/b/ movie

When I first learned about 4chan, it was from a couple of young male colleagues who were enthusiastic /b/tards. Their theory about what they were doing on there, what they were getting out of it, was that they were learning not to be triggered by people pushing their emotional or ideological buttons. Deliberate self-desensitisation. Because corporate interests, and ideological bad actors, controlled people’s thoughts and actions by operating emotional triggers, and so the only way to be free of such control was to gaze at racist memes, car crash photos, horrifying pornography and so on until one could do so with complete serenity. The /b/tards were deprogramming each other. (There was also, as one of the aforementioned colleagues reminded me, a kind of competitive ratcheting of this process: you could gain kudos from having exposed yourself to the most horrifying things).

Downstream of this theory, was the belief that anyone complaining in any way about systematic oppression, or interpersonal ill-treatment, was doing the same thing - pushing emotional buttons to get a certain desired result. Attention-whoring, profiteering from others’ compassion. The real world was a harsh and uncaring place, and anyone who pretended to care, or to need caring for, was by definition engaged in deception, a kind of swindle. This bundle of attitudes really found its moment in Gamergate, where it was evident that at least some of the ostensibly wounded parties actually were status-maximising sociopaths.

I think all this prepared the ground beautifully for right-wing radicalisation, ironically. Because it entirely, globally discredited the left-wing economy of social concern, painting it as a massive spectacle of victimhood projected and manipulated by entirely cynical actors. All that was then needed was to present an image of authentic care — the band-of-brothers reciprocal loyalty of those who, together, refused the false image of the world and embraced their true, occluded interests (e.g. as members of the white race, etc).

A clarifying note, on what I meant by “discredited”:

I hold the view that the left’s economy of social concern is broadly correctly attuned to the things that one should care about, modulo the usual fads, moral panics etc. - that is, I hold that race, class and gender all work, broadly speaking, in much the sorts of ways that the standard “leftist” gestalt assumes they do. Whatever disagreements people working within that gestalt may have about how these things are to be thought together, they usually agree that they’re the things that have to be thought about.

What discredits this economy, from the channer perspective, is a wholesale refusal of what you might call the “call-and-response” structure of pleas for social recognition: representatives of group A articulate the group-level oppression to which members of that group are subject, and “the left”, as an apparatus of social concern, responds to this by validating and reflecting that account, and directing attention towards the problems of that group.

The channer just doesn’t see the initial call for recognition as anything other than a scam or a hustle - the universal law of society is greed and exploitation, and pitching for “special treatment” is just the pursuance of greed and exploitation by moral subterfuge. Likewise, those who respond to that call are either naive marks - dupes and cucks who want to assuage their own guilty feelings - or white-knights seeking to advance their own status by visibly doing good on others’ behalf.

That perspective isn’t wholly useless or invalid, since all of these types of hustle are of course being pursued all the time, and everyone who’s spent time around “the left” eventually develops a touch of cynicism, a nose (which can become over-sensitive) for when somebody’s on the make. But when this becomes a global and pre-emptive invalidation, then the entire structure of leftist “care” collapses.

What you get when that happens isn’t some sort of immediacy of communication, a return to the unadulterated face-to-face of individuals confronting their common existential situation. Because the social field remains structured by class struggle, by the biopolitical deployment of race, by the struggles within social reproduction indexed by gender, and all of these things shape in advance any possibility of mutual encounter at the individual level. What comes flooding in to fill the void left by the collapsed structure of attention and explanation isn’t radical sincerity but conspiracy theory, not forthrightness but miserable special pleading, a victim stance more entrenched and irremediable than ever before.