The Alt-Right and the Dialectic of “Hyperreality”

Alex Fontana


There have been a slew of articles lately that have been fumbling around trying to get a hold on this thing we call the “Alt-Right.” Good luck with that! Many of these have been reactionary pieces for mainstream ed-ops. The most notable was by the half-Jewish homosexual Milo Yiannopoulos, who has taken it upon himself to wear the mantle of Alt-Right pundit.

As something of latter day Oscar Wilde (without the scintillating literary output) Milo affects the pose of being a transgressive mischief maker. The gay thing is no biggie for me, as it is with some elements of the Alt-Right, but may be interesting as a factor suggesting a kind of social distance that opens people up to the possibility of heterodox opinions.

As we know, the old order is breaking down across the West, and a paradigm shift is under way. This is manifesting itself in Europe as ethnonationalism, while in America – a land deprived of ethnicity – it is taking more eccentric forms, expressing itself through the America’s “liberalism” (in the more etymologically sound sense of the word). Milo fits in well there, representing the dual “freedoms” of social pluralism and the new values of cynical trolling: a thesis + antithesis = synthesis. But the current paradigm shift is also being defined by technology. Much of the confusion and relative openness of the Alt-Right comes from the conflicted nature of its major platform – the internet – and the confusions that this creates.

The internet is defined by forces moving in opposing directions. On the one hand there is anonymity – think 4Chan, sock accounts, etc. – but mixed with this there is also a growing tendency in the opposite direction, powered by the need to create “marketable subjects” and therefore virtual “internet data serfs” that can be traded between internet companies. Web 2.0 social media spaces like Facebook are entirely committed to such traceability and transparency to further their data mining, profiling, and ability to monitor dissent.

These two tendencies are polar opposites in regards to identity on the internet and can be symbolically represented by the respective founders of 4Chan and Facebook: Christopher Poole and Mark Zuckerberg.

Poole has publically attacked the Facebook and Google+ approaches to the internet, with one Forbes Magazine article even labeling Poole as the “Anti-Mark Zuckerberg,” although both are Jewish.

Poole has been public about his ideological difference with the ‘authenticity model’:

“We all have multiple identities. That’s not abnormal. It’s part of being human. Identity is prismatic.”

Poole makes a valid point, one that anti-authoritarian theorists have been pushing for. It is not a coincidence that Anonymous the internet hacker group spawned from 4Chan.

The internet, when it went public in the Web 1.0 days, came to be viewed by the likes of Poole as a space beyond the hegemony of both the social order and the symbolic order that it necessarily creates, percolates, and functions through – a space of relative autonomy through anonymity.

This was the concept of cyberspace that many signed on for. What Facebook and Google+ are trying to do is to destroy that anonymity and thus autonomy – to “rein in” the parade. Cyberspace this becomes another realm to reinforce “that which is” – not that which could be or should be.

At best, one could reconcile these two perspectives as dialectical forces, which in their opposition create a synthesized web, in which both anonymity and authenticity are possible, an internet which, “works” and an internet which “plays,” so to speak. Milo is the public face of this “play” element and accordingly has a problem dissociating reality from ‘interreality’ – what Jean Baudrillard calls Hyperreality. In some ways, the AltRight is a product of disconnected Hyperrealism. Although its political origins – its “message” – may lie in the heady writings of Alain de Benoist’s Nouvelle Droite, it really only took flight in cyberspace.

Colin Liddell’s distinction between the two aspects of the Alt-Right is spot on:

“As a medium, the Alt-Right is an aspect of the internet and social media that makes use of a number of simple psychological tricks and which exploits a number of factors, including youth, anonymity, boredom, egoism, and shock value. This translates essentially into memes, trolling, shitposting, Tweeting, and various forms of LARPing and (usually anonymous) signalling. Its operatives are typically anonymous individuals, except in cases where they have been too stupid to ensure this.

The Alt-Right-as-Message, however, is a collection of ideas and moral positions that, like any ideology, has an inherent tonality and consistency (or not, in which case it needs to work harder at this). These ideas and insights involve anti-liberal, anti-globalist, and anti-egalitarian positions on things like gender, race, identity, materialism, and even economics.”

This is the dichotomy we need to analyse the Alt-Right. In his early book The Mechanical Bride (1951), the Canadian “philosopher of communication,” Marshall McLuhan, offered an analysis of newspaper montage that focused on its characteristics of simultaneity and intellectual decline. The internet has revived interest in McLuhan’s ideas, and this analysis applies even more aptly to the internet, where we see the intellect superseded by the “meme universe.”

Why study the Federal Reserve System when you can watch a video of a man getting bit by a baby shark? Why read an article on the eugenic and demographic benefits of abortion, when you can play Gemquest? Why write an article in favor of ethno-nationalism, when you can blast 1488 “spamming every place on the web with our corrosive memes…” as one commenter to Liddell’s Counter-Currents article wrote.

In its day, the newspaper page formed connections between disparate elements, fragmenting them but opening up the potentiality of the global village – Chinese Revolutions and American Presidential coverage all on a single page. The anti-globalist tendency of the Alt-Right has seized upon a medium based on the opposite principle to further itself.

Although emphasizing the contrast between medium and message for clarity’s sake, Liddell’s analysis does not necessarily posit a conflict between the two – more an exchange of vivifying energies and a hierarchy of ideas and methods. Liddell sees an evolution of the cyber-spray-painting-technopunk element into a more matured, principled, and less puerile expression of the message that can effect the political situation in the real world.

Unfortunately, McLuhan’s dictum may well hold true that the medium is indeed the message – with the potentialities of the internet creating a kind of downward slope into increasing inanity and self indulgence. But the two elements can still reinforce each other, while also exploiting the “work” and “play” tendencies of the internet.

I have no problem straddling the line between anonymous “1488” troll territory and the more intellectualized wing of the Alt-Right, but there is a clear distinction as well as a relationship between the two that should be utilized to our benefit. Actual 1488 is the past. It ended in an underground section of Berlin in 1945 (with a fading echo in the skinhead scene of the 1980s). The Alt-Right may invoke its ghost, but it is the present and future.