06 February 2016

Neoreaction and Twitter

The ideas that became neoreaction were blogged, but neoreaction as a conscious intellectual movement started on twitter.

I'm not at all sure it could have come about in the same way without twitter. My aim was to speak to the group of people who read and commented on Unqualified Reservations, who were secular, libertarian or ex-libertarian types. Aretae, Nydwracu, Foseti, Devin, etc. But what gathered round the neoreactionary label were a number of young dissident rightists who were without a movement [1]. These young men even a decade earlier would have been ordinary Christian conservatives, but, alienated from mainstream thought by the progressive overreach which characterises the Obama era, they grabbed onto the Moldbuggian diagnosis of the modern state in spite of the fundamental difference in outlook [2].

There is still doubt on both sides as to whether this collision of philosophies, which produced what we now call "NRx", constitutes a valuable synthesis or a distraction. But for better or worse it was a product of twitter, which by its unique features causes blurring between distinct but proximate communities. The enforced brevity makes it practical to follow hundreds of people, and the way responses work make conversations public. (In contrast, if I share a remark on facebook, and you comment on it, the originator of the remark doesn't see your comment). The one-way nature of following means you don't need to ask for permission to connect to a social group. The encouragement of multiple pseudonymous accounts made it a first choice for dissidents. The fact that it worked by linking rather than hosting content meant it meshed with the pre-existing blog networks of libertarians and Moldbug's readers.

That is now history; over the last year or two many active neoreactionaries have left twitter. Their departure is in part a way of making the point that neoreaction is not and does not intend to be a mass movement, in part a way of excluding the less intelligent of the alt-right, and moving on from the same old repeated arguments. However, I did not follow. Though neoreaction cannot measure its achievement in terms of numbers of contributors or readers, it needs to be a live movement, and that means it needs to expose its ideas to outsiders and be exposed to the ideas of outsiders.  It is tempting to run away from troublemakers and communicate with a closed group, but I have seen such closed groups shrivel and die. I do not aspire to a mass audience, but I want a growing audience.

Also, to my mind, neoreaction is not primarily a community or an embryonic organisation, it is a set of ideas--incomplete, still under construction, but capable of standing by themselves. The long-term goal is not completely clear, but one plausible path is gradually spreading those ideas among the influential. I am greatly encouraged by the rate at which this is currently happening: a few people like Ed West and Sam Bowman are, without adopting the NRx identity, absorbing some of the ideas and leaking them into the mainstream. Moldbuggian concepts like the Cathedral, and recent NRx concepts like virtue signalling are becoming part of the general vocabulary. This spread is happening largely via twitter.

I am not opposed in principle to raising private channels of communication in parallel to public, but in practice I have found it difficult to be active on both. There is also one more beneficial attribute of twitter which is its disguise: I can access twitter from an office network and all the network sees is SSL traffic between me and twitter.com--there is no indication of what I am communicating or with whom. In contrast, connections to private sites are potentially more embarrassing to explain.

The context of this examination of the importance of twitter, is obviously, the fear of losing it. There is a three-pronged threat: first, the deliberate political attempt to exclude right-wing activity from twitter; second, the evolution of twitter, driven by profitability, in a direction which makes it a more effective disseminator of advertising and a less effective enabler of overlapping communities, and thirdly, the fact that the business itself is in difficulties and might not survive in its present form.

I have previously discussed alternatives to twitter, but they are not yet useful, because they don't have a user base. The value of twitter I have outlined above all relies on having a wide base of users; neoreactionaries can migrate to one of several platforms, but once moved we will be isolated from the mainstream journalists, the other dissident rightist groups, that twitter currently connects us to.

On the other hand, twitter is, from a technical point of view, easily replicable. Facebook is a leader in technology; its data centre technology is cutting-edge, it faces enormous demands in streaming and storage capability, and its automated management of the user experience is driven by immensely sophisticated software. In contrast, twitter, particularly in its 2011 form, is a much more straightforward technology. The original rails app was supplemented with a scala-based event stream, and obviously anything operating at that scale constitutes a technical achievement of a kind, but twitter is, fundamentally, the almost mythical thing that people imagine start-up successes to be but which they almost never are, a good idea. The explanation for its exceptional status is that its good idea, microblogging, doesn't really sound like a good idea, even a decade later. That, of course, is the big problem for twitter as a business: the company and its assets contribute relatively little to the value of the service, and it is stuck in a cycle of adding sophisticated profit-creating new features that its existing user base doesn't have any use for.

So technically replicating retro-twitter is very feasible, but without the user base it doesn't get anyone anywhere. There is room in the market for a retro-twitter, because it needn't have high costs: the twitter company is trapped by its valuation as a facebook-challenger; a rival could be run on a small budget like wikipedia.  It is plausible that the Mozilla Foundation [3] or DuckDuckGo could roll out a twitter-clone, maybe even with federated features such as those of GnuSocial.

The missing step is getting the user base. Ironically, the situation facing NRx on twitter resembles the situation facing NRx as a concept: things have to get worse before they can get better. Just as we can't fight the progressive mainstream for power, but must "become worthy" to step in once it fails, we cannot fight twitter for audience, but must wait for it to fail and take our place in what replaces it. The way things are going, we may not have to wait too long.


Notes

1. Nydwracu is as young or younger than the newcomers, but he's a prodigy, and under suspicion of being a genius.

2. There was conversation between Moldbug and his followers and Christian reactionaries--people like Bruce Charlton and Lawrence Auster--before twitter NRx, but they were still consciously separate from each other.

3. The Mozilla Foundation is identified as an enemy over the Eich affair, but it does have strong princpled ideas about freeing internet users from monopoly businesses, so I don't rule it out.

3 comments:

Stirner said...

My only quibble in your history of Neoreaction is that it was Land and the "Dark Enlightenment" concept that caused Neoreaction to precipitate out of the nebulous network of the Alt Right. Twitter was an important vehicle to knit that community together under the banner of the Dark Enlightenment and then Neoreaction. The DE was the catalyst, but Twitter helped build the community.

It should also be noted for the record that you were the first from NRx to use the term "Neoreaction" as a form of self-labeling, which helped to get the conceptual ball rolling. (Others outsiders had used the term as a concept before, but you were the first to play around with idea of using as a self-identifying label.

Today NRx has seemingly turned inward. An error by my reckoning. Even if demotism will not be our salvation, I feel it is worthwhile to help shape the context for the collapse by political action. To vote is ultimately futile, but if your vote can help help shape the terrain for the collapse to come...it is worth engaging, and is a positive way to maintain morale.

Bruce Charlton said...

Since you mention my interactions with Moldbug from my perspective of Christian reactionary, I should acknowledge my debt to Moldbug during the period from 2007 when I started reading him, following a link from Arnold Kling's blog to becoming a Christian in 2009.

At that time I was in e-mail contact with MM (under his real name) and some of those interchanges were also influential on me.

Among other benefits, Moldbug clarified for me the futility both of libertarianism and mainstream conservatism - so by the time I began daily blogging in May 2010 (immediately after I had been sacked from job editing Medical Hypotheses) and started to write the blog posts which became my mini-book about political correctness, Thought Prison - I was pre-prepared to be a *reactionary* Christian, outside the bounds of mainstream politics.

So Moldbug certainly influenced me - although in becoming a Christian I went far beyond that influence; but I don't think I influenced him at all (or at any rate, not that I know of).

Spandrell said...

Your account is still open.