Highlights for Neoreaction a Basilisk

Angela Nagle’s appalling Kill All Normies, which takes the jaw-droppingly foolish methodology of simply reporting all of the alt-right’s self-justifications as self-evident truths so as to conclude that the real reason neo-nazis have been sweeping into power is because we’re too tolerant of trans people.

This brings us to our second relatively uninteresting question, which is what to do about the alt-right. In this case the answer is even easier and more obvious than the first: you smash their bases of power, with violent resistance if necessary. If you want a more general solution that also takes care of the factors that led to a bunch of idiot racists being emboldened in the first place you drag all the billionaires out of their houses and put their heads on spikes.

The lethal meme, known as Roko’s Basilisk, used the peculiarities of Yudkowskian thought to posit a future AI that would condemn to eternal torture everyone from the present who had ever imagined it if they subsequently failed to do whatever they could to bring about its existence.

I want to be clear, with all possible sincerity, that I love the braggadocio here. I want what he is selling. Yes, Mencius, savagely tear away the veil of lies with which I cope with the abject horror that is reality and reveal to me the awful, agonizing truth of being. Give me the red pill. The problem is, once we get our golf ball-sized reality distortion pill home, put on some Laibach, and settle in for an epic bout of Thanatosian psychedelia, we discover the unfortunate truth: we’re actually just huffing paint in an unhygienic gas station bathroom. Jesus, this isn’t even bat country.

By “crap,” of course, I do not mean “wrong.” Rather, I mean obvious, in the sense of sounding like the guy at the bar watching the news (probably Fox) and muttering about how “they’re all a bunch of crooks.” Liberal democracy a hopelessly inadequate and doomed system preserved by a system of continual indoctrination? You don’t say.

And this really is stunningly weird in the context of all his red pill rhetoric about the corrupt horrors of liberal democracy. Because while there are a great many obvious critiques of contemporary society, “there’s just not enough respect for profit” really doesn’t feel like one of them.

With this, we have a genuinely tricky moment, simply because of the sheer and unbridled number of unexamined assumptions going on here.

But all the same, if you’re going to talk about suppressed ideologies that oppose the interests of entrenched power, you’ve really got to talk about the original red pill: Marxism.

It is tempting to suggest that Moldbug is a failed Marxist in the sense that Jupiter is a failed star, its mass falling tantalizingly short of the tipping point whereby nuclear fusion begins. Over and over again, Moldbug asks questions much like those that Marx asked, and his answers begin with many of the same initial observations. But inevitably, a few steps in, he makes some ridiculously broad generalization or fails to consider some obvious alternative possibility, and the train of thought fizzles into characteristic idiocy.

This sort of “the world can be saved if only everyone listens to me” narcissism belongs in the genre of fiction, where it can accomplish something, and not in the visionary manifesto, where it only reveals its own impotence.

That is not to say they can get away with being wrong, at least not straightforwardly so, but it is to reiterate that the key problem with Moldbug, Yudkowsky, and Land is that they are in key regards uninteresting—that they offer dull and unsatisfying answers to their most compelling questions, of which “hang out with a bunch of racist nerdbros” is merely the worst.

Terence McKenna’s suggestion that DMT is an alien intelligence’s attempt to communicate directly with the human brain

That’s the whole point of the right to exit—a final and decisive rescue of individual liberty at all costs. But exiting requires that people stay behind; if we all go, we’ll just have to storm out again. The entire point of the project is to separate the wheat from the chaff.

He posits that in this situation the “absolute limit to our ability to adequately understand the world at all” becomes increasingly relevant, and observes that this is a frequent theme of both philosophy and horror.

The truth is that, despite Land’s evident fascination with them, the bulk of neoreactionaries are not people one would want to have a beer with, and there’s not a great case for reading their books either.

Yudkowsky isn’t just running from error; he’s running from the idea of authority. The real horror of the Basilisk is that the AI at the end of the universe is just another third grade teacher who doesn’t care if you understand the material, just if you apply the rote method being taught.

Hauntology comes from within us; the Weird from outside.

The red pill, pwnage, and for that matter the horror reading, monstrous offspring, and Satanic inversions all follow the same basic pattern—a sort of conceptual infiltration of someone’s thought in which their own methods and systems are used against them.

It is, after all, the great one-liner critique of Mencius Moldbug: he’s exactly what you’d expect to happen if you asked a software engineer to redesign political philosophy. And crucially, Moldbug basically agrees with it—he just also genuinely believes that the Silicon Valley “disruptor” crowd would be capable of running the world with no problems if only people would let them.

Which is to say, Satan opens by negging Eve, accusing her of looking at him “with disdain, Displeas’d that I approach thee thus, and gaze Insatiate, I thus single, nor have feard Thy awful brow,”112 which may be the earliest instance of telling someone they have resting bitch face.

In the face of an ecologically brutal planet, the guys with guns and tribal loyalties are a depressingly compelling bet to stick around.

With Moldbug the sense is overwhelmingly that empathy just never crossed his mind as something to factor into his design. He flat out didn’t think of it. Yudkowsky, on the other hand, thinks about it a lot and cares very deeply about it; he’s just incompetent at it.

The result of this approach is that Yudkowsky, without really meaning to, tends to look at everyone else in the world as inefficient Eliezer Yudkowskys instead of people as such.

Moldbug, Yudkowsky, and Land don’t just “do poorly” with empathy—they represent the most visible and explicit edge of a Cathedral-scaled system of values that casts the desire to listen and try to understand people who are different from you as anathema to reason itself.

This forces us to consider white culture as a set of perpetual ruins—as something that has always been lost, and that can only be apprehended as a tenuous and incomplete reconstruction.

No, what’s really notable here is Moldbug’s doe-eyed certainty that such a thing as an absolute truth service could be built; that there is a general plan of action so self-evidently compelling that if he only expressed it properly everyone would immediately flock to his side. In short, after thousands of words railing against the Cathedral for secretly being a religion, he’s accidentally reinvented religion. And then lost the holy text. You couldn’t parody it better.

They have that marvelous feature of the best gods: perfectly answering a question you didn’t know you had.

And a few, such as Ahania, are genuinely breathtaking in their scope: a pleasure goddess representing intellectual curiosity who is bound in a Persephone-like structure of death and rebirth is a metaphysical/literary construct to rival Milton’s Satan, and one Blake barely scratches the surface of.

And it’s hard not to suggest that the world would be a better place if Yudkowsky had stuck to children’s literature for adult geeks as opposed to starting a weird AI cult that derails efforts to curtail malaria.

And while Gamergate usually doesn’t have a product to sell in quite the same literal way, it’s worth noting how, for instance, two doors down from them is someone like Stefan Molyneux, whose output amounts to 30-60 minute PowerPoint presentations consisting of a by-now familiar sort of low-content dissembling, and whose business endgame is literally a cult.

The Gamergate narrative has always required a vast quasi-conspiracy to function, some story whereby feminists or SJWs or cultural Marxists exercise near-complete control over video games and video game journalism.

Not even a monoculture then—an anticulture, with Vivian James ironically its perfect representation. It’s a desire to befit their worldview, its adamance dwarfed only by its fundamental emptiness. There’s nothing there. There’s never been anything there.

And Gamergate as a whole is scarcely better. It’s always been notable for its near-complete lack of actual discussion of videogames.

More interesting is where his basic inclination towards racial stereotyping originates from: the material realities of New York real estate, its patterns of historical ethnic migrations geologically stratified across the city’s expansion.

He might have had a name. But then he literally built a six-hundred-and-sixty-six foot tower to which he offered up that name, sacrificing it upon its black altar such that the building became a titanic sigil of the sixteenth Major Arcana of the Tarot of the Golden Dawn, symbolizing destruction and ruin, with only the remnants of the man whose name it ate living within the rotting heart of its penthouse.

He sold his name, yes, but what did he get out of the deal? The answer, simply put, is what he would hereafter treat as his most valuable asset: his brand. In short, he became a creature of pure image.

But it also includes the raw allostatic load of living under his rule; the basic psychological wear and tear of waking up every morning in a post-fact world dominated by a bullying narcissist. The act of living in a world where the basic validity of your identity is contingent and perpetually imperiled, where the very definition of “fact” is in dispute, and where a brutish logic of dominance and humiliation pervades the entire social order.

Individuals can act all they want. They won’t make the end of the world go away, any more than their freedom to quit work can make them free to not starve

It helps that one can be against today’s racist wars—though not on the grounds of anti-racism, except of the most specious variety—while quietly accepting and utilising the racial inequities inherited from the racist imperialism of the past. As usual, reactionary thinking is dependant upon amnesia.

It admits that value is a mental construct, but one that is ‘real’ because it has a real social basis and real social effects. Value, for Marx, is neither a thing nor an essence, neither quality nor spirit. It is a social reality because of what humans actually do.

Theoretically detached from the objective and the material, and connected to business as a client, mainstream economics has become—to a large extent—an ideological discourse.

This is how Moldbug and Thiel’s view that democracy is incompatible with liberty arises. A democracy is a society in which the mass of the population—who are, by definition, mostly without property—can shape policy so that it curtails the freedom of the propertied to make their choices. In a free society—by their definition—the capitalists get to make their choices unfettered.

For the Austrians, democracy is to blame for capitalism going into crisis. Democracy breeds special claims by people who are not really concerned with making the choices that regulate the economy. The people without a big stake—the masses—thus destabilise the system.

This is the so-called Austrian ‘Business Cycle.’ Boiled right down: crashes and recessions happen because central banks set interest rates too low. Easy credit results, which screws up market signals. Loaners go crazy. Bubbles inflate and burst. Such lopsided production can only be remedied via letting interest rates rise to their ‘natural’ rate. In other words, the Austrian prescription is: let the crisis rip. It will be harsher but quicker. The only cure for god’s wrath is to wait for the plague to exhaust itself.

Opposition to democracy is entailed by the Austrian view of how capitalism works. Democracy is the rule of the ignorant and selfish public, and the state is their tyrannical arm. Moronic majoritarianism wields unjustifiable power over the propertied and the entrepreneurs who are, for Hayek for instance, almost promethean artists in their special sensitivity and understanding.

The logically consequent idea that emergency dictatorship may be necessary to preserve liberal society from democracy is in neoliberalism’s source code. Neoliberalism, contrary to myth, is an authoritarian ideology, committed to defending property and wealth by violence both physical and structural.

The leaders of Rothbard’s revolution would be the libertarians and the minarchists. The troops would be the masses, spurred to fight the elites. And the spurring would take the form of appeals to racism.

The disproportionate number of former-libertarians in American fascism is revealing because conservatives are far more numerous in America than libertarians, which suggests that libertarianism is statistically over-represented.

The Cultural Marxism conspiracy theory now espoused across the alt-right is a reiteration of what the (actual) Nazis called kulturbolschewismus, an idea central to Nazi dogma, about degenerate art and culture being manufactured by Jewish communists to undermine the unity of the German people. The resurrection and repackaging of this idea across a movement soaked in libertarianism is not surprising, because antagonism to socialism goes right back to the dawn of libertarianism, to the Austrian School’s foundational and self-chosen role as the intellectual foe of Marx.

People might not necessarily formulate their objections to the content of newspapers that way, but they’re nevertheless absenting themselves from daily exposure to one of the main means by which the ruling class produce ideology and public consent. This is at least as big a concern to the people running the media as the need to claw back profits.

In all of these cases, the strategy is to play on insecurities of young men in an age where there are mounting ideological challenges out there—especially on the Internet—to their untroubled social privilege. Coupled with the twin legacies of decades of neoliberalism—increasing ideological and political disorientation, and a future far less secure than that which faced their parents and grandparents at their age—such challenges can terrify the semi-privileged layer of young, white, middle class men, who enjoy all those privileges without also enjoying actual material security.

Reactionary politics once again takes advantage of having a wide batrachian mouth, both sides of which may be used for talking.

The reason actions don’t lead inevitably to goals isn’t because there are complex material structures of oppression that heavily shape people’s lives, but because we exist in linear time. Not only does Rothbard not connect time to what dominates it for most people in capitalist society—work—but hilariously, he doesn’t even bother connecting time to its ultimate horror and constraint, death.

To quote the monster directly: “Milton produced Paradise Lost in the way that a silkworm produces silk, as the expression of his own nature.” Marx would like all labour to be like that, and sees no fundamental reason why it shouldn’t.

It’s pretty clear that the Austrian School doesn’t even remotely care about this fact, but it doesn’t inherently contradict anything they say. But that is, in the end, the point, and one I’ve made before: they don’t care. That’s clear, in a sense, all the way back in the basic axiom, with its active foregrounding of the heroic individual acting upon the world, as opposed to the state of affairs that most actual people experience, which is mostly being buffeted around by various external forces, whether they be governments, history, or the class system. Indeed, “individual human beings are acted upon” would be every bit as justifiable an axiom as “individual human beings act,” if not moreso.

They have been hugging Marxism on the brink of the Reichenbach Falls for a century and a half, staring into its eyes, but have never really seen it.

Mises’ only invocation of courage is in the context of statesmen standing up to labor unions. Decency only comes up in the context of “laws of morality and decency.” And his sole mention of kindness is a complete and grotesque misunderstanding of the very concept as he declares that “the indigent has no claim to the kindness shown to him,” as if being unearned isn’t the entire fucking point of kindness. It is a conception of human action without a shred of concern for empathy – human action devoid of all humanity.

But the real reason for this is that, more than anyone else, Marx provided an alternative to the charade on which their entire philosophical edifice was constructed. He showed the need for the destruction of that which, to them, gives the world meaning—and a method by which it might be achieved.

Given that no small number of conspiracy theories are, in point of fact, anti-Semitic, any attempt to uncritically synthesize them will be as well.

Icke’s theory is much the same way. We know wealthy elites control our minds. Knowing they’re lizards (or, for that matter, Jews) doesn’t actually change anything. It is, to borrow a phrase, malignantly useless knowledge.

Not only does nothing follow from Icke’s conclusions, nothing follows within the argument itself. Icke does not so much lay out a case for the lizard people as blunder among vague associations, hoping that the aggregate of a bunch of extremely tenuous connections will somehow be persuasive instead of a discombobulated mess of shoddy research and sloppy reasoning.

The history of the world consists of a lot of wealthy assholes sleeping with each other and killing people. Changing up which assholes slept with and killed who doesn’t actually make much of a difference.

Ridiculous arguments, especially ones that recognize their absurdity, are capable of revealing things that do not follow obviously, if at all, from self-consciously serious approaches, but that are nevertheless true and valuable realizations.

So is his inclination to be skeptical of the “official” version of history. The value of this, to be clear, is not simply skepticism for its own sake (an approach that is just as likely to lead to things like climate change denial or creationism as it is to some productive insight), but rather the realization that, as the saying goes, history is written by the victors, and the standard version of history is inevitably the one that most flatters those in power.

It is not entirely clear why monstrous truth must take reptilian form, but just as the weird turns instinctively to tentacles and the hauntological inevitably drifts towards skulls, for some reason awful truth must take the form of a reptile, whether a petrifying basilisk or just a bunch of pan-dimensional aliens.

This is a leftist book, and so must engage in a circular firing squad at least once.

This set a pattern whereby trans rights were repeatedly employed by the gay rights movement as a bargaining chip—as the thing they were pointedly willing to sell out in the name of compromise, as they spectacularly did when lobbying for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which excluded trans people in every version that was brought to Congress prior to 2009.

Thiel’s vision of corporate success is blatantly just the Moldbug/Land vision of how authoritarian capitalism will save us from the Great Filter.

Rather, it’s that once you’re willing to question the basic fact of Thiel’s competence it rapidly becomes apparent that the only actual evidence for this competence is that he has a lot of money.

And his fascination with seasteading numbers him among the litany of people interested in micronations, which is such a rich vein of complete crackpottery that I’d hate to deprive you of the pleasure of Googling it. This borders on the investment portfolio you’d get if you gave David Icke several billion dollars.

Who would craft such a thing as the alt-right? Only a fucking idiot. What other answer were we possibly going to find? It’s been idiots all the way down. And so of course even its billionaire supervillains bankrolling world-conquering AIs, vampiric life extension, and Donald Trump are idiots. This borders on “A is A.” And yet for all its obviousness, it captures what is perhaps the key realization about the alt-right—one that’s been implicit through much of this book, but is worth making explicit as we come to a close: they’re stupid.

I do not suggest this to diminish their horror. Far from it: the essential horror of the abyss is stupidity. That’s why it’s an abyss. The unique and exquisite danger of stupidity is that by its nature, it is beyond reason. There is nothing that can be said to it, because by definition it wouldn’t understand. It is an ur-basilisk—the one terrifying possibility that haunts every single argument that has ever been made. It is a move without response, playing by no rules other than its own, which do not generally include any obligation towards consistency. It is, in its way, the only approach that can never lose an argument. And in the alt-right and its affiliates we have one of the most staggeringly vast nexuses of raw stupidity the world has ever crafted.

Parklets Bergmannstraße

I got around to visiting the Parklets in the Bergmannstraße. That is a plural because there are two of them during this pilot and that’s it.

Parklet Bergmannstrasse

As far as quality and usage goes I don’t think there is anything to complain about. The benches look and feel nice and they are being used by the tons of people passing through this street. It is nice to have some extra seating here that is non-commercial.

Parklet Bergmannstrasse

The only issue is that the rest of the street (especially the traffic situation on the thoroughfare) is still terrible. After having seen the botched project in the Maaßenstraße local government is afraid to do much of anything, let alone give this street and neighborhood the overhaul they so desperately need.

Maybe they are right to not do anything. Public works in Berlin have the tendency to not work out. If you already know that you are going to screw it up, you might as well keep your hands off it. But there are lots of new people in Berlin who demand better and in many cases are also willing and able to do it themselves. Let’s see how long the government can resist that pressure.

Begegnungszone Nein Danke

UIKonf Unconference: Gradual Coordinators

I dropped by the UIKonf unconference yesterday and gave a quick code/architecture talk. Normally I do mostly design/strategy type talks which are a lot more handwavy, so this felt a bit out of my water.

Besides actual code I threw in some talk about impostor syndrome, the value of cleaning and maintenance, gradualism as defined by parkour and Christopher Alexander’s “A Pattern Language”.

I think there is a lot of value in getting more different perspectives into the standard programming talk. I have seen enough engineering talks by now and many of them suffer from a lack of diversity.

Highlights for Bluets

This is a simple story, but it spooks me, insofar as it reminds me that the eye is simply a recorder, with or without our will. Perhaps the same could be said of the heart. But whether there is a violence at work here remains undecided.

Last night I wept in a way I haven’t wept for some time. I wept until I aged myself. I watched it happen in the mirror. I watched the lines arrive around my eyes like engraved sunbursts; it was like watching flowers open in time-lapse on a windowsill.

The only exception was Holland, which, for inscrutable reasons, wanted a murky, rainbow-hued abstraction.

Joan Mitchell, for one, customarily chose her pigments for their intensity rather than their durability—a choice that, as many painters know, can in time bring one’s paintings into a sorry state of decay. (Is writing spared this phenomenon?)

But I am inclined to think that anyone who thinks or talks this way has simply never felt the pulsing of a pussy in serious need of fucking—a pulsing that communicates nothing less than the suckings and ejaculations of the heart.

I will admit, however, upon considering the matter further, that writing does do something to one’s memory—that at times it can have the effect of an album of childhood photographs, in which each image replaces the memory it aimed to preserve.

But if writing does displace the idea—if it extrudes it, as it were, like grinding a lump of wet clay through a hole—where does the excess go? “We don’t want to pollute our world with leftover egos” (Chögyam Trungpa).

I have heard that this pain can be converted, as it were, by accepting “the fundamental impermanence of all things.” This acceptance bewilders me: sometimes it seems an act of will; at others, of surrender.

The tepid “there must be a reason for it” notion sometimes floated by religious or quasi-religious acquaintances or bystanders, is, to her, another form of violence.

Likewise, I can say that seeing it has made me a believer, though I cannot say what, or in what, exactly, I have come to believe.

As her witness, I can testify to no reason, no lesson. But I can say this: in watching her, sitting with her, helping her, weeping with her, touching her, and talking with her, I have seen the bright pith of her soul. I cannot tell you what it looks like, exactly, but I can say that I have seen it.

Highlights for A Contest of Ideas

One cannot chart a course of social action without understanding the world in which one lives, works, and struggles.

The rise of a system of global supply chains, with their multilayered set of factories, vendors, and transport links, has created a world system in which legal ownership of the forces of production have been divorced from operational control. This shift has generated a system in which accountability for labor conditions is legally diffused and knowledge of the actual producers is far from transparent.

Like the global retailers of our time, they favored free trade, a weak regulatory state, transnational production, and cheap, if not unfree, labor.

Most auto industry foremen took home wages about 25 percent higher than the men they supervised. More important, their paycheck was a good deal more predictable because managers sought to keep a core of experienced men employed even during large layoffs. Such employment stability enabled foremen to purchase solid houses in the better working-class neighborhoods and maintain a standard of living that approached that of the lower middle class.

Freemasonry stood for brotherhood and respectability and propagated a creed of sober self-improvement, conventional morality, and class harmony.

However, on a deeper social and psychological level, the foremen’s union orientation proved a tribute to the ability of a newly mobilized working class to sweep into its orbit whole social strata that in more socially quiescent times might have opposed it.

The Reuther plan nevertheless cast a long shadow, for it contained hallmarks of the strategic approach that was so characteristic of labor-liberalism in the 1940s: an assault on management’s traditional power made in the name of economic efficiency and the public interest, and an effort to shift power relations within the structure of industry and politics, usually by means of a tripartite governmental entity empowered to plan for whole sections of the economy.

Its vision and its power attracted a species of political animal that is hardly existent today: the “labor-liberal,” who saw organized labor as absolutely central to the successful pursuit of his or her political agenda.

The fight for collective bargaining, they argued, had to remain secondary to the more important goal of racial betterment, which could only be achieved by “good will, friendly understanding, and mutual respect and co-operation between the races.”

Others rejected the influence of people who “have always told us what the white people want, but somehow or other are particularly silent on what we want.” “

The union hall, only a few blocks from the Reynolds Building, housed a constant round of meetings, plays, and musical entertainments, as well as classes in labor history, black history, and current events.

The activists encouraged the city’s blacks to participate in electoral politics. “Politics IS food, clothes, and housing,” declared the committee that registered some seven hundred new black voters in the months before the 1944 elections.

With almost one hundred thousand black workers organized in the Detroit area, black union activists played a central role in the civil rights struggle.

Soon after the war, the company began a mechanization campaign that eliminated several predominantly black departments.

But most historians came to see the world of working-class politics as a venue in which a genuinely progressive, multiracial ethos had the best chance to realize itself. This was because the unions, for all their imperfections, were sites of racial empowerment, sometimes within a genuinely integrated context, but perhaps even more as political entities in which black caucuses and factions could emerge in an organic fashion, as they did in unions representing workers in the steel, packinghouse, auto, shipbuilding, and railroad industries in years that long preceded the 1960s.

The responsibilities and expectations of American citizenship—due process, free speech, the right of assembly and petition—would now find their place in factory, mill, and office. A civil society would be constructed within the very womb of the privately held enterprise.

During those dramatic years in the early 1960s, when demonstrations and marches led by Martin Luther King and other militants pushed civil rights to the top of the social agenda, the entire discourse of American liberalism shifted decisively out of the New Deal–labor orbit and into a world in which the racial divide colored all politics.

From the early 1960s onward, the most legitimate, and in many instances the most potent, defense of American job rights would be found not through collective initiative, as codified in the Wagner Act and advanced by the trade unions, but through an individual’s claim to his or her civil rights based on race, gender, age, or other attribute.

That’s true, because this recent advance in social legislation arises not out of the potency of the American labor left, which has been in retreat, but relies instead on the enormous political legitimacy amassed by the civil rights movement and its many rights-conscious heirs.

This is because solidarity is not just a song or a sentiment but requires a measure of coercion that can enforce the social bond when not all members of the organization—or the picket line—are in full agreement. Unions are combat organizations, and solidarity is not just another word for majority rule, especially when their existence is at stake. Thus, in recent decades, employer antiunionism has become increasingly oriented toward the ostensible protection of the individual rights of workers as against undemocratic unions and restrictive contracts that hamper the free choice of employees.

As anti-sweatshop and human rights advocates are now rediscovering, no consistent regulation is really possible without hearing from the workers themselves, and their voices will remain silent unless they have some institution that protects them from the consequences of speaking up.

Thus, the same species of rights-conscious liberalism that abolished racial segregation, ended McCarthyism, and legalized women’s rights has also undermined the legal basis of union power and turned solidarity into a quaint and antique notion.

Rights consciousness therefore transfers authority into the hands of another body—a court, a panel, a government agency—to sort out the various claims and strike the approximate balance. Justice may be served for a particular individual, or even an entire class, but not always through a system of participatory debate and democratic decision making.

In the United States workers have used the new workers rights that emerged out of the civil rights movement to democratize gender and racial hierarchies, only to see their real security and opportunities undermined by the dramatic transformation of a working environment over which they have had little control.

First, the unions must themselves champion the rights impulse so that it does not become the presumptive property of the corporations, the free marketers, or even the human rights NGOs. To flourish again trade unionism does require civil rights and human rights and their vigorous enforcement in every global workplace.

Like the socialists of Europe and the industrial democrats of New Deal America, trade unionism requires a transformative vision to sustain its moral and institutional existence, to link individual rights and social purpose.

Like many other American progressives, both were enthusiasts for Mussolini-style corporatism. Fascism’s appeal to such liberals was found in its experimental nature, its antidogmatic temper, and its moral élan.

The 1935 Wagner Act did offer as its key rationale the establishment of industrial peace, but only after providing guarantees that genuinely independent trade unions had the power and solidarity to meet with their capitalist adversaries on a terrain that gave to labor the economic and political power necessary to cut a negotiated bargain.

In a pattern that really did have a fascist character, Southern elites had long figured out how to mobilize a big slice of the white working class in the interest of a reactionary and violently oppressive racial order. Thus the bitter resistance to the civil rights movement and to the implementation of school desegregation, which reached its apogee in the 1950s, was just the most overt manifestation of the reactionary manipulation of popular white sentiment—a sentiment that had first become apparent when Southern elites confronted New Deal statutes covering crop allotments, minimum wages, welfare payments, worker rights, and voting procedures.

In many of these authoritarian states, opposition movements that were defeated in 1968 reemerged a decade or more later, providing the leadership and a good deal of the spirit for the “velvet revolutions” that brought down the Eastern European regimes in 1989.

Mark Lilla has reminded us,

There was a tension between what capitalist society required of its citizens as producers and the habits it fostered in them as consumers. This contradiction, Bell wrote, would leave advanced capitalist societies without the moral basis they needed for continued prosperity and cohesion.

All revolutions, successful or not, link a transformation of the cultural and ideological terrain with a shift in power and governance.

There were culture wars in the 1930s as well as in later decades; one reason FDR was such a polarizing figure was that he embodied in his administration and in his persona the “class treason” that was so hateful to a generation of Yankee conservatives who had been the natural arbitrators of power and taste for so many decades.

The longest-standing argument against public sector unionism rests on the idea that such collective bargaining by workers in the public sector undercuts the sovereignty of government. The second idea is that public sector unionism makes government too expensive and sets a standard that private industry cannot meet. And the third conservative argument, which reflects the rise in recent years of an intense hostility to the very idea of a welfare state, asserts that public sector unions are bad not because they undermine the sovereignty of the state, but because they sustain it, especially insofar as the state, at either the local or national levels, creates a set of public goods, like education, infrastructure, health care, and even public safety, that conservatives seek to either abolish or privatize.

Trade unions oppose the fragmentation of the public school system, they fight the privatization of municipal services, they sustain the Democratic Party, and they politicize and mobilize voters who would otherwise remain alienated and voiceless.

“Many of the new research people,” he wrote in 1946, probably indicating his own feelings, “are disaffected and morally unhappy: they will their minds to people they don’t like for purposes they don’t feel at one with . . . What some of them really want is to connect their skill and intelligence to a movement in which they can believe; they are ready to give a lot of energy to an organization that would harness these skills in the service of the left. And the left to most of them means labor.”

Mills responded, “By intellectual here we mean humanitarian socialist. What the hell else? So I’ll say so in some innocent, hard-boiled way.”

The phrase “political publics” is important to this typology and in Mills’s mind is quite distinct from the more passive, uninformed “public opinion.” The political publics are more self-conscious, more politically alert communities either of ideology or interest that bring to bear a particular sensibility to the issues of the day. They formulate the ideas and programs that operate on the consciousness of the passive, atomized mass.

Not if “the power and the intellect” are united. And that is why Mills found trade union leaders to be “the strategic elite in American society,” even as he also warned on the very last page, “Never has so much depended upon men who are so ill-prepared and so little inclined to assume the responsibility.”

Trade unions are hybrid institutions—half monopoly seller of labor, half nascent social movement—and their leadership is just as mixed, though not always in the same personage: “an army general and a parliamentary debater, a political boss and an entrepreneur, a rebel and a disciplinarian.”

Here they defended the wildcat strikes that periodically erupted, pushed for a labor party, and attacked those in the labor movement, such as the Communists, who subordinated working-class aspirations for a better life and a more democratic workplace to the foreign policy interests of one of the big powers.

Despite high levels of consumption, unionization, and political complacency, Swados would later write, “there is one thing that the worker doesn’t do like the middle-class: he works like a worker.”

Confronted with the financial and political strength of the most powerful American corporations, the UAW tempered its fight against job dissatisfaction, unemployment, and racial discrimination.

As early as 1945 and 1946 the Communists were overwhelmingly defeated in Western Zone trade union elections by those who remembered the disastrous role played by the Reds during the immediate pre–Nazi era (the Communist slogan then was “After Hitler Us!”).

Thus Lovestone helped erect the ideological Iron Curtain that walled off the unions from an entire generation of New Left activists and civil rights militants whose energy and talent was essential to the health of a truly “free” labor movement.

Some were now union officers and staffers: their resistance, equivocation, and hypocrisy fueled Herbert Hill’s outrage for the rest of his life. Nothing infuriated him more than the complicacy, condescension, presumption, and outright racism that he found in the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU). In 1960 the ILGWU still traded on its socialist roots, its pioneering role in the New Deal, and in some circles its Jewish and Italian communitarianism. Yet anyone who bothered to look could also see that a stratum of aging Jewish liberals was presiding over a trade union that systematically excluded African Americans and Puerto Ricans from advancement in both the shop and the union hierarchy.

Hill wrote that she “denies the record of union racism in order to sanitize labor history,” along with many other labor historians who “find it necessary to minimize or deny racism in the labor movement because its existence conflicts with the useable past that they are constructing as labor history.”

Hill condemned what he called the “revived populist neo-Marxism that advanced the ideology of working class consciousness and solidarity against the social realties of race.” And as he put it in his critique of Gutman’s study of the late nineteenth-century United Mine Workers, “The attempt to dissolve race in class thus emerged in the ‘New Labor History’ as a modern version of the old socialist dream: that the class struggle, joined by united workers, would in time resolve the persistent and ideologically vexing issue of race by rendering it irrelevant.”

Organized labor is embattled, and not just at the bargaining table, but in a fundamentally ideological way that calls its very existence into question. In this context, academic intellectuals play a vital role as defenders, legitimizers, and even spokespeople for a movement that no longer quite knows how to explain itself to a larger public.

Highlights for Ecology Without Nature

To speak thus is to use the aesthetic as an anesthetic.

We would be unable to cope with modernity unless we had a few pockets of place in which to store our hope.

Rendering is technically what visual- and sonic-effects artists do to a film to generate a more or less consistent sense of atmosphere or world.


Texts also exploit negative rhythm to generate tone. The absence of sound or graphic marks can be as potent as their presence. Gaps between stanzas, and other kinds of broken lineation, create tone out of sheer blankness.

Moreover, there is an aesthetic politics of the rhizome, which promotes rhizome for rhizome’s sake.






It is providing a fantasy, an aesthetic playground in which the ideas in the book appear incarnated, a literary gravitational field generated by the sheer quantity of vivid description (elcphrasis).

This paradoxical act of identification with the fantasy object of ideology could be mirrored in critical analysis, by the relentless close reading of texts, not in order to achieve some tasteful distance toward them, but precisely in order to “mess around” with them, or as my students sometimes say in horror, “dissect.”

In sum, one of the principal complaints against establishing a vivid, solidly real nature “out there” or “over there” is that it just fails to be convincing. This lack of believability penetrates to the very core of ecomimesis, the most potent rhetorical device for establishing a sense of nature. The inherent instability of language, and of the human and nonhuman worlds, ensure that ecomimesis fails to deliver.

The problem comes when we start to think that there is something behind or beyond or above (in other words, outside!) the inside-outside distinction. Not that the distinction is real; it is entirely spurious. Thus, it is wrong to claim that there is something more real beyond inside and outside, whether that thing is a world of (sacred) nature (traditional ecological language) or machines (Deleuze and Guattari world). Yet it is equally wrong to say that there is nothing, to “believe in nothing,” as it were, and to say that he or she who has the best argument is the right one—pure nihilism. There is not even nothing beyond inside and outside. Getting used to that could take a lifetime, or more.

We can expect to find ambient qualities in any artwork whatsoever. We need not restrict ourselves to works that are specifically ambient, and especially not that subset of works that contain ecomimesis. In a world properly attuned to the environment, we would read poems with an eye to ecology, no matter what their content.

Nature cannot remain itself—it is the flickering shapes on the edges of our perception, the strangers who disturb us with their proximity, the machines whose monstrosity inspires revulsion.

They are identical because, under current economic conditions, not only is there no place, but there is also no space.

Before and after the work of capital, there persists a curious silence and absence marked by traces of misery and oppression.

Although some DJs have created superstar cults, the notion of the disco or house DJ is that of an anonymous worker in a “sound factory,” generating libidinal pulses in a space of dancing, producing ambience, in the same way as fairgrounds provide machines for enjoyment rather than work.

Marx described how capitalist alienation is fundamentally how human labor power and labor time get factored out of the process of value generation, even though they are intrinsic to it. Capitalism encrypts labor.

Rainforests are ransacked for biotechnology, and the insides of life-forms provide new products such as patented genomes in what ecofeminist Vandana Shiva describes as another wave of colonization.

In returning to Romanticism, ecocriticism highlights the yearning for a bygone life of feudal hierarchy. Primitivist environmentalisms crave a lost golden age of interconnect-edness with the environment. They look to pre-feudal, sometimes prehistoric, pasts to discover forms of primitive communism. In contrast, futurist environmentalisms are based on the notion that the golden age has not yet happened. They acknowledge that despite the medievalist glamour, most people never had much of a relationship with their land under a feudal hierarchy.

Ambient poetics is about making the imperceptible perceptible, while retaining the form of its imperceptibility—to make the invisible visible, the inaudible audible.

Ambient art wants to make the unknown known, like science. But it also wishes to retain the flavor of the unknown, a certain mystifying opacity—otherwise ambient art would in fact be science.

Organicism, that peculiarly English form of nature ideology, paints society as a nonsystemic heap of classes, beliefs, and practices, as ramshackle and spontaneous as a pile of compost. This is a rich, compelling, and finally authoritarian fantasy—there’s no arguing with it.

Tolkien narrates the victory of the suburbanite, the “little person,” embedded in a tamed yet natural-seeming environment. Nestled into the horizon as they are in their burrows, the wider world of global politics is blissfully unavailable to them. Tolkien’s work embodies a key nationalist fantasy, a sense of “world” as real, tangible yet indeterminate, evoking a metonymic chain of images—an anamorphic form.

The question of animals—sometimes I wonder whether it is the question—radically disrupts any idea of a single, independent, solid environment.

For Tolkien, dwarves, elves, hobbits, and talking eagles are welcome others, but swarthy “southern” or “eastern” men are not.

The only way to remain close to the strangers without killing them (turning them into yourself or into an inanimate object) is to maintain a sense of irony. If irony and movement are not part of environmentalism, strangers are in danger of disappearing, exclusion, ostracism, or worse.

State terror takes an interest in ecological catastrophe.

The struggle between individualism and holism offers an attenuated choice between absolute liberty and absolute authority—in other words, the dilemma called America. Americans are caught between the constitution and a militarized state, between placards and pepper spray.

Mud, mud, glorious mud.

Since it looks like capitalism is about to use an ecological rhetoric of scarcity to justify future developments, it is vital that we recognize that there are serious problems with imagining an ecological view based on limits, even at the level of abstraction we have been exploring. And we need to notice that scarcity and limitation are not the only ecological concepts on the block. What if the problem were in fact one of a badly distributed and reified surplus?

Green consumerism made it possible to be both pro-capitalist and green, repeating the Romantic struggle between rebelling and selling out.

To be a consumerist, you don’t have to consume anything, just contemplate the idea of consuming.

But this promise typifies the paradox of the Romantic avant-garde. If we could just get the aesthetic form right, we could crack reality, open it up, and change it.

Both quietism and activism are two sides of the same beautiful coin. The beautiful soul fuses the aesthetic and the moral.

Likewise, there are fascist and New Age versions of environmentalism.

Nature writing partly militates against ecology rather than for it. By setting up nature as an object “over there”—a pristine wilderness beyond all trace of human contact—it re-establishes the very separation it seeks to abolish.

Significantly, Althusser suggests, if only poetically, that ideology is a dimension of existence—we exist “within” it.167 A more engaged ecological criticism would acknowledge this environment—one we are caught in even as we judge it.

The dizzyingly additive quality of the images makes us forget where we came from at the start of the paragraph, and where we are going—how do we end up at otter scat? But just as “out of joint” is the metaphorical slash of the “as I write.” Since the “as” slides between analogy, temporality, and strict semantic continuity, and since this sliding must take place for the passage to seduce us to visualize a fantasy world, “As I write” breaches the consistency of the ecomimesis even as it broaches it.

Only a very privileged person would make such a big deal out of having eyes and ears, of being able to walk, read, write. There are hints that nature is best accessed by the able-bodied, or at least, those with sharp, undistracted organs of perception.

Ecomimesis aims to rupture the aesthetic distance, to break down the subject-object dualism, to convince us that we belong to this world. But the end result is to reinforce the aesthetic distance, the very dimension in which the subject-object dualism persists. Since de-distancing has been reified, distance returns even more strongly, in surround-sound, with panoramic intensity.

Writing outside the dominant Western traditions, Trungpa notices how materialism and spiritualism are joined at the hip:

Our choice is false if it has been reduced to one between hypocrisy and cynicism, between wholeheartedly getting into environmental rhetoric and cynically distancing ourselves from it. In both cases, we would be writing liturgies for the beautiful soul. Although it is “realistic” to be cynical rather than hypocritical, we do not wish to reinforce the current state of affairs. Our answer to the ruthless ransacking of nature, and of the idea of nature, must be yes, we admit to the reality of the situation. And no, we refuse to submit to it.

Ecocritique could establish collective forms of identity that included other species and their worlds, real and possible. It would subvert fixating images of “world” that inhibit humans from grasping their place in an already historical nature.

To think in terms of either crude action or pure ideas is to remain within the prison of the beautiful soul.

Dark ecology acknowledges that there is no way out of the paradoxes outlined in this book. Far from remaining natural, ecocriticism must admit that it is contingent and queer.

If it is to be properly critical, montage must juxtapose the contents with the frame. Why? Simply to juxtapose contents without bringing form and subject position into the mix would leave things as they are.



If ecology without nature has taught us anything, it is that there is a need to acknowledge irreducible otherness, whether in poetics, ethics, or politics.

All is not lost in a consumerist universe, if only because the junk that surrounds us is so inconsistent. Its inconsistency has the quality of a clue. This clue is the secret of suffering curled up inside the very dimension of the object.

Embodied in the sonic and graphic materiality of the text, the earth quakes, setting up a subject quake, a tremor of the “I.” What remains after our long delve into the fake otherness of ecomimesis is the fragility of an “I” that we can’t quite get rid of, but that at least can be made to vibrate, in such a way that does not strengthen its aggressive resolve (like a hammer or a boot), but that dissolves its form, however momentarily.

Heidegger has most powerfully described place as open and beyond concept. But Heidegger, infamously, solidifies this very openness, turning history into destiny and leaving the way open for an extreme right-wing politics, which can easily assimilate ecological thinking to its ideological ends, precisely because ecological thinking is highly aestheticized. The Nazis passed original laws to protect animals and (German) forests as ends in themselves.

Romantic environmentalism is a flavor of modern consumerist ideology. It is thoroughly urban, even when it is born in the countryside.

Moving from one station to the next becomes a metaphor for moving from one word to another in a sentence. Landmarks become textual.

To see a place in its strangeness is not just to see how it is permeated with otherness. That could collapse into racism: otherness immigrates and I’m ready with my gun. Within a horizon, you can indeed be aware of “another” place over yonder. Appreciating strangeness is seeing the very strangeness of similarity and familiarity. To reintroduce the uncanny into the poetics of the home (oikos, ecology, ecomimesis) is a political act.

The ecological thought, the thinking of interconnectedness, has a dark side embodied not in a hippie aesthetic of life over death, or a sadistic-sentimental Bambification of sentient beings, but in a “goth” assertion of the contingent and necessarily queer idea that we want to stay with a dying world: dark ecology.


We start by thinking that we can “save” something called “the world” “over there,” but end up realizing that we ourselves are implicated. This is the solution to beautiful soul syndrome: reframing our field of activity as one for which we ourselves are formally responsible, even guilty.

We should be finding ways to stick around with the sticky mess that we’re in and that we are, making thinking dirtier, identifying with ugliness, practicing “hauntology” (Derrida’s phrase) rather than ontology.

I often think that the trouble with posthumanism is that we have not yet achieved humanity, and that humanity and posthumanity have no time for what Derrida calls the animal that therefore I am.

In this respect, dark ecology diverges from those Romanticisms that follow a Hegelian dialectic, the story of the reconciliation of the self to the other, who turns out to be the self in disguise.159 It gets over the dilemma of the beautiful soul, not by turning the other into the self, but perversely, by leaving things the way they are.

And being-here, being literally on this earth (Da-sein), would entail a need for forgiveness, an equally radical assumption that whatever is there is our responsibility, and ultimately, “our fault.”

Dark ecology tells us that we can’t escape our minds. Far from giving us a liturgy for how to get out of our guilty minds, how to stick our heads in nature and lose them, Clare helps us to stay right here, in the poisoned mud. Which is just where we need to be, right now.

The only firm ethical option in the current catastrophe, as I observed before, is admitting to the ecologically catastrophic in all its meaningless contingency, accepting responsibility groundlessly, whether or not “we ourselves” can be proved to be responsible.

Instead of trying to pull the world out of the mud, we could jump down into the mud. To emerge from the poisoned chrysalis of the beautiful soul, we admit that we have a choice. We choose and accept our own death, and the fact of mortality among species and ecosystems. This is the ultimate rationality: holding our mind open for the absolutely unknown that is to come. Evolution will not be televised. One cannot have a video of one’s own extinction. A warning to deep ecology: if we aestheticize this acceptance, we arrive at fascism, the cult of death. Instead, ecological criticism must politicize the aesthetic. We choose this poisoned ground. We will be equal to this senseless actuality. Ecology may be without nature. But it is not without us.