By M.D Balousek (and contributions from Viral Awesome Staff)
If there was one phenomenon that emerged out of the 2016 presidential election between then-Republican candidate Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, it is that the social divisions in America are currently at a peak and, simultaneously, are at their most bizarre.
Specifically we are talking about the extremes that have emerged in this tumultuous period – namely the so-called “Alt-Right” and self-proclaimed “Social Justice Warriors” or derogatorily referred to as “SJWs” – and how these two factions have single-handedly hijacked American political discourse. Indeed, much of the actions of either of the two groups has an outsized impact on their target parties, influencing policy and politicians while giving incentive to keep fighting and forego compromise.
Angela Nagle’s recent book, “Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4Chan to Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right,” attempts to explain these phenomena within their political context while also shedding light on the medium that is empowering it all: the Internet.
This anthropological examination of the development of Internet subcultures into full-fledged political movements could not be more needed or timelier, which makes the somewhat suspect sources used to make Nagle’s arguments all the more disappointing. In her attempt at giving gravitas to what are typical ephemeral Internet phantasms, Nagle discusses the Alt-Right and SJWs in terms of monolithic coordination and coherence that she neither proves nor is an accurate description of these disparate movements which often combine everything from economic grievances to historical revanchist. Topics that were once considered sacred ground or aspects of history that were once taken for settled matters are now cast in the pale, green light of ideology and everything is evaluated from that perspective, albeit with different conclusions and points of reference.
This pseudo-historicity combined with romantic, even far-flung notions of what life should be like in the United States and you have two Internet subcultures that are having a real influence on the course of national discussion but who themselves have little to no coherent dogmas or even points of agreement with the other side. Pitting one idea against the other in a constant struggle for ideological and cultural dominance, SJWs and the Alt-Right simultaneously reject this society as “unsound” or “too lacking” in whatever milieu that they are attempting to impose.
One problem quickly identified by the Daily Beast in their examination of “Kill All Normies” is that Nagle relied, overwhelmingly, on Internet sourcing to make her arguments.
Another error identified by the Daily Beast concerns literary theorist Stanley Fish who, according to Nagle, advocated for understanding that people who read and interpret literature do as much from their own, idiosyncratic perspective as they do using the written word in the book. That is, a person’s experiences, racial background, etc. may impact how they interpret a work of art. That is all well and good but this concept and argument was actually made by writer James Atlas in an article he wrote for the New York Times Magazine that discussed the central placement of white, male characters in many stories.
In addition, the wording Nagle employs in discussing some Internet high points in the period under examination, specifically her arguments about Joseph Kony, reference text directly and barely paraphrased from Wikipedia articles.
Mike Harman, an editor for website Libcom, has gone so far as to intimate that Nagle’s lack of sourcing, or credible sources for that matter, borders on plagiarism.
For its part, the publisher of “Kill All Normies” has said they do not expect the same level of citation in Nagle’s book as they do in an academic work but that they do not tolerate plagiarism and copyright infringement.
Speaking on Nagle’s book, Douglas Lain of Zero Books wrote: “What Nagle is accused of doing has nothing in common with this sort of plagiarism. Her work is her own. Five consecutive words do not constitute a copyright violation…In Nagle’s case, we were convinced that her ideas and arguments were not only original to her but timely and important. We stand by that assessment.”
Aside from problematic sourcing and paraphrasing that hits too close to the mark, New York Magazine, for its part, praises Nagle’s ability to delve into the myriad of subcultures spawned on the Internet, including Tumblr liberals and 4Chan anarchists.
One problem the Daily Beast article fails to mention in its lambasting of Nagle for using Rational Wiki and Wikipedia is that there are few, if any, sources on Incels, 4Chan, “SJWs,” etc. Given the lack of academic, sociological work in these areas, Nagle’s pioneering attempt is just that – a first landing for academics interested in this subject matter. To characterize her as disingenuous and, even, as a thief is to miss the point that she is operating in a largely undiscovered territory.
This may come as a shock, but identifying the varying cross-currents of thought that underpin a lot of the new identity politics that is powering a lot of these movements is not an easy task, particularly if no prior academic work has been done before.
For example, Nagle’s analysis that the “demonization” of certain “privileged groups” by the SJWS may have pushed those groups more toward what is called the “Alt-Right.”
Herself a liberal, Nagle says that she was prompted to write the book because of the various, crippling internecine conflicts on her own side, let alone among conservatives. What she discovered in the process is objectively two aggressive, counter-cultural movements that are neither guided nor restrained by past ideologies and instead seek to carve out their own unique space in the political world. While too young to cody entirely, this amorphousness to the Alt-Right and SJWs helps them adapt and survive while also keeping their purposes and goals somewhat inscrutable to systematic and rigorous analysis.
Despite its flaws, Nagel’s work remains a beginning of a new move to analyze what has happened with two polarized groups of the electorate. It’s unfair to say that it is just the “Far Right” vs. the “Far Left”, as Nagle tackles the emergence of internet “outrage culture” and the “Manosphere” in influencing modern political outcomes, and their nebulous political identity often defies labels.
Another interesting and provocative hypothesis of Nagel’s is the role of the problems in modern dating, and how that may influence heterosexual males to take up the causes that lead to them becoming “alt-right”, a controversial statement to say the least, but a very convincing case is made by her.
One can also see and be relieved that there is a new modern “centrist” view of society that is brewing with the work of Nagel and others. A view that is not necessarily in the middle of “left and right” but a view that rejects the sophomoric and often intellectually bereft (or some would say, “pseudo scientific”) ideas that are represented by both “poles”, a view that can grow from these modern day battles of ideas into a better future.
Nagel for one, is an author and academic to watch out for, she has a revised version of “Kill All Normies” in the works, and I for one am also looking forward to more of her work to come because it is definitely a breath of fresh air in our often toxic modern day culture.
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