The Tangled Net

This piece by Angela Nagle at The Baffler nails the contemporary Culture of the Web down so hard, I have to quote it excessively and massively. Read it, this is important, if you care the slightest about the state of net-things: The New Man of 4chan. After reading this, you get a sense of why this may be the most complex issue I have seen my whole life.

pepeThe casual racism embedded in this geeky beta world comes wrapped in several layers of self-protective irony, with black masculinity treated as both the object of jealousy and of hatred. Commentators like Coleman have lent a certain credibility to the beta uprising’s contention that its motives are misinterpreted by a public that fails to grasp its unique brand of postmodern wit. Some people, they say, simply “don’t get” that the betas are in it strictly “for the lulz.” But while forum chatter certainly doesn’t inevitably escalate to violence and even the worst speech does not amount to violence, some of 4chan’s self-described geeks have taken their faux-ironic bigotry offline. After the November 2015 shooting of five Black Lives Matter protesters in Minneapolis, a video emerged of two of the men involved, clad in balaclavas and driving to the BLM protest, saying, “We just wanted to give everyone a heads up on /pol/”—referring to the politics board on 4chan, a group that partially overlaps with the /b/ community. The speaker then points at the camera and says, “Stay white.”

Significantly, weev’s sensibility fuses elements of the anti-establishment far right, like the militia movement (which styles its anti-government activities a form of “leaderless resistance”), with the left-leaning vision of the old anti-establishment counterculture. In a recent magazine interview, a journalist spoke to some of the hackers and trolls of Anonymous, LulzSec, and 4chan/b/, including weev (a.k.a. Andrew Auernheimer):

I’m at a restaurant with Auernheimer and his friend Jaime Cochrane, who is a softly spoken transgender troll from the group Rustle League, so-called because “that’s what trolling is, it’s rustling people’s jimmies.” They’re explaining to me their version of what trolls do. “It’s not bullying,” says Cochrane. “It’s satirical performance art.” Cyberbullies who drive teenagers to suicide have crossed the line. However, trolling is the more high-minded business of what Cochrane calls “aggressive rhetoric,” a tradition that goes back to Socrates, Jesus and the trickster god Loki, from Norse mythology. Auernheimer likens himself to Shakespeare’s Puck. Cochrane aspires to Lenny Bruce and Andy Kaufman. They talk of culture jamming, the art of disrupting the status quo to make people think. They talk of Abbie Hoffman.

Along with the presupposition that misogyny must spring from conservatism often comes the notion that transgression and countercultural gestures are somehow incompatible with it. But women have long figured in the countercultural imagination as agents of conformity and avatars of a vain, mindless consumerism. It seems to me that this is the tradition that 4chan and the wider beta-sphere, perhaps unknowingly, are really carrying on. […]

Today, we see the weirdly parallel ascent of an Internet-centric feminism that, like the beta revolution, glories in geeky countercultural elitism, and whose most enthusiastic partisans spend a great deal of time attacking other women for being insufficiently radical. Many of these feminists are active on the microblogging site Tumblr, and they are less apt to write about material issues that have concerned left-wing feminists for decades, like parental leave or unequal pay, than about the online obsession du jour: from feminist video games to coloring books, cosplay, knitting, cupcakes, microaggressions, trigger warnings, no-platforming, bi-erasure, and the fastidious avoidance of anything remotely resembling cultural appropriation. The recent popular left candidates Bernie Sanders (in the United States) and Jeremy Corbyn (in the United Kingdom) have come in for heavy rhetorical fire from this new wave of wired feminists, who deride them both as retrograde prophets of “brocialism.”

In response to the Oregon attacks, Milo Yiannopoulos wrote, “Today’s man-punishing, feminized culture is creating killers. . . . Why not harness that [masculine] power and set men back to work? To make America great again, we need to rescue our lost generation of young males.” According to a wealth of scholarship cited by Steven Pinker in The Better Angels of Our Nature, the feminization of culture is a feature of the decline of violence, not a cause, and there are many countries with better work and childcare conditions for women than America that are not producing mass shooters. Yiannopoulos conflates two enemy forces: Young geeks may be the losers in the cruel and chaotic modern free market of sexual choice, but they are the relative winners in the dominant economic ideology of the day. It is the geeks—those who merged the counterculture with information technology in the 1990s—who have already inherited the earth.

In the information age, the tastes and values of geeks are elevated above the masculine virtues of physical strength and material productivity that preceded them. Today, the market ideology of the information society is ascendant—particularly with its main Anglophone challengers tarred as brocialists—and it is immensely comfortable with its cultural power, which means that it happily accommodates transgression, gender fluidity, self-expression, and an abundant choice of niche online subcultural identities. It’s been a depressing spectacle to see two post-political, economically illiterate forms of subcultural identity politics—Tumblr feminist and beta/hacker anti-feminist—doing battle online. This feminism certainly has things to answer for; in addition to its penchant for sabotaging its own allies, it must be challenged on the damage it has done to university life with its militant opposition to free speech. But only one side of this new Internet gender rivalry is producing killers, and despite what polemicists such as Yiannopoulos are saying, it isn’t the feminists.

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