favored meme among "shitposting" alt-righters is "clown
world." That sentence is packed with references that will be unknown to
many, and obsolete in a year, so let's briefly unpack it.
refers to the practice of making largely unserious and frequently irreverent
social media posts that one wouldn't necessarily want one's family or
professional colleagues to see. For example, if I wanted to inundate the world
wide web with pictures of the "circle game," my family would quickly
grow tired of the gag, and my colleagues would think I was puerile. But, if I
create an alternate social media profile, calling myself "RyLo Ken"
or something, then I can post as many lame "circle game" pictures as
I want to. Voila. Shitposting. Some people post inflammatory political content
on their "shitposting account," some post lots of dad jokes, some
post other dumb things.
Alt-righters are an
ambiguous lot of people. They are predominantly of a conservative or right-wing
political bent, but where the traditional right-winger is pretty serious about
traditional, conservative morality (e.g. religious-based morality and straight-laced
social presentation), alt-righters are essentially reverse-accelerationists. They
have come to embrace the worst aspects of fringe left-wing culture in hopes of
exaggerating it and hastening its ultimate demise. The classic alt-right
example of this is overt racism: alt-righters start by embracing left wing
notions of identity politics and intersectionalism, and then apply those
theories to white males, resulting in white supremacy. It's not clear to me
whether the alt-right's point is to literally embrace white supremacy or to
simply use white supremacy as a means of making identity politics so
intolerable to the left that identity politics are ultimately defeated. If the
alt-right were to openly state that their embrace of identity politics is all
an accelerationist ruse, that would render the point moot. So the world must unfortunately
wait to see whether the alt-right was ever serious about white supremacy.
This brings us to
"clown world," a series of memes in which Pepe the Frog (and anyone
else, really) is depicted wearing a red clown nose and a rainbow wig. I think
the original clown world pictures were just intended as ambiguous jokes. I went
down the rabbit hole on this a bit, and it seems like the original clown world
picture was simply posted with an open-ended question, "How does this make
you feel?" That makes "clown world" kind of funny.
Unfortunately, since the picture involved both Pepe the Frog, which has been
used in various racist ways, and rainbow colors, which are emblematic of the
LGBTQ pride movement, you can guess where "clown world" eventually
All of this
represents a sort of mean-spirited cynicism. It's one thing to troll the overly
earnest, cause them to clutch a few pearls for some laughs, and then move on
with your day. (I don't condone that, either, but it is at least somewhat
forgivable in a merry-prankster sort of way.) It's quite another to burn the
Overton Window to cinders.
To put it simply, in
order to buy into the alt-right's nihilism, one pretty much has to let go of
everything: not merely all of your respect for other people, but even the
notion that respect for other people itself is a virtue worth pursuing. Why
else would you present yourself as maybe-a-nazi? It goes beyond promoting a set
of ideas and into the realm of destroying the integrity of the notion of ideas. In other words, the
project is not to win arguments and defeat ideas, but to eliminate the need for
having an argument at all.
For a long time,
I've been wondering why this sort of thing bothers me so much, and I think I
finally have the answer. Ideas are, essentially, the conceptual equivalent of
civilization. Ideas are to humanity as personal
relationships are to society. They are the foundation of advanced civilization,
and if we're ready to give them all up - all of them, not just the bad ones,
but all of them - then we are
essentially giving up on civilization itself.
And you can easily
recognize this in the alt-right. Their preference is for might-makes-right, and
"alpha" behavior. They don't make heroes of Einstein or Feynman, they
make heroes of Patton and Caesar. Warlords, generals, chieftains… This is the
kind of civilization the alt-right is aiming at, and how could it be otherwise?
The end of the road to nihilism is death, destruction and abnegation. You can't
build a civilization on chiefs and
strongmen. No one is strong enough to build a society, in fact. We need ideas
existed for eons as mere tribes of chiefs and strongmen; it wasn't until we
started exercising temperance, restraint of force and passion and violence that
we were able to climb out of mud hovels long enough to build a thatched roof;
and from there, shingles, and sideboards, and so on. The brute could never have
conceived of planting seeds and caring for them for months so that the tribe
could be fed for a year. The brute couldn't conceive of it because the brute
deals in force, not ideas. It required temperance to reach that
realization, and temperance itself is an idea. Then, just as Mises describes in
his writings on higher-versus-lower-order goods, each new development cleared
the path for another, greater development; one technology building on the last
and enabling the next. The wheel-and-axle is not just a physical technology,
it's a template for how to build a machine. It is an idea.
Ideas are what build
societies, and a society without ideas is a failed state. Therefore, nihilism is, in a way, the belief in a failed
state. It's the belief that none of the things we believe in long enough to
make the world a better place really matters. So nihilism can only ever produce
an inferior world, and the longer we cling to it, the worse the world gets, all
the way to the nadir.
And, frankly, that's
why the alt-right will never win.