Often, I catch my eyes, sliding easily, as if they rolled on bearings, or had been oiled, off the identical rows of houses of people, and back up to the more peculiar trees.
1. YARVIN DREAMS OF NORWAY’S NORTHMOST HOLE
A ponytailed man, lightly tanned in the Californian way, stands in front of a tie-dyed blanket hanging on a bamboo rack. He has round, gold-framed glasses and a single earring in his right earlobe, and is wearing a lightly faded black mock turtleneck. The man, named Curtis Yarvin, is taking part in the open mike portion of the Touch of a Poet series of live readings in Berkeley, California. The year is 1997, the location the University Art Museum. The footage I am watching on YouTube is archived, alongside clips of Howard Zinn and Studs Terkel talking about Selma and Montgomery in a middle school gym and an ecology tour of Strawberry Canyon, by Berkeley Citizen, a website dedicated to providing “information on a wide range of issues that would otherwise not be available to Berkeley citizens and the general public.”
“I just moved here from Pacifica, California, on the other side of the Bay,” Curtis says. “You can get a ratty apartment there with a nice panoramic view for 700 dollars a month.” He proceeds to read a short poem called “Pacifica,” which describes looking out from a balcony onto a housing development in the valley below. “Often, I catch my eyes, sliding easily, as if they rolled on bearings, or had been oiled, off the identical rows of houses of people, and back up to the more peculiar trees.” Seventeen years later, Yarvin, now better known by his pen name Mencius Moldbug, announces the hiatus of his blog Unqualified Reservations and posts a poem called “The Anarchy,” which contains the following:
“Longyearbyen, Norway’s northmost hole,
Where people are insane or something and
Leave their keys in their cars. But wait!
Anarchy is not there. Except that it is,
Dressed as a bear. No vagrant or scoundrel,
‘Distressed needlewoman,’ maniac or orc,
In Longyearbyen may dwell. Not for your good,
Of course. For his. Bears would eat him.
Bears will eat anyone, of course, but at least
Bears will never steal your car.”
Though no longer writing publicly, Mencius Moldbug is at the heart of a new arch-conservative trend known as the neoreactionary movement, often shortened to NRx, or the Dark Enlightenment. Because of the explosive blog-growth of the movement and vehement contention thereof, one dreads to summarize the two (let alone differentiate them—I am happy to use them fairly interchangeably), but to take a stab at a broad definition: NRx is a call to return to some variant of monarchy, aristocracy, or what’s called neocameralism, in which the state is a joint stock corporation divvied up into shares and run by a CEO to maximize profit. This last option, Moldbug’s ideal, is not so much a return to either of these other forms of government, but a sleek corporate feudalism hybridizing the two.
Why this return? NRx sees democracy as an ineffectual time sink and, more damningly, a form of collective criminality run by irrational mob rule. To neoreactionaries, belief in democracy is propped up by an unquestioned faith in progressivism and the particularly egregious falsity of egalitarianism. This lie is propagated by “the Cathedral,” an uncoordinated yet thoroughly distributed agreement to advance progressivism and democracy in politics, academia, journalism, and education. (Out of democratic chaos some sort of steady state manages to precipitate in the form of the Cathedral, if totally irrationally.) Egalitarianism and its subsequent ideologies, including any leftist politics from feminism to anticolonialism, are based in the dogmatic rejection of what neoreactionaries describe as human biological diversity, or the idea that both individual humans and macro-scale groups differ genetically in ability and character. For neoreactionaries, it is easier, as the rather loathsome blogger Jim Donald writes, to believe in leprechauns than egalitarianism.
Neoreactionaries are terrified of “chaos.” They love “order,” and believe in “civilization” as the only morality. They want to be able to leave their keys in their cars. They adore Putin, and often espouse “traditional values”; as per the Dark Enlightenment reddit, “Traditional values are not accidental. They are non-ideological social adaptations that provide good solutions to complex social problems.” They worry, often, about “sluts,” in tones suggestive of sexual paranoia and terror of rejection. Donald: “Because a girl can have sex with a much more desirable man than she can marry or have a relationship with, if she has slept with thirty men before you, she has slept with thirty men who were handsomer than you, richer than you, have bigger tools than you, more self confident and socially skilled than you, but since those guys did not return her calls the morning after, and she realizes she is now running out of eggs, since she is having a lot fewer abortions than she used to, she has decided to reluctantly settle for you.” For Donald and many of his cohort, women are a unified “team” who “always win,” because of Cathedral lockstep. Screeds of this sort abound, lamenting how such and such minority has thoroughly crushed the white male in the culture wars.
2. ACES AT CIVILIZATION
Yarvin’s eyes roll upwards to the trees, Moldbug dreams of bear-kept Longyearbyen. A man tweeting as Witch Hammer praises Hayao Miyazaki’s anime My Neighbor Totoro, and dreams of Alaska becoming a neoreactionary stronghold in what he refers to as the Shadow Moses Option, named after the armed revolt against the United States government in the Japanese video game Metal Gear Solid. Sweeping, Asians-as-model-minority generalizations are common, under the pseudo-scientific guise of human biodiversity. Witch Hammer: “Japanese tell great stories, make good music, and their culture doesn’t have AIDS. + They are aces at civilization. This is why I like ‘em.” Nick Land, a British philosopher and Cathedral apostate best known for coining the nauseously zeitgeist-glutting term “accelerationism” some 20 years before it became an art world meme, praises the virtues of Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Singapore:
“There is no part of Singapore, Hong Kong, Taipei, Shanghai, or very many other east Asian cities where it is impossible to wander, safely, late at night. Women, whether young or old, on their own or with small children, can be comfortably oblivious to the details of space and time, at least insofar as the threat of assault is concerned. Whilst this might not be quite sufficient to define a civilized society, it comes extremely close. It is certainly necessary to any such definition. The contrary case is barbarism.”
Leave alone the mythic exceptionalism of the Middle Kingdom, or the brutal underreporting of sexual assault in China (a United Nations study found that more than one out of five male Chinese respondents admit to raping at least one woman). Leave alone the orientalist gushing over Asian techno-authoritarian citystates; of course this group of older white men would lose their collective minds over a surveillance state hotspot chock full of east Asians and fairly severe capital punishment statutes. Let Land dream of the non-barbaric: women wander at night, oblivious to assault, in public space. What is barbarism? Turn west, where “barbarism has been normalized. It is considered simply obvious that cities have ‘bad areas’ that are not merely impoverished, but lethally menacing to outsiders and residents alike. Visitors are warned to stay away, whilst locals do their best to transform their homes into fortresses, avoid venturing onto the streets after dark, and—especially if young and male—turn to criminal gangs for protection.”
I live in Brooklyn’s 90th precinct, right next to the 79th precinct, where two New York Police Department officers were recently shot in the head by Ismaaiyl Brinsley, a depressed 28-yearold who had grown up everywhere and nowhere, and seemed to have no ideology beyond a jumble of angry loose ends. Those were December’s only homicides in the 79th, bringing the murder rate up to 0.02216 per 1,000 residents (China’s murder rate, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, is around 0.01 per 1,000 residents). Perhaps it is necessary to fight anecdote with anecdote: sometimes I walk through a nearby park that borders a Hasidic elementary school, half a kilometer away from where Brinsley executed the cops. There are older black men who invite me to do pull ups with them on the outdoor exercise equipment, men who don’t seem trapped for death on the asphalt by the chainlink fence. They do their jumping jacks, play rap on a portable speaker. Rap is liberal barbarism, besides the technological advance of the speaker. Neoreactionaries love jazz the way older white men love jazz—at arm’s length on a record player, and with sound only as black as a speaker—over the terror of rap, an art form that’s seen a blonde white Australian and a blonde white American nominated for its Grammys over the past two years.
But New York is, at best, a neocameralist fiefdom of former mayors Bloomberg or Giuliani, right? We’re semi-civilized, if not for the preponderance of human biodiversity’s dregs. So, if not here then where? I know where. Some hackneyed tropes: barbarism in a Detroit scrap yard or burnt lot, outside a LA laundromat on Figueroa, inside a mosque in West Philadelphia. East Oakland looms large: a long black arm, or a brown one even, to steal Moldbug’s car keys.
3. FUTURE OF MONADS
See 1994’s Nick Land on YouTube, his voice soft, hands gesturing excitedly in front of a teaching skeleton and what appear to be preserved brains in jars on glass shelves, for a British documentary called Visions of Heaven and Hell. Societies, companies, computers—“all three are moving in the same direction, that is, away from a top-down structure and a central command system giving the system instructions on how to behave, to a system that is parallel, which is flat, which is a web, and in which change moves from the bottom up. This is going to happen across all institutions and technical devices.”
“Vote with your feet,” Land tells us a decade later in another YouTube video, this time a narrated slideshow prepared for an event last December in New York on tech secessionism. “The opportunity for frictionless switching within a global network or a network of networks epitomizes disloyalty as a positive technocommercial achievement.”
Neoreactionaries tend to imagine a future of monads: not a singular Aryan empire stretching from Washington to Florida, but an infinitely fragmented landscape of city-states based around the principle “all exit and no voice.” If you don’t like it, you leave to the next city state, to the next CEO or king or king CEO. There is no politics, only compulsory rule that varies depending on which citystate you live in. Those unable to meet any king’s standards—the poor, unproductive, and stupid—do not have to be killed en masse, according to Moldbug, but can be sealed off in a hermetic pod and plugged into a virtual world, Matrix-style.
Leave it all behind for the more peculiar trees! This is where the neoreactionary movement is sanitized, made personable: a southeast Asian Stanford PhD and venture capitalist makes headlines by calling for Silicon Valley to build an opt-out society run by cryptocurrencies and drones. Secede from the barbaric Paper Belt, from the paper-ridden Barbarism Belt. To each their own barony of anime, Odin worship, and Bitcoin. And then what? Write code in the morning, forge Thor’s hammer in the afternoon, rear civilization in the evening, and discuss the merits of your king.
TEXT: Matthew Shen Goodman TRANSLATION: Xia Sheng