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Henry Rollins’ Muscular Liberalism

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When David Cameron coined the phrase “muscular liberalism” years ago, I like to imagine that he was thinking of Henry Rollins, who has long embodied a thoroughly peculiar combination of party-line leftism and masculine aggression. Rollins went from being the lead singer of Black Flag, to fronting his own Rollins Band in the ’90s, to being a successful indie author and owner of his own small publishing company, to being a film and television actor and now a regular columnist for L.A. Weekly. Like the Sixties radicals before him, he has gone from rebelling against the system to being a part of it — though also like his long-haired forebears, he seems unaware of this fact.

Though I listened to some of Rollins’ music in my youth, these days I often find myself irritated by some of his comments and interviews. Maybe it’s because of the incongruity between his personal aesthetics and his expressed opinions — the guy is into close-cropped hair and weight-lifting, yet his politics are all the typical touchy-feely liberal sentiments that one expects to hear from hippies and HuffPo “male feminists.”

In a recent article, entitled, “White America Couldn’t Handle What Black America Deals With Every Day,” Rollins says:

If white America experienced a fraction of what black America deals with regarding law enforcement, incarceration, the court system, employment and countless other facts of life, they would immediately and collectively lose their minds.

He then goes on to establish his credibility as one of the good white people, because he used to hang out with rapper and actor Ice-T.

I learned another lesson many years later, in 1991. I was on the first Lollapalooza tour. It was one of the best summers of my life. I spent a lot of time hanging out with Ice-T. We talked almost every day. He is one of the most articulate and intelligent people I have ever met. I wish I had a teaspoon of what he’s got. I also spent time with his bandmates and crew.

This is how white liberals talk about black people: First, they signal their own anti-racist virtue by showing that they easily and effortlessly bond with blacks. Then, they praise them to the skies. Whenever they meet — or, far more likely, merely hear about — a black guy who is not a stereotypical thug idiot (even though Ice-T got famous by representing a stereotypical thug on his records and in films) they will heap accolades upon him saying, “OMG, he’s, like, soooo smart. He speaks soooo well.” (Echoes of Obama ’08…) What they actually mean is: “. . . for a black guy.”

The essence of the white liberal attitude towards blacks is patronization, which is why they will never hold blacks to the same standards of behavior to which they hold whites — because they unconsciously regard blacks as children or animals who are incapable of living up to them, and who therefore require special treatment.

White liberal patronization of blacks is also mostly patronization from a distance, as in the old joke about the difference between American whites in the north and south: “Southerners say, ‘We don’t mind blacks livin’ next door, as long as they ain’t uppity.’ And northerners say, ‘We don’t mind blacks being uppity, as long as they don’t live next door.’” Of course all the Hollywood stars and starlets support Black Lives Matter, no matter all its thuggery and buffoonery — because they live in Malibu, not Compton.

Rollins continues:

On days off, or when our buses would pull into the same place, we would eat together. All his [Ice-T’s] guys wore gold. I have no idea what a necklace is worth, but it all looked expensive to me. When we went into places, white patrons and staff tripped on these guys. This is when I understood one of the reasons for the visible display of wealth. My whiteness assured them that I could pay for my meal. Ice-T and his guys had to demonstrate their ability to pay by literally wearing a show of wealth.

No, Henry, the white patrons didn’t “trip” (hey, don’t culturally appropriate black slang!) because they were worried that your black friends might stiff the restaurant on the food bill. I have some favorite restaurants that I’m quite fond of, but I’ve never worried on their behalf that someone else might dine-and-dash. They were worried because those guys were probably dressed the way that guys in gangsta rap videos dress, in which they often brandish guns and perpetuate an image of themselves as cold-blooded killers. You can’t make yourself famous saying “I’m a killer! I’m ruthless!” and then expect people to treat you like a harmless nice guy, especially when those people have never seen or heard of you anywhere except through your media persona.

As Jack Donovan writes in Becoming A Barbarian:

It makes perfect sense to assume that a black man on the sidewalk who is outfitted like the stereotype of an urban street thug will act like an urban street thug. He’s signaling in-group affiliation and identifying himself with urban street thugs. If he was wearing a cardigan sweater with a button-up shirt sitting in a college classroom, you might not worry as much. You might be wrong about either one, but based on the information available, the odds are in your favor.

Furthermore, if it had been 1981 and not 1991, Rollins might have gone into the same restaurant with his white punk rock friends — and probably would have gotten a similar response, because some of those guys would have had spiky blue hair and safety pin earrings and generally would have been dressed like extras from Night of the Living Dead.

People are alerted and unnerved by difference, by what is unfamiliar. It’s a perfectly natural, biological response. But in the worldview of liberals, noticing difference is a thoughtcrime (hat tip to Steve Sailer again). Instead, one should only notice when others notice difference, because obviously the only reason someone might notice difference is because they are an evil, vicious hater. This is the absurdity of the leftist view, in which a kind of perverse hypersensitivity is the supreme virtue: Don’t notice the natural diversity of human nature. But be ever vigilant for others who do notice it, and be sure to shame them for it.

The article goes on to speak of “the two Americas,” a notion Rollins may have gotten from liberal political scientist Andrew Hacker.

When I really started to understand the two Americas was in third grade. On the last day of school, we were all told if we had passed or failed for the year. There were several kids older than me in my class. They had already been held back and were getting older as their education stagnated. When some of these kids were told that they had not passed, the expression on their faces didn’t change.

Earlier that year, in the play area one day, kids had lined up for free bag lunches that were handed out. There were more kids than lunches. One kid put a pencil through the palm of the kid who got the last one. We all stood there and watched as he screamed.

It was in this year that I understood that my life in America was going to be different, not only because of the color of my skin but because of the advantages that came with it.

I really don’t understand what Rollins is trying to say here. If some kids are repeatedly failing the same grade, the most likely explanation is that they are not good students, either because they lack intellectual ability, or because they have some kind of personal or emotional difficulty which interferes with their learning. Is Rollins suggesting instead that these kids performed as well as the kids who graduated, but were held back because the school was racist and refused to pass them out of spite? If so, he gives no indication of that.

As for the free bag lunches story, it doesn’t seem to be relevant at all. Were the lunches only given to the white kids? Highly unlikely, not least of all because the school was mostly black, as Rollins says later. But if so, is he then saying that a black kid stabbed a white kid with a pencil because he didn’t get a bag lunch? Not a very good story to inspire sympathy for black youth.

As for the “advantages that came with” his white skin, what were they, exactly?

I went to a school in Washington, D.C., with mostly African-American kids who were bused in from different neighborhoods in the same city. It was a constantly harrowing experience. I got picked on for the color of my skin. Pushed into the urinal, head slammed into the water fountain, shoved down the stairs. It was miserable.

That doesn’t sound much different from the kinds of experiences that led Ian MacKaye to write “Guilty of Being White.”

So let’s review the examples of black and white behavior in Rollins’ article. Blacks: picking on a kid for being white by pushing his head into a urinal, slamming his head into a water fountain, and pushing him down the stairs. Whites: “tripping on” a group of black guys who walked into a restaurant. Clearly, then, the whites are the villains, because, as I stated earlier, white liberals will never hold blacks to the same standards to which they hold whites.

Henry Rollins is an interesting case because, in addition to the abuse he suffered from his black classmates as a child, one of the important events in his life was the murder of his best friend Joe Cole, by young black males with guns. From Wikipedia:

Cole and Henry Rollins were assaulted by armed robbers in December 1991 outside their shared Venice Beach, California, home on Brooks Avenue in the Oakwood district. They had attended a Hole concert at the Whisky a Go Go and were returning home after having stopped at an all-night grocery store when two armed men — described as African-Americans in their 20s — approached them demanding money. Angry that Rollins and Cole had only $50 between them, the gunmen ordered the two men to go inside their house for more cash. Rollins entered at gunpoint. However, Cole was killed outside after being shot in the face at close range while Rollins escaped out the back door and alerted the police. The murder remains unsolved.

In a 2001 interview with Howard Stern, Rollins . . . speculated that the reason they were targeted may have been because days prior to the incident, record producer Rick Rubin — who was a fan of Rollins Band — had requested to hear the then newly recorded album, The End of Silence, and turned up and parked outside their Venice Beach home in his Rolls-Royce, carrying a cell phone. Because of the notoriety of the neighborhood, Rollins suspected that this would bring trouble because of the implication that they had a lot of money in the home; he even wrote in his journal the night of Rubin’s visit: ‘My place is going to get popped’.

This is a terrible tragedy that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. But I don’t think that the solution which might prevent further incidents like it is liberalism, muscular or otherwise.

It’s said that a conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged by reality. But Rollins goes against the grain, having clung to, or even doubled-down on, his Leftist beliefs in spite of being a victim of black criminality, and earlier having been bullied by black kids at school. Without presuming to psychoanalyze a man I don’t know, I suspect that the only way one can think in this way is through willful repression of one’s instincts and feelings. And indeed, white liberalism is exactly that: the forced repression of one’s normal and healthy instincts of self-respect and self-preservation. One need only look to present-day Europe and its examples of white victims of non-white crime who feel more guilty than their attackers.

But instincts and feelings, though repressed, cannot be eradicated. Maybe that’s part of why I liked Rollins’ portrayal of “white supremacist” A. J. Weston in Sons of Anarchy. Weston was of course written as both evil and foolish, as both a rapist and also the wearer of a very childish and clownish tattoo that says “I Kill Niggers.” (Couldn’t they at least have made it a sticker on his gun or baseball bat that said “This Machine Kills Leftists” or something, a la Woody Guthrie?) But he was also the most die-hard true believer of all the racialist characters on the show (which is why he is portrayed as evil and foolish), giving voice to a radical right worldview in several memorable scenes, such as when he says:

I just pulled my six-year-old out of T-ball ’cause I found out they’re giving trophies to every boy on every team for simply playing the game. Trophies should be earned. Teaching children that everyone’s equal is a dangerous philosophy.

Then, after shaming the man he is talking to, who is ostensibly a fellow racialist, for hiring Mexican workers rather than whites because they are cheaper, Weston looks him dead in the eye and says, “Never put money over race.”

Rollins himself said that Weston “has no redeeming social qualities, except that he likes his kids. Past that, he’s incorrigible and awful.” In contrast, though, he feels no need to make such a moral denunciation of his latest on-screen character, a serial killer named Bernard in The Last Heist:

I read the part and I thought I had a little idea for it that he would be friendly and smiley and very lethal. The preparation was basically living with the undeniable belief that what I was doing was the right thing to do. Killing people, yeah, but I’m sending them to a better place. If you were to look at me and go, ‘You’re a horrible person.’ ‘No, no, no hold on a minute, I’ll help you, too.’ The only thing that gets in my way is people going, ‘Ow, ow, you’re cutting the eyes out of my head.’ ‘If you’ll just shut up and let me do my work, I could get through this a little quicker.’

So serial killers can be laughed about, and can also be kind of understandable if you try to see things their way for a moment. But racists are just . . . eww, as Rollins says again in this stand-up routine about his experience with Sons of Anarchy, in which he really goes out of his way to distance himself from the Weston character. “What about me, says to you: White Power!?” he asks. Well, Henry, you’re a physically strong, reasonably intelligent, and successful white man. You’re white, and you have some power. What’s wrong with that? (Also, you look like a skinhead, which is why you were picked to play one. Duh.)

The fact is that Rollins’ dismissal of the Weston character is too simplistic, and also reeks of liberal virtue-signalling of the “I’m soooooo not-racist” variety. Weston is partially sympathetic in the same way as Derek Vinyard in American History X (though less so, since Vinyard is more principled and less criminal) — insofar as he values ideals over money, and also because he is a disciplined man, like Rollins himself.

In an interview from MTV’s 120 Minutes in 1992, Rollins relates that he was a troubled kid who was put on Ritalin because he was always acting wild. (He doesn’t relate the other part of that story: that he was being abused because he was white. In the course of researching this article, I couldn’t find any instance of Rollins putting two and two together and saying that being picked on for being a white minority was a reason for his having behavioral problems as a child.) It was only after he was sent to a disciplinary school, Bullis Prep in suburban Washington D.C., that his situation changed for the better. Specifically, he had the benefit of a mentor, his history teacher Mr. Pepperman, who took young Henry under his wing and introduced him to weight-lifting.

The story of how Mr. Pepperman helped the young, misguided Rollins to gain direction, focus, and confidence is quite inspiring. He wrote an article about it, and about his relationship to weight-lifting in general, called “Iron,” which was later retitled “Iron and the Soul” though not by Rollins himself. He also tells the story in detail in a podcast episode here. As he tells it in an L.A. Weekly interview:

Around 10th grade, my fresh-out-of-Vietnam-vet history teacher Mr. Pepperman said, and I quote, ‘Henry, you are a skinny little faggot, you need to lift weights, and I’m going to teach you how,’ which was more input in life than my father ever gave me. (That’s just how people talked to you in those days.)

He took me to the school gym and showed me basic compound lifts. He made me do a workout regimen and told me not to look in the mirror until he said so. I worked out from, like, October until Christmas vacation, and during the last day of exams he let me take my shirt off and look at myself. After that I threw out the Ritalin because I didn’t need it, my body is telling me to work out.

In “Iron,” he says that during this initial work-out season, Mr. Pepperman would also surprise him at school by punching him in the solar plexus without warning, dropping him to the floor. It wasn’t until he could take the punches without effect that Pepperman gave him permission to look at himself and see the results of his workouts.

So what sorts of values, what kind of ethos, helped young Henry Rollins to grow into a strong and capable man? He was removed from the majority-black public school where he was bullied and abused just for being white, and placed in a private school in the suburbs — one which I doubt gave everyone a trophy just for playing the game. He was taught to be self-reliant and to stand up for himself by a decidedly un-PC disciplinarian and mentor. All of this seems to have been greatly to his benefit. So why is Rollins so averse to acknowledging that the Right-wing view has validity and legitimacy?

Rollins’ article ends with some feel-good platitudes of the sort which might have made the young punk rock Henry puke:

[Y]ou have to take it upon yourself to be an infinitely fantastic person every single day. . . . This century will be about incredible individuals.

Equality, tolerance and decency are not inherently American or human traits. They are values you choose to adopt and use or not. So, be amazing all the time.

“Be amazing all the time?” Does he really believe this Hallmark card crap? Is this really what he would tell a kid getting bullied and abused the way he was in school? Is it the sort of advice that helped him — or was he instead helped by being told, “Henry, you are a skinny little faggot, you need to lift weights”?

The reality is that, as Jack Donovan writes in his aforementioned manifesto of muscular anti-liberalism: “This moral universalism makes men weak, vulnerable, and stupid.” To tell white people that the solution to America’s racial problems is for them to be “infinitely fantastic” and “adopt equality” is irresponsible and wrong. While tolerance and decency are fine virtues (I for one do prefer them to intolerance and indecency), they can become problematic as values when they are not held by all members of a society. Furthermore, I would argue that efforts to cultivate a little more “tolerance and decency” amongst, say, Chicago street gangs, would have a better net effect on black lives than yet another shaming sermon aimed at whites.

Donovan continues:

[I]n a pluralistic or multicultural zone where there are many people from many groups, many of whom have different values, codes, and loyalties, there is a far higher likelihood that your generous assumption [of common values and social codes] will be wrong. You can choose to believe that everyone really wants peace and harmony, or that people all just really want to get along and follow the rules, but your belief would be wrong. Choosing to believe something doesn’t make it true.

No, it doesn’t. And maybe, at some level, Henry Rollins knows that already, since he kind of gives the game away when he says that equality is not an inherent human trait.

True, indeed. In fact, A. J. Weston couldn’t have said it better himself.






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  1. Dov
    Posted September 30, 2016 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    His article was inane and incoherent. It doesn’t even contain much material that *can* be deconstructed, as virtually the entire piece is composed of poorly-described anecdotes.

    He was obviously given that writing space by sycophants of his entertainment persona.

  2. AJ
    Posted September 30, 2016 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    This article seems right on target.

    The good thing is that 99.9% of people under 40 don’t know who Henry Garfield (Rollins) is, and those that do know see him as just another irrelevant old timer lecturing them on why they should feel guilty for simply being who they are. Garfield is running on fumes at this point; fumes from what was a very weak engine to begin with.

    Garfield is no different from the washed up old hippies that used to preach their dated self-parodizing brand of universal brotherhood at us in the 80s. Remember how we just laughed at them and ignored them? That’s what’s happened to Garfield.

    I went to a bunch of Black Flag shows in the 80s, and ended up hanging out with Garfield a number of times. He was exactly the same type of smirking, sarcastic, homoerotic, narcissistic bully that he used to rail against, just with different garbage flowing from his mouth.

    All this because he has PTSD from being bullied by blacks and he’s sublimated it into some deranged over-the-top defense of his tormentors. Sad and weak.

  3. IA
    Posted September 30, 2016 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    I thought this was a pretty good article. Can’t say I know much about Rollins but he probably had a lot of emotional and financial investment in the driving ethos so he just kept going with it. I used to drive by Bullis many times on Falls Road in Potomac, MD, one of the wealthiest suburbs in suburban DC. I always thought it was a prep school. His parents must have had some money.

  4. Posted September 30, 2016 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    Really brilliant article that cuts to the dismal truth, illustrating the shameful dysfunction and denialism of Rollins and just how easily he was absorbed into the system as a useful idiot.

    Rollins attitude, shared by liberals in general is like that of children playing, i,e it’s a big fantasy.

    That’s fine for children to fantasize and play and develop their imaginations but these are adults in a giant game and it matters because their game – their fantasy, has political outcomes, it has no limits, no ‘off’ and it is making the world a worse place, helping to maintain circumstances which are making others suffer, be victimized or even murdered.

    We should never underestimate the ability of white shit-libs to eulogize negroes, apologize for them and then to signal how ’down’ they are with them, how they are cool and funky enough to understand a black’s position.

    And sadly I think there are certain almost reflex-like responses many whites in general have to negroes which tends to result in them becoming groveling sycophants when blacks are present, compensating for blacks’ lack of cognitive and moral function.

    Sadly Rollins doesn’t understand many blacks would be as happy to do the same things to him today as when he was at school.

  5. Randy
    Posted September 30, 2016 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    Interesting article and good point about how making excuses for blacks like Rollins does is the opposite of the sort of tough love that helped him. I think if one does excuse blacks it should be based on the different bell curves for various traits they have rather than the bogeyman of white oppression because the they can’t help the former that much and the latter, even if true, cannot explain why they act differently on average in most situations.

  6. Jake
    Posted September 30, 2016 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    Henry Rollins comes from the milieu of the 1980’s white criminal scene. Things were pretty simple. Black rap music was not that powerful yet.

    Rollins, now in his mid-life, is making his punk rock hobbies into a professional reality. He can also live out a bourgeois life too.

    It may seem that hating whitey is cutting-edge, but in reality, he is swimming along with his generation.

    Wait until Rollins finds about the Alt-right. How will he react?

    I really don’t think he means what he says. He’s got a handsome face and body. Otherwise, he is a kind of queer. That’s why he’s saying these things. He just wants to show how “queer” he is from other competing queers. Cliched and boring.

    What about Jack Donovan or even Jim Goad? I would take Goad over Rollins anytime. I would love to see the two debate.

    I remember a rumor going about that the skinhead band The Bully Boys / Midtown Boot Boys, actually beated up a young Rollins. I have to find the zine interview again.

  7. Randy
    Posted September 30, 2016 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

    Aging Rollins in above photo still wearing same clothing style considered cool in LA in 90’s. Move on, dope.

  8. Greg Johnson
    Posted September 30, 2016 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    An “articulate” black guy.

  9. Petronius
    Posted October 1, 2016 at 6:23 am | Permalink

    What Aurelio is pointing out about Rollins is so bralingly glaringly obvious, that one can only wonder how on earth Rollings himself is able not to notice these contradictions. Rollins does embody (or at least project) some of Donovans four manly virtues, but courage is seemingly not among them: to shy away from a truth so obvious, and at the same time play the (liberal) virtue-signalling game, is cowardly and to pose heroically whiled doing this is as loathsome as it gets.

    We live in such a crazy age where every measure is being lost. How can that AJ Weston quote be regarded as “evil” or put into the mouth of an evil character to appear evil?

  10. Kekservative
    Posted October 1, 2016 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    Racism won’t solve all our problems but it will solve many of them

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