Emma Goldman may have never uttered the words to an earnest comrade, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be in your revolution”. They may have been invented for a 1970s T-shirt. But she did utter some version of this statement, as Goldman was, in many accounts, a person who bored easily. This is not a good quality in leaders. I have never been involved in a revolution, but I imagine they demand a lot of tedious planning; social good, just like social evil, is likely a case of banality. Still. You don’t enrol many people to your cause without advertising fun. As is known by the alt-right, a group currently promising to dance with many bored young Goldmans.
Well, of course, no one with a family name of Goldman would be long tolerated by the alt-right, as Jewish writer Ben Shapiro learned. The point otherwise stands: recruit with the guarantee of entertainment. Whatever you think of the alt-right -- and you should probably think nothing else but “what an anti-intellectual bunch of spoiled, soft-cock fascists” -- others perceive them to be having fun.
Damn it. This is the fun that the left used to look like it was having. The reality, of course, was different; young leftists were always impelled to sit down and talk about the capitalist mode of production, just as young classical liberals must always eventually read that old bore, Adam Smith. However, you’ve got to entertain the troops. A fact that the left has forgotten.
Last week, the alt-right brat Godfrey Elfwick claimed that he trolledThe Guardian. The evidence he produced for the prank was scant, but the article he maintains that he wrote reads like a hoax, even if it wasn’t. Intention aside, the popular piece, shared on social media by many respectable journalists, is a parody of liberal-leftism. It is a first-person account of seduction by Sam Harris into Islamophobia, which ends with his redemption. It is, even if sincere, a load of crowd-pleasing shite and, upon critical reading, does not make a point about anything, other than to assure Guardian readers that they are the good people, unlike the bad people. Which is what TheGuardian now almost exclusively does.
[Welcome to Planet Disneyland, where even the ‘real’ news is fake]
Whether the piece is an authentic or accidental hoax doesn’t matter. As Comrade Rundle is wont to suggest, the liberal-left has done a very good job all on its own of being precisely the kind of bore that Goldman would avoid. Much of its work, however well-intended, seems to be bureaucratic. This is the correct language to use. This is the right cause to support. Don’t judge. Here is your certificate for being an ally. And just to be gracelessly clear, this is not, for one minute, to suggest that the problems the liberal-left tackles are not true problems. Racism is an abhorrence, ditto for all its ugly cousins. But, sheesh. Could you be any more joyless?
Elfwick doesn’t think so. If he didn’t do this Guardian piece -- and I suspect he did -- he has certainly had other significant wins over mainstream liberal-left media. From his Twitter account, where he relentlessly posts messages that parody the liberal-left, he has written, “I used to identify as #atheist as I don't believe in God but when I saw how racist the movement has become I converted to moderate Islam.” and “Don't want to be labelled a rapist? Then respect women's boundaries and remember that consent can be revoked at any time. Even after sex.” He is often re-tweeted in earnest. He is widely known as an alt-right clown, but this did not come to the attention of the BBC World Service until after they had interviewed him in the guise of what the movement calls a Social Justice Warrior, or SJW.
Elfwick had claimed on Twitter that the franchise Star Wars was racist, on account of antagonist Darth Vader being black. The BBC seriously took up this critique and invited him into their studio to talk about the pain he felt on behalf of his comrades of colour. Elfwick kept a straight face. He also said that the movies “reeked of misogyny” and recommended improving feminist films to other SJWs. He also said that the films were homophobic, and declared that he had seen none of them.
I despise the alt-right, and any version of the right. I believe that minimising the pain of these widespread prejudices is the work of a Sith. But, you know, it’s funny, right? It’s hilarious that the BBC could have seen the Twitter bio of a ““demisexual genderqueer Muslim atheist” and thought that this description was one other viewers might take seriously, or even apply to themselves.
The point he makes is clear: liberal-leftist press feeds reflexive feel-good garbage to idiots so greedy for evidence of their own goodness, they’ll swallow almost anything. He also makes the point that this is boring. And it is. I am not making the claim here that I am the Western world’s most entertaining leftist -- certainly, earnestness and impenetrability are among my many professional faults. But there’s a reason I no longer write for mainstream media. One’s more colourful phrases are policed by editors so concerned that someone will be offended, one is rarely permitted to make a statement more challenging than “being bad is bad”.
[Rundle: how radical gender theory hijacked Marxism -- and why we need to get it back]
The liberal-left can “call out” Breitbart contributor Milo Yiannopoulos all it wants for his racism, but the guy not only thrives on this accusation from SJWs, he looks like he is having fun. The message at the heart of the rainbow T-shirt he had custom-made in the wake of the Orlando massacre, “We Shoot Back”, is ugly. But this guy looks every bit as ecstatically beautiful as we like to remember the folks at Stonewall did. The rise of a chap like Yiannopoulos, a cheeky gay man who appears to be defying convention while actually re-establishing it, is made in large part possible by the obvious banality of the liberal-left.
Elfwick borrows his tactics directly from groups like the French Situationists or the American Culture Jammers, still making a noise as recently as last decade. The appropriation of the symbols of power -- and like it or not, liberal-leftists are now seen as powerful -- and the detournement of these is the old business of the true left. The new business of the fake left -- and it is a fake left if all it wants is for people to be nice, and doesn’t care to disturb those boring old capitalist modes of production -- is to look rational and authoritative.
On the one hand, we have TheGuardian asking for “truth” and “facts” and imploring people just to be nice and respectful. On the other, we have a young, increasingly cunning alt-right holding up its middle finger. And, yes, again, I know, because I am not entirely thick, that what the alt-right seeks to restore is old forms of power. But they’re doing a very good job of pretending that they’re punks, while Guardian types, who in any case refuse to truly interrogate where power resides other than in unpleasant language and television shows, come across like the principal of a mid-price Methodist college.
It is not intrinsically more ethical to be a brat. It is, however, more seductive. Honestly, I’ve never been convinced that Emma Goldman, so easily bored, was much of a thinker. But she was a good dancer. And the liberal-left, which is not really left at all, has two right feet.