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Postmodernism vs. Identity, Part 2
Identity vs. Irony

[1]2,952 words

Part 2 of 2 (Part 1 here [2]; Hungarian translation here [3])

Author’s Note:

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 although 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, and 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 towards things that one should look up to 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.[1] [4]

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 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 with 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 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, it is. 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 or 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 then. 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. Your consciousness only works when you are not looking at it. Consciousness is the looker, not the object. Yet mankind is often enthralled by the delusion that we can monitor and control our own consciousness, even though the subject always recedes beyond every attempt to objectify it.

When I was a child, I sometimes suffered from insomnia, and 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. These morbid, obsessional thoughts were, however, 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 is 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 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.

The true destructiveness of ironism can best be appreciated when civilization faces the test of barbarism. 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 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!” The more people who feel safe trying on our ideas without committing to them, the more people who 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 drops 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, smirks to sincerity, evading responsibility to assuming it, 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 a pose they can jump back from and pretend like it’s all just a game.

Note

[1] [5] Umberto Eco, Postscript to The Name of the Rose, trans. William Weaver (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1984), pp. 67–68.