Angela Nagle’s “Kill All Normies” is a short book that aims to document and explain the new culture wars of the internet age, and in particular the conflict of the so-called “Alt-Right” and “Alt-Lite” versus the SJWs of Tumblr and the establishment progressive left. I went into the book expecting there to be an absurd amount of bias and misrepresentation, however I was pleasantly surprised by the fact Ms. Nagle puts at least some recognizable effort into carefully separating out the various factions she discusses and not strawmanning their ideologies. Her work is not perfect and nor is it unbiased; Nagle is clearly of the Old Left and to some degree writes for such an audience. She also arguably misrepresents (to some degree) Gamergate, Elevatorgate and Atheism Plus, and other similar culture wars to some extent; this clearly is due to her unquestioning acceptance of the victimhood claims of people such as Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian. She also arguably underestimates the degree to which transgressiveness has played a part on the so-called ‘right’ historically. She also is a bit sloppy when she addresses the Men’s Human Rights Movement, however she is more accurate and less unfair than almost all feminist critics of the MHRM and effectively concedes that the MHRM is a legitimate movement. She also seems too willing to ignore troublesome facts which complicate her theory, particularly in terms of her characterization of nerd culture. In spite of all this, Nagle weaves together a pretty good story that covers a substantial amount of the cultural politics surrounding the new culture wars; most notable in my view is that she is the first leftist commentator to fully understand and accept the gender-transgressive and socially-liberal nature of the 4chan/nerd culture/Alt-Lite/Alt-Right sphere.
This social liberalism and gender-transgression is a fact which seems very obvious and has been pointed out repeatedly, but so far “the narrative” (so to speak) has not yet accepted this truth; perhaps with more leftists recognizing this reality, that narrative will be further destabilized.
Nagle begins by looking at the enthusiastic embrace of social media by the left back in 2008 to 2010; in the wake of the Arab Spring and the election of Obama, social media was cast as a tool of liberation. The internet was seen as enabling a bright future for the left, but in 2016 the exact opposite outcome had been delivered; the online world had developed a substantial contingent of radicalized anti-leftist activism which managed to elevate the candidate of the “right.” Trump was lifted up, in part, by the same apparatus which was meant to be inherently anti-conservative, inherently anti-heirarchical, and inherently transgressive. More disturbingly, some of those who elevated Trump were outright white nationalists and literal fascists. How did this happen? Not to mention, this was not a culture war between old fuddy-duddy social conservatives and young rebels (like the culture wars of the 60s), but rather both factions were populated mostly by young people with a stridently countercultural mindset and style; the Chan-Rightists were from a subculture marinated in sexual depravity, pornography and a general lack of religious fervor.
Nagle explains this paradox through pointing out that the culture of 4Chan and 8Chan, and nerd subculture in general, actually has a very long history of the precise kind of cultural transgressiveness typically admired by the left. This history comes from the exact same 60s counterculture that the New Left was birthed from. Nagle argues that the 60s counterculture produced a style of transgressiveness which, whilst at the time used by the left to advance left-wing ideals, is in fact able to be adopted by any ideology. As such, the fusion of “chan culture” with the ideologies of the alternative right is really an accident that came from the frustrations held by nerds/channers/transgressors with the stifling sensibilities and demands of the Tumblrite Left. The ideology was adopted to shock and horrify the new Squares, but whilst of course some are indeed in it “for the lulz” there have been many whom underwent Becoming The Mask.
This countercultural transgressiveness is rooted in the amoralist libertinism of de Sade and the decadent Romantics, the underground hacker culture’s techno-utopian visions of decentralized futures, libertarian individualism, Neitzsche, and left-wing critiques of post-war American cultural conformity and mass consumption. Trolling is seen as a form of culture jamming (shocking sensibilities to make people think critically). But within this tradition is also a substantial streak of misogyny based on the identification of women with mainstream, conformist, domesticated, tame and emasculating consumerism and normalcy. This, according to Nagle, explains the alleged hostility of nerdy spaces to women.
The atrocities of SJW spaces are well documented in this text and whilst Nagle absolutely is extensively critical of chan culture/anti-PC spaces, she is no less critical of SJW spaces (and perhaps moreso since she blames them for damaging the left and creating the Chan-Rightists in the first place). She sees these spaces as the ultimate intellectual dead-end of a left that has no real ideas and has abandoned the concerns of the Old Left (of which she is part).
Ultimately, Nagle argues that SJWism and “Nerd Culture” both have much in common with each other; most obviously they are (in her assessment) elitist countercultures which see themselves as above the “sheeple.” As an Old Leftist, she thinks that this is precisely the wrong attitude to have; she argues that instead the left need to move away from identity politics and “neoliberalism” (basically the shifts towards identity politics and away from outright anti-capitalism which happened on the American left in the last few decades). Instead, she supports a rejection of transgressiveness and countercultural positioning. With a rejection of transgression and the accompanying elitism, Nagle hopes for the left to return to class politics and anti-capitalism.
What Nagle Gets Right
The most obvious thing Nagle gets correct is the countercultural nature and heritage of Chan culture and nerd culture more broadly; she recognizes the counterculture status and gender nonconformity of Chan culture; she thus rejects the SJW narrative of these cultures being mere reflections of socially dominant prejudices. She is also correct to point out how these cultures are very much at odds with historical conservatism of all kinds, and that they are a product of norms and ideas which have a substantial history on the American left.
In general, Nagle is careful to differentiate between the subgroups and factions within the overarching coalitions she describes. She fully accepts that there are Chan Culture participants who use alt-right ideology merely to shock and don’t actually believe it. She generally doesn’t misrepresent the ideological positions of those she names; she describes Christina Hoff-Sommers as a classical liberal (which is generally true although Sommers describes herself as a libertarian-sympathetic moderate), Cathy Young as a libertarian, and even Milo’s beliefs are characterized as effectively classical liberalism once one gets beyond his trolling and theratrics. She differentiates the alt-right from libertarians/classical liberals, from neocons, from theocons and from paleocons. She does separate out MGTOWs, Red Pillers, Neomasculinists and MHRAs to at least some extent. Unsurprisingly she differentiates between old leftists, left-liberals (the socially liberal left) and the SJW/Establishment left. Some of her characterizations of those she dislikes (Mike Cernovich and Richard Spencer for instance) do unnecessarily psychologize and/or implicitly mock and shame (she mocks Cernovich for being the recipient of money from a divorce settlement, and describes Richard Spencer as the kind of guy one would imagine wearing surgical gloves to leave the house), but she at least avoids the ideological defamation that most on the left are prone to.
Overall she produces a generally coherent narrative which is well-written (and clearly written). She doesn’t fixate too much on one character (thankfully she doesn’t blame Milo for the alt-right, as I feared she would do). She accepts the role that the SJW left played in creating the stifling orthodoxy against which anti-PC rebellion became almost laudable, and she accepts the intellectual bankruptcy of SJW beliefs. Kill All Normies isn’t without flaws but it is certainly among the better works of analysis that focus on the modern culture war.
And Speaking Of Those Flaws…
1. Left-Wing Misogyny, GamerGate, Atheism and Nerd Culture: Listen And Believe
The biggest flaw Nagle’s analysis has is that she has a complete blind-spot with respect to not just GamerGate but nerd culture’s alleged misogyny more generally; this blind-spot is an example of her putting a pet theory over empirical reality.
Her summary of GamerGate is, frankly, terrible; it focuses on Anita Sarkeesian (who was barely involved in the controversy until she inserted herself into it) and then Zoe Quinn (whom even Nagle accepts made a terrible game worthy of mockery). At no point does she ever address the actual flashpoint of GamerGate, which was the simultaneous publication of all the “Gamers Are Dead” articles (often written by white male journalists and inspired by the work of a white male Australian pseudoacademic named Dan Golding) followed by the revelation (delivered by Milo Yiannopoulos and Allum Bokhari of Breitbart) that games journalists were collaborating with each other to simultaneously push this narrative in party-line fashion. This is an extremely surprising omission; Nagle knows Milo covered GamerGate and refers to this in her work, and has clearly seen a lot of Milo’s articles and speeches. However, the article in which the existence of GameJournoPros was revealed (and its evidence of collusion in order to push a preconceived narrative) doesn’t get mentioned, nor do any of the “Gamers Are Dead” articles. I hate to accuse her of intellectual dishonesty, but the fact that the true flashpoint of GamerGate was ultimately based in the works of mostly white male journalists, and that it was them (rather than Quinn and Sarkeesian) who were the ultimate targets of rage, contradicts the preconceived narrative of her own.
Indeed, the theory Nagle advances is that the anti-consumerist, non-conformist, pro-rebellion attitudes which nerd culture inherited from the counterculture are misogynistic; these attitudes equate women with conformity, mindless mass consumption, domestication, motherhood and thus the emasculation and disempowerment of men. In Paglia-esque fashion, Nagle cites the work of de Sade and its preoccupation with sodomy (a preoccupation which, she notes, is reflected frequently in the pornography found on 4Chan) and then cites a literary critic who argues that the fixation on non-procreative sex is a form of the degradation of the mother figure. The horror of matriarchs, as symbolized in Kessey’s “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” and its figure of Nurse Ratched, is also positioned as a precursor to nerd culture’s ideal of masculinity.
Under the influence of this theory, it is all too easy for Nagle to accept and perpetuate the idea that nerd culture (from the Chans, to video gaming, to atheism) is a uniquely hostile place for women in particular. She blames left-wing misogyny rather than right-wing misogyny for this, but she still alleges that nerd culture is misogynist at the core. This, of course, is hard to square with the fact that at several moments in the book she chronicles online abuse and doxxing which is directed at men rather than women. However, perhaps due to confirmation bias, she treats every harassment claim made by Sarkeesian and friends with uncritical acceptance.
She again argues that the New Atheist movement was hateful of women, merely on the basis of the allegations made by Rebecca Watson (allegations which several female skeptics/atheists, like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, contested). She further argues that anti-SJW atheists are/were motivated by a desire to protect a “male space” (thus erasing the many women in atheism/skepticism), yet even Rebecca Watson once spoke of how welcoming the skeptic community was towards women.
“In the land of the nerds, the double “x” chromosome is queen. The lack of women getting actively involved in skepticism has led to a peculiar deification of any female brave enough to dive into debates, engage in philosophical arguments, or just withstand the flirtatious banter that permeates online forums. The skepchick is held up as an ideal in an intellectual community – a woman who is smart, interesting, and most of all, approachable.
Despite what I saw as a distinct willingness for men to accept and embrace (sometimes literally) skeptical women, there were just not that many around. Somehow, the word was not getting out.”
(Watson, R (2005), Skepchicks International, eSkeptic, http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/05-11-03/).
She keeps pushing this narrative of motivated-exclusion-of-women when she misrepresents the saying “there are no girls on the internet” as implying that the audience of 4Chan is almost always male. But the actual meaning of the phrase is that “there is no female privilege on the internet.” When women, and particularly attractive ones, talk to men in real life, men will often judge what the woman says much more charitably or much more positively than if a fellow man said the same thing. This is due to the fact that being benevolently sexist is seen as being kind and courteous towards women, and also due to the fact that in nerd culture there is a very large cohort of romantically unsuccessful men who dream of a ladyfriend with common interests and hobbies (as the Rebecca Watson quote referenced previously makes very clear). But on an anonymous imageboard like 4Chan, men have no incentive to be benevolently sexist and everyone may as well have no identity for everyone is anonymous. As such, women on such boards who are perceived as drawing attention to their woman-ness are perceived as attempting to assert their privilege (hence demanding special treatment).
Nagle, however, casts it as an attempt to keep women out of a male space, even though the Rebecca Watson quote above makes clear that nerdy spaces have always been very accepting towards women. What is hated is not women, but rather non-nerd women who fake an interest in order to get fawned over and treated as super-special princesses; the object of hatred regarding “fake geek girls” is not that they are girls, but rather that they are fake geeks (see http://honeybadgerbrigade.com/2014/02/13/complaining-about-fake-geek-girls-is-not-misogyny/). Hatred of “poseurs” is very common in countercultures, particularly those surrounding music (and Nagle derives her analysis from the study of alternative music subcultures, so it is surprising she didn’t see this).
Nagle Listens And Believes to every story of alleged abuse and harassment, even though there are at least some which are questionable and the evidence makes it clear that it isn’t a gender-exclusive or gender-based thing. However, she has a theory to prove and she’s happy to cram the evidence into it no matter how bad the fit. The mythology of hostile male spaces trying to keep women out simply for being women is too irresistible for Nagle. This is probably the biggest problem with her recount; she misrepresents nerd culture and New Atheism, and she misrepresents the origins of Gamergate because she has to make things about anger at women entering a male space. If the flashpoint of Gamergate is driven by anger at mostly-white-male game journalists who made a coordinated attack on the very identity of “gamer” then this greatly complicates the narrative and doesn’t fit the theory.
2. The MHRM And Anti-Feminism: A Surprising Omission
The history of feminist critique and characterization of the manosphere is full of extreme distortions, some arguably accidental and others clearly deliberate. Nagle at least tries to do a better job; she begins by agreeing men have issues that are legitimate, that feminists have often been cruel towards men and dismissive of men’s issues, and that she is “not at all unsympathetic to the genuinely egalitarian goals of fairness also found in the men’s rights movement.” She points out that the manosphere is composed of different factions that substantially disagree on many issues, and clarifies that her critique is limited to the “darker underbelly” of the manosphere that flourishes online.
This sounds very good at first, however she then says that this underbelly would be horrified to learn about how the men’s movement was once part of second-wave feminism, that it critiqued rigid sex roles. In reality, the Men’s Human Rights Movement is quite aware of this origin since its intellectual founder is Dr. Warren Farrell; Farrell is a former NOW board member and was involved with the precise men’s movement that Nagle speaks of, until he got kicked out by higher-ranking feminists for not believing that men are the oppressors of women. Nagle cites Michael Kimmel (a feminist and misandrist) to make her case, and cites several pro-feminist men’s organizations (like “Men Against Sexism”) as an example of a men’s movement group.
Then things get worse; she cites the National Coalition of Free Men and how it was indeed inspired by the work of Dr. Farrell; at no time does she mention the fact that Farrell was a leader of the men’s movement during the days of that movement being part of Second Wave Feminism. How could she miss this historical fact? And doesn’t she know that Farrell, in spite of being against contemporary feminism, is also against traditional gender roles?
And then she names A Voice For Men, the largest Men’s Human Rights Movement website. She concedes it is “closer to an older style of men’s rights politics” yet doesn’t specify in what way; the answer is that it is an anti-gender-traditionalist group that supports men’s liberation from rigid sex roles and also endorses the Equal Rights Ammendment. AVFM is also supported by Dr. Warren Farrell; apparently, the “darker underbelly” of AVFM would be horrified to learn what they already know (that once, NOW was in favor of Farrell’s work against rigid sex roles faced by men, but eventually kicked him out).
Nagle criticizes AVFM’s tone; at no time does she take issue with the actual arguments made. She complains that sometimes AVFM sounds like a genderswapped version of the worst excesses of Radical Second Wave Feminism, but doesn’t ask as to what the purpose of sounding that way might be. She digs into Buzzfeed‘s hit piece on Paul Elam, but the ultimate problem with Nagle is the omission of Farrell’s historical presence as a leader of the precise men’s movement she seems willing to praise, as well as his central place in the Men’s Human Rights Movement of today. She referenced Farrell’s most famous book, so it seems hard to believe she didn’t also know of Farrell’s experiences in NOW and presence in AVFM. Of course, if she were clear about the MHRM’s intellectual heritage (as the descendants of the same men’s rights activism she approvingly cites as descended from the Second Wave), this may make people wonder why the feminist movement is now opposed to the men’s movement that allegedly came from it. People may wonder what happened to feminism, now that it sees Second-Wave-compatible men’s issues activism as a threat.
3. The Transgressive “Right”
Nagle is not wrong in pointing out that many norms of Chan culture come from the transgressive traditions beloved by the left, yet Nagle doesn’t particularly look at the tradition of transgression on the right (she gives it mention yet no detailed analysis). In particular, whilst libertarians generally do not identify as “right wing,” old leftists like Nagle usually classify them as such and in terms of coalition politics libertarians have typically worked more with conservatives than those on the left (at least for the last several few decades).
But there is a very rich tradition of transgressiveness on the libertarian right. Nagle mentions “South Park Republicans” more than once, yet South Park’s creators are both libertarians. In addition, one simply cannot talk about modern libertarianism without mentioning Ayn Rand (who is not universally agreed with by all libertarians, but is responsible for the radicalization of more libertarians than anyone else). Rand was an extremely transgressive figure; she was a polyamorous atheist illegal immigrant who rejected Christian morality (in extremely vehement terms) and celebrated an anti-conformism and individualism that flies in the face of conservative sensibilities.
Several themes Nagle cites as critical to the transgressiveness of nerd culture and Chan culture are echoed in libertarian literature; the artist who goes against the establishment and masses without selling out? Howard Roark is a clear example. The technological genius who revolutionizes the world? Rand has more than one example. Indeed, the “rebel capitalism” of early Silicon Valley is pretty obviously inflected with Randian notions and more than one journalist has criticized Silicon Valley, and its relatively higher portion of libertarians relative to the rest of the Bay Area, for having such sympathies.
To an extent, we can forgive Nagle for not looking too much at the contributions of libertarians to cultural transgressiveness. It is also possible she simply isn’t that familiar with libertarianism. But people on the left were scarcely the only contributors to the contercultural, transgressive sensibilities Nagle speaks of.
4. Countercultural Elitism, Tu Quoque, And Nerd Culture
Nagle’s ultimate conclusion about how countercultural politics should be rejected is quite novel for someone on the left, given that countercultural politics have basically been the only substantial source of left-wing success in the recent decades; no longer is classical socialism considered a viable alternative to a market economy, and the Scandinavian Social Democratic mixed economy model represents the left-wing edge of the Overton Window in economics departments. Nagle’s argument for leaving behind the counterculture is based, ironically enough, in populism.
Nagle argues that the counterculture has always been based in a form of elitism derived from Frankfurt-School-style ideas; the masses are of course dumb and brainwashed rubes. Mass culture, therefore, is to be disdained. It is prolefeed, soma, and fit only for animals. Counterculturalists, thus, differentiate themselves from mass culture and assert their superiority through rebellion against the mainstream. One rebels against mass culture out of hatred for the masses.
Nagle targets both nerd culture and SJWism for this critique, although she doesn’t dwell on the minutae of how SJWism fits the pattern (perhaps this is due to her presuming the audience already knows and accepts the elitism inherent in SJWism). Technically this is not an argument for or against either side; it is merely casting both sides as Not So Different From Each Other. This, Nagle contends, is why the left of 2008 to 2010 so positively received the internet and its subcultures; the leftist commentariat, already in the thrall of elitist countercultural leftism, perceived internet counterculture as sharing the same basic sympathies.
But Nagle’s portrait of nerd culture’s elitism is highly reductive and unsympathetic, to say the least. She doesn’t understand the fact that in spite of the Nietzschean pretentions she alleges nerd culture to have, nerd culture’s resentment of outsiders is really a ressentiment-filled ambivalence mired in self-loathing and attempts to escape it.
First, the issue of differentiating oneself from the masses is a chicken-and-egg problem. Do nerds like something in order to differentiate themselves from the masses? Or is the actual reality that nerds end up being alienated from the masses owing to personal atypicalities and eccentric hobbies they just naturally gravitated to but aren’t popular amongst the so-called ‘normies’? If Nagle listened to the actual experiences of nerds, she’d find that one does not choose to become a nerd by subscribing to a comic book; rather, one is a social misfit due to temperamental atypicalities. Most nerds experience (and have historically experienced) this sense of outcasthood not as smug superiority from the masses, but as a source of intense psychological pain and crippling loneliness. Indeed, many nerds try to fit in and experience shame over their sense of being “abnormal.”
And then, of course, one must look at the experiences of social rejection and ostracism endured by nerds; instead of smugly trying to be alternative in order to show superiority to the masses, most nerds are cast out of the masses and mocked for not fitting in. Being a victim of bullying is a common experience (as the arts and narratives of nerd culture makes clear).
Nerd culture is thus ambivalent-at-best about its nerdiness. Do nerds believe themselves to be Nietzschean Ubermenschen or transgressive heroes against the masses? To some extent, but at the same time this is partially a psychotherapeutic response that often (at the cultural level, not necessarily to equal degrees within each individual) wars with a craving to be normal (again, the narratives of nerd culture frequently are fantasies of success, of popular acceptance, of gender-normativity; Nagle herself has acknowledged this in her article The New Man Of 4Chan). I discuss this further in the following article: http://honeybadgerbrigade.com/2015/08/28/towards-a-new-nerd-culture/.
The charge of elitism is a tempting one to level, but the reality is that nerd culture’s elitism is insincere much of the time. It isn’t that nerds decide to be nerds out of a hatred of the normies; they are alienated from the normies owing to their own atypicalities, and said normies often joyfully contribute to that alienation. The elitism Nagle sees is really a therapeutic counteragent to an equally-prevalent sense of inadequacy and a longing to fit in. There are proudly-outsider countercultures, but nerd culture isn’t one of these; it is an ambivalently-outsider counterculture, and the proud component of that ambivalence is arguably an half-hearted attempt to avoid falling into self-loathing.
At the risk of a Tu Quoque argument of my own, however, Nagle’s analysis is very accurate when describing the SJWs and most accurately the “hipster” subculture which SJW politics has become associated with. Hipsterism can be thought of as the “vanguard of cool” – the subculture of those who wish to define what is cool. Hipsters are infamous for moving on to something new once they have made something popular; this is a clear reflection of the elitist pattern Nagle discusses as it reflects active differentiation from the masses, pursued voluntarily by the self. SJW politics has a similar worlview of masses, brainwashed by popular prejudices, who need to be led out of ignorance by those more “woke.” This characteristic of hipsterism does, however, destabilize Nagle’s insistence that SJW hipsterism forms a counterculture; is a culture which aims to be the “cutting edge” that defines what becomes mainstream really “counter” to that mainstream?
Nagle is more knowledgeable about nerd culture’s gender-atypicality than most commentators on these issues. She also repeatedly points out the social ostracism and humiliation endured by nerds in her article The New Man Of 4Chan (see https://thebaffler.com/salvos/new-man-4chan-nagle). Yet puzzlingly she treats nerd elitism as a sincere conviction in the inferiority of the normies rather than a deeply ambivalent ressentiment born in response to self-loathing, social rejection and loneliness. She seems to think that being nerdy is a choice rather than the result of a temperament which may be at least partially biological. She claims in The New Man Of 4Chan that “surely” the old geeks vs. jocks paradigm is outdated yet does not cite any evidence of this; if she looked at the experience of contemporary nerds she may find her assumptions challenged.
This, again, seems like Nagle putting theory over empirical reality. Her theory (that nerd culture inherited elitism from the counterculture anti-consumerist left of the 60s) necessitates that nerds be elitist; she implies that people decided to become nerds out of contempt for those they saw as lessers. But the reality is that being a nerd is rarely something one can just become, and it is a subculture full of people who were exiled from the mainstream owing to simple temperamental atypicalities. Nerds didn’t leave the mainstream; normies kicked certain people out of the mainstream and labelled the exiles “nerds.” This explains how nerd culture has, for a long time, wrestled with cravings of acceptance and to fit in and to become normal (again, this is at the cultural level – individual nerds vary as to how much they accept or resent their outsiderhood). Nerd culture is ambivalent to itself; elitist “kill all normies” sentiments are at least partially adopted to counterbalance the feelings of loss and pain and rejection. She does correctly identify the elitist nature of so-called hipsterism (the subculture affiliated with SJWism), but in playing the Not So Different game she misses a crucial distinction between those who wish to define cool and those who fail to be cool. Nagle again puts theory over fact by treating nerd elitism as a sincere belief rather than a therapeutic coping mechanism.
The advantage of old leftists is that they, too, loathe SJWism; to them, SJWs represent a distraction from the class struggle and thus the perpetuation of economic injustice. As such, an old leftist is more likely to give Gamergate, the MHRM, and the anti-PC side of the current culture war, a fairer shake than what one would expect from an SJW.
To a substantial degree, Nagle delivers this, and she doesn’t deny the left’s own responsibility or incompetence. She notices the countercultural heritage of nerd culture and internet culture, and doesn’t treat the anti-PC world as a monolithic ‘basket of deplorables.’ She has done substantially more than almost anyone else on the old left to research and understand this modern day culture war.
Her account is not perfect, however. She uncritically accepts any claim of harassment made by SJWs and swallows the delusion that women in particular are persecuted in nerd culture; this fits with her preconceived theory of nerd culture inheriting misogynist attitudes from certain left-wing sources. She misrepresents the origins of Gamergate and doesn’t even mention the flashpoint of it, perhaps due to how that incident doesn’t fit her theory. She speaks of a men’s movement of which she approves, yet doesn’t acknowledge how this men’s movement and its leader were exiled from official feminism many decades ago. She doesn’t take any serious look at obviously non-leftist sources of transgressiveness either. Finally, she accuses nerd culture of being dominated by a romanticist, Nietzschean elitism no different to that of hipster SJWism, but this ignores nerd culture’s deep ambivalences toward its own outsider status, emergence from experiences of being bullied and ostracised, and its long history of producing fantasies of fitting in and of masculinization; elitist sentiments in nerd culture seem more likely to be a therapeutic counterbalance to a history of humiliation rather than a sincere conviction, and certainly not the driving force of the subculture.
I also wonder what kind of world she envisions if she wants transgressiveness to be left behind; given her distaste for the elitism she sees inherent in transgressiveness, her vision seems almost inevitably inclined towards at least some degree of cultural conservatism and populism. These two ingredients can be very dangerous for civil and cultural liberties in particular. But Kill All Normies could’ve certainly been a hell of a lot worse, and whilst the book is flawed and contains a few very glaring errors and oversights (coupled with a pet theory that thrived on confirmation bias), it is still a valuable treatment of the online culture wars. The Chan-culture, anti-PC side can no longer be dismissed as hegemonically masculine or embodiments of mainstream cultural prejudices; rather it is a counterculture. The legacy of 60’s rebellion is rightly contestable.
Nagle writes with the purpose of saving the left from itself. This may not be possible, but if the old left were to retake ground occupied by the SJWs, it would certainly constitute an improvement on civility grounds at the very least. Though her analysis does contain substantial flaws, it represents an improvement over the typical left-wing assessment of anti-PC internet culture. On balance it represents a net advancement which challenges some pieties of the SJW narrative, even if it uncritically accepts others.
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