Knowing Yourself Without the World, Research Time, 14/12/2016

It speaks to the weird complexity of our time at the end of 2016 that Steve Bannon once called himself a Leninist.

Yeah, it’s bloody weird that one of the most right-wing figures in American politics today says he follows the philosophy of the founder of the Soviet Union. But there’s a lot about Lenin’s revolutionary theory that Bannon has embraced.

Not the content, of course. Just the methods. In the interview where Bannon discussed this idea, he discussed how he wanted to destroy pretty much the entire political establishment of the United States.

The grotesque, dilated capillaries of his eyes stare into your soul.
Basically, he’s an accelerationist. He wants an entirely new political and social order for his country, and considers the best way to achieve that is driving all the destructive processes that burn down everything that exists.

What would he replace it with? He may deny it – and there’s plenty of room for plausible deniability – but I’d say he wants an ethnically cleansed white nationalist order for America. He’s already given hipster white nationalism* a high-profile, mainstream forum.

* And what is the alt-right but white nationalism gone hipster? I mean, just look at Richard Spencer’s haircut.

Then there’s that rumour that he refused to let his daughter attend a particular private school because it had too many Jewish students. He denied that one. But I have my doubts – just gut feelings, based on what I’ve seen of him. And no one knows a man like his ex-wife.

Now, we should consider the possibility that Bannon was trolling. The man runs Breitbart, a website at the centre of the internet’s right-wing reactionary provocations. But there’s the gleeful nihilist evil of Milo Yiannopoulos,** and there’s the real racism and incitement of the general population of Brietbart’s comment boards.

** I’m pretty sure he’d consider that a compliment.

And their editors.

White nationalism today – hipster white nationalism, if you will – has taken on many techniques of identity politics in a horrifyingly twisted form. Because no matter what seemingly every other earnest, yelling internet pundit*** has to say about the problems of identity politics, when done right they are a path to liberation.

*** You know, bloggers like me, on every scale of pay and prominence.

I wrote that last week, and McGill professor Jacob Levy makes a solid case here. Identity politics is recognizing some aspect of yourself that’s racialized, and organizing a movement to end that in your society.

Lead poisoning is one invisible vector of racializing oppression in
North American society – thanks to a variety of urban development
policies and processes across the United States, black children were
disproportionately affected by lead paint on their houses and lead
poisoning as a result.
Levy discusses the LBGTQ rights movement and Black Lives Matter. These are movements that call attention to cultural morals and state institutions which – intentionally, unintentionally, and systematically – put great harm on people because of their identity.

These are movements that fight racialization – racialization being that hierarchy of material deprivation perpetuated through morals and institutions.

White nationalism doesn’t fight racialization – this movement aims to beef up racialization and make our current moral and institutional hierarchies more intense and immovable than they are already.

So how can white nationalism call itself identity politics? Only because the popular conception of identity politics is a twisted and demented version of what it really is.

This twisted vision is sort of right – it touches on some of the methods, how identity politics gets started. But it skips the core because the popular conception of identity politics pays no attention to systematic racialization processes on a society-wide scale.

Identity politics gets started through a moment of self-consciousness: I understand myself in terms of this particular feature of my identity – my sexuality, my skin colour, my religion. The core method of this popular idea is to organize and mobilize communities to have their own such moment of self-consciousness – to see themselves primarily as this identity.

So a pundit will call white nationalism an identity politics because it’s a movement organized around seeing themselves primarily in terms of their whiteness. Their grievance is ridiculous because whites have historically been the benefits of our civilization’s racializing hierarchies. Losing systematic privilege is seen – bizarrely – as discrimination.

Of course, real white nationalists don’t feel this. They never believed they were equal – equality insults them. But folks who aren’t full-on white nationalists who support Trump and fear anti-racist movements? They believe equality has always existed, or at least that the proper order is equal enough.

So they see movements against racialization and they feel threatened. Because they think the world is already equal and fair, they see movements to redress inequalities as movements for supremacy. And they start to see racist politics as movements for white equality in the face of oppression from rising rebel groups.

That’s how Steve Bannon, Richard Spencer, and even such a horrorshow as Matthew Heimbach are going mainstream.

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