Maybe it was always there and I didn’t see it, or didn’t care. Or maybe it is a more recent phenomenon. Perhaps a bit of both: it might have been that I didn’t care for the isolated instances of bad or missing judgement, but now that they are popular, populist, and even ‘trendy’, I find myself galled almost daily by their intrusive ever-presence.
This is at least partly due because I was taught to exercise and expect judgement from citizens of the Western world, as a mark of civilised behaviour. My high school education alone stressed its purpose as fostering and developing æsthetic and ethical discernment; encouraging the insights that teach restraint from parroting glib ideological slogans; demonstrating by example the benefits of seeking to understand what is not yet understood; teaching caution about relying solely or heavily on single sources of information, the way people today rely on Google and Wikipedia, as if these could be trusted to define ontological and epistemological boundaries.
In the past two decades I have formed the view that much of what I see as lacking judgement arises directly from an ideological vandalism of the education system itself: the rise of technocracy and associated technical professions has all but annihilated instruction in the humanities, replacing it with merely technical vocational training. It is tempting to see in this ‘reform’ movement sweeping the Anglophone world in the 1980s a conservative conspiracy to deprive the great unwashed of the intellectual wherewithal to oppose the resurgent plutocrat agenda. But conceiving of it that way involves suffering the acid taste of bile that inevitably accompanies the thought of mediaevalist Christofascists actually being smarter than all those well-read, articulate lefties who held sway in the academy of the 1970s and ‘80s. Nevertheless, it seems they meekly surrendered to the new caste of technocrats favoured by the reactionaries, retreating into ineffectual theoretical fiefdoms, walled off from Enlightenment humanism with pettish identity politics, without the vitality to generate graduates with the intellectual capacity and fortitude to effectively oppose the barbarians at the gate.
It is no better to rationalise the despoliation of our education system as an unforeseen consequence of too narrow an economic focus on employability as the key outcome of education. The unpleasant bite of that thought is only marginally less repulsive than the taste of conspiratorial bile. A degree-qualified person today is no more likely to get a job than the scion of a family in which three generations have been unemployed for most of their lives. And the job for either one is more likely to be toilet cleaner or call centre minion than administrator or manager.
Whatever the case may be, gone is all concern to develop in students the faculties necessary to engage in the civic behaviours necessary to protect and develop both liberal democracy and Western culture. Instead the intellectual luddites make the case for Western culture as excrement, to be shunned in embarrassed self-righteousness, but without any viable alternative in mind. They act as if this surrender to competing ideals were a voluntary multiculturalism rather than just bourgeois affectation and cowardice. They confuse judgement for judgmentalism, where the latter is practiced as the zealotry of finding fault in others without the power to recognise their own towering shortcomings.
The confidence to exercise personal critical judgement, to identify and act on important issues, has been replaced by the practice of credulously repeating someone else’s vacuous rhetoric. Worse: most of that rhetoric today seems to originate within the USA, which is at its most remote point from Western values since its inception.
The new ‘Hipsterism’
The underlying ignorance and stupidity has been around forever, but these benighting tendencies have become much more pervasive since the internet, and particularly social media, removed any filters that once existed to screen out the most ridiculous of ideas from the megaphones available for public discussion. It is nauseating to witness that even people who call themselves journalists are now quoting tweets as reportage, but continuing to ignore corporate policies that shape internet usage and abuses. It is a consciousness without self-reflection and analysis. A half-in, half-out approach to acknowledging how ‘news’ is shaped.
In this already degraded environment arose the ideal of ‘personal branding’, as if human beings should package themselves like products: ‘Now with new and improved cretinism. Guaranteed literacy and rationality free! Includes 70% vanity, 25% credulous servility.’ The slavish drive to slot oneself neatly into a demographic category to suit corporate needs is an unfathomable surrender of creativity, individuality, and vitality. At the same time, just like product packaging and advertising before personal branding, it seeks to normalise displays of ever less restrained narcissism, dishonesty, shallowness, and anti-social tendencies that were once rightly thought immature.
If all these features of the new cretinism are drawn together, as a kind of Zeitgeist Gestalt of what’s ‘hip’, all the media pundits, including the ones who don’t think of themselves as that, have been wrong about hipsters for as long as that term has resurfaced (there have been hipsters in different eras, too, with quite distinct orientations). Hipsterism today is not a characteristic confined to millennials challenged by personal presentation decisions. It is in fact inter-generational, and rests on a particular mind-set. It is the blithe adoption of ignorance as virtue, and stupidity as objective and guileless frankness. It is the bad manners, turned into birthright, of ceaseless, idiotic, boring, and barely literate bleating inflicted on the world as if it were a necessity rather than the borderline human rights violation it actually represents.
Know a hipster by vacuity
Hipsterism re-invents ignorance as ennui about the failures of the past and disenchantment with all the institutions and mechanisms of civilisation that don’t serve to provide instant personal gratification, the way onanistic fiddling with hand-held devices delivers little shots of endorphins with every stroking gesture. It masks deep-seated ignorance – the absence of education – with the fetish of disposability, making everything obsolete the second it has been created, removing value from all that is not new, including all cultural striving. It promotes the imbecilic demand that all messages be literal, so no thought of, or reference to, art or literature is necessary for interpretation and comprehension; if that demand is unmet, the hipster will freely misconstrue a nuanced, layered meaning to be nothing of the kind.
Hipsterism is attention deficit disorder as an affectation: if it’s not in that stream being scrolled through in the moment, it doesn’t exist at all. It mistakes solipsism as a solid foundation for dismissing other perspectives and experiences. It has no room for personal responsibilities or commitments, which are seen as ties to outmoded forms of being; this is why hipsterism is the biggest single threat to maintaining or improving liberal democracy, and why hipsters are so ready to talk and act like totalitarians. Yet hipsters take for granted all the comforts and privileges available only because their predecessors acted with intellect, judgement, commitment, personal sacrifice, and an integrity that is entirely missing from hipsterism.
Hipsters don’t read: they scan. They don’t comprehend so much as ‘curate’ other people’s thoughts into ready-made snippets to be expectorated forth regardless of context or relevance. They have no Leitmotif, no cohesive ideology, and no coherent Weltanschauung. Perhaps the most studied pose of the hipsters is to roll out short, sarcastic dismissals of any idea or effort that surpasses their own capacity to conceive, create, or understand.
And yet hipsters are predominantly employed as technocrats, ranging from CEOs to legislators, and from IT professionals to office administrators: they give every appearance of being ‘normal’ people, even if most of them are eternal adolescents zipped up in the people-suits they wear as disguises. The ascendancy of nominal conservatives should have put paid to the myth of wealth as proof of intellect, and of plutocracy as a sustainable form of capitalism. But hipsters blithely embrace such internecine fatuousness, either by voting for it, or by not voting at all. And all the while lying about their own ‘progressive’ political credentials.
Hipsters are the biggest single threat to the planet. Their irresponsibility is corroding everything that we – at least some of us – know of as Western civilisation and culture.
How hipsterism degrades judgement, rationality, and plain ordinary decency can be observed daily almost anywhere people gather, but especially on any social media platform. I have three examples in mind that illustrate almost all the execrable characteristics and consequences of hipsterism. On the surface these were ‘discussions’ about the suffering of Palestinians, about Silicon Valley salaries, and about a women-only screening of a film. But in each case they were vehicles for a despicable anti-intellectualism, intolerance, and mediaevalist savagery from people who say they are opposed to such excesses.
Armchair Hamas militants
I took only a minor part in a discussion of Middle East conflict, but was annoyed by the bullying, pack mentality, reductionism, and bottomless ignorance of the hipsters who attacked a contributor I thought of as knowledgeable and insightful – let’s call him the professor.
The trouble began when he disagreed with a gaggle of about half a dozen hipsters who had decided that the plight of the Palestinians was a direct consequence of Israeli fascism.
The professor posted a long and articulate rebuttal, tracing historical antecedents, and particularly the PLO’s complicity in enforcing misery on its people for the sake of maintaining an inflexible policy of eradicating Israel and all Israelis. A policy anyone with half an ounce of understanding would recognise as impossible for Israel to accept.
The professor was challenged to provide sources despite the fact that this is common knowledge, to the extent that even Wikipdia hasn’t been able to re-write it as a Walt Disney version of events, with pre-pubescent princesses being rescued by Paul Ryan. The professor was called a Zionist extremist, and insulted in a couple of other less commodious ways.
In this stream of abuse, I posted to point out that even the UN had found that Hamas, a faction of the former PLO, was guilty of using its own population as a human shield: Hamas would launch raids against the IDF (Israeli Defence Force) and then hide in hospitals, schools, and residential districts precisely to cause the casualties it then used for propaganda purposes in its international relations strategy.
I, too, was challenged for sources.
My response was: ‘Is Google broken today?’
The counter was: ‘It is incumbent on you to provide sources when you make claims like that.’
My response: ‘Incumbent by what rule of the universe? I am not responsible for your ignorance and laziness. Where are the sources for all of your claims?’
The response to that?
‘You’re just a Zionist troll.’
Meanwhile the professor had returned to the discussion with an armful of citations and more calmly reasoned analysis to support his points. But now the rules changed.
‘Your sources are invalid because I can’t access them online,’ said one hipster.
‘Wikipedia disagrees with you,’ said another, citing a single page without the courtesy to explain which point was being contradicted by what other point.
The professor attempted to explain the idea that not all knowledge and scholarship could be accessed online, for which he was branded an elitist. Yet it should be obvious to all but the retarded that a lifetime’s reading and experience cannot be dismissed quite as easily as the hipsters argued it should be.
The discussion now turned to the professor as a troll who should be expelled from the forum for being fractious.
I know quite a number of the personas in this particular forum, and they me. I got away lightly with just admonitions not to allow myself to become the mouthpiece of for Israeli Zionist fascism! Gosh. Whatever would have happened if that had come to pass? What a patronising bunch of arseholes these self-righteous guardians of Stalinist political correctness turned out to be.
But the professor was not spared. A ‘vote’ was taken to expel him. Nine people voted to ‘ban’ him. The moderator who stepped in didn’t expel the professor, but deleted the entire thread instead! Is that like the moment when Winston Smith eradicates a little piece of history, but can’t quite delete it from his own memory?
We’ve all seen similar threads about topics as silly as Linux versus Windows, or as weighty as blue versus red in national elections. It should concern every thinking person what is being exhibited by hipsters in such discussions –
- An intolerance to any kind of ‘opposition’, expressed as bullying and lynch mob behaviour, without the courage of real thugs to suffer a beating in the kind of physical confrontation that some of these behaviours would rightly incite offline.
- Contempt for scholarship, knowledge, and cultivated insight; hipsters are your next generation of book burners and censors.
- A facile, ignorant Weltanschauung that leads its captives to suppose they can infer from one statement a cascade of others to make strident judgements about a person’s orientation and motives not in evidence in any of their statements. This is a kind of rhetorical eugenics that should be accompanied at all times with red armbands to immediately identify the proponent as an insipid would-be thug.
- A point blank refusal to learn or acknowledge gaps in one’s personal knowledge pertaining to any particular subject. This is the Trumpian doctrine that ignorance and stupidity is just misunderstood brilliance. The doctrine that everyone deserves a gold star. Even the imbeciles.
Taken together these all represent appalling lack of judgement, and a kind of extremism we commonly associate with neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other blue collar populists. Except that what we have now is notional progressives behaving in exactly the same ways. These people are no different from the crowds that watched the Kristallnacht unfold; the Maoist students torture and murder their teachers, parents, and neighbours; or America’s cops assassinate people in broad daylight for the crime of being black.
It’s not such a shocking revelation. Hannah Arendt reached it more than 50 years ago: monsters are ordinary people given the opportunity to act without ethics, conscience, judgement, or any sense of history.
Obedience as ethics
Another discussion concerned the ethics of Silicon Valley wage fixing, involving the collusion of several über-wealthy IT corporations to maintain a cap on wages regardless of supply-and-demand market signals.
When I came to this discussion, the hipsters had already rejected one contributor’s suggestion – let’s call him the devil’s advocate – that wage fixing was unethical for the deliberate aim of subverting legitimate market forces.
The response was a lecture by three or four idiots about how the law did not actually prohibit wage fixing. What utter nonsense!
Only an imbecile would mistake ethics for obedience. Ethics is the intellectual capital expended in considering right from wrong according to principled and contextual judgement. Morality is conduct arising from adherence to ethics. Both are frequently in conflict with law. Consider historical disenfranchisement of women and non-Caucasians; these were matters of law, but they were always wrong if a principle of equality and human decency was applied to ethics guiding a person’s moral conduct. Consider a more recent example: beating up a passenger on an aircraft for refusing to voluntarily and involuntarily surrendering his seat. The action took place with impunity despite the fact that it was against the law and unethical.
But quite apart from this confusion between ethics and law, even the US still has anti-trust legislation that makes wage fixing illegal.
The discussion moved on with the devil’s advocate citing some sources on the collusion by meetings, emails, and telephone calls between senior Silicon Valley executives. These sources were rejected as unproven. I interjected: what would constitute proof? The answer: ‘No court has said these things did actually happen.’ On that basis, I thought, nothing can be taken to be real unless court-approved. In other words, no science, news, or world events are proven unless considered and verified by a court. If this opinion originated from an earnest consideration, it is a call for authoritarian extremism. More likely it was the smart-alecky but bone-grindingly facile retreat of an idiot into with no better argument to make. I smelt the odious Wikipedia ideology all over it.
Several hipsters then posted on free market economics, corporations being within their rights to respond to market forces, and some twaddle seriously misinterpreting Adam Smith on regulators having no legitimate rôle in preventing corporations from acting without restraint. It was a foul-smelling potpourri of utter nonsense.
Free markets is a concept derived from laissez faire economics of the 18th and 19th centuries. It meant that governments should not restrict trade with tariffs or other barriers distorting the price of goods in a competitive environment. It did not, and never has meant that governments should allow corporations to rig markets to be anti-competitive for their own benefit. Besides, free market ideology is just that: ideology. It isn’t a divinely ordained, fixed rule.
Adam Smith had no concept at all of transnational corporations and capital in a post-industrial world. Quoting him these days is almost always an open admission that what follows will be deliberate lies. He never said that governments have no rôle to regulate markets, only that they should refrain from doing so to prevent market distortions. If you accept that Smith also wrote extensively on morality, you might recognise, too, that Smith’s response to contemporary market dominance by fewer and larger gigantic corporations and financiers constitutes a distortion of the market in itself, and is an ethically unconscionable state of affairs, which is the legitimate domain of public interest regulation to protect not just the public, but smaller businesses being squeezed out with price wars and corporate legal tactics.
It was clear the hipsters weighing in on these topics have no idea at all about political economy, nor of historical developments in Western capitalism.
I put together a post for the thread, lampooning adherence to Adam Smith 240 years after publication, comparing this doctrine to demands that doctors, engineers, lawyers, architects, and film-makers, among others, adhere solely to a body of knowledge as it existed two and a half centuries ago.
The response was truly astonishing. Six or seven posts condemning me as some kind of heretic for daring to attack Smith (which I was not), being too stupid to understand how relevant he remains today (which I obviously must be in disagreeing with such a hair-brained proposition), and accusing me of being some kind of socialist (which I’ll accept with indifference, since that’s an insult only in the USA).
The devil’s advocate returned to discuss even worse collusion on Silicon Valley salaries for women, designed to keep these lower than male salaries, overall collusion to keep both below an artificially fixed low notwithstanding.
That comment transformed the gaggle, formerly self-described free-marketeers, into instant feminist interventionists, railing against sexism and associated discriminations, as if they had never taken issue with exactly the same principles when gender was not the issue.
I refrained from speaking my mind, which was that the gaggle lacked any sense of guiding principle or rationality in coming to its conclusions, instead regurgitating a stream of rhetoric concatenated into an inchoate mess with no concern for its internal tectonic contradictions.
This discussion is an archetype for a great number of exchanges on political economy, online and offline, in which the hipsters display a complete ignorance of economics, history, past and contemporary political practices, and the consequences arising from those practices. And yet they demand that their pitifully ignorant opinions be given respect and treated as credible in public discourse.
It is a philosophy of ‘a gold star for everyone’ just for showing up, and in complete contradiction with the rationality of their contributions.
Wonder Woman in the closet
A lady friend of mine – let’s call her Liesel – found herself completely alienated from a conversation in which a hipster faction proposed that a women-only screening of Wonder Woman was a sign of progressive attitudes and a recognition that women need safe spaces to celebrate female power.
Liesel objected to say that the way to address to male chauvinism, and to cultivate an appreciation of female rôle models, particularly in younger men, is to share with them the moments of celebrating female power. Not to exclude them, and not to alienate them by making it possible to conclude that feminists really are a bunch of insufferable totalitarians.
That sounded like a pretty solid idea to me. Not so the hipsters: Liesel was suddenly branded an MRA (men’s rights activist). I dislike acronyms for the association they conjure with authoritarian bureaucrats, which is not a bad description of hipsterism – a kind of totalitarian technocratic order of bureaucrats administering public taste.
Despite the logical absurdity of branding Liesel an MRA, it seems that if you don’t go along with (someone’s alleged) feminist narcissism of any and all kinds, you must automatically be condemned. It is difficult to put into words how utterly cretinous the lack of reasoning is behind such an assertion.
Liesel was a feminist in the 1960s, and she has raised children, which is a better guide to what is necessary to inculcate sound judgement than relying on ideology alone to tell other people what to do. She was too modest to blast the idiots in the discussion, and I was not going to embarrass her by doing it on her behalf. Yet I wondered what she must think now of the travesty that has been made of feminism, serving spoilt little rich bitches with no regard for the human rights denied to women who are not entitled or white. The kind of women who wouldn’t care about women-only screenings or going to see gringo films in the first place.
The specifics aside, as a symbol for all exchanges in which Stalinist commissars of political correctness assert the right to censor and censure, the Wonder Woman women-only screening topic became so instantly divisive that no one who did not adhere to strictly cretinous, extreme positions could propose any idea without being consigned to one or another of the extremist camps by the hipsters. Or by the actual men’s rights activists.
It is the redneck doctrine of: ‘If yer not fer us, yer ag’in us.’
Choice, discernment, pluralism, and intellectual integrity are abolished. Actual words or intent becomes meaningless in the frenzied bloodlust to find an enemy. Any enemy. If this were street behaviour it would be akin to soccer loutism, in which anyone not wearing the right team colour is assumed to be fair game for severe beatings or even murder.
The politically correct hipsters have no intellectual justification for playing this game. They expose themselves by it as hooligans looking for a fight, not people capable of reasoning or judgement. And they seem too cowardly, in my opinion, to stand up to an actual fight, with fists and feet.
The very concatenation of ‘political’ with ‘correctness’ should be a warning claxon for all thinking adults that whatever comes next will be totalitarian chicanery. Political correctness in the West, as revitalised during the Reagan-Thatcher era, was a last stand by intellectually enfeebled lefties unable to meet plutocrat ideology intellectually.
The hipsters cleaving to political correctness as a secular liturgy are caught out by their own dim-witted reliance on online sources when it comes to understanding what it really means. Wikipedia’s article on political correctness starts by asserting that it describes: ‘avoidance of language or actions that are seen as excluding, marginalizing, or insulting groups of people who are seen as disadvantaged or discriminated against, especially groups defined by sex or race.’ The source for that assertion is a dictionary!
The meaning thus defined is stripped of all history and context. It arrogates to itself the status of objective truth when it is in fact nothing more than purely subjective prejudice. There is a history section to the Wikipedia article, but it restricts itself to a few lines of American propaganda about its own history, starting only in the 1940s.
It is possible to trace the Western antecedents for political correctness to Mediaeval church decrees about what was permissible to be said and thought. But I see its current form as beginning in the ideological discussions between VI Lenin and Georgi Valentinovich Plekhanov in the first decade of the 20th century, in which Lenin coined the phrase ‘politicheskaya partiinost’, meaning roughly ‘in the spirit of the party’. That phrase developed into ‘politicheskaya pravil’nost’, meaning ‘spirit’ or ‘correctness’ of ‘politics’. Political correctness as a way of writing out of all that is written any ‘incorrect’ thoughts about reality, as defined by the Soviet communist party. And, apparently, its heirs and successors, including the hipsters, who are incapable of anything but simple thoughts to describe complex problems. And who are immune to considerations of the consequences accruing to their simple-mindedness.
From the ideological beginnings in Bolshevik Russia, political correctness became a key ingredient in Soviet mechanisms of thought control demanding that people not think at all. Maoist China added a twist by demanding, through ‘si xiang gai zao’, or ‘thought reform’, that heretics be taught to recognise ‘truth’ to be whatever the party decides it should be; political prisoners in the Chinese concentration camps (laogai) would be forced to drink excrement and urine from a bucket through straws, and expected to say out loud how delicious it tasted. This is perhaps the closest parallel to what contemporary self-appointed commissars of political correctness expect of the people they lecture.
The historically grounded meaning of political correctness I have just sketched out may not offend against the idea that people shouldn’t say nasty things about others. But as ideology it challenges directly the right of anyone to do so for any reason. In that regard, the proponents of political correctness aren’t really any different from religious zealots, and often much worse. It is unfortunate that dimwits everywhere interpret the mere existence of the idea of political correctness as a commandment that people seen by anyone to be offending anyone else must be silenced and censured.
Even by the dopey Wikipedia definition, the conceptual moment between interpretation and acting on that interpretation is entirely subjective and irrational: the world’s largest population is Chinese, so calling people ‘chinks’ or ‘slopeheads’ would be excluded from insults to be considered as politically incorrect; there are more women than men in the world, so only men could be considered a minority when considering insults to minorities; and these inconvenient facts are only the start of a Niagara Falls of contradictions in how political correctness operates today. At least, how it operates in the minds of simple-minded folk like the hipsters.
I trust I have made two points here: Western proponents of political correctness advocate for sheer lunacy; and Wikipedia is largely useless as a reliable source of information. That is unless we include in the category ‘information’ all propaganda Disneyfied for consumption by American yokels.
I was only an observer of the Wonder Woman discussion, but I knew some of the participants from other forums, and I came to the conclusion that the most zealous of all the idiots were the ‘white knights’ – men ostensibly defending women – acting like schoolyard bullies for much more base purposes than noble intent: to flex their muscles and fan their plumage in an adolescent mating ritual, hoping to impress the female onlookers. I know from longitudinal observation that some of the hipster zealots in that thread have a pattern of breathless support for the politically correct nonsense they think will ingratiate them with a perceived ‘in crowd’ of predominantly American identity politics ideologues. In such endeavours there’s an almost inevitable Freudian regression to the eat-kill-sex drives which become impervious to any kind of reason or civilised behaviours. I think that makes these white knights not even hipsters; just pathetic hangers-on who wish they could be recognised as hipsters by people whose anuses they are willing to kiss for that outcome.
Mockery is the only answer
Obviously one mustn’t say ‘X agrees with me: therefore he is a good writer’, and for the last ten years honest literary criticism has largely consisted in combating this outlook. Personally I admire several writers (Céline, for instance) who have gone over to the Fascists, and many others whose political outlook I strongly object to. But one has the right to expect ordinary decency of a poet. I never listened to Pound’s broadcasts, but I often read them in the B.B.C. Monitoring Reports, and they were intellectually and morally disgusting. Antisemitism, for instance, is simply not the doctrine of a grown-up person. People who go in for that kind of thing must take the consequences.
– George Orwell, ‘As I Please’, Tribune, 28 January 1944
If there were to be a single identifying characteristic of hipsterism, it is that it always devolves to arguments based on ideas that are simply not the doctrines of grown-up people.
Internet businesses function like Big Brother, but not the Soviet, Orwellian kind. Instead of telling people what to think, they teach them not to think at all. Need an answer? No problem, Google will tell you what’s what. Want entertainment? Just subscribe to endless channels of video on demand, gig and restaurant guides. Shop online. Sex online. Chat online. No need to leave the house at all. Hook up a VR headset and even squalor becomes redundant.
In that environment there will be no need to engage politically or even socially. And those options will wither away as mercenary politicians simply abandon all liberal democratic traditions and prohibit people to gather for any but state sanctioned occasions. You think I jest? Look at some of the legislation now being ratified in the USA to prohibit gatherings of citizens to hold their elected representatives to account.
In that environment, what use will there be for education when most jobs will have been automated? No need for Enlightenment values. No need to think when others are so eager to do it for you. And you are so eager to let them.