Review- Yarvin, “A Gentle Introduction to Unqualified Reservations” and Land, “The Dark Enlightenment”

Curtis “Mencius Moldbug” Yarvin, “A Gentle Introduction to Unqualified Reservations” (2009) and Nick Land, “The Dark Enlightenment” (2013) – For my sins, I’ve committed to reading the major figures on the contemporary far right. Being me, I made the decision to read the “neoreactionary”/”Dark Enlightenment” writers well after their sell-by date. The far-right kids these days seem to be all about the aleatoric terror espoused in Mason’s “Siege” (which I will also review, so, uh, look forward to that) rather than trying to anoint a CEO-king for America or some secessionist seasteading anarcho-monarchist-capitalist utopia.

In particular, “Moldbug” Yarvin’s late-oughts internet snark has aged poorly. Someone told this dork he was funny, and Yarvin, with characteristic critical acuity, bought it. So you can’t even get your reaction straight. It needs to be hedged in by paragraphs of “ironic” observations, attempting to counter the objections the reader (imagined as an NPR-listening liberal) brings to the table, faux-erudite asides, etc. Another way “Gentle Introduction” has aged poorly is that he brought it out just before actual class politics started to make a comeback in the US, with Occupy (which presumably set off all his neuroses about “disorder”) coming soon on its heels. So he thinks he’s really blowing minds when he insists that the American Revolution wasn’t good, which is just laughable to anyone who’s spent one July on leftbook. He keeps using these exaggerated, supposedly funny medical metaphors for what his “red pill” is doing to you, the reader. It’s like nothing so much as a pseudo-intellectual version of a carnival barker outside of an especially un-scary haunted house attraction.

“But the irony is what separates the new alt-right from traditional fuddy-duddy conservatives!” I remember hearing and at least a few of you might be thinking. No, that’s just marketing. When you get into the stuff Yarvin cares about, he gets very persnickety and pedantic, and the stuff he chooses for that is telling. He was at the time a global warming denier another way this aged poorly even in its own terms- the cool thing for right-wingers now is to admit it’s happening and so we need to kill the brown people and the poors. He comes out of the Austrian reactionary economic camp, and so has a lot to say about inflation and money. And he is shit scared of black people, in that self-scaring way of online conservatives who convince themselves that they’re going to be killed on the way to the Times Square M&M Store, which would be funny if the outcomes didn’t tend towards the tragic.

What emerges from all this isn’t something new, different, or scary. These are all pretty base conservative pedantries and fears. The cutesy writing bullshit is meant to distract you from how banal his thoughts are. What are his recommendations or searing insights? Well, he continually insists that everything to the left of Hitler, more or less, is descended from seventeenth century Puritanism, which isn’t even an original way to be wrong. He goes on to mix the metaphor by referring to its modern-day descendants as “The Cathedral,” which by definition Puritans would have an antagonistic relationship towards, but actual history isn’t this asshole’s strong suit. Being impressed by the resemblance between politics and religion is an undergrad thing. Yarvin’s solution, a pseudo-monarchy of capitalist leaders, isn’t original either. He calls himself a Sith Lord but really, he just wants there to be a manager for him to complain to, presumably, as my roommate put it, to stop girls from laughing at his weird dick. Protecting capital by sealing it off from democratic pressure is the long-term project of the neoliberal right, and it’s a sign of creative decline and poor education that rich idiots like Peter Thiel look to this Yarvin guy for ways to accomplish it. Dogshit. *

Along with Peter Thiel, Yarvin managed to impress Nick Land, at one point a scholar on the frontiers of “cyberculture theory” or something like that. I’ve never gotten what Marshall McLuhan was banging on about, let alone “cyberculture” people, but people I respect seem impressed with Land’s earlier work (which I might look into at some point). Somewhere along the line, Land went crazy, moved to China, and became an anti-black racist, not necessarily in that exact order. His extended essay “The Dark Enlightenment” reframes and extends several of Yarvin and cohort’s arguments.

Land is certainly a better writer than Yarvin, though that’s mostly in the negative sense of not larding himself down with specious humor. He adds an accelerationist edge to neoreaction by joining it more forcefully than Yarvin does with out of control expansion of technology and capitalism (Land doesn’t comment on Yarvin’s climate denialism, but one gets the idea he doesn’t agree with it). Only authoritarian capitalism can meet the challenges of the future, Land tells us, and the only way to do that is through exit, secession, the thing for which the neoreactionaries provide part of the key.

The other part of the key is racism- the most interesting part of either work is Land’s extended meditation on “the Cracker Factory,” a misapplied version of Grady McWhiney and Forrest McDonald’s Celtic Thesis on the origins of southern white culture. The Cracker Factory is sort of the opposite of the Cathedral: where the Cathedral manufactures politically correct sheep and their masters, the Cracker Factory churns out violent, tribal, but existentially sound men and women who, Land implies, could be the muscle behind some of the neoreactionaries’ secessionist fantasies. Rich man’s war, poor man’s fight, the farce version! He has something of a point there, though, that there’s a social system that manufactures the potential right-wing killers of the future- he just gets which one it is wrong. It’s in the suburbs and exurbs, not the hollers and trailer parks.

In general, Land tracks Yarvin in being redundant. The sort of obfuscatory cultural theory Land used to produce was inimical enough to actual progress to begin with, without being openly racist and antidemocratic, just as there are plenty of xenophobic pedants of Yarvin’s stripe. These people are only a threat insofar as they whisper in the ears of the stupid and powerful among the tech elite and potentially help shape the ways in which said elites look to deal with us regular people. Only time will tell how much it amounts to. *’

Review- Yarvin, “A Gentle Introduction to Unqualified Reservations” and Land, “The Dark Enlightenment”

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