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Saturday, May 27, 2017

The alt-right

Having turned into an Old Person while I was not paying attention, I was until recently unaware of the alt-right. I think it first entered my consciousness when Trump named Steve Bannon as his chief White House strategist, and people on Facebook began lamenting that Bannon was a racist and a neo-Nazi.

So I am no authority on the alt-right.

But it appears to me to be a movement very like the “counter culture” of the Sixties.

The world is full of average people—necessarily so. This so, the world is made entirely for average people. In most times and places, there is no useful place for anyone who is too intelligent. In terms of IQ, given a norm of 100, and a bell curve, you are going to do well up to an IQ of about 120 (“superior”); beyond that, you are out of the game. You have turned into a Vulcan. Nobody is going to give you command of a starship.

This is a fundamental problem for humanity; perhaps the fundamental problem. We would all be infinitely better off if the best and the brightest were in charge of things. But nobody has ever invented a reliable mechanism to make this happen—and gotten it past the vast majority of average intelligence. An aristocracy is meant to do it, but does not. Nothing makes the average aristocrat any brighter, on average, than the average human. Plato proposed an intellectual meritocracy, and Confucianism largely implemented it, based on standardized tests. With marked success for a couple of thousand years. But the same problem appears: even leaving aside the corruption that crept into the Confucian system over time, no mechanism makes the people who first set and mark the tests brighter than average. And so, above a certain point, they cannot reliably judge. Catch-22.

And so the typical genius in most times and places lives life underground, in his mother’s basement, or starving in a garret. Or, often, they are considered insane.

Every now and then, though, there is a crack in the tectonic crust of the establishment, and they briefly burst out free.

These are the moments of creative ferment. These are the moments when civilization is able to progress.

It happened most recently in the Sixties. And if the legacy of the Sixties has ended up being unfortunate, it is not the fault of those who first fomented it. They were, beyond all else, free thinkers. They would have been horrified by political correctness. Kerouac was a Taft supporter. Dylan backed Goldwater. The problem was becoming fashionable, so that the “weekend hippies” wanted in, and then the yuppies—the mediocre. The creative ferment then quickly died.

This happens every time. Once the bright have done something impressive, the mediocre want in. Everyone wants to be thought of as smart. They will appropriate it and claim it as their own, and destroy it in the process. The first thing they will kill is the free thought, because it is the part that is a barrier to them. Real hippies and beatniks were almost immediately replaced by phony hippies who were just aping it all. The original diggers organized a public funeral of the real hippie as early as October, 1967.

But while it lasted, it was a moment of renaissance in the arts: pop art, pop music. They have been moribund ever since. Most artists at any moment are phony artists. As Kerouac constantly pointed out.

The early days of home computing were a similar although smaller opportunity for the genuinely smart—back in the day when you could start up in your garage. And the system was too dumb to figure out what was going on. That door too seems to have closed, as the computer world has grown increasingly corporate. And the phony geeks have taken over: the black hat hackers, the virus inventors, and the guys who try to control the IT system in the name of stopping them.

So now, at least for this brief shining moment, we have the alt-right.

Being bright, they delight in free thought and new ideas. That is what interests the smart. This naturally panics the mediocrities in charge, because they cannot understand them, it shows them up, and it rocks the system that puts them in power. It frightens them; it threatens them. Hence the charges of “racism” and “neo-Nazis.”

That may eventually become true, as the mediocrities hijack the movement and simplify it into a set of dogmas they can understand and imitate. But it is no more true of the true alt-right than it would have been of the Sixties counterculture.

The smart also delight in showing up the establishment as the mendacious fools they are—trolling them, in Internet terms, so that other bright people who can understand the joke can see how dopey and incompetent they really are.

Consider this parody of MSNBC.

I think not a word of it is true. It is all an inside joke, that only the "woke" will get.

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