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Re: <nettime> The alt-right and the death of counterculture
lincoln dahlberg on Sat, 8 Jul 2017 14:44:18 +0200 (CEST)


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Re: <nettime> The alt-right and the death of counterculture


Thank you Brian, your post is as challenging as the article, and your personal intellectual-political struggles resonate. But it left me wanting to ask you to fill in a little more the abstract paths forward that you suggest and questions that you pose, as I italicize in the quotes cut from your post just below. I understand that you are challenging others to explore the filling of these categories and answering of these questions (as surely this is a political project), and that you yourself have no final answers, but for those like myself who are really floundering at this historical conjuncture, do you or others have any slightly more concrete suggestions/answers from your current thoughts and practices? For example, extremely broadly put and given your dismissal of much past intellecutal-cultural-political projects: what should critique consist of today? what of today's party politics (Corbyn, Podemos, etc?), and what of today's social-political movements? Are you suggesting a left populism (of, e.g., Laclau et al,) in stating "The crucial thing now is not to claim any theoretical high ground, but to try to understand and pragmatically embody what unites those who resist..."? 

i.e. can you, or anyone, be more concrete as to where you think one's (the left's) energies should be put today?   Apologies for the sweeping enormity and impossibility of the question, but I think your post invites it and that the current situation demands that we ask it again and again.

in hope,

Lincoln


"..The breakdown of
techno-utopianism requires a sweeping reassessment, a new departure, a
change of life in short. And obviously, that entails corresponding
changes in cultural _expression_. Anyone not working on at lest those too
levels is way out of date."

"How to create a transormative outlet for the raw energy of
alienation? How to work through the really existing institutions,
towards more responsible kinds of social relations that can withstand
all the stresses of imperial breakdown?"

"the only way to keep people from reacting to the chaos in a thousand erratic and dangerous
ways is to find new social forms to replace those which have become
irrelevant............ the real problem of
formulating and embodying those missing proinciples of production,
justice and legitimate state power, which all have to be remade anew to
meet the demands of the future."



On 08 July 2017 at 20:53 Brian Holmes <bhcontinentaldrift {AT} gmail.com> wrote:

This is one of the more challenging pieces I've read on nettime. It must
speak to many people's experience - certainly it does to mine. I wonder
if anyone else might like to repond to this one?

The alt-right has latched onto the transgressive and paranoid libertarian
style of culture jammers and hackers, which always sat uncomfortably on the
left, and celebrates the liberation of the individual against ghastly
sheeple and normie culture. In the process they have disrupted the poles of
youth culture, allowing for an easy slippage between gaming, lib-hating,
trolling, unbridled misogyny and fascism. As Nagle writes: ‘When we’ve
reached a point where the idea of being edgy/counter-cultural/transgressive
can place fascists in a position of moral superiority to regular people, we
may seriously want to rethink the value of these stale and outworn
countercultural ideals.’

Though I could not have imagined the alt-right at the time, after 2008 I
chose to withdraw from the European art circuit in order not to be lured
into the self-serving postures that I had analyzed years before in "The
Flexible Personality." I got into activism because capitalism was
steering society to a bad end. In the early 2000s had a serious go at
updating Marxist thoery with Toni Negri and the rest. After the crash,
when our very sophisticated leftist theories could not stir any
effective resistance, I did not want to go on inertially mouthing
stylized slogans whose patent unreality seemed to bother no one. I could
have moved from France to Spain, where the efforts of the 2000s were not
drained into art-circuit spectacle but instead drove an attempt to
change both institutional politics and daily life. But for personal and
family reasons, I chose rather to return to the US, where at least I had
to face the increasing irrelevance of both the post-68 counterculture
and the classical left. How to do this without cynicism and bitter
disavowal of one's own former strivings is, I think, one of the real
questions that confronts people of my generation, those who went through
the wild enthusiasms of the late 90s..

Nagle writes, ‘every
bizarre event, new identity and strange subcultural behaviour that baffles
general audiences … can be understood as a response to a response to a
response, each one responding angrily to the existence of the other.’ Nagle
correctly identifies that this self-referential world has as its end an
amoral ‘liberation of the individual and the id’, and a pathological
enjoyment at the expense of an other.

These lines, while pitched at Milo and the young sexy neofascists,
describe a lot of the cultural pranks we used to celebrate in the
festival circuits emanating out from Amsterdam. The big difference is
that until very recently, the world was stable and the pranks were
inconsequential. Now the ways that such nihilism feeds monsters have
become all too obvious. The style of paranoid critique that many of us
in the theory-world practiced is complicit in these devastating
outcomes, because no matter how bad things may be, it is one's
responsibility to seek for possible ameliorations of the common lot -
by which I mean somehting much more widely shared than the rarified
concept of "the commons." From my viewpoint, the breakdown of
techno-utopianism requires a sweeping reassessment, a new departure, a
change of life in short. And obviously, that entails corresponding
changes in cultural _expression_. Anyone not working on at lest those too
levels is way out of date. Liberation can no longer be the keyword for
the middle-classes, that's for sure.

The clarification of terms, the
bracketing of difference and the weighing of utterances from different
subject positions, cis-males at the bottom, all attempt to make the
banality of online life urgent and political. In a manner that mirrors the
data colonisation of the social by new media companies, every difference
must be celebrated, problematised and deconstructed. Thus there are
hundreds of genders, Marxist universalism is misogynist, and effacement of
agency requires reparations through any number of micro-payment platforms.

However the above lines are just as void as what they denounce. There is
no disciplined Marxist universalism to fall back on, because the
industrial proletariat was long ago bought off, functionalized and
absorbed by the industrial welfare state, whose productive promise,
celebrated by all true Marxists, has turned out to be a Promethean
overreach culminating in climate change and the many disasters of the
Anthropocene. The crucial thing now is not to claim any theoretical high
ground, but to try to understand and pragmatically embody what unites
those who resist, not only fascism, but also the self-destructiove
excess of liberalism. Sure, the gender-changing drives of the younger
generations may be seen as a kind of escapism, but they are also an
attempt to incarnate, in one's own direct experience, the oppressed
marginality of the proliferating racialized underclasses who bear the
brunt of contemporary social violence. The question is not how to
condemn the kids, but how to be an adult that anyone could possibly care
about. How to create a transormative outlet for the raw energy of
alienation? How to work through the really existing institutions,
towards more responsible kinds of social relations that can withstand
all the stresses of imperial breakdown?

The great threat of the alt-right identified by Nagle is that they best
embody the political potential of networked affect, and that they are able
to use this infrastructure to accelerate a pure fascist politics of
jouissance and libidinal frustration. The prevailing tendency on much of
the self-identified left has been to retreat from the kind of broad popular
struggle that could be attractive to the politically curious, making ‘the
left a laughing stock for a whole new generation.’

That diagnosis undoubtedly holds for the specific ecosystem of
neofascists emerging from the expressive orgies of 4chan, but if you
think that sums up all the world's problems, and that you can cure them
with Lacan reinterpreted by Zizek, then you are still stuck in the
illusions of net-critique. The world is going through a giant
demographic shift that realitivizes the historic privileges of
whiteness, PLUS a shift in economic and technological power from
Euro-America to East Asia, PLUS the looming disasters of climate change.
The neoliberal forms of production, justice and state power are all
unraveling in the face of these epochal shifts, and the only way to keep
people from reacting to the chaos in a thousand erratic and dangerous
ways is to find new social forms to replace those which have become
irrelevant. This article is great because it pushes you (or at least me)
to seek out all the hollow illusions of an outdated counter-culture that
lingered on as a luxury subjectivity, and is now just a useless
impediment for anyone who remains tangled in its repetitive tropes. But
the fantasy of a disciplined Party able to take over and dominate the
historical stage is just a distraction from the real problem of
formulating and embodying those missing proinciples of production,
justice and legitimate state power, which all have to be remade anew to
meet the demands of the future.

And with that little note I'll rest my case!

Brian

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