Writing on the Alternative Right blog, Land eschews backwoods “ordinary racism” for a futuristic “hyper-racism,” according to which accelerating technological progress will create intense and highly specific evolutionary pressure: for example, the traits needed by Mars colonists, or the reproductive success afforded to Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. The result will be not just eugenics, but “neo-speciation” on a fantastic scale. You get to become the something else that ordinary human “races” prefigure—or to use another phrase of Land’s, “think face tentacles.”
The neoreactionary imagines his back turned, as others warm themselves by this strange fire, call it the cult of Cthulhu or the cult of progress, Enlightenment. “Coldness be my God,” proclaims Land’s Twitter bio. But ultimately the fantasy is to get sucked up into this omnipotent, alien force, whether it’s an artificial intelligence or a dark and primitive other. Networked computers or slimy masses, the advent of the Matrix or the return of Cthulhu: the neoreactionary looks for signs of the arrival of this strange entity, either the origin or the destiny of man, and either way his end. In the meantime, the neoreactionary waits, listening for the call. By describing it, he hopes to slip away without having to respond. When Cthulhu came, Lovecraft wrote,
The time would be easy to know, for then mankind would have become as the Great Old Ones; free and wild and beyond good and evil, with laws and morals thrown aside and all men shouting and killing and reveling in joy. Then the liberated Old Ones would teach them new ways to shout and kill and revel and enjoy themselves, and all the earth would flame with a holocaust of ecstasy and freedom.
Life in the Cathedral is nasty and brutal, a nightmare: this is the picture neoreaction paints. What they want, though, is not exactly to destroy it. They want rather to get outside of it, in order to, as Morpheus promises Neo, “know what it is.” In the end the problem with the Cathedral is not that it’s bad, but that it’s dishonest. So what would honesty look like?
Basically, the internet. If a state church exists in the U.S. present, “Google” is probably a better shorthand for it than “progressivism.” The only real problem, according to neoreaction, is that we haven’t made this explicit: that we don’t yet know that our lives are lived inside an Internet of Things.
Yarvin and his friends are one step ahead of the progressive policy nerds: while the beltway wonks look to Silicon Valley for innovative techniques for “disrupting” social problems, Yarvin the entrepreneur-theorist wants to cut out the middleman and “reboot” the state himself. He has a simple plan: dissolve the U.S. government and replace it with a “gov-corp.” Retire all government employees (“R.A.G.E.”), “draft ten thousand Googlers,” and perhaps—as Justine Tunney, former Occupy Wall Street leader, current Google engineer and vocal advocate for neoreaction, proposed on a Whitehouse.gov petition—“hire [then-CEO of Google] Eric Schmidt as the CEO of America.” Or better, break the country up into smaller city-states: maybe a red and a blue America, an Apple America and a Ford one. Right now the U.S. is the “Microsoft of nations”—much too bloated. Smaller, affinity-based states will be leaner and more efficient. What you choose is up to you; “if you like your country, you can keep it,” as Balaji S. Srinivasan promised in a talk (“Silicon Valley’s Ultimate Exit”) at Y Combinator’s Startup School.
We thought the Cathedral was about politics, but actually it’s economics; we thought we were choosing, but in fact we are merely pawns. Freedom for the neoreactionary then means simply knowing that you are “a slave.” While the cyberpunk reference points for neoreaction (The Matrix, Blade Runner, Neuromancer) are usually called dystopian, neoreaction amounts to the wager that if you could figure out how to actually live in these fantasy worlds, they would be good. Since they’re imaginary, you can do whatever you want, like Neo—stopping bullets, flying around—when he figures out that the rules of the Matrix are “no different than the rules of a computer system.” In other words, absolute; but once you know how they work, infinitely hackable. The Matrix is about getting out, but all the cool shit happens inside (“I know Kung Fu”).
The goal of neoreaction is to harness the power of the state church by getting rid of the fantasy that it is an expression of popular will, that we want it. Seeing the collective imaginary as an autonomous, alien force—call it technology or capital, ideology or world-spirit—rather than a form of human life (i.e. politics) paradoxically frees us to embrace it. In Silicon Valley they call this force “the Singularity.” Those who believe in it predict that computers will soon learn how to improve themselves, resulting in a “liftoff” moment in which technology becomes autonomous and self-sustaining, rapidly freeing itself from the biological limitations of its human creators. In The Singularity Is Near, futurist prophet Ray Kurzweil, who is also the director of engineering at Google, writes that by allowing us to “transcend [the] limitations of our biological bodies and brains,” the Singularity (always capitalized) will erase the distinction “between human and machines or between physical and virtual reality.” He pictures this as the moment in which humans finally get “power over our fate,” but it could also be described as the moment when we finally submit to it. The idea of the Singularity implies that technology is not just humanity’s essence, but ultimately a force that transcends it.
In Silicon Valley, the Singularitarian hears the rumblings of this primitive, chthonic power as it prepares to shrug off its merely human form; by acknowledging this force’s absolute supremacy, he hopes ultimately to upload himself into the cloud, to become part of it and live forever. “We have come to the end of the series,” Land wrote in an early essay, still published as academic philosophy. “Can what’s playing you make it to the next level?”
Trump’s election, in which the alt right’s ideological warfare certainly played a part, is not the end of this story. Bannon, for one, described him as a “blunt instrument for us” who may not, himself, “get it.” But the imaginative investment in Trump, however temporary, reveals something important about politics in the present. If he can be, as posters on 4chan put it, “memed into existence,” then perhaps miracles can happen; a route out of the omnipresent Cathedral starts to seem mappable.
At the Conservative Political Action Conference last February, Reince Priebus, flanked by Steve Bannon, described his excitement: “We love being here,” even though “we actually hate politics … What we were starving for was somebody real, somebody genuine, somebody who was actually who he said he was.” It’s not so ironic that Trump played this redemptive role for Priebus: though insincere, Trump is in a sense “authentic,” a word which (not just for the right) has become almost an antonym for “politician.” Trump is nothing if not an exemplary product of the system the neoreactionaries want to tear down. But this is his virtue. His brand of politics is “pure” in that it does not pretend to aim at anything other than increasing its own power. Like Neo, so crushingly ordinary in his day job—or Keanu Reeves, so fantastically vacant in his acting—Trump serves as a pure vessel for something else.
We cannot explain away the strangeness of the current moment in U.S. politics. But we should not turn away from the even deeper strangeness it reveals. From Puritan fantasies of an American apocalypse to the Manson Family’s hippie inferno, American culture has always been obsessed with the thought that its utopian visions might flower into something rotten. The American dream is of a waking life like a dream, a definite world with no limits; it is the dream of a society bound together by individuals’ pursuit of just whatever they want. It’s a dream that slides easily into a nightmare, of a world that, without any limits, careens straight into the abyss. The Puritan patriarchs ruminated endlessly, in their private journals, about the unprecedented corruption into which their new world had fallen. In the virtual world of the neoreactionaries, our modern priestly class of professors and technologists make these apocalyptic fantasies public.
The fear of political life—of the uncertainty that comes with wanting and doing things with others—has long been a driving force in modern democratic politics. The fantasy worlds of reactionary thought present themselves as an absolute break with the postwar liberal consensus, even with “politics” as such; they are not that, but they are not just illusions, either. In the end, the dream of an “exit” from the contingency and unpredictability of worldly life is still a human one. Against its own claim that “there is no alternative,” neoreaction’s fantasy of an “exit” from history gives evidence, as brutal and real as it imagines, of the political life that we are destined to share.
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This article appears in Issue 14 of The Point, which is due out at the end of this month. If you liked this essay, subscribe now to get the issue straight from the printer’s. Use the code FINALFANTASY for 20% off your new subscription.
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Art credit: Basim Magdy, “The Bitterness of What Could Have Happened and What Ended Up Happening” (2011), “The Last Day of Written History” (2011), “A Contracted Excavation of Extinct Secret Societies” (2008), “Every Decade Memory Poses as a Container Heavier than its Carrier” (2013), “An Eavesdropper Lurks in the Shadows of Your Every Thought” (2010). Images courtesy of the artist.