Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Reacting to the Reactionaries: Racism and The Dark Enlightenment

Being the experienced road-warrior of the information highway I am certain you are, dear reader, you’ve probable come across a peculiar online meta-movement known as ‘The Dark Enlightenment.’ If you haven’t been introduced, allow me the honours. The Dark Enlightenment isn’t a political party or a front or even an organisation, it’s a loose collection of ideas and ideologues, self-described as ‘neo-reactionary’, a somewhat paradoxical turn of phrase, to be sure. It is very difficult to define The Dark Enlightenment (though here is an attempt to define its underlying features by a neo-reactionary) but, broadly speaking, they tend to be defined by their:
  •     Rejection of universalism and egalitarianism.
  •          Preference for particularist politics over universalist politics (that is, they ‘accept’ that different people flourish under different forms of government, such as, but not limited to: monarchy, aristocracy, ‘a limited form of politea’ or a corporate-state.
  •          Rejection of democracy as, at best, a dangerous sham.
  •          Belief in the importance of ‘Human Biodiversity’ (HBD).
  •          Tendency towards libertarian economics.
  •          A surprising intellectual streak (these aren’t your run-of-the-mill neo-Nazi thugs).
  •          Insistence on realism.

And much more besides...
Though the movements ideological genealogy can be largely traced back to one 'Mencius Moldbug' the phrase ‘The Dark Enlightenment’ itself is an invention of rogue philosopher Nick Land (I advise the reader to cast their eyes over Land’s original manifesto, as well as his previous essays- as much as you might disagree with what he has to say, one cannot deny that he is an interesting thinker, however misguided). Largely, TDE want to see a return to ‘traditional’ societies, while often also embracing modern technology (‘archeo-futurism’ is the rather pleasing expression they use), on the insistence that these forms of hierarchical, if not outright feudal, societies are the most natural expressions of humanity. They emphasise the differences between human beings, particularly as these manifest between ‘races,’ and their opposition to the present, modernist world-order, ‘The Cathedral.’

This post won’t be a general critique of TDE, as such a thing is far beyond my powers (though another's attempt at that can be found here), rather, I am going to ask one question, focusing on a particular issue.

Should we talk to them about ‘race’?


When it comes to race and ethnicity, TDE insists that it is simply being ‘realistic.’ We accept that genetics play a role in the development of every other species, so why not also our own? This perspective, which they call ‘Human Biodiversity,’ or HBD, holds that racial differences between human beings is more than just skin deep. Rather, different types of human being have evolved, and this is reflected by their societies. For example, Middle Eastern societies tend to be organised along tribal principles. Societies in the Far East tend to be very focused on homogeneity and obedience, while in the West competition and individuality are held in high esteem, and so on.

Why are we so insistent that heredity doesn’t play a role in the diversity of these societies? Why do we insist that the only origin of social difference is culture, choice, and perhaps fate/chance? At most, we might be willing to admit that environment and even climate might play a role, but why are we so afraid that inherited, genetic differences might cause a certain ethnic group to favour individualism, while another will favour the family?

Such are the questions that they ask.

Now, perhaps with clenched fists and through gritted teeth, we do have to admit that we cannot reject the possibility that heredity plays some role in social diversity out of hand, however difficult that is to say. I ask the reader to look over that sentence once more before they continue, to be sure that they understood what I am saying here. I am not saying they are right, nor that ‘progressives’ are wrong. I am merely admitting that, yes, strictly speaking we cannot reject the possibility that heredity is a non-negligible factor in societal development a priori.

I will grant them this, they are entirely right to say that we live in a society where people feel ‘uncomfortable’ when discussing race, even in abstracted forms…

As I said above, TDE insist that they are being scientific about the question of race. And…well, they’re not. They’re just not. I will admit that it is not beyond the realms of possibility that we haven’t paid enough attention to genetics when it comes to human development on a macro-social scale, and a more thorough social science, which includes a look at heredity, might be desirable. But, for the most part, neo-reactionaries seem to just use the claim that ‘traditional societies where right about some stuff’ and 'we need to have a proper debate about race-realism' to, very conveniently, justify their own prejudices. Indeed, there is a vast difference between admitting the possible importance of heredity and then insisting that it primarily manifests racially (and sexually, we must not forget the often outright misogyny of this movement!).

However, an interesting opportunity might have been inadvertently presented to us here: like I said, TDE claim to be scientific, and put a great deal of statistics forward to back this claim up. Their interpretations are dubious at best, which suggests that if we, deploying a rational and more truly scientific apparatus than theirs, were to confront them with overwhelming facts to the contrary (even if we do, under the weight of incontrovertible evidence, end up accepting that we’ve underestimated the role of heredity, it hardly means that no other factor is important, nor is it say that it would even be the most important developmental factor), wouldn’t they have to accept this? 

I like to think that, in such a situation, at least some of the more sophisticated neo-reactionaries would relent to the contrary point, the more intellectually honest ones at least. But, it would most likely be a lost cause. As I’ve said, for the most part, I imagine that many of them had already made up their minds about race and gender long before Moldbug and Land appeared on the scene.
This, then, begs another question: should we talk to them at all?

Do we run the risk of tacitly legitimising a view point when we agree to debate with it? Consider climate change: the evidence that human activity is the primary driver of present climatological changes is overwhelming. And yet, we see an odd insistence by the media, particularly but not exclusively in America, that we should treat this as a ‘debate’ of some kind. In so doing, we run the risk of making the opposition lobby look respectable.
There is a serious point here. Moldbug made a comment about white supremacists that could be well used to describe TDE itself: ‘I can imagine one possibility which might make white nationalism genuinely dangerous. White nationalism would be dangerous if there was some issue on which white nationalists were right, and everyone else was wrong. Truth is always dangerous. Contrary to common belief, it does not always prevail. But it’s always a bad idea to turn your back on it. …While the evidence for human cognitive biodiversity is indeed debatable, what’s not debatable is that it is debatable …[even though] everyone who is not a white nationalist has spent the last 50 years informing us that it is not debatable …’ (Land’s own edits)
How do we deal with this? If we attempt to have a ‘serious discussion about HBD’ with them in order to prove them wrong, we might make them seem credible by agreeing to the debate at all. On the other hand, what if we do the opposite? What if we ignore them, or even make a point of our refusal to co-operate with them? What happens here? Arguably, we run the same risk as before: tacitly legitimising a view point, but what is even worse is that by insisting that it remain unacknowledged we make it look subversive.

A few years ago, in the UK, we were all rather worried by the British National Party (BNP), a far-right party who were suddenly doing quite well, not enough for them to have a serious chance of seeing an MP in the Commons, but the presence of three members of the BNP in the European Parliament certainly spooked the left, centre and right. Things died down, the BNP has again faded into obscurity (and now we’re all deathly worried by the bizarre spectacle that is the United Kingdom Independence Party, but I digress), but that wasn’t before their party Leader, Nick Griffin, appeared on the flagship debate programme Question Time. Things didn’t go too well for him, but that to one side, should he have been allowed on there at all? Didn't his inclusion suggest that he had something to say...?

Žižek, with his usual panache, makes a good point here. Isn’t it a little worrying that we are even considering having a conversation about ‘race-realism’ again? Of course, you might respond to this by pointing out that TDE isn’t exactly well known, but it is still worrying that a group who openly argue in favour of concepts of racial hierarchy and inequality are beginning to come across as even slightly respectable, particularly when we find ourselves being forced to concede them points, even if they are largely only academic. The point, however, is not confined to the neo-reactionaries alone, it is something that all of us who are politically aware must consider: how do we respond to the Fascists today? Do we ignore them, and hope they burn themselves out, or do we confront them and run the risk of rendering them respectable?

Perhaps, more properly: do we dare to ignore them? 

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