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"The Silicon Ideology": A technological history of neoreactionism


#1

Recently, a number of valuable essays have offered various histories of neoreactionism, including Shuja Haider’s “The Darkness at the End of the Tunnel: Artificial Intelligence and Neoreaction,” published in Viewpoint, and “No Platform for Land: On Nick Land’s Racist Capitalism and a More General Problem” by the Shut Down LD50 collective. (Also check out Yuk Hui’s “On the Unhappy Consciousness of Neoreactionaries,” in the latest issue of e-flux journal.) Another piece that uncovers a key genealogy behind figures like Milo Yiannopoulos and Nick Land is “The Silicon Ideology” by Josephine Armistead, which traces modern neoreactionism back to the technology and ideology produced by Silicon Valley starting in the 1960s and '70s. Armistead’s piece first appeared on the web last summer but it hasn’t had the audiences it deserves. Read an excerpt below, or find the full text (in PDF format) here.

But all of this is ignoring the “alt-right” side of the culture. Let us, then, delve into the wretched hⅳe of chan culture and see how it birthed the alt-right. 4chan was founded by Christopher Poole, then 15 years old, under the name “moot”. It was based on the Japanese imageboard Futuba Channel (2chan) and originally intended as an imageboard for discussion of anime. By default, users would be afforded anonymity, and moderation was lax, only prohibiting clearly illegal content, upon the nature of which I shall not elaborate (and even that was gⅳen leeway). Originally (and, to an extent, today) 4chan had several cultures based on the board in particular and its topic of discussion. However, the anonymity and lack of moderation made its userbase quickly homogenize, especially in the random (/b/) board: shock-value centric humor (which, though originally supposedly ironic, in the vein of the use of fascist imagery by punk, metal, and industrial bands, quickly became earnest) and surrounding racism, misogyny, homophobia, and tansphobia was the centepiece of the culture, and so the userbase quickly became limited to young white cis straight men, who could show their investment in strutures of power. This made 4chan an excellent place for recruitment by white supremacists, patriarchs, &c &c, who at this time were centered on Daⅵd Duke’s website Stormfront, who quickly took over the boards /news/ and, later, /pol/. Furthermore, this culture lended itself easily to rage against “uppity” members of marginalized populations. With large numbers of anonymous masses who could easily be whipped into a rage, 4chan developed new harassment tactics. Most of these developed out of old troll techniques that originated on Usenet in the 1990s, but now instead of merely being used “for laughs” (though this was still the stated intention), these were largely weaponized against marginalized people in raids. In 2014, the biggest example of this occurred with the debacle known as GamerGate. In order to understand that, we must remember that traditionally in America, ⅵdeo games had been marketed to the audience that was likely to use 4chan, and engaged in the æstheticization of war and technology–but women, people of colour, and LGBT people always had played games and were a quickly growing audience for ⅵdeo games. Thus, in recent years, games that did not feature or emphasize the æstheticization of war and technology, or the objetification of women had grown in popularity and critical acclaim, much to the displeasure of the “traditional” audience of ⅵdeo games, who had called for serious critique not ten years prior in an attempt to legitimize their hobby (for this, see their engagement with the late Roger Ebert on the topic) but seemed unable to square with the ramifications of critique: they wanted legitimacy but not criticism, especially not social criticism, and they especially wanted to limit the demographics of ⅵdeo game players to themselves, and the range of ⅵdeo games made to those that participated heaⅵly in the æstheticization of war and technology.

Image: Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal and neoreactionary. Via Business Insider.


#2

The author of this deeply confused on two points, even in the space of this single paragraph.

Parallels should be made between 4chan and the punk scene of 1990s America. I don’t think the author has read the literature on the complex phenomenon that was punk, nor has he or she spoken to people who were involved in that scene. This is the only way I can charitably explain the author’s assertion that fascist elements of punk are (merely?) “ironic” or “imagery” (is this really unproblematic?), or that the Internet imageboard as a medium is somehow more “serious” than music. I can explain the author’s interpretation of 4chan as an aggressive bad faith reading, but not the superficial comparison to punk, which would be quite revealing if someone were to bother thinking about it and doing it in depth.

Secondly, the author is confused about the process of “legitimation”. Was it necessary to develop system for critique of video games to appeal to Roger Ebert, who is now quite dead? Who do gamers feel they need to be legitimated by, and why is critique necessary for this? The text seems to imply that this is all just self-evident, but if you apply the naive dialectic of legitimacy in this article to, for example, colonialism, or early Enlightenment discourses about scientific speculation, it is quickly apparent that the author doesn’t really know what they are talking about here.


#3

I have a different reading of the article and especially the first paragraph you relate to. When the author says

… doesn’t she/ he mean that users’ use of images which originated from a punk, metal etc. milieu were first meant as a joke playing with fascist imagery (which the author obviously seems to deem problematic when she says they were"supposedly ironic"); and then this became earnest in a sense, that the original intent of making fun, made a serious turn towards perpetuating racism, misogyny etc.?

So I don’t see where there is an assertion that an image board is more serious than music in this paragraph.


#4

Is the writer saying that punk and metal bands were actually “supposedly ironic”, or were they actually ironic, unlike the “supposed” irony of imageboards? Is there a sliding scale of irony, a certain level of which prevents “a serious turn towards perpetuating racism, misogyny etc.”? Who knows. This is very poorly written and in any case I don’t think it’s a serious discussion of the semantics of imageboards.


#5

Isn’t the paper a helpful piece of cognitive mapping, rather than an in-depth-analysis of the multiple causes that led to the emergence of NRx? I find the positioning of these currents in the milieu of a certain kind of last decades popular culture quite enlightening, in spite of the authors generalizing approach.