Western societies have been more divided than they are at present – but only rarely. With the presidency of Donald Trump, the process of Brexit, and what has become a destructive response to police brutality in the United States, England and elsewhere, Western political cultures are speciating beyond the possibility of debate or synthesis – a tragic and alarming turn, since such possibilities make up the essence of politics; and only when differing sides remain open to them can a democracy be reasonably judged as healthy.
The internet is largely responsible for this mayhem. A long, delayed response to the uncensorable exchange of information is becoming manifest; a generation of men, so prepared, have reached the age of political activity.
The internet’s main political effect has been to cut through indoctrination, removing the print and visual media’s long-held monopoly on information and interpretation. Formerly, political minds were created first by education and then by journalism. Only a narrow variety of data and interpretation was permitted in either. What was forbidden to the teacher was no less forbidden to the journalist. Thoughts and facts disgraced by the actions of historical figures were – quite reasonably – considered far too dangerous to be passed along to new generations, who in maturity might use them to like effect against groups once despised or disdained but now celebrated and protected.
But though times and attitudes change, truths remain the same, and so the prohibition had a time limit set into it from the beginning. Whenever a different mood or situation came to prevail, curiosity or interest would lead people to peek behind the thin curtain at what they were supposed to ignore. Since the turn of the millennium, in the obscuring shadow afforded by the internet, I suggest that every person of my generation has peeked behind this curtain; political or apolitical, liberal or conservative; and the results are now dividing the Occidental world.
What do we do with what we know? No question hangs heavier over us than this. No issue more divides mind from mind, heart from heart, mind from heart.
The red pill faction of my generation (and, to a limited extent, the one before it) know little more than the blue pill faction. It is only in response that they differ. Blue Pillers are depressed by or disinterested in things Red Pillers find urgent and exhilarating; what acts as a depressant to one functions as a stimulant to the other. The factors behind this divergence are emotional and situational. Some people are too good-natured to be exhilarated by dark things, others too attractive to care about them. Some people have a lot to lose with political engagement, others little or nothing. But they do know the same things. And that is crucial to appreciate.
The users of 4chan do not possess some secret, explosive information, in need of only wide enough dissemination to burn down society and the state. The way we treat information is more complicated and strategic and hypocritical than that. People downvote things they agree with readily enough, upvote things they disagree with just as readily. What matters is attitude and preference, nature and feeling. Simple ignorance, though at fault in almost all other matters, is not nearly as important in this one as those denizens suppose.
The red-pilling of the Millennials occurred long ago; a rapid process. finding no shortage of minds eager to be corrupted. I can just about recall the time before Google censored search suggestions so as not to offend anyone. Even typing in the word ‘are’ brought up a question about black people so offensive that no-one outside of the skinhead right would feel comfortable asking it in public. This question was suggested because it had already been asked a considerable number of times, almost certainly by liberals as well as conservatives. Under this new cover of anonymity, people of all kinds felt compelled to seek an answer. And they likely received the same answer, but adapted to the information in different ways.
Two issues, far above all others, separate the sides into which occidental humanity has divided – gender and race; separate subjects, but so fundamental that they inevitably bleed into one another. On these matters, according to the most believable data available online, the right appears much more realistic than the left. Consequently the solutions offered by the Western Right are more workable and immediately practical, even if not as pleasant. The left, meanwhile, offers uplifting and well-packaged distractions from unpleasant realities, or else workarounds which improve other areas of life, while postponing darker reckonings. These different approaches appeal to different kinds of people, exploiting different moral priorities and life-strategies. They do not, or only very rarely, cater to different levels of awareness.
For the past three decades, the left’s approach has done more than hold its own in the battle of approaches; it has made considerable gains, especially with younger generations, who have a tendency to opt for anything despised by the old. The newer the concept, the better to counter-signal the past and generationally self-define with. The left, in this sense, is always new. The right is axiomatically old.
Millennials, whatever we did yesterday, are due to interrupt this trend. No generation has splintered so quickly and so violently as we have. Never have there been so many young people offering hands of solidarity to the most extreme advocates of the past. As I write, Julius Evola is on every bored drifter’s bedside table, perhaps alongside volumes by Guénon, Mishima and a dozen other glamorously radical retrograde thinkers. There are political subreddits devoted to what amounts to little more than intellectual cosplay. Medieval fetishism and paganism grow steadily in popularity. And so on. We are not so much a lost generation as a divided one; even as individuals we are divided, each of us straddling the pre-internet innocence of our childhood and the red pill shocks of our adolescence.
A good case to consider in this light is the Swedish YouTuber Felix Kjellberg (PewDiePie). For several years now, Kjellberg has been dogged by accusations of racism and misogyny (dissent on race and gender) in the progressive media. His general crime is hard to pinpoint, but going only by the offences cited by the press it seems that he is suspected of being in league with people who believe uncomfortable things. (A left-wing YouTuber describes a ‘PewDie-Pipeline’ via which innocent youths are exposed to red-pilled communities through his association with them.) Kjellberg nods occasionally to 4chan tropes and uses its more popular memes (he recently called the Coronavirus ‘Corona-chan’, for example), and this, if nothing else, demonstrates a familiarity with the forum’s style of humour. Orthodox journalists appear to believe that to know of 4chan is to know of other things; that one need only be familiar with such material to have been corrupted by it. And they are essentially right, even if only by accident. PewDiePie isn’t a ‘racist’, at least in any clear, active sense, and the accusation is only really taken seriously by older, pre-internet generations. As it appears to me, Kjellberg is simply the Millennial archetype, representative of our flaws and divisions, our struggle to deal humorously and harmlessly with certain knowledge of the world.
Though at the moment there appears a balance between right and left among Millennials and Zoomers, perhaps even a slight majority to the left given the carnival of solidarity over the George Floyd killing, this is deceptive. Celebrities, journalists and late-night hosts have created an illusion of consensus, a bullying sentimental atmosphere in which people fear it is bad taste to dissent. The real balance of opinion is visible elsewhere. On the Guardian newspaper website, for example, the reader might visit almost any article on race or gender and note the stark contrast between the tone of the article and the comments below the line. Here, as in various other places, intelligent liberals appear exasperated, at their wit’s end, or else long past it.
As we said before, a key component of the package offered by the left is a promise to defer reckonings with uncomfortable issues, to work around them and keep the emphasis on positive, unifying themes. But this is less effective as a selling point when the dark issues demand a reckoning now, when the world erupts in flames over such issues, and the left, having hoped in vain for a longer postponement, can offer only rigid moral orthodoxy and a red-faced alliance with snowballing radicalism increasingly out of its control.
Defections to the right are inevitable and now commonplace. People will go where the logic is, where the truth appears to be; crucially, they will go where the truth is allowed to be discussed without censorship. And such places are increasingly to be found on the right.
What is liberalism to do at this juncture? Faced with an unprecedented brain-drain, hopelessly out of touch with the real and the fundamental, hostage to an ever-worsening woke fanaticism… What now?
If such a movement is to survive at all, it will need to reassess its attitude to truth and how it affects politics. Only a liberalism willing to update itself can survive long enough to be of any use. The internet has changed everything. Red pills are already dissolved in the water-supply. As a direct consequence of this, certain claims will no longer be taken seriously. Traditional tactics of obfuscation will no longer work. Truth, or any rate what appears to be true, attracts the majority of people eventually. The left cannot rely on the natural hatred of the young for the old, or on the shiny novelty of the present, or on the combined efforts of paid-off celebrities and late-night propagandists. Trump’s election should have straightaway signalled the end of this strategy; a method that is horribly corrupt and manipulative, even when it does work.
Truth is not only more appealing to people, it is economical, advertising itself for free. Trump needn’t add much to the daily headlines, since they too often align with his message. The left, by contrast, is necessarily at war with the news, busily filtering, intellectualising and hashtagging events into something they are not. To be in accord with reality and logic costs less, requires less effort. Indeed, one can accurately measure how distant one’s message is from the truth by how little one needs to work to re-frame events as they happen. Simplicity of this kind isn’t a sign of stupidity, it is a virtue.
(The esotericism of the modern left grows with its distance from truth. It may be the case one day that people are excluded from it by sheer inflexibility of imagination. Talk of the “criminalisation of vaginas” or of “black bodies” deters anyone without a certain taste for the poetic and the theoretical.)
If liberals wish to get back on the side of common sense, uncomfortable conversations must be started, feelings hurt, doctrinal minds and traditional ‘allies’ confused; unpleasant things, of course, but necessary if the future is not to be gifted wholesale to the extreme right.
In this author’s view, liberalism has never seemed more counter-intuitive. Though I hold myself to be a humanistic person, sensitive to the dangers and stupidities of pure reaction, I cannot align myself with the nonsense currently being espoused. Much of my generation is tired out by the media’s pointless denial of the obvious, especially with regard to race and the plight of men. These are issues that will have to be addressed honestly at some point. The longer the can is kicked down the road, the stronger and more organised the opposition will become. And should the worst people win by simple loyalty to truth, with whatever that entails, they will deserve their victory.