Responses to ‘7 Unofficial Socialists’

As you may know I wrote a critical account of a group of people who command the attention of the non-corporate left; Noam Chomsky, David Graeber, Media Lens, Ran Prieur, Caitlin Johnstone, Mark Fisher and Dark Mountain. I sent a copy to all of them, nine people, and asked them to comment (also to Zerzan, mentioned positively several times1). I didn’t get any replies from Alastair McIntosh, Dougald Hine or Caitlin Johnstone. The others sent mails or tweets.

Media Lens were appreciative. David Edwards tweeted his support and wrote that I was:

‘…stepping where others fear to tread, but doing so with huge fun, sincerity and delight. It was like a flare exploding in the night exposing Dissident Royalty’s pompous self-regard and waffle-ridden spiritual clicksturbation. That has to be supported.’

As noted in the article I wasn’t as harsh with ML as with the other six — and I suppose a case could be made that, given what ML do for a living, they kind of had to take it on the chin; but really these two facts pale besides their ego-defying humanity.

My wife insisted on publicly tweeting to Edwards:

Ahh. It’s true though. I really do admire Media Lens a great deal. For what they write but, most of all, for ‘where they coming from’ — their genuine humanity and sensitivity — which manifests in their tone, their style (the ‘physiognomy of the mind’) and, in this case their reaction to criticism.

Turning to David Graeber.

Speaks for itself really. After a sly dig at my lack of importance, followed by the teensy straw-man that I think 99.9% of the world should die, followed by a surreal reference to my ‘white buddies’ he went on, in his next tweet, to say that everyone in the group he belongs to (‘anarchists’ he calls them) is laughing at people like me. Great stuff.

Chomsky’s response?

I actually had read it, at least enough to have an opinion. Purposely evasive. If you’d like a response on something specific, could try.

Bit cryptic. I didn’t pursue it though, as I’ve already had two gigantic email exchanges with him. What I wrote in the article that was based on those emails was no more evasive — purposefully or otherwise — than in the emails themselves. It is Chomsky, like Graeber, who cannot face these kind of criticisms — i.e. from further left.

Jonathan Cook, mentioned obliquely in the piece, wrote to me and said that he liked what I had written (not quite enough to share with his followers, but nevermind). He said that I am ‘only interested in Anarchism in the future’, that I did not provide any solutions and that I needed to be clearer about what I want from ‘unofficials’. I replied that I have provided solutions elsewhere in my work; plenty of them, that I am demonstrably not interested (or not principally interested) in ‘anarchism in the future’ (where it will inevitably happen) and that criticism clearly comes with it’s own recommendations (‘You eat too much ice-cream’ = ‘don’t eat so much ice-cream.’ ‘Your views are basically socialist’ = ‘Give up these views.’). Cook didn’t pursue the matter.

Ran Prieur wrote this:

When I was young, I was a warrior. I wanted to slay dragons. At around age 40, I shifted into being a scout. Now I want to figure things out. Specifically, I want to ask the most important questions, come up with original answers, and write them with extreme concision. Looking back, my essays were often dishonest. I would start with a beautiful and simple story, and then go looking for stuff to back it up, and ignore stuff that didn’t fit. It’s a good way to get an audience, but it’s short-sighted. At the peak of my popularity, I noticed that my following was becoming cult-like. Some readers would put an idealized image of me in their heads, and then would get mad at me personally for not fitting that image. When I understood this, I consciously shifted from trying to be inspiring, to trying not to be inspiring. (The exception is my fiction, which no one has unpacked yet.)

In the real world he doesn’t come up with original answers, his essays in the past weren’t dishonest (although they could be wrong, but that’s another matter) and he didn’t consciously shift from being inspiring to trying to not be inspiring; if it had been conscious he would be coming up with conscious (and therefore original) answers. You would also still have the feeling that a conscious person was writing them, rather than a facsimile. Reading early Ran’s stuff you can almost hear a wild, alive, elven prince laughing, laughing, laughing at the mad beauty of life… Reading his later stuff is like reading a museum brochure.

(31st July Edit) I had an exchange of mails with Paul Kingsnorth which I summarised, publishing extracts here. Kingsnorth wrote to me outraged that I had shared ‘private correspondence’. In fact I should have asked him — I really just forgot — so I apologised to him and removed it. What I will say is that Kingsnorth wrote six emails to me, about a thousand words, in which he did almost nothing but insult me. Lots and lots and lots of insults, some of them quite outrageously childish. When I pointed this out to him — that he was incapable of intelligently responding, he agreed with me! He said — he said — that his response was ‘without content or argument’. He even said that the rest of his work was meaningless.2 Amazing stuff and, I have to say, quite funny.

I also had a few responses from other people. Lots of positive stuff along with a fair few criticisms. These latter fell into three groups. One was that I am just as abusive, nasty, bitter, snarky and angry as (for example) Graeber. The next was that I don’t understand Chomsky, Fisher, Kingsnorth, etc., and the third was that I am practicing ‘purity politics’ rejecting these thinkers because they don’t fit with my narrow understanding of the truth (or of anarchism). I’ll let the article (indeed my work generally) answer for itself. You can see for yourself how ‘nasty’ or ‘abusive’ I am, how well I understand Chomsky and company and what I have to say about the ‘identity politics’ charge (which I address at several points). The point is these criticisms are not substantive. There is no actual content to them.

SNARK

Kingsnorth said that all my work — yes all of it — was ‘snark’. The reason sarcasm is said to be the lowest form of wit is that it is so incredibly easy. Just curl your lip and scoff and the whole job is done. No need to offer anything more. If you do offer something more — serious, substantial criticism or argument, perhaps even higher forms of wit, ideally a touch of warmth in there somewhere or lightness, a body of work that is not cynical, that endeavours to get to the glorious truth of life and death — then a bit of ‘ironic scorn’ is fine, particularly in the case of Guardian writers, professionals, the entire right wing, the entire left wing, the herd-mind of the masses, celebrities, your self and mine. Snark only really works like swearing does, a dusting, or an occasional barb upon actual content. If sarcasm is all you have — or irony, signposting, sloganeering, reportage, whimsy, whining, intellectual wank, name-calling and the other forms of empty verbiage — then we have a problem.

Note that just as disgust looks like bitterness, which is outrage plus envy (or regret) and outrage looks like anger, so mockery, which is fairly light, looks very similar to dark, scornful sarcasm. The critical decisive factor tends to be, in practice, who the target it. If it’s me — or ‘one of us’ — the self will automatically translate the former into the latter. Thus, to Kingsnorth, my essay looks like its fairly dripping with envy at his success, innate anger and twisted sneering.

Talking of the Guardian though, I have two pieces coming up, one reviewing Fleabag and another reviewing the Guardian’s lifestyle writers. If you are as sensitive as Kingsnorth is to [other people’s] snark, you might like to avoid these as they are fairly swimming in the substance.

LEFT BRAIN RIGHT BRAIN

A few years ago a book came out called The Master and his Emissary, by Iain McGilchrist, which summarises recent findings in brain lateralisation. He says that after neuroscience had discovered that there was a difference between how the left and right brain operate, a tonne of pop psychology emerged, feeding on these crude discoveries and making sweeping declarations about the left brain handling language and logic and the right brain handling emotion and imagination, all of which turned out to be wrong or at best without nuance.

But none of that actually swept away the fact that the brain has an ‘asymmetrical complementary,’ that the brain does seem to divide certain functions laterally. I don’t mean to summarise the whole book — although I recommend it, very much, particularly if you are familiar with Julian Jaynes’ now quite well-read book, on a similar theme, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind which is fundamentally wrong. Rather, I just want to share a little chart that I made of the differences which McGilchrist has listed, ‘translated’ into my own vocabulary.

The title of McGilchrist’s book refers to an idea of Nietzsche that the rational mind has taken over the intuitive mind as a primary source of information about reality, that, in effect, the servant has taken the throne of the king, and turned reality on its head. We are, in other words, talking of metaphor here, the only way to reach the truth of psychological reality. I’ll have more to say on all this in due course, although I’d like to finish by noting that, first of all, the above findings do not mean ‘words bad, saying nothing good’. This is a popular idea amongst some lefties, because the middle-class man never really speaks of right and wrong, good and bad, only of opinions and perspectives. The bourgeois left therefore take metaphor, ambiguity, mystery, uncertainty, etc. to mean ‘lack of truth’, a state of affairs which they are perfectly comfortable with. Essentially anything goes; anything but meaning. Or, conversely, because nothing can be directly said, therefore nothing really can be said — directly or otherwise. It’s a convincing, ‘revolutionary’ position that is, in truth, a kind of intellectual living death.

The other thing to be noted in this new left-brain-right-brain image of the psyche is that it is just that — an image; and it can only ever be an image. The reality of consciousness can only be known in consciousness, not in any measurable effect of it. You can no more understand consciousness through scientific study, even McGilchrists’ radical study, than you can a camera through studying a photograph, or music through studying scores. I have noted that the so-called ‘right brain’ is capable of grasping that which is beyond the self, beyond thought and beyond measurement; which necessarily means beyond the schema above, and certainly beyond any crude ideas of an essential ‘I’ living in the right brain and using a less-essential tool-like left-brain. That would be left-brain madness.

WHY CHILDREN ARE GOING INSANE

Just to remind you, as you probably already know this, the reason that children are going out of their minds are as follows.

1. No access to nature. This has been going on for hundred, even thousands of years. Now children, who are of course closer their animal nature than adults, are completely deprived of any animal interactions with each other or with the wild. One in eight children have never even seen a completely domesticated cow. The number who have played in the wild, for days on end, lighting fires, climbing trees, pissing from cliffs, is close to zero.

2. Parental Brainwashing. Parents have also been subtly torturing children for millennia. I outline this process in The Apocalypedia.

3. No access to adults. This one I didn’t mention in that book. Although parents and adults corrupt their children on the subtlest level possible, they also usually love their children unconditionally and are repositories of the culture which children need to function in the world and to meaningfully express themselves within it. Total schooling, social rootlessness and the invasion of technologically-mediated peers during free time has completely cut ties with adult love and culture, putting children at the mercy of peer-group culture, highly conditional affection and the corporate world which feeds it.3

4. Food. White sugar, white rice, white flour, carbs, chemicals, vegetables with no nutrients or flavour, meat saturated with hormones, antibiotics and the misery of modern factory farming.

5. Tech. Sitting prone, sense-dimmed, tightly focused on a tiny square of light. Indistinguishable from hypnotism.

6. School. This one is about a hundred years old. Also covered in The Apocalypedia, and here.

7. Collapse. I have discovered that a surprising number of children are aware of the upcoming calamity, but even if they’re not they feel it, they smell it out, the essential pointlessness of the world, the futility of work, the meaninglessness of all they are taught. Children are the living zeitgeist. If you want to see the world, look at what they are doing, how they are talking to each other, the music they are listening to.

That’s why the children are going insane, not just conspicuously horrifically mad like Emirati schoolchildren or Reading townies (more on both later), but also mad like the nice-nice friendly-polite colourless sops shuffling through the better schools whose vivid innards are turning into a marshmallowy mass of boredom.

Notes

  1. Zerzan said the piece was ‘important work’. Thanks John. Big fan of Zerzan of course, although as I’ve mentioned elsewhere I disagree with him quite deeply on matters of gender.
  2. and that his next book (already feted by the TLS) is about how he never says anything. Hear Zerzan’s perceptive assessment here.
  3. I’m indebted to Gabor Maté for that observation.
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