“Dr. Layman” is a YouTube personality. He’s part of a growing and successful, loose affiliation of not right wing and in some cases genuinely left wing, individuals who have in the past few years, taken a cyber hammer to the previously ascendant, loose affiliation of rightwing YouTube personalities.
Layman has a video where he humorously, sarcastically and intelligently offers a meta examination and excavation of the algorithm dominated life cycles of trends in YouTube.
He points out that the first phase of YouTube, say roughly from 2005 to 2007, was dominated by benign pro Christian talkers eventually broken (that is suffering from decreasing viewers, lost revenue and a growth in both of those areas to their opponents) by militant atheists. The militant atheists were dominated by “JT Kirk” who at one point had over a million viewers and then faded.
Subsequent waves are discussed culminating in the period around 2016 which saw the rise of a loose affiliation of right wing and extreme right wing talkers – feel free to make your own list – comprising such notable geniuses and neo fascists as, Sargon of Akkad, Stefan Molyneux, Gavin McInnes, and uber troll, Alex Jones.
This wave was met and broken by a loose affiliation of not right wing, and avowedly leftist talkers – feel free to make your own list – comprised of, Natalie Parrot, Three Arrows, and at the upper end of the spectrum, TYT, and Sam Seder and the Dirtbags of Chapo.
Backed by numbers that indicate a steady decline of viewers for the right wingers, and a steady increase for their opposites, the good doctor has a valid point.
He concludes with what he admits is a lot of speculation that, should these trends continue then the not right wing talkers should start to see their numbers fade as their viewers grow bored and look for new forms of entertainment.
He hints at and alludes to how the two wings are symbiotically linked as they exist essentially only in relation to what they are not, and that when they achieve a tactical victory, they have nothing else to say and run out of both targets and ammunition. In other words as he says (and we paraphrase) how many times can you point out that Jordan Peterson or Paul Joseph Watson not only have no idea what they’re talking about but, that they consistently, inadvertently paraphrase people they insist are a threat to something they call Western civilization.
The answer is for about a year or three and then the audience gets bored and or distracted and goes on to something else.
All well and good and even more or less true but, and this is where we believe this gets even more interesting, it’s what the doctor leaves out that matters.
First, what’s gone missing is that all of this is stylistically descended from Jon Stewart and The Daily Show. We have expressed our contempt for Stewart’s establishment liberalism and his hypocrisy elsewhere* but what is on point here is that video generally and the internet specifically, do not forget anything. As a result the systemic hypocrisy of politicians and the spastic, inebriated borderline Delphic mutterings of Peterson, Sam Harris, Sargon, and all the rest of the gang who would if not for the internet and a handful of corporate enablers like Bill Maher, be indistinguishable from the street corner mystics who periodically wander into a public library and start screaming about the feminists and CIA agents sending secret transmission through the computers, would be easily exposed as having said one thing on Monday and a contradictory thing on Friday. And they are also prone to being exposed as cranks and hacks who haven’t a clue as to what they’re talking about.
Case in point, you can find numerous videos of the Lobster King of Toronto, J. Peterson, paraphrasing Frankfurt School and Foucault 101, while attempting to make the point that they are spawns of Satan, and you can even find him doing it while arguing with Sam Harris who seems as oblivious as Peterson that they sound like morons. Which is not to say Adorno and Horkheimer and Foucault walk on water; they don’t. For example, Foucault’s support for the ayatollahs was absurd and Horkheimer and Adorno often write with the verve of men who believe that anatomy textbooks are seduction manuals.
But while it’s amusing if also cause for worry, that Peterson and Paul Watson keep paraphrasing people they claim are immoral hobgoblins, what’s more significant is that YouTube is full of people who not only notice these discrepancies in logic, fact and ethics but are, courtesy of the tech revolution, far better read than one might first assume and given the absence of jobs, have the time to post lengthy rebuttals in the comments sections of YouTube or, if ambition allows, the time to produce their own YouTube channels – hello ContraPoints and Three Arrows, etc.
The Daily Show thrived in part because the media saturation bubble from which there was no escape, made crushing the assorted goons and ghouls, more or less like shooting zeros and ones in a barrel. A great generational change was underway and it was happening in real time and slow mo with commentary on multiple media platforms. People, more or less still not very bright, were nonetheless smart enough to know that they could watch and record someone saying something and then watch and record them contradicting themselves later, and then they could again, courtesy of the tech revolution, share it for laughs and or outrage with thousands if not millions of people just by pressing a few buttons. The result was not just a self-contained hermetically sealed echo chamber in which reputations had a life cycle that was suddenly on par with a fruit fly, but it shifted claims of authority away from professional gatekeepers to anyone with an internet connection. A corollary of this was the commodification of “reputations” and their attachment to algorithms, which in turn were used to manipulate the people who, with the press of a button, were providing cyber thumbs up or down, within the virtual coliseum.
In the case of Stewart that meant a comfortable retirement on a farm where he rescues wayward animals and occasionally pops up from under Colbert’s desk, and with the liberal sanctimony for which he is known, asks why can’t we all just get along. For the “alt-right” it meant being subject to clever, often well reasoned, ridicule and having to face the fact that their tribe would top out at a certain percentage, incapable of actually seizing power, or even with the malignant troll in the White House, getting everyone they hate to stop using their computers and the internet. But mostly, and we can’t emphasize this enough, they were and are subject to being made to look like fools – which is something they cannot tolerate as, after all, their entire reason to be, is that they feel as if the world is laughing at them.
This in turn brings us to the second issue.
The rise and fall of these assorted talkers, on both the left and the right, is being manipulated by the algorithm dominance of the corporatocracy. That’s so true as to verge on, if not race past being banal. And Layman touches on the impact of the algorithms, but it bares deeper consideration.
As we detailed previously there’s something arch if not ironically camp about ContraPoints, in that while perfomring a kind of pantomime of camp, the show veers into being an unintentional send up of itself precisely because, per Layman, it exists solely as the shadow of what it’s against and, it does not and will not break the fourth wall and take action. In fact Parrot even belittles the very idea of direct action and despite all the rhetoric about revolution ends up advocating for Bernie Sanders style participation in the system, and a tepid liberalism dressed up as FDR in drag, or liberalism with an attitude. The terminal irony of this, is that ContraPoints is contextualized by its symbiosis with the targets of its disdain, from Peterson to McInnes, to Sargon and the cyber borderland where reactionary YouTube morphs into 4chan fascism.
This in turn is not so very different from Chapo, which despite its heated rhetoric and blunderbuss spray of contempt for the establishment liberals, and Chapo’s too clever by half, word vomit references that offer the idea of a hyper-realized culture of endless signs, that judges you on whether or not you can understand coded references to Gramsci, Horkheimer and Baudrillard, with double entendres about Trotsky and Victor Serge,** again takes no direct action. This of course leaves us to say – After all when one thinks of revolution one naturally thinks of three or four thirty-something White boys in Brooklyn making a million a month off that noted subversive system, Patreon. In other words, despite all their talk and venom, you wont see them at a barricade or being the catalyst for a general or even a limited strike as they declare the People’s Republic of Brooklyn. Instead what you’ll get is a mirror image of Jordan Peterson or Sargon or (shudder) Alex Jones only with better books.
In the case of Three Arrows the criticism would be off base and inappropriate because you can’t blame someone for failing at something they weren’t attempting but it is still part of an echo chamber that is hermetically sealed. And it is a system that is sealed by corporate control of the technology.
However, it is not sufficient to blame only the technology for the fact that the most effective anti right wing opposition is compromised by its symbiosis with the extreme right, and that it lives within the DNA of the system that breeds extreme right wing paranoia and talkers.
We mean here to again draw attention to the dog that has not barked. We mean mass surveillance.
Alluded to by both the YouTube leftists and the extreme right, and used as cheap talking points in corporate television shows and commercials, the Orwellian reality has been woven into the zeitgeist with both precision and an antiseptic quality, that renders it as both omni-present and yet invisible.
The results are that one has two logical choices.
Either Obama and the rest of the establishment are to be believed when they say there’s nothing to be concerned about, no one’s listening to your calls, following you on the internet, tracking you via your phone, recording everything you say, buy or look at, and storing it all in a vast server farm roughly the size of an ever expanding city sate, and that the governments use of civil liberty eviscerating technology like Stingray, and the almost quaint pre tech use of a vast army of “confidential informants” are all nothing to worry about and that all of that, and the whole Edward Snowden panopticon nightmare is nothing to loose sleep over.
Or, they’re full of shit and with history as a guide one should logically assume that the powers that be did not see 1984 as a warning but as a how to manual, and that one of the effects of a system of mass surveillance is self censorship which is a euphemism for obedience.
But someone will say, the day after Trump was installed, the largest demonstration in US history took place so, so much for your theory.
Except of course the protest like the whole notion of “The Resistance” has not only been more or less a failure – hello associate justice Brett you preppy mother fucker – but it is essentially a Pepsi commercial.
People keep protesting and then they keep going home and the system keeps rolling along.
As one of the gangsters said back in the early 70s while the establishment was teaching S.E Asia the finer points of constitutional law and the beauty of Jeffersonian enlightenment, you can protest as much as you like as long as you keep paying your taxes.
And from that we ask, where exactly is any organizing leadership and coordination?
Consider Black Lives Matter.
Adrift with intercine and byzantine schisms, banged up over dubious connections to dubious figures like Louis Farrakhan and, also targeted for infiltration by the Hoovers.
And notice that the public “discussion” of that last and central issue, has no mention of the impact such systems have on the ability of people to engage in civil disobedience.
Of course this becomes circular.
Since the government is spying on everyone, and since they have a well documented history of disrupting civil liberties in a we had to set the bill of rights on fire to save it sort of way, one should expect the “resistance” to be rudderless, and ineffective.
But in addition one should expect no discussion of how there is no discussion and less effective and authentic action.
In such an environment you should expect to find Chapo and Parrot and all the rest in symbiosis with goons like Peterson and Peterson in symbiosis with the people he denounces but without whom, he would just be a psych professor at the University of Toronto.
And notice that in each case they all talk as if Lev Trotsky or Mao were on the verge of storming the Winter Palace; as if a band of rabid French intellectuals and Marx were going to start throwing bombs when the truth is, the tepid response to Trump, to his debasement of everything, the spiraling disintegration of the system, and the ongoing collapse of the environment have all produced the political movement equivalent of a stifled yawn.
And we cannot emphasize this enough – it is not the result of complacency but the complacency is the result of a deliberate campaign to stifle dissent.
This plays out in other spheres as well. One consistently hears famous novelists lament the absence of any American novels that deal with this state of affairs – no novels that tackle, the war, the economy, and so on, and which these critics attribute to a deficiency in interest among American writers. Where, they say, are America’s Dostoyevsky’s and Orwells.
And of course not a word about the corporate publishing empires that are wholly owned colonies of the corporate entertainment empires and which are all ultimately in bed with the government.
And here no doubt someone will say you can’t seriously believe that the government is directing what gets published?
To which we say you can’t seriously be suggesting that they are not?
And control does not require men in black suits taking people away in the middle of the night though we have no doubt such things occur. The fact that Scully and Mulder are fiction does not invalidate the critique of the system that they represent even if, they are tools of Fox and Rupert Murdoch.
In fact that proves the point. Fox (along with its liberal doppelganger, MSNBC, and the rest of the networks) decides what airs and it controls content and availability and the flow of money, and even where and when it doesn’t, it forces even anti-establishment work to be compromised by its symbiosis with the corporatocracy. The result is of course that whatever criticism of the system exists, is muted by a dull mock resistance brought to you with brief words from your sponsors.
In the case of the aforementioned novelists consider liberal heroine, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie saying that she thinks American novelists are too self absorbed. Not, she thinks American corporate publishing is corrupt, and in bed with the government, and that its CEOs are dependent on the government for their survival and act accordingly. Not a word about how either mass surveillance is benign or not and if it’s not one should connect the dots and say gee, mass surveillance and a decades long absence of any work that deals with the devastating impact one should expect from a system of mass surveillance. Of course not, after all, she doesn’t want to go back to Nigeria and it’s America that gave her a McArthur Grant and fat publishing contracts. In other words, why bite the hands that feed you and get you off while you play the smug and superior foreigner who offers detached criticisms of the colonials.
And what a surprise, Adichie just won an award named for a writer dedicated to confronting the systemic abuse of power by the establishment and she said, we must have the courage to call a lie a lie.
And we agree, which is why we say she needs to stop repeating lies and tell the truth.
We’re living in an Orwellian dictatorship.
What are you going to do about it?
*For a look at Jon Stewart:
For a look at Adichie:
For a look at Dr. Layman:
** Regarding the near Rainman quality of obsessional references and the need to assert dominance and separation or a state of “cool” based on whether or not someone “gets” the obscure references to bands, books, films, commercials, and to bands, books, films, and commercials that contain references to still other bands, books, films, and commercials: While it is clearly a type of anxiety, what seems more useful is to contextualize it as anxiety generated from a fear that one’s identity is a wholly owned subsidiary of a series of corporate fronts, that exist as a vast archipelago of nesting dolls. The sense that one is only a set of references produces the obsession to establish that one is “self-aware” and thus has still not been assimilated into the collective (sic!). At the same time the obsessions creates a symbiosis in which “resistance” is a fabrication or, simulacrum of authenticity because the references used rely on the very cultural DNA that the obsessive claims to reject.
This can be seen not only in the hyper and near logorrhea manner of certain talkers like Chapo, but within the desperate need to appear to be part of a network so that, for example, when ContraPoints publicly acknowledges another YouTube talker who in turn responds publicly, it is a way for the participants to both separate themselves from their group and attach themselves to it as both totem and participant.
Taken altogether this curious cultural tic is representative of anxiety in the face of an all-consuming system – a system that is both a set of dominant narratives as well as displays of power manifested in the blunt realities and traumas of the post industrial waste land, the Gotham-esque “Batman villain” quality of Trump, the live, in real time broadcasts of assorted environmental catastrophes or “terrorism events” which are then absorbed by the vast corporate bladder and sprayed back out at the shell shocked jitters and shakes public in the form of “event” and “prestige” television that provides excuses for group hysteria as “fans” obsess over GOT, TWD, or WW.
All of that in turn repeats the process as the use of references to referential narrative systems become ubiquitous, and in the manner of early renegade Christians, one draws a fish in the sand and if the code is understood, so be it but if not, one erases it, dismisses it as a mere doodle, and recedes into the shadows.
But, and this is crucial, the early Christians were authentic renegades.
The contemporary talkers, however correct they are in their deconstructions of assorted other talkers, all exist in symbiosis with each other and exhibit a kind of paralysis in which talking about action replaces action and, more importantly, the spectacle or imitation of action is, like television shows, treated as if it were authentic participation.
While this stupor can be and has been connected to the systemic malaise that flows from mass culture and its assembly line dead on arrival banality, notice that what goes missing, is any consideration that the anxiety, while legitimate, is a nervous tic generated by the sense of dread that, you’re being watched, listened to and recorded, and that references to references within a set of cultural codes, are a survival mechanism in the face of a terminal eliminating surveillance.
That the narrative system of references is crippled while significant, does not diminish its importance as a vector of the current plague.
Consider this from, Foucault (sic!):
“Our society is not one of spectacle, but of surveillance; under the surface of images, one invests bodies in depth; behind the great abstraction of exchange, there continues the meticulous, concrete training of useful forces; the circuits of communication are the supports of an accumulation and a centralization of knowledge; the play of signs defines the anchorages of power; it is not that the beautiful totality of the individual is amputated, repressed, altered by our social order, it is rather that the individual is carefully fabricated in it, according to a whole technique of forces and bodies.”
We would add a particular contradiction. Namely that as the not-quite an individual asserts their theorhetical individuality by enmeshing themselves with a series of references, precisely as they become identified, they become invisible. This is similar to the commercial star/product or film star who, as they become synonymous with a character or a type, become incapable of vanishing and yet, vanish because they are always present.
In a society of mass surveillance in which “privacy is dead” the individual is always visible and thus, paradoxically, always erased.
To assert one’s visibility by utilizing elaborate systems of narrative codes, is to repeat or mirror the process of surveillance. The use of codes establishes the visibility of both the speaker and the one who responds. They assert through obscure references that they are visible to each other and though present remain invisible to those who are not “hip to the jive.”
This is of course an ancient habit (e.g., shibboleth) but in a society of mass surveillance it is either an authentic method of establishing kinship as genuine members of the authentic resistance, or as genuine and authentic imposters succumbing to the anxiety of always being observed, and as a result being reduced to a symbiosis with both the oppressor and the methods and systems of the oppressor.