Right vs Left? Newsflash - you're all assholes·
I’m done with arguing with people online. It makes me into an asshole, and I’m in good company. Regardless of the platform - Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, SubStack - the internet is now 95% assholes (and that’s on a good day).
The fact that it took me so long to get here is a testament to both stubbornness and deep stupidity. I have spent years arguing about the principles, while completely missing what was actually going on. Arguments online aren’t about the truth anymore, or about finding consensus - they’re about signalling allegiance and smiting the unworthy. We aren’t talking or discussing - we’re engaged in an information war. And I don’t mean that figuratively.
(If at this point you’re already rolling your eyes at my hypocrisy, please see my Standard Disclaimer)
I have a pretty specific definition of “asshole” in mind here: a person who goes out of their way to be unkind, scornful, judgemental and dismissive of anyone they view as an ideological opponent. The hallmark of the asshole is disproportionate meanness. In the asshole’s view of the world, all ideological opponents are part of a monolith - either actively seeking to destroy the faithful, or passively abetting their thought crimes. This makes them fair game. They have chosen to be untermenschen and pure, undiluted scorn is the least they deserve.
Neither side has a monopoly on assholes. At best they have different flavours (sorry, not sorry). If anything it’s an oligopoly of assholes - two mass movements squeezing out all the space for real debate. My title mentioned “Left” and “Right” but those aren’t remotely accurate or useful labels anymore.
The Left, once the bastion of civil liberties and free speech, has morphed into a deeply intolerant and ideologically doctrinaire juggernaut, utterly uninterested in debate or consensus. The fact that they are still labelled “Liberal” in the USA is an indicator of just how utterly deranged the politics of the world’s most important democracy have become.
For my money the most accurate label is Progressive - and I don’t mean that as a compliment. The previous Progressive era had many of the same hallmarks - zealotry, endless moralising and deep intolerance of any opposition or even reasonable debate. That era brought us many good things - universal suffrage for one - but it also gave birth to some truly stupid and destructive policies - Prohibition being the most obvious.
The Right is equally disconnected from its raison d’etre. Once the preserve of boring business guys and the fundamentally religious, these alleged “conservatives” are now closer to the mass nativist movements of the early 20th century.
The racial obsession has been replaced (to an extent) by an inchoate stew of resentment and paranoia that passes for ideology. They’re much less racist than their opponents claim. If you disdain (or, better still, hate) “Woke” people then you’re welcome in their flock, even if you’re not a proper member of Western Civilisation. They let black people fight in World War 2, but that doesn’t mean they got to sit at the same lunch counter when they got back home - be serious now.
The most accurate label I can come up with for these erstwhile social conservatives is Reactionary. I mean the term in its original sense - not anti-Communist so much as anti-change of any kind. Or, to be even more precise, anti-any-of-the-changes-championed-by-the-Progressives. Literally any of them - even changes that might benefit them personally.
What’s become abundantly clear to me over the past six or seven years is how deeply, deeply toxic both of these movements are - how impervious to criticism, self-reinforcing and self-sealing they have become.
We could blame social media - it is certainly a contributor - but the underlying ideas and motivations themselves are ultimately to blame. Those ideas and beliefs are now so deeply entrenched in these movements that they are invisible to the participants - they are the oxygen, unconsciously breathed.
Take the Progressives. Their unconscious motto is “we are the righteous arm of equity and justice, and you will obey or face the consequences”. The hallmarks of Progressive argumentation online are sanctimony, intolerance, authoritarianism and vengeance.
The defining shared derangement of Progressives is that the world has never been more racist, hateful and intolerant of “minorities” than it is now - an idea I call “Bigot-World”. Never mind that one in five marriages in the USA last year were between people of different races. Never mind that class and income inequality are much bigger problems, and that identity politics is an entirely useless lens through which to view that problem. This mono-mania is as self-defeating as it is idiotic.
The greatest sin for a Progressive is heresy - to speak against the Way of Progress as written by the prophets, Saint Kendi being first among their number. Progressives behave as though the inherent “rightness” of their ideas not only guarantees victory but also justifies any collateral damage inflicted along the way.
As such, real phenomena like Cancel Culture (really mob justice dressed up in Twitter-speak) can be dismissed as “justified consequences”. They had it coming, you see, and now they’re getting what they deserve. Careers ruined? Sounds like another bigot learning their lesson the hard way.
At their worst Progressives remind me of participants in Soviet-style purges or French revolutionaries. The zeal is palpable, as is the blood-lust. The teenagers who spearheaded Mao’s Cultural Revolution were also certain of their inherent rightness. And if a few errant professors needed to be beaten to death in public? That’s the cost of doing business. You can’t make a utopia without breaking a few heads.
My most recent encounter with this spirit is what tipped me over the edge. As I wrote this tweet I knew what to expect. I was spitting on sacred ground. I was agreeing with the enemy, and a trans-phobic enemy at that! And most of the replies were exactly as I expected. Within a few replies someone was already implying that I was siding with people who “want trans people dead”. In no sane and reasonable world was I doing that.
I’m not going to rehash that argument except to say that lasting social change comes from a slow consensus and requires negotiation. If your default position is “we’re not waiting for you bigots to catch up” then eventually it’s going to be 90% “bigots” and 10% Progressives. Telling people “we’ll teach your children what we see fit, you stay out of it” is a deeply naive and impractical proposition.
Of course, the Reactionaries are no better. The second last time I bothered to try to discuss something on Twitter, I was saddened to find someone I have always thought of as kind and sensitive saying some really unhinged and hateful things about paedophilia becoming “an accepted sexual orientation”. In fact I think said person is kind and sensitive, with a truly good heart, but the internet makes all of us into assholes eventually.
The tweet above speaks directly to the Reactionary’s unconscious motto: “they’re out to get us, to literally enslave and eradicate us, and nothing matters except that we win”. The hallmarks of Reactionary rhetoric are paranoia, cynicism, resentment, denial of objective facts and smug self-satisfaction.
The defining shared delusion of the Reactionaries is that their enemies want to destroy their culture. This is why you encounter rabid incels or mouth-breathing anti-vaxxers with Roman numerals or Greek statuary as their avatars. They truly believe this, which is why they fight against every single Progressive cause with such venom and vigour.
The greatest sin for a Reactionary is disloyalty. You cannot ever agree with the Woke enemy - that is admitting defeat and shaming your tribe. When The Kiffness announced that he was getting vaccinated for Covid19, his substantial Reactionary fanbase denounced him as a blood traitor. Ironic that these are the very people who whine the most about Cancel Culture.
There’s an atavistic appeal to being in the Reactionary tribe. It’s fun being the rebels and the punk rockers, particularly when your opponents are such joyless prigs and bores. You can take out all your frustration on them. And they are a constant source of nonsensical statements and reality-bending policies, perfect for mocking and skewering. Plans to stop teaching children algebra in the name of “equity” are just the tip of an iceberg of wrong-headedness.
But beneath all the memes and ironic MAGA hats, a dark core of fear and hatred is growing. For every redpilled scamp out for a laugh, there is a blackpilled nihilist for whom physical violence is a real possibility. Reactionaries are unwittingly cosying up to some truly bad people - hardcore racists, white nationalists and actual nazis. This isn’t theoretical - this is happening right now.
You might scoff at the idea of fascism making a serious reappearance, but there are a growing number South Africans who subscribe to ideas like Integralism and ethno-nationalism. These are people who literally think that putting the Catholic church - the world’s number one child rape organisation - in charge of municipalities is a good idea. The Progressives may be insufferable but at least they aren’t totally insane, and/or motivated by naked racism.
Yet the Progressives, who should be the bulwark against this yawning maw of atavism and hatred, are instead fertilising its roots with an endless stream of meaningless bullshit and unnecessarily divisive social policies. They’re debating how many critical race theorists can fit on the head of a pin while the actual nazis are gathering strength again.
If anything the last seven years has taught me that very smart people can always find intellectual justification for their emotional positions, however impractical, hate-filled or batshit crazy they may be. Because that’s what we’re all doing. We’ve made enormous emotional investments in our world views, and in despising those with opposing world views - and now we are collectively unable to climb down.
This entire article is, of course, hyperbole. There are many truly good humans and many brilliant, funny and profoundly good people that I will miss. And, knowing my obsessive nature, I will probably be back to arguing at some point. But for now I’m taking a break. It’s making me sad and tired. I need to learn to let people be wrong and dumb and irrational. After all they let me be that way, so fair’s fair.
Standard Disclaimer: I’m a straight, cis-gendered, middle-aged white man. I’m also human and subject to most of the flaws described above. If you think any or all of those things disqualify me from saying any of the above, I encourage you to close the tab and GTFO. You are unreachable and thus this is a waste of our collective time. Adios, cabrón. Don’t let the door hit you where the good Zeus split you.