Postmodernism vs. Identity, Part 2
Identity vs. Irony
Part 2 of 2 (Part 1 here; Hungarian translation here)
The following text is the basis of a talk that I gave to the Scandza Forum in Oslo on July 1, 2017. Because time was short, however, I dispensed with the written text and spoke extemporaneously on the topic. I also gave an earlier, stand-alone version of this section on irony as a talk in Budapest on June 21, 2017
Ironism, like eclecticism, is a form of cultural decadence. But it is even more dangerous, because while most identitarians have the good sense to reject eclecticism, our movement actually embraces and revels in irony.
What is irony? By “irony,” I do not mean the trope whereby one intends something different from, or opposed to, what one literally says. Nor do I mean situations in which what actually happens is very different from, or sometimes opposed to, what one expected. For instance, when Oedipus vows to find the cause of the plague, not knowing that it is he himself. Nor do I mean Socratic irony, which is a kind of dissimulation and condescension in speech.
Instead, by “irony” I mean a refusal to take serious things seriously, an attitude of detachment and condescension toward things that one should regard with respect or adoration. Detachment from small and silly things is healthy. But ironic detachment from great and serious things is a sign of decadence, because we need ideals. Ideals are what raise human beings above animals. Men without ideals are just clever animals, whose reason is subservient to the satisfaction of their natural desires.
When irony becomes an ethos, I call it “ironism.” Ironism in the postmodern sense means relating to culture, ideas, and especially ideals without committing to them, without owning them, without making them a part of you, and especially without opening yourself to their power to transform you. In his book Postscript to The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco describes this postmodern ironism brilliantly:
I think of the postmodern attitude as that of a man who loves a very cultivated woman and knows that he cannot say to her “I love you madly,” because he knows that she knows (and that she knows he knows) that these words have already been written by Barbara Cartland. Still there is a solution. He can say “As Barbara Cartland would put it, I love you madly.” At this point, having avoided false innocence, having said clearly it is no longer possible to talk innocently, he will nevertheless say what he wanted to say to the woman: that he loves her in an age of lost innocence. If the woman goes along with this, she will have received a declaration of love all the same. Neither of the two speakers will feel innocent, both will have accepted the challenge of the past, of the already said, which cannot be eliminated; both will consciously and with pleasure play the game of irony. . . . But both will have succeeded, one again, in speaking of love.
What Eco means here by “innocence” is sincerity, earnestness, and commitment. Barbara Cartland wrote lots of torrid romance novels, which, whatever their flaws, were brimming with sincere professions of passion. But the couple in question would feel silly speaking of love in such a naïve and straightforward way. They can’t own or commit to such emotions. Yet they must speak of love. But they also feel the need to communicate that they think themselves above it. So they speak of love ironically and condescendingly. They put “love” in scare quotes. They put love in the mouth of a ladies’ romance novelist.
Eco says this is a solution to the problem of speaking of love while still being hyper self-conscious. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s a solution at all, because to be hyper self-conscious is unhealthy, and it is especially unhealthy in relation to things that we should take seriously, like moral and political ideals and our racial and cultural identity.
How is self-consciousness subversive of identity? First, we will deal with identity, then with self-consciousness.
Some things are us, and some things are not us. Your identity is what you are. The rest of the world is what you are not.
Some things that are not us can become us. I am going to use a neologism for this process that is so ugly that even Heidegger scholars have rejected it: “enowning.” Enowning means making something part of you. Enowning is more than just ownership, since the things we own really aren’t part of us, although we can more or less invest ourselves in them.
Conversely, some things that are us can become no longer us. I call this process “disowning.”
When we eat and drink, we are enowning—literally incorporating—things that are not us. When we learn a language or a skill, we are enowning something that is not us. We are becoming the vehicle through which a tradition of practices stretching back into unrecorded history lives and perpetuates itself. When we adopt ideas, really believe them, and live accordingly, we are enowning them. When we cut our hair or trim our nails, we are disowning parts of ourselves. When we decide that certain ideas are no longer true and values no longer good, we disown and disavow them.
There are, however, some things that you can enown but cannot disown, chief among them your mother tongue and the culture instilled along with it. If your brain is your hardware, your mother tongue and culture are your operating system. If our genes constitute our first nature, our language and culture constitute our second nature, which provide the context and framework for all subsequent experience. No matter how many other languages you learn, no matter how widely you might travel, no matter how rootless and cosmopolitan you might aspire to be, these new acquisitions do not erase your mother language and culture. They are simply added on top of them. You can never fully uproot yourself from your mother tongue and culture. You cannot get rid of them. It’s like trying to run away from your own shadow. It always follows you. It’s always there, whether you own up to it or not.
Self-consciousness is a form of consciousness. Consciousness involves a distinction between the act of consciousness and the object of consciousness—between seeing the painting, and the painting that we see, between hearing the melody and the melody that we hear. As conscious beings, we are first and foremost conscious of things other than ourselves. We are like the sun, with rays of consciousness streaming out in all directions revealing all manner of objects. We are agents not objects of awareness who are involved with the world, not with ourselves. But if there is a difference between consciousness and its objects, how can be become self-conscious? Self-consciousness is a turning inwards, which is possible because we can first disengage our consciousness from the world, then introduce a split in ourselves between agent of consciousness and object of consciousness, then contemplate this objectified fragment of ourselves.
If self-consciousness presupposes disengagement from the world and self-objectification, one has to ask: Is self-consciousness healthy? Yes, within limits. Life can be viewed as a constant process of enowning and disowning, both things in the world and aspects of ourselves. For conscious beings, self-consciousness is healthy as a tool of self-criticism and self-improvement. Self-consciousness allows us disengage, objectify, and then either improve and enown or simply disown beliefs and patterns of feeling and behavior that might otherwise harm us.
But there are limits to self-consciousness.
First, there are limits to its utility. One can be too self-conscious—too disengaged from the world, too self-objectified, too much of a navel-gazer—to lead a good life. Life can be improved by self-consciousness, but self-consciousness is not life itself, and being hyper-self-conscious is self-defeating. For instance, you might be a highly practiced speaker or musician or warrior. The acquisition of these skills requires self-consciousness as a means of self-criticism and self-improvement. This is, for example, why gyms, dance schools, and martial arts academies are filled with mirrors. This is why we have teachers, trainers, and friends: to see ourselves through their eyes, in the hope of improving ourselves.
But when the time comes to actually perform, we have to thrust self-consciousness aside and simply engage with our task. And if, at that point, self-consciousness creeps back in—“Am I saying this right? Am I pronouncing this right? Am I communicating this right? Does this finger go here?”—you are disengaging from your task, objectifying your performance, and thinking about yourself rather than the matter at hand. You are second-guessing yourself. You are withdrawing energy and focus from the task. And you will start slipping up. You will start getting tongue-tied and stammering. You will start hitting the wrong keys. Your defense and attack will slacken. You will lose your edge. Because you’re no longer fully present, no longer in the moment, no longer performing these acts anymore. You’re reflecting on them. Even the most accomplished master can trip himself up simply by starting to reflect on what he’s doing, because then he’s no longer really, fully, committedly doing it. The performer must be engaged, not disengaged. His self must be one, not split. He must be fully into the task, not half in it, half out of it. He must be fully an actor, not in part a spectator viewing himself from the stands.
Second, there are metaphysical limits to self-consciousness. J. G. Fichte once enjoined his students, “Gentlemen, think the wall.” Then he said, “Gentlemen, think he who thinks the wall.” In other words, disengage from the wall, objectify yourself, and think about it instead. But who is performing that act? Obviously, the thinker is another part of you. And by asking that question, I have now objectified him as well. Now we are thinking he who thinks he who thinks the wall. But who did that? Yet another part of you. Obviously, this process can go on forever, mincing up the self into tinier and tinier pieces.
But the self can never be fully objectified, because there always remains a distinction between the act and the object of consciousness. Thus complete self-consciousness is not possible, for every act of self-consciousness presupposes splitting the self into subject and object, and as long as the subject is a subject, it is never an object. Consciousness only works when it is not an object of consciousness. Consciousness only works when the drive for self-consciousness stops and simply lets consciousness happen.
When I was a child, I would freak myself out with morbid, obsessive thoughts that would recur when I was trying to fall asleep. One of my hippy cousins told me that it would help me relax and fall asleep if I focused simply on my breathing and my heartbeat. So I would shadow each of these automatic processes with self-consciousness. But then the absurd idea would steal through my head that maybe these processes would stop if I no longer reflected on them, which would induce a feeling of panic that would stave off sleep even more. This morbid fixation was quickly banished by induction. For I would eventually fall asleep, and yet I have woken up every morning since. Our consciousness, like our heart and lungs, is at root an automatic biological process that does not require the shadow of self-consciousness to operate. This makes sense, for man is part of the animal kingdom, and consciousness exists in animal species that show no sign of self-consciousness at all.
How is the hyper-self-consciousness of ironism subversive of cultural identity? Irony as a cultural form is all about stepping back from your culture, severing your commitment to it, severing the seriousness that is at the root of that commitment, and objectifying it—even discarding it.
There is a sense, though, in which one’s deep identity is actually immune to ironism. Your mother tongue and native culture are acquired before you are self-conscious. They exist on a deeper level of your mind than self-consciousness. They are one of the conditions that make self-consciousness possible in the first place. Self-consciousness can spiral in on itself and try to uproot itself from its origins, but the effort is futile.
Such efforts are not, however, without consequence, for although they cannot change your deep identity, they can alienate you from who you really are and lead to a shallow and inauthentic existence. You have no choice about your deep identity, but you do have a choice to embrace it or flee from it, to own up to it or disown it, to be authentic or inauthentic, to be real or a fake.
In “The Second Coming,” W. B. Yeats brilliantly describes a decadent culture on the brink of collapse. Two lines are especially resonant:
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
The best are the defenders of civilization. The worst are the rabble that would tear it down if given the chance. What happens when the best no longer feel a passionate attachment to civilization? What happens when they are detached and ironic toward their identity, willing to enact it only in “scare quotes”? More to the point, what happens when such men face off with a rabble animated by passionate intensity? Obviously, other things being equal, the rabble will triumph, and civilization will fall.
One of the reasons why ironism is rife today is because our culture is dominated by Jews, who are outsiders. Jews do not feel an identity with our civilization. They are all too happy to appropriate the best of its products, but they spend far more time mocking and degrading the rest of it. Jewish ironism makes perfect sense, because this is not their culture. Unfortunately, they have the power to mainline their ironism into the rest of us. But it makes no sense for us to accept it, since this really is our culture. Moreover, while Jews teach us to lack all conviction toward our culture and interests, they cultivate a passionate intensity toward their own, which is how whites have lost and Jews have gained control over our society.
It is important to understand the dangers of ironism, because the Right today is rank with it—the whole “LOL dude, it’s just a meme,” “I’m only being ironic” culture.
There’s a place and a role for irony. People are not overly eager to commit to new things, especially if they are radical and marginal. This is why we have changing rooms at clothing stores, so you can try clothes on and see if they look good on you before you buy them. This is why we let people test drive a car before they commit to buying it. This is why merchants have 30-day money back guarantees. If you don’t have to fully commit upfront, then you’re more likely to try something, and if you try it, then you are more likely to buy it.
Ironic spaces where people can encounter White Nationalist ideas and memes perform an important function for our movement. They allow people to try on radical ideas for size before committing to them. Irony gives them deniability if mom looks over their shoulder. They can just jump back and say, “Whoa! I’m just playing around here! Don’t take this seriously! I’m not committed to this. I disavow! I was just being ironic!” If more people feel safe trying on our ideas without committing to them, more people will ultimately come on board.
But we must never lose sight of the fact that, in the end, we have to close the deal. The salesman who lets you take a test drive can’t let you remain non-committal. The shop girl who lets you try on a shirt can’t let you remain non-committal. When people are exploring our ideas, we can’t let them remain non-committal either. This is not a game. We are not just playing with ideas, we are fighting for the survival of our race against cunning and ruthless enemies who are out to exterminate us. If you are detached and bemused about that, you haven’t gotten the message. This is war, and there is no room for ironists in foxholes.
The ironists also need to recognize that ideas inspire actions. So we must ask ourselves: What is more likely to inspire a movement that actually changes the world for the better: a worldview that is based on objective reality and calibrated for practical success—or a grab bag of edgy memes, drunken pranks, and audio clips from TV shows? People are going to take ideas seriously regardless, so we need to provide them with serious ideas.
Irony is useful as a tool, but ironism as an ethos is decadent. Thus the great problem of our movement is to move people from an ethos of ironism to an ethos of commitment. We must move from play to seriousness, bemused detachment to passionate intensity, self-indulgence to self-sacrifice—from being children to being grownups. It is time to put away froggy things and act like men. For, in the end, the people who are going to save our race must be 100% committed to the struggle because it is a matter of identity, of who they really are, not something they can just jump back from and pretend is just a game.
 Umberto Eco, Postscript to The Name of the Rose, trans. William Weaver (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1984), 67–68.
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The ever present sarcasm that afflicts our generation cuts both ways..in an era where nothing is sacred you will also find youth laughing at even the core values of modernity such as egalitarianism, liberal thought, and especially its extreme manifestations of sjw thought crime PC police. God knows nobody takes themselves more seriously than your radical left wing activist. Even Holocaust-ianity is not safe, as you find the youth engaging in pokemon-go @ the Auschwitz memorial. I found this profoundly amusing. Eventually the average persons paradoxical state of rootless nihilism combined with fake moral outrage at anything remotely natural, healthy, or beautiful will simply lead to paralysis or a red pilled political awakening, as it is a mentally unstable place for our enemies to sustain in the mass mind of our deracinated people.
If you want to maintain your status as an intellectual circle jerk. All of these “froggy” things disarm the pavlovian effect the jews have been cultivating with their mass-media for nearly a century. And they appeal first to the millenials and post-millenials, which for all the intellectualism and posturing, shows a severe lack of basic understanding of psychology, the importance of the youth, and the effectiveness of your propaganda.
I may be misunderstanding Heidegger, but if I understand his position correctly, then the contradiction between Plato and Heidegger was already resolved by Plato, but to understand and accept the resolution, you would have had to uproot the unconscious axiomatic assumptions of democratic modernity and egalitarianism and accept that the best of all possible states is the dictatorship of reason and that, no, we don’t all have equal capacity to be rational.
This is Plato’s critique of democracy (and therefore of the pretensions of the enlightenment, egalitarianism, etc) in a nutshell: Democracy assumes the possibility of a rational polity but polities only exist because perfect rationality is impossible. It’s a contradiction in terms if it can be argued that in a perfectly rational world there would be no politics, no states, no polities of any kind because these things would be unnecessary and therefore unknown entirely. Politics and power emerge out of the interaction between those who are more rational and those who are less. It is only because the rational polity, and therefore the democracy, is impossible that states or power of any kind exists at all. If politics is inevitable, then irony is inevitable.
Plato resolves the problem of knowledge, or philosophy, cutting us off from culture and identity in the return to the cave in the allegory. The philosopher, meaning the one who knows more, after having seen the form of the Good (the sun), returns to the cave, lit by the Good’s man-made and imperfect facsimile or imitation in the form of the fire. Plato’s fictional Socrates tells us that he must “take his old seat” in front of the shadows of ideology and see the world through the eyes of the prisoners of ignorance who confuse ideology with truth.
In other words, there is in nature a natural hierarchy with respect to intellect and those whose natures incline them towards philosophy and those who don’t. Our institutions, if they’re to be the best of all possible, should give formal institutional expression to this natural hierarchy, in as much as institutions should always seek to reflect nature via tradition (rather than attempt to change nature through “progress” and the destruction of tradition, as the left believes is possible). Otherwise knowledge of self and of society leads to the decadence of irony and all we can do is critique or analyze social convention from outside of it because we ourselves can never be part of it. We’re like Adam and Eve cast out of Eden and unable to find our way back, or like Pandora who can’t close the box once it’s been opened. The philosopher’s goal, according to Plato, is not to be the one who exposes convention as convention, *but to be the author of convention,* or ideology, for the benefit prisoners. If he were a priest, it would be his job to create a layman’s version of the truth in the form of a myth since the layperson’s nature hobbles his ability to grasp the truth by way of reason. If every layperson could grasp it, they would no longer be laypeople. There would only be priests. In other words, the rational polity would be possible and polities of any kind would cease to exist.
The philosopher can’t do this if he himself is a prisoner. He must step outside of identity to understand what identity is and he must return to those who possess that identity in order to author the myth on which their limited understanding of that identity is based. They too will, from time to time, step outside of themselves and reduce the self to abstraction. It’s up to the philosopher to supply the image they will see when they look at themselves. If we don’t do it, someone else will, and that’s especially dangerous if the ones doing that myth making are members of a hostile and competing tribe. The philosopher is the one who makes the models which cast the shadows the prisoners mistake for truth. He tends that fire which casts them, the man-made facsimile of the good whose symbol is found on the flag of the state. The fire is the axiomatic basis of a community’s moral reasoning, the popular conception of the Good, and this, like the myth of the self that the philosophers provide for them is necessary since the prisoners will never see the form of the Good, even though we try to get them as far along as their natures will allow.
Plato tells us outright that the reason all people can’t exit the cave and see the truth is simply that their “desires pull them in other directions,” and this is why they’re incapable of irony. It just isn’t in their nature to care enough to see the investigation through to the end and they will, at some point, simply fall back on conventional wisdom rather than seeking actual wisdom for themselves. So the question on the table here that Plato is answering is one related to the political economy of knowledge, or the proper relationship of the intellectuals to the rest of society that they stand outside of and apart from. If we’re confused by the paradoxical relationship of elites or intellectuals to populism, this is as good an answer as any.
If Plato were to weigh in on the question posed by Marx and Hegel as to what the engine of historical change is or on what foundation are the structures of power erected, he might have said that it was the struggle of those who are more rational to those who are less rational, whereas Marx believed it was the struggle of economic-social classes. If we’re racial nationalists who believe that the true engine of historical change is the struggle of racial groups and further believe intelligence is limited and determined by biology, then we can see how Platonism provides a foundation for modern National Socialism: To argue that the relationship of those who are more rational to those who are less rational is the foundation of social reality is to argue that the relationship of races with greater biologically inherited capacity for higher order abstract thought and those whose biology has left them with less facility for it is its foundation.
In any case, this is what irony is: It’s just those with greater knowledge or greater recourse to reason who don’t yet recognize that it’s their job to make use of that knowledge in order to author the culture or identity that they’ve been cut off from and stand outside of. How could they recognize this if they still assume that the rational polity is possible, as virtually everyone who can’t reason their way out of the assumptions of democratic liberal modernity does? They instead argue and try to convince people of the truth, always expecting people to at some point come around and exit the cave while despairing that they never do. If, by contrast, we accept natural hierarchy and jettison the assumption of the possibility of intellectual equality, then we can see that the answer to the problem of social convention that irony has cut us adrift from is to become the authors of convention, not to simply bang our head against a wall while trying to get others to see the origin or falsehood of existing convention.
In other words, the solution is for the intellectuals to get control of the state and use the military to impose rationally designed institutions which are justified and explained by way of myth that those who are most rational designed for the benefit of those who are less rational. That solution is possible when we recognize that power is and will always be nothing more than the relationship of those who are more rational to those who are less.
And this is how the one with knowledge reconnects to the prisoners, how he escapes being cut off from identity and his society and therefore overcomes irony. It’s through taking his proper place as the myth maker, or the one casting shadow puppets which the prisoners confuse with truth on the wall of the cave, that he becomes a part of that society again rather than simply its interpreter and critic. Is he going to smugly critique and sneer at his own myths? He would have no reason to do so, since they are in the closest accordance with the form they imitate if they are truly the products of philosophy rather than its imitation.
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