.
It was concluded that this was poorly worded and could be interpreted by some as carrying the false (and invidious) insinuation that the crash of United Airlines Flight 93 into a field in Pennsylvania was planned by orchestrators and perpetrators in al-Qaeda.
2. An earlier version of this article also contained a slight misquotation of Nagle’s reminiscence of what occurred between Milo Yiannopoulos and a group of women during his talk at the University of New Mexico.
The original rendering was:
“I mean, Milo was like real– when he first kind of appeared and became a big celebrity, he blew up like dynamite, actually; and then, after you saw him a thousand times, you realized he was repeating himself constantly — you know, the whole kind of I’m-gay-so-therefore-I-can’t-be-right-wing thing got really tedious, and he got quite personally nasty as well— …And I remember a particular scene where I thought, ‘Wow, he’s really crossed over into something quite sinister now’. It was the event where he was, like, basically…like…heckling– yeah, he was just shouting at these women who were wearing headscarves– Muslim women in the audience. And they walked out, and he kept the whole crowd shouting at them. He was really whipping up this mob to shout at them. It was really horrible and.. And I remember thinking, ‘There really was a time when Milo was interesting, and when call-out culture and campus culture had become so absurd that it kind of needed someone to come out and criticize it’” [31/7/2017]
3. An earlier version of this article contained minor typographical/ grammatical errors.
4. An earlier version of this article misprinted a quotation of Nagle’s exposition of the Proud Boys in Kill All Normies.
This original rendering was:
“The scene produces its logos, tattoos and imagery in a punk-inspired leaderless DIY way. It also has a quasi-ironic frat-style system of hazing and again a system of levels. First level Proud Boy simply requires declaring yourself a Proud Boy. To ascend to a second level Proud Boy you must adhere to ‘No Wanks’ (they use the hashtag #NoWanks), meaning you limit pronography and masturbation to once a month, and you also have to get a beating until you can name five breakfast cereals. The third level involves getting a tattoo declaring your allegiance to Proud Boys and No Wanks. Masturbation and pornography are central to the (like Vice, sort of tongue-in-cheek but sort of not) Proud Boys philosophy.”
5. An earlier version of this article misquoted Suroosh Alvi’s description of his colleagues’ ill health during their move to New York.
This original rendering was: “The worst thing that would happen would be: one of us falls ill, one of gets sick with something more serious than a cold […] And…you know…there’s signs of it already. It takes its toll: Shane’s got some kind of an ulcer, Gavin’s had these weird kind of hives on his back, I’m losing my hair, and… yesterday, Shane was seeing stars and he thought– we thought he was going to have to go to the hospital, and we talked to him last night and he said, “If it was something serious, I’m out the door! I’m not in this to be dead at the age of 29 or 30!” [14/8/2017].