Friday, September 16, 2016

I'm Not Alt-Right, Jack

My attention was recently called to a movement, or phenomenon, or whatever, called “Alt-Right”. As is often the case, this term is used not by the adherents themselves, but by their opposition – and, on a perhaps simplistic level, it seems to, basically, refer to “everyone that everyone else doesn't like”. In this, it shares a pedigree with terms like “fascist”, “reactionary”, “isolationist”, and so on – a way of categorizing, and thus setting apart, a certain group with a certain alleged mindset, and thus making them a handy target of political attacks (and thus a welcome distraction from the real issues of our time, like with a population of over 320 million, how did we manage to wind up with these two freakazoids as presidential candidates of the major parties?). On another level it describes people who feel that history, which is running at warp speed these days, has passed them by. And on another level, it describes the current group of people who have been, or feel they've been, neglected, demeaned, disenfranchised, ridiculed – basically declared non-persons and not welcome in the political arena, since they have nothing to contribute to the dialogue and no coherent (i.e. “progressive”) program. And on a more immediate level, it refers to Trump supporters – and as I've said before, assumes that the Trump phenomenon is something new under the sun... unprecedented... “un-American”... and dangerous.

The salience of this concept can be illustrated by the recent statements of none other than Hillary Clinton, whose “basket of deplorables” consists of those who are “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic – you name it.” But she was right on target when she identified Trump supporters as “people who feel that the government has let them down, nobody cares about them, nobody worries about what happens to their lives and their futures, and they're just desperate for change.” Every once in a while the truth slips out, even if it's Hillary who's speaking. Of course, in her mind, and in the minds of her supporters, those people don't count, because their grievances are only imaginary and characterized by “prejudice and paranoia”.

The “Alt-Right” is the basic theme of a recent essay by Thomas J. Main:

But his definition, if one can even call it that, is a bit of a crazy quilt. It's a hodgepodge, and winds up tossing people of markedly different (dare I say “diverse”?) types into the same basket. But one common element, at least, is that they are people who have been more or less asleep in the political sense but who have now awakened, and who find that the world is radically different from the way it ought to be, and the way they have always expected it to be. So in this sense it's an alliance (if that's not too strong a term) for the shocked and scandalized, but it's also a populist phenomenon of sorts, since pretty much everyone involved comes from the ranks of the people, as opposed to the elite. And by “the people” I don't mean the mythical “people” of communist/socialist/progressivist propaganda, but the real people, “warts and all” -- with all of their frustrations, resentments... hatreds, even. And the perennial paradox, as always, is that in a relatively prosperous society there are nonetheless frustrations, resentments, and dissatisfactions – as if all of the Utopian schemes forced upon the citizenry for over 100 years now have come to naught. Not only that, but the frustrated, resentful, and dissatisfied ones are not the usual suspects – officially-designated and approved minorities – but a class of people who have scarcely ever been on radar, to say nothing of being defined by the Regime. They seem, like all populist movements, to have come out of nowhere – but the roots are deep, and any suddenness about them is largely attributable to their discovery by the mainstream media. (When the faceless and voiceless acquire faces and voices, the servants of the Regime quake in fear.)

We know that “people's republics” serve anyone but the people... and that any “worker's paradise” is more likely to resemble Hell. The first refuge of political scoundrels is to declare that anything they advocate, or do, is aimed at the betterment of the “common man”... or “the people”... or “the children”... or “oppressed minorities”... or what have you. This is a mark of legitimacy that is embraced by anyone seeking office, and seeking power over others, and it sort of provides a protective shield – a Teflon layer, if you will – that insures that nobility of intent will be the sole criterion for merit. Not results, but good will... “ideas”. So whenever disasters befall a collectivist scheme, the excuse is that “we meant well”, and that the failures were not due to flaws in the program but to “resistance by reactionary elements”, and sabotage, and general human perversity and butt-headedness. (Oh yes, and “hate” -- the latest enemy of the thought police.) The Alt-Right, among other things, seems to be made up of people who question these premises, or – if they believed them at one time – have now awakened to the fact that it's all a scam.

Another alleged characteristic of the Alt-Right is that it's not confined to any one nation or society. Alt-Right murmurings (and more) can be detected (by the finely-tuned instruments of outfits like the Southern Poverty Law Center) in Europe – all the way from Ireland to the Russian steppe. I'm not aware of any particular Alt-Right activity in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, or the Islamic world, but fear not, if it's there it will be discovered and rooted out by the never-sleeping organs of the Regime. (In this sense, it, again, appears to be a phenomenon not unique to prosperous, “western” societies, but definitely found in abundance there.)

The problem the critics of the Alt-Right have is that there is no single organization they can put their finger on – no tower of power – no master control center. And in this it does resemble populist movements down through history. I mean, was there ever a Tea Party or Occupy “headquarters”? A single strongman dictating policy and political action? Not that I'm aware. This is not to say that, once a political trend is detected, there won't be plenty of people anxious to jump on the bandwagon and pretend to be in charge. It's just that monolithic oppression of any sort (political, economic, social, etc.) doesn't necessarily lead to monolithic opposition. What it does lead to is a reaction, if not an outright rebellion, and that, in turn, is based on, quite frankly, human nature. Just because a lot of people think the same thing at the same time doesn't mean that a “conspiracy” is afoot, any more than a famine creates a conspiracy of hungry people. People react a certain way because they are people – and the “out group” (to resurrect an ancient sociology term) reacts in a certain way to the “in group”, and this reaction tends to have common elements wherever it occurs.

So is the Alt-Right just a variety of populism? Well, it might be, if we allow for populism to have more flavors than Baskin-Robbins. But there are so many manifestations, and so many sources of discontent, and so many grievances, that to call it a single movement (a “vast right-wing conspiracy”, if you will) is to oversimplify in order to facilitate dismissal.

Having said all that, let's look at some of the alleged earmarks by which (according to the article, which is, admittedly, a sample of one) we can immediately, and unambiguously, detect a member of the Alt-Right and thus annihilate them with some sort of death ray before they spread like the pod people in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”. These are general impressions, of course; how could it be otherwise when the group is so ill-defined?

* Do they “... reject American democracy?” I'm more inclined to believe that they are the true democrats (with a small “d”). They don't see themselves as a minority, but as a sort of vanguard, and if the rest of the country would only wake from its stupor it would agree and join them.

* Are they “anti-Semites”? Well, it depends on your definition. I don't see them attacking Jews in the United States, or anywhere else, for that matter. What they might do, on occasion, is express skepticism as to Israel's policies in the West Bank and Israeli influence in American politics. So if this is anti-Semitism, the shoe fits – problem is, a lot of Jews in the U.S. and in Israel feel the same way. So are those Jews anti-Semitic? (Maybe they're just “self-hating” -- that's an easy out.)

* Are they “racists”? Who knows what's in their heart of hearts? But the label these days is typically applied either to the police (many of whom are black, which is odd) or to those who are skeptical about our immigration policies – said policies being fairly recent in the scheme of things. (A real (alleged) racist would still be griping about affirmative action and quotas, and I haven't heard a peep about those issues in a long time, although they are still very much with us.)

* Are they “protectionists” when it comes to trade? Well, so are a lot of businessmen, union members, farmers, etc. Can it be that they are all, therefore, “Alt-Right”?

* Do they oppose feminism? I'm not even sure what that would entail any more. The feminists have completed their long march through the institutions and have won every battle they have fought, except for the “mother of all battles”, namely the ERA. But when's the last time anyone, from either major party, mentioned the Equal Rights Amendment? That seems to have been relegated to “old news”, and besides, pretty much everything the ERA was supposed to fix has been fixed – either by the courts or through executive action and regulations. We now have women going through Ranger training in the Army, and I don't see too many people picketing the Army bases where that training is taking place. So what's left? The only major exception I can think of is the abortion issue, but is that synonymous with feminism? Someone else is going to have to answer that one. In any case, I suspect that Alt-Right adherents may oppose feminism as a concept or a movement, but there is, frankly, not much left to oppose in terms of actual law or policy, so how big an issue can it be?

* Do they oppose “diversity”? Well, as I've said before, diversity is more a fact than a movement – and, frankly, the promotion of “diversity” is, by and large, a scam. It's a way to get everyone, regardless of background and traditional loyalties, to sign on to a politically-correct, collectivist, gray uniformity. I'm all for genuine diversity the way I'm all for a four-season climate, but this faux “It's a Small World After All” diversity makes my gorge rise. In this case, I expect that, again, an Alt-Right type might oppose “diversity” as a government program even if they take it for granted on the practical level.

* Do they oppose “gay rights”? Possibly some do in principle, but in everyday life I doubt if it has a whole lot of impact unless you're in the wedding cake business. Overall, I suspect that Alt-Rights are a lot more into “live and let live” than any liberal.

* Do they oppose globalism? Not so much on principal but in terms of plain old jobs and wages. The steel worker whose job was moved to India probably has any number of gadgets, appliances, etc. -- not to mention a car – made overseas. It's only when it hits your wallet that it starts to hurt. Call it hypocrisy if you like, but there it is, and it's pretty ubiquitous.

* Do they oppose gun control? I doubt if they oppose all gun control, the way certain anarchists do when they pronounce themselves perfectly cool with toddlers with Uzis. What they do oppose is the gradual noose-tightening that is taking place, and what they feel is the government's agenda behind it, and in this I do not blame them. Rendering the people helpless against the government, and against criminal elements (assuming there's still a difference), is a major building block of totalitarianism.

* Do they oppose civil rights? That issue is, once again, pretty old news unless you're talking about the absurdities of school bathrooms and gay wedding cakes. Maybe if they just said they oppose “stupid” they'd get more of a hearing.

* Are they “white nationalists”? Well, this is pretty much the same as asking if they're “nationalists”, which is akin to asking if they're patriots. The United States, for good or ill, is a nation founded by, and for the benefit of, white people, and it continues as such if you consider not domestic policy but foreign policy. When we “project (military) power” to the four corners of the globe, what kind of power are we projecting? Black power? Hispanic power? Diversity power? No – it's the same old testosterone-laden white male power we've always projected. What is empire building (AKA “spreading democracy”) but a program for converting the entire world to the white American (Anglo-Saxon, even) way of thinking and doing things? In this, of course, we are failing miserably, and the intelligent thing to do would be to give it up, but that idea is one whose time has not yet come – and may never. The American Experiment might go gently into that still night the way Soviet communism did – but it may also end with a cataclysm.

This is the point at which Professor Main accuses the Alt-Right of being anti-American, which, for anyone with a sense of history, is a laugh. Racism has been with us from the founding – and it's still with us to some extent on the domestic front, but blatantly on the foreign policy front. Oppression of minorities, discrimination, persecution... all too American, if history is any indication. In the strict sense, it's globalism that's anti-American (and anti-nationalistic), and that may be a good thing, or it may not, but let's get real about our terminology and our history (and our heritage).

A broader question is as follows: Given that America started out “white”, and remained so right up to the 1960s (if we're talking about laws and about the dominant culture), does this mean that it should stay white (by and large), or just meld into the universal, global, coffee-colored planetary melting pot? (The same questions are being asked in Europe these days, with much more urgency.) My personal opinion is that what will happen will happen, no matter how any individual or organization (or non-organization) feels about it. One can protest, and resist, and carry picket signs, but there are certain trends that, historically, simply happen. No one can stop them; they might be able to slow them down at times, or divert, or redirect, but the inevitable is, well, inevitable. So in this sense it's a losing battle, which means that whoever is fighting it ought to focus their energies elsewhere. Besides, who knows, the results might turn out to be very interesting; there are many indications of this already. When you allow real diversity, rather than the NPR/PBS type, cool things start to happen. (And un-cool things start to happen as well. Is it worth the risk? I would say yes, overall – but the question is irrelevant since the process is well underway and cannot be stopped.)

Finally – and here's another laugh for you – he says that “The Alt-Right represents the first new philosophical competition to liberalism, broadly defined, since the fall of Communism.” Um.... I guess he hasn't heard of either paleoconservatism or libertarianism, which, arguably, although they had precursors before the 1990s, have come into their own as distinct movements since then, in response to neoconservatism and collectivism. And they are, unlike the Alt-Right, coherent points of view with an extensive literature (philosophical, political, and economic), known and respected leaders, and actual programs (workable if never allowed to be tried).

So I guess, for my money, I'll stick with my position, which is a hybrid of paleoconservatism, libertarianism, and traditional Catholicism. Although I sympathize with the distress of many of the Alt-Right crowd, and understand where they're coming from and why, until they come up with something more coherent and less half-baked I'll leave them to their own devices. But unlike Prof. Main, I don't believe they are “dangerous”. They are, after all, a minority and are likely to remain so – and they have no political power and no influence over those in charge. The Trump candidacy is an anomaly, and it will fade as the morning dew and be forgotten except as a footnote to history. The problems, grievances, and issues will remain, of course; there will always be those who feel left out, disenfranchised, and belittled – and that's just what happens when people gather together in large groups and start to abuse the concept of majority rule. There is always an out group; it's just a matter of who is out, and why, at any given time.

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