Monthly Archives: June 2017

Angela Nagle’s ‘Kill all Normies’

It should be stated at the outset that the structure of Angela Nagle’s Kill All Normies deflects the inevitable critiques that will comes its way. Kill All Normies cannot be evaluated in the same way as other non-fictive socio-political texts, given the fact that it contains an anthropological investigation into a particular subculture with no references, no overall evaluation of sources, methodological reflection, statistics, ethnographic accounts, interviews, review of extant literature or even definition of terms. All too often, phrases which are evidently freighted with significance are deployed (e.g. ‘ultra Puritanism’) without clear explication. This indeterminacy at the level of the ideas the text aims to convey find reflection in the mechanics of Nagle’s prose, which manifests repetition, sentence fragmentation, typos, random capitalisations, poor formatting, etc. Kill All Normies is a book badly in need of an editor.

While we could attribute this to the nascency of the field, Nagle’s analysis is indebted to thinkers such as Frederich Nietzsche, the Marquis de Sade and Antonio Gramsci, and furthermore, manifestations of a fervent, newly-emboldened right are not new, and it is on this basis that I would have appreciated an apologetic preface for such a decidedly impressionistic genealogy of the alt-right. Of course, to dwell on these points would be unfair, given that that it is the publisher’s aim, as I understand it, to get the book out while these issues remain topical. Given that Trump is the President of the U.S., things cannot be expected to remain in their current state for long.

Nagle clearly possesses a broad knowledge of the irredentist sect of the moment, and is very aware of how the fragmented 4chan, 8chan, the PUA, MRA movements initially developed, clashed, split and subsequently overlapped. As a catalogue of the horrors inflicted by the alt-right on women, Nagle’s book is very effective. Problems arise in Nagle’s attempts to correlate the growth of ‘This network,’ with the current American administration. Trump is a disaster on Twitter, of course, but it is important to understand him, not just as a troll, but as the son of a real estate developer and a reality TV star given a platform by a number of media outlets despite his abhorrent views, because he represents a revenue opportunity. Throughout the book, the collective actions of trolls is given far more credit than they deserve in bringing far right opinion into media discourse, at the expense of media outlet’s puff profiles on dapper Nazis, or consistent presentations of straight up bigoted views.

Another crux of Nagle’s argument is that contemporary manifestations of the left, with its sustained focus upon identity politics, is responsible for the aggressive tone of the alt-right. It’s at least slightly bathetic to come, after sustained research upon such a specific sub-culture that would seem to be possible only within the contemporary, networked media landscape to come away with a variation on horseshoe theory, i.e. ‘there’s extremes on both sides of the argument’. Nagle derives this point from her concept of the notion of transgression, which she traces through the writings of the de Sade and Nietzsche. According to Nagle’s account, the alt-right is both an avant-garde and the true inheritor of the taboo-busting tendencies of leftism of ‘the 60s’ in its ‘libertinism, individualism, bourgeois bohemianism, postmodernism, irony and ultimately…nihilism’. In proving that the feminist movements of the sixties (civil rights movements going unnamed), derived at least some of their impetus from de Sadean notions of transgression, Nagle cites right-wing thinkers who believed feminism was out to destroy the nuclear family, not necessarily the sources I would defer to in characterising second-wave feminism.

I have not read enough history or theory to cast informed doubt on the notion that second-wave feminism was ‘very much on the side of the transgressive tradition of de Sade,’ nor to what extent it was on the de Sadean / Rousseauist binary, as Nagle argues, but I am definitely uncertain, as to whether the struggle for feminism ‘is essentially a moral one,’ as Nagle contends. Perhaps within some sectors it is, but I would think that the struggle for equality is more a matter of political economy than morality, and that a substantial section of feminist theory would dispute that any one morality motivates it, due to its patriarchal overtones. I am of course, open to being corrected on this point, but this is one of the most glaring instances in which sources are lacking and broad, indistinct cultural trends are being made to bear a significant burden of proof. For example, I have no notion what phrases such as ‘racial politics that has held since WWII’ are supposed to amount to, or mean.

The chapters in which these arguments are made would probably have benefitted from more systematic, and perhaps chronological account of the left from the sixties to the present day, rather than Nagle’s tendency to move back and forth between the sixties, nineties or the eighteenth century. An analysis rooted in chronology might have focused Nagle’s attention on trends such as lapses in class consciousness, (expedited by anti-union policies enacted by British and American administraions), the war on drugs, (a veneer for a sustained assault upon communities of colours’ capacity to organise themselves) and globalisation, economic developments I would identify as more pertinent to political trends than semiotic of the transgressive.

In identifying particular trends within intersectional leftist discourse Nagle identifies the calling out of racism and sexism as ‘crying wolf’, false calls for help which presaged the arrival of ‘the real wolf’, of the alt-right. Nagle also characterises the movement by focusing on tumblr sub-groups such as otherkin, spoonies, and people who get their limbs surgically removed [citation needed] because they identify as disabled, rather than sustained attention to the writings or activism of bell hooks or Angela Davis. By defining intersectionality as people identifying as dragons (which isn’t to throw them under the bus, identify as whatever you want, I don’t mind) undermines the very real struggles of trans people seeking to eke out safe existences for themselves. To take just one guardian story from yesterday, 50% of trans teens have attempted suicide. Personally I think proclaiming solidarity in the struggle for their rights is a good thing to do, I’m not sure a leftism willing to relegate trans or race issues to second place is a leftism worth having, which is why the polarity Nagle upholds at one stage: ‘Milo and his Tumblr-dwelling gender fluid enemies’, is so mystifying. Milo’s enemies could just as easily be described as women of colour in the real world, or the trans folk he was planning to out during his campus tour.

Nagle’s argument that the alt-right developed in opposition to the left seems peculiar, as it seems that racism, anti-semitism, isolationism emerges from a political tendency that is readily identified. Further, rather than taking Milo seriously when he says things like this, one could argue that these figures foremost within the alt-right have opportunistically identified a number of demographic scapegoats which media platforms are not above bashing now and again, or persistently. Perhaps longer term historical trends such as racism or the war on terror might be more to blame for these views entering the mainstream than the left, or Gramscian theory.

It is unfortunately typical for Nagle’s analyses to take insufficient account of power relations, providing sympathetic points of departure for alt-right agents, such as male suicide rates and an ‘intolerant’ or ‘dogmatic’ feminists, but not leftist contingents composed of BAME groups or the disabled. On the one hand Nagle summarises the left as represented by performatively self-abnegating comments of no-marks such as Arthur Chu, monolithically useless, disengaged, ineffectual, on the other their Chomskyian logics have created and been co-opted by an alt-right that have taken over the US presidency. A greater focus on class from the liberal left would be a good thing to see, but I would argue it is not to be found here.

The iron rule holds true; never trust a writer who cites the Sokal hoax.

The Ideology of Wonder Woman

Diana’s ideological apprenticeship begins in her childhood, when she inherits a Manichaean account of her history, both personal, and familial. According to the schema provided by Queen Hippolyta, all humans used to live in a golden age of conflict-free egalitarianism which was destroyed by Aries, the film’s intermittently real antagonist, who sewed discord in the hearts of men, and made them turn against one another. The Amazons were a superhuman race created by Zeus in order to mediate relations between men, and for a time this was apparently successful, until the Amazons rose up in a violent insurrection against this narrowly circumscribed role (which is compared with slavery), to establish a militaristic community on the island of Themyscira. The film gives no indication that it’s a collectivist society, but there’s no direct evidence of private property, and everyone seems to know each other. It also suits my argument to assume that it’s a communist utopia.

Diana’s objective on leaving the island with American spy-pilot Chris Pine is to kill Ares, the divine agent of conflict that she believes to be the only possible explanation for World War I. Once Ares dies, she believes, the war will come to an immediate end, as the corruption within men’s hearts will be done away with . Chris Pine indulges Diana in this regard for most of the film, but believes it to be unlikely that Ares truly exists in the way that Diana envisions.

When Erich Ludendorff is dispatched, the avatar, as Diana believes, of Ares, she is dismayed to find that the military-industrial infrastructure, and the great war more generally, seems to be proceeding anyway. Chris Pine then explains to Diana that the conflict is the inevitable outcome of mankind’s inherent flaws (tendencies towards violence, militarism), than the influence of Ares, though in his account, the number of squabbling aristocrats in Eastern Europe and nationalism don’t gets a mention, nor the Aristotelean account of the ways in which unequal societies are more unstable, a view Diana would be familiar with, given the extent of her erudition. I consider this within the context of Chris Pine’s general demeanour and/or blatant impatience when Diana challenges his analyses in any given context and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Chris Pine’s explanations for Anglo-American societal customs are unsatisfactory or simplistic; it’s indicative of a general condescension his character exhibits towards Diana.

It turns out that David Thewlis’ character, the seemingly benign member of Imperial War Cabinet, is in fact Ares, and I think what is at stake in this is the text’s perspective on revolutionary violence.

As Diana’s childhood understanding holds it, the struggle for a better society is a question of fights between the already empowered, the god Ares and herself. Ordinarily I would say this they are analogous to the landholder class, but Noam Chomsky’s impressionistically applied, and vaguely conspiratorial ‘masters of mankind’ category might be more adequate in this case. As such, the political struggle is a war of personalities, one which is, in Diana’s words, not about what one ‘deserves’, i.e. the fulfilment of the social compact, but what one ‘believes’, the sincerity of one’s desire to improve the world. That one’s intentions are sufficient justification for any given course of action in contrast to an appeal to inherent human dignity overlooks the fact that the Amazons initially emancipated themselves from slavery by violent means and further re-endorses the reactionary aspects of her binaristic childhood education of good v. evil, without leaving space for possible change in the future. Ares, as the linchpin of all evil, avarice and imperialism exists, a transcendental representation of evil, but no such space is provided for an aspiration to true good, only a belief, or faith, that one’s ‘good’ actions amount to an improvement, which is due to woman and man’s essential nature, as flawed.

In many ways this film traces the trajectory of a young woman moving away from home, finding her reality was not as straightforward as she imagined, but accepting a sequence of base level facts as a foundation for any further analyses or beliefs, facts provided by Chris Pine, that skulduggery and incrementalism are the only legitimate path to political change. Which is very open to argument.

This political reality Diana is re-construed within requires a Lacanian account. Wonder Woman relates Diana’s entry into a relation with the name of the father; a repressive and constrained reality beyond the complete pleasure and authentic relation with her mother/the broader community of Amazons on Themyscira, which runs parallel to the rather simplistic bildung maturity narrative. The scene where Diana quizzes Chris Pine about his penis size, then talks about his watch is the most revealing in this context, given that the watch was a gift from his father, it’s freighted with patriarchal baggage, which is bolstered by the fact of him giving it to her in the moment that he consolidates their relationship with his male speech act. Chris Pine’s watch, represents both mechanistic industrial and patriarchal time, and his phallus, and exists in contrast to the nostalgic eternal past of Themyscira, reflects Diana’s internalisation of a patriarchal capitalistic modality of existence. At a crucial moment in the film’s final battle, the film’s utterly spurious love-sex plot with Chris Pine, allows her to break out of a steel enclosure Ares forms around her, rather than for example, having her aunt/her mother/the fate of collectivism in Themyscira prove sufficient motivation. Further, when in London, the smoky, industrialised, poverty-striken landscape, her ‘feminine’ attributes come to the fore to a greater extent, she is drawn to a baby she sees in the street, for example.

Utopias in Wonder Woman are usually framed and evoked by the opposite of the London landscape; foliage and greenery, as in Themyscira, the moment that Ares reveals his own prospective vision of a conflict-free utopia to Diana, and in one of the final shots in the film, which features Diana and the soldiers, formerly on opposite sides in the war, embracing in a bombed-out airfield, framed by trees and the setting sun. This reflects a fusion of the industrialised, capitalist and patriarchal order and the soft, pre-industrial, earth mother that Diana and the Amazons embody.

The final point to grasp is that the film provides the audience with a personification of transcendental evil in the figure of Ares, but no means of grasping a transcendental good, because the evil is also present within people. People are capable of carrying out good acts, but only in the form of futile sacrifices of themselves as representatives of the lumpen or in moments of collective celebration as in London at the end of the war, but these cannot be translated into broader political action, or a societal paradigm.

Far from the usual case wherein, as a revolutionary communist, one identifies with ‘the bad guy’ in films such as these because of the extent to which these films endorse ownership of private property, these models of agrarian utopia do not provide a stable means of proceeding. If that utopia is in any way analogous to the one that prompted the Amazons to revolt, it’s fairly obvious that it will depend on female exploitation. The notion that the Amazons provide a curative for man’s hardness (industrialisation, time, violence) with their softness, is a binary construction, which is why Isabel Maru is the villain of the film; she is deformed, ugly, Other, she fails to live up to the soft feminine ideal and crosses over into monstrosity, due to her interest in science, industrial processes. Both women, of course, go weak at the knees over Chris Pine.

Wonder Woman proves that Maoism is the only true revolutionary struggle as it mobilises the lumpen, but after or during the revolution, you have to kill all the men.