Reviewed: Kill All Normies by Angela Nagle Published by: Zero Books, 2017
I don’t envy Angela Nagle right now. One post on the wrong subreddit, one Twitter influencer’s side-eye in her direction, and her life becomes hell. If the fact that she exists, is female and has said less than complimentary things about the alt-right gets on their radar then she can expect death threats, rape threats, her personal information disseminated, her head photoshopped onto mutilated bodies. If anyone on the Left, such that it is, feels that she hasn’t fully validated their identities and a system in which identity is All, then she can forget writing for a whole swathe of publications or being able to tweet without being reminded that she is and always will be a racist, sexist, transphobic, class-only Bernie Bro.
Her book is about the Alt-Right, if we judge it by how many pages a subject is allotted rather than its main argument, which is much more critical of the ‘Tumblr-Left’. The far Right after all are rabid dogs, and can’t be blamed for biting, whereas the Left are supposed to be keeping them on a tight leash if not putting them down for good, and, judging by who currently sits in the Oval Office, they have failed miserably at this by putting the immediate thrill of calling out the less-than-Woke ahead of long term strategic goals.
A good part of the book is spent on the intricacies of the Alt-Right itself, since it is split into factions that on the surface seem like they should be at odds with each other. There’s a fairly wide gulf separating the Richard Spencer-ite, Stormfront-reading, National Socialist, true Alt Right from the ‘South Park Conservative’ Alt-Lite, though they’ll man the same barricades on college campuses. Men’s Rights Activists are a whole other species from obscure ‘Dark Enlightenment’ theorists. Then there’s Gamergate and the- I can’t believe that I’m actually typing this but here it goes- ‘Proud Boys’, Vice founder Gavin McInnes’ inane street-team-cum-frat. Google those terms if you want full explanations, but be warned that the feeling of having wasted your time learning about these moral and intellectual cretins is worse than not knowing the difference between a MGTOW and PUA. The paragraphs allotted to each to every figure of (very, very relative) significance in the Manosphere aren’t exactly compelling, and very little is going to be news to anyone who has taken even a passing interest in the Alt-Right over the last few years. These passages read more like an undergrad trying to reach a word-count than an otherwise erudite writer published in arguably the only radical press that matters.
Kill All Normies is going to piss people off in a way that can only be achieved when you are fair and even-handed with people and operate from a position of knowledge and respect. It’s also a book that, despite dipping heavily into Gramsci and Nietzsche amongst others, is going to feel dated quickly. Both things are, to me at least, perfectly okay. Pissing people off shouldn’t be an end in itself, but at certain times it may be tactically prudent to piss off just the right people, those you know are fragile enough to damage themselves more than you in their counter-attack. The 4chan Right and Tumblr Left both fit that bill. Aspiring to timeless truths is all well and good, and if you’ve found any I’d love to take a look, but at certain times the circumstances we find ourselves in urgently require analysis even if they’re unlikely to repeat themselves. Early to mid 2017, where we risk losing or have already lost both sides of the political spectrum to identitarian, culture-first, faux-transgressive, purity-fixated metapolitics is probably one of those times. That, or in five years time we’re all going to be wondering why we were so scared of virgins posting pictures of cartoon frogs and taking #NoWank pledges.
Where the book shines, and why it’s important, is that it’s another example of an ongoing tendency in the Left to want to break with the culture-first mentality inherited from Gramsci and the ‘Cultural Marxists’ of the Frankfurt School and refined into modern ‘identitarianism’. The Alt-Right loves the term ‘Cultural Marxist’, incidentally, though their assertion that ‘politics is always downstream from culture’, to quote Steve Bannon, is as good a summation of Adorno, Horkenheimer et al.’s ideas as any. The new, nameless tendency that Nagle is part of, which I am definitely not calling the ‘alt-left’, would say that politics might be downstream of culture, but the glacier that feeds the whole river is class and power. You can trace the outlines of this emerging movement in Adam Curtis’ film HyperNormalisation (I found myself imagining the book being read in Curtis’s melodic received-pronounciation as much as I did Nagle’s Irish lilt), in the work of the late Mark Fisher, whose essay Exiting The Vampire Castle Nagle quotes from and whose persecution for being insufficiently Woke she highlights as an especially egregious example of Tumblr-Left purity politics; in Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams’ Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work, which proposes a concrete plan to replace what it terms ‘folk politics’ (which would include ‘callout culture’ and the like) with demands for a universal income and the automation of as many jobs as is possible, freeing humanity from both work and the capitalist system it maintains.
The Tumblr Left will pounce on her admittedly callous attitude towards trigger warnings or her dismissal of the panoply of new genders and orientations the blogging platform has uncovered (“STOPOMNIGAYNECROGENDERERASUR
The Alt-Right will throw their toys out of the crib like they do over every little thing, delicate snowflakes that they are. There are hopefully some people who will see the futility of the elitism in both the left and right, the former for excluding a good portion of the population for their inability to memorise a constantly changing corpus of social-science terms, the latter for their dismissal of the ‘normies’ of the title, who haven’t been ‘redpilled’ into strict ideological lockstep. I don’t know what form this new Leftism will ultimately take- Fisher’s class warfare or Srnicek and Williams’ accelerationism, hopefully the best of both- but it’s going to be more vital and more fun than endless rounds of performative wokeness and performative transgression.