Avatar: The Legend of Korra, Season Three Wrapup

Having just caught the final episode of the third season of Avatar: Legend of Korra, I present some thoughts on it.

The first-season villains were a (brilliant) thinly-veiled version of communists, and this season’s villains were an (equally brilliant) even less thinly-veiled version of anarchists. And certainly, these anarchists are terrifying. Yes, the President of the Republic is a cowardly, two-faced buffoon and the Earth Queen is domineering and self-centered, but as threats these both pale in comparison to the Red Lotus. The Red Lotus is not cowardly, buffoonish, or self-centered at all; it is a fanatical utopian cult whose members are smart, strong, educated, cultured, powerful, dedicated, and self-sacrificing – and this is precisely what makes it so dangerous. As many have noted before, a crook will stop when he has money, a tyrant will stop when he has power, and both will stop when it is obvious that their plan will be self-defeating or self-destructive, but someone who genuinely thinks that they’re there to save the world will stop at nothing – not even their own destruction – in order to achieve victory. This is why fanatical utopian cults cannot be fought the way one would fight other adversaries. One cannot be reasonable or merciful with them; one cannot negotiate with them nor meet them halfway, nor try to appease them by extending them rights and allowing them a fair hearing in the marketplace of ideas, nor shake hands and agree to disagree, nor offer them a ceasefire and trust they they will abide by it, nor leave them in peace to live as they wish and hope that they will extend the same consideration to you, nor take them at their word, nor trust them about anything, ever. Fanatical utopian cults must be – can only be – put down with extreme prejudice, as soon as possible. Any responsible authority that does not do so only invites further chaos; by inaction and the adoption of half-measures, they leave their people at the mercy of destructive fanatics. And yet doing what it takes to put down a fanatical utopian cult will not only leave the authority who must do so looking like a tyrant to many, but also, often with great sadness, will leave them feeling like one inside. Which brings us to our next point.

Korra ends the season utterly heartbroken; defeated in spirit in a way that she has never been before. Clearly, her experience with the Red Lotus has affected her deeply. She is a spirited young woman with a strong sense of justice and a willingness to fight for it, yet the twin experiences of seeing what the Red Lotus fanatics were willing to do in order to win, and of doing what she had to do to stop them, have pushed her past a boundary, disillusioned her, and left her scarred.

This is what contact with wickedness does to a human soul. Seeing horror and interacting with cruelty or depravity is corrosive to the soul, and inevitably leaves its scars. One may succumb to it or one may fight it, but one will not be left unaffected by it. Does it matter that the Red Lotus fervently believed that they were doing the right thing? No – in fact, in many ways it makes it worse. For one thing, Korra had to destroy people who were doing what they believed to be right, which takes a far greater mental and spiritual toll then fighting those who are just thoroughly evil. For another, Korra has had to see for herself what cruelties human beings are capable of when they believe they are doing good. For her especially, with her strong intrinsic sense of right and wrong, this has to have shaken her to her core. If people are capable of doing such things in the name of righteousness – indeed, if they can make themselves believe that plainly terrible ideas of the sort that the Red Lotus held were righteous – then of what value is righteousness? And then there is the matter of, for the second time in her short career as the Avatar, having had to put down a fanatical utopian cult with extreme prejudice – with this time having been even more bloody and violent than the last.

Traditionalists and reactionaries should here identify with the Korra’s feelings. Speaking for myself, the sheer horror and ugliness of leftist Modernity eats at my soul, and though I must face it in order to fight it, I wish that I could shut it out completely and simply pretend that it doesn’t exist. And fighting it, too, is taxing. It is in my own essential nature to be empathetic, forgiving, and reasonable. But what does one do when confronted with an adversary who takes all of these as weakness, and uses them to destroy enemies foolish enough to let their guard down for even a second? Who see every attempt to compromise or to find middle ground as the first inch given of the many miles that they will take, at any cost and by any means necessary?

The obvious answers, and the knowledge that they must eventually be implemented, will cause anyone with a good heart the same sadness that it causes to Avatar Korra.

But on to other matters…

Family continues to be an extremely strong theme throughout Legend of Korra, and also receives a highly traditionalist treatment. Perhaps most interesting is the story of the Beifong sisters, Suyin and Lin. Toph’s extremely modern parenting style – having two children by what seem to have more or less been one-night stands with different men, raising them as a single mother without any real fatherly influence, and being highly permissive to the point of neglectfulness in parenting style, leaves her two daughters undeniably damaged and dysfunctional. Suyin suffers hardest and earliest and falls the farthest, but after life and hardship beat some sense into her, she recovers more quickly and thoroughly than her elder sister. By the time we encounter her, she is a respected leader in her city and the beloved wife and honored mother of a tight-knit, if somewhat offbeat, family. These are precisely the things that Lin, who on the surface always appeared to be more functional, was never able to have for herself. Now too old to have children, and never really having gotten over the one great romance she ever had in her life, Lin is, in her own way, a sad figure. Dedicated only to her work, she is alone in every conceivable way until she finally reconciles with her sister after thirty years of bitter estrangement. Having been raised by modern parenting methods, she is a modern career woman. And despite the frontloaded feminism of this show, that is not depicted as a good thing.

Related to this curious mix of feminism and traditionalism is the show’s treatment of men, and especially fathers. Most television shows with a feminist edge treat men (other than those of the “Magic Negro” or “gay best friend” variety) as being some degree of irrelevant, brutish, foolish, or all of the above, and most that deal with families treat fathers as some degree of either clueless buffoon or patriarchal oppressor. And yet, for all its prominent feminism, Legend of Korra portrays its men, and especially its fathers, in a light so positive that it’s rather shocking in a modern TV show. Tenzin, for example, can certainly be a bit of a blowhard sometimes, but he is unquestionably a wise teacher, a learned master of his art, an upstanding leader of his nation and his community, a loving husband, a caring son and brother, and both a strong and nurturing father to his children and second father to Korra. When his family is threatened by the Red Lotus, It is Tenzin who fights them so fiercely that he comes closer than anyone will to defeating Zaheer until Korra finally manages to do so in the season climax (in the Avatar state and with an army helping her). Even at that, in the end, it takes Zaheer’s entire group to finally defeat him. Similarly, Tonraq, Korra’s father, is seen not only as a great chief of his tribe, but as a dedicated family man and father who repeatedly puts himself at risk for the sake of his wife and daughter. Even Suyin’s barely-seen husband is shown to be, if not a fighter, then at least a brilliant engineer and good husband and father. Even the comic relief characters of Bumi and Bolin are admirable in their own ways. Bumi is a joker, but also a high-ranking soldier and deeply loyal to his family. Bolin, for all his often-expressed comic hyperbole and braggadocio, is someone who shows deep loyalty to his family and to Team Avatar, and who is a powerful earthbender in his own right. All of them are strong and decent, and none of them are derogatory caricatures. If this show is feminist, then, it is not of the man-hating variety, and this is yet another quality that makes it remarkable these days.

The future of Avatar: Legend of Korra is somewhat in doubt at the moment. Nickelodeon, which never quite knew what to do with The Last Airbender, really doesn’t quite know what to do with this series. In retrospect, the network that brought us ten seasons of Spongebob was probably the wrong venue for the Avatar franchise, and there was always going to be a mismatch between it, its regular audience, and this show. As such, Nickelodeon has pulled it off the air, where it was getting good but unspectacular ratings, and gone to a web-only model for showing it. This isn’t so bad as it might seem – the number of web views is, reportedly, phenomenal (I strongly encourage all fans of the series to give it all the web views that they can). If more episodes are made, it will signal a sea change in how television shows are presented, and will prove that a web-only show can be successful. I hope that is the case, for all sorts of reasons. Perhaps it would allow the producers to present even more adult themes and situations. Perhaps it will allow for a democratization of television in the way that other media have been democratized by the internet. But above all, I simply want to see more of this unique, fantastic television show.

So let us hope that it neither gets canceled, nor that the politically correct thought police ever get to it!

Evola in Bemidji

NOTE: The following contains spoilers for the first season of the TV series Fargo.

Leftists, libertarians, and anarchists (and the latter two might actually mean it) often speak of “borders, boundaries, and forms of control” as if these were all terrible things, blights on the human condition that oppress humankind, stunt its development towards a more refined and utopian condition, and prevent individuals from achieving a beautiful state of self-actualization. Of course they speak this way – as de facto (and often de jure) rejecters of original sin, they see human nature as essentially good, and human beings as blank slates except for that essentially good nature. When undeniably not-good (certainly by Modernist definitions) aspects of human nature – clannishness, laziness, greed, selfishness, violence, exclusion, even traditional gender roles or the tendency of some groups to be better at certain tasks than others – make themselves persistently and undeniably apparent, these are dismissed as “social constructs” (as if that too was a bad thing), which are invariably the fault of the usual designated villain groups. All of this, of course, is nonsense.

What philosophers can fill hundreds of pages demonstrating, artists can often illustrate far more economically. It is with this in mind that we may look at the rather unexpected reactionary implications of the recent cable TV series Fargo. Here we witness the liberation of one Mr. Lester Nygaard (played by the wonderfully talented Martin Freeman), and the consequences thereof. Lester is a fine test subject – an average everyman of Modern America in all senses of the word. He has an average job that he isn’t very good at, he has a wife who emasculates and despises him, he is childless far past the age at which he should be, and he is faring unspectacularly in financial terms. He is one of those men who, in the words of Thoreau, leads a life of quiet desperation, and he lacks the strength of will to liberate himself from it. But, as we shall learn, perhaps that was for the best.

By happenstance, into Lester’s life drops one Lorne Malvo (a mesmerizing, as usual, Billy Bob Thornton), who is a demon. Whether he is in any physical/spiritual sense is the sort of question that Coen Brothers stories always leave one with, but he looks like a duck and walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, so for our purposes we shall call him a duck. Thus, given the opportunity, he sows chaos, as is the wont of demons. How does he do this? Via the same method that a demon (perhaps even, it is later hinted, Malvo himself) used to ruin the first man and woman – by liberating them, by giving them what they secretly wanted, by promising them that they could transcend their boundaries and limitations and be as gods. Thus with a few words (this is all it took in the Garden of Eden, as well), Malvo sets in motion the ruination not just of Lester Nygaard, but of many of those around him as well.

With those words, and two simple acts of violence which follow, he breaks Lester’s chains. But what are chains? And what does it mean to have the broken? When we use the word “chains”, images of slavery inevitably come to mind. But our chains are also the ties that bind us – to family, to friends, to community, to society, to humanity, and to God. They are the rules of conduct by which function the mutual obligations that bind us to all of these. A very few people – natural aristocrats of the soul – can transcend the rules without breaking those bonds. And, of course, virtually everyone thinks of themselves as one of those who could. But for most, the breaking of chains leads to a euphoric period in which freedom seems to lead them to triumph, after which… well, let us return to our example.

And so Lester is liberated both from his harridan of a wife and from any immediate consequences of her demise. But there is more than that afoot. Lester becomes liberated not just from the external entities to which he was bound, but increasingly from all internally-held constraints as well. He gains genuine confidence, a precious commodity which he never had before; he learns to value and believe in himself. All of which, modern society teaches us, is unmitigated good. And for a while, it is visibly good in Lester’s life as well. For a year, he has his time of triumph. He evades responsibility for his crime, he marries a beautiful and adoring new wife, he opens a successful business of his own, and he is honored both personally and professionally.

But was that ever so rosy a picture as it seemed? His new wife may be adoring, but she is clearly a trophy wife who Lester married for the wrong reasons. And his freedom comes at the cost of his brother’s. His brother was an unsympathetic jerk, to be sure – but he wasn’t a murderer, and didn’t deserve a murderer’s punishment. Part of Lester’s liberation has been a liberation from empathy; from the idea of not using others and justifying it solipsistically based on whatever that person’s worth is to him. His brother displeases him, so to Lester’s mind he deserves any punishment available whether fitting or excessive. His wife pleases him for her beauty and the ease with which she is dominated, but that produces no bonds of the sort that will prevent him from discarding her when he feels it necessary to do so. And that time will come, soon enough.

It comes because Lester’s path, now bereft of borders and boundaries, has no limit; no endpoint at which anyone, including Lester, can or will say “Alright, this is enough. Stop here and go no farther”. He is not an aristocrat of the soul, but only a common man. He does not know when enough is enough, and when enough is too much. There is nothing to stop him at Aristotle’s Golden Mean; there is nothing in his past or present experience to show him even where that might be, and thus he goes sailing right past it.

Yet here a point deserves reemphasis. Lester is not an aristocrat of the soul, nor is he a saint. But neither is he particularly or exceptionally prone to evil. Lester’s key flaw – his tragic flaw, in the sense of the Greek tragedies – is simply that he is a common man; one who has come into possession of more freedom than a common man can cope with. Of course, the demon Malvo knew perfectly well when he broke Lester’s chains that this was the case, and that eventually death, misery, and chaos would ensue because of it. But again, sowing chaos is simply what demons do – Malvo is very good at it and, as his suitcase full of audiotapes shows, has done it many times before. The demon understands that giving too much liberation to those who are unequipped to rationally deal with it will only lead to their destruction and the destruction of everyone around them.

As indeed it does for Lester and those unfortunate enough to be in his vicinity when he finally implodes. His chance second encounter with Malvo in an elevator in Las Vegas sets the end in motion. It all seems very avoidable at first glance, but on further analysis, what happened was inevitable. Lester can’t help but to push too hard and too far; to ignore warning after warning and disregard common sense until it is suddenly, plainly too late. That is his new, liberated nature. To self-destruct was his destiny; the path without borders and limits can, for the common man, lead only to this and to nothing else. If it had not been this particular encounter that had sparked the beginning of Lester’s end, it would just have been another one; the fact that the circumstances involved offending the demon who liberated him is only a bit of Coen-esque poetry added to the story.

It is at this point that the effects of Lester’s newfound liberation kick into a panic-induced high gear. Consumed by cowardice, but also by a selfishness (at this point advanced into sociopathy) born of his liberation from the chains that bind him to others, Lester sacrifices his trophy wife, not an hour after she has committed a crime and taken an enormous risk by lying to a police officer in order to try to save him (Based on my own observations it was at this point that Lester’s few remaining defenders among the show’s fan base seemed to have finally given up on him). And when, as the final confrontation looms before them all, Molly Solverson tries to get him to tell her the truth, thereby sacrificing his freedom for the good of others, we see that at this point he is so far gone that he can’t even understand the parable that she uses to try to reach him (even though his faculties of reason are perfectly intact, as he demonstrates by easily solving the fox/cabbage/rabbit riddle). Thus do even more people die – the FBI agents assigned to watch him, the demon Malvo (this only through the selfless courage of Gus Grimly), and eventually Lester himself – finally dragged down to the bottom and drowned, literally, as a consequence of his decisions.

So what are the takeaways from all of this?

The first is that demons often – in fact, nearly always – appear as liberators and breakers of chains. “You will be as gods”, says the demon, who, unlike his prey, knows full well what that will mean. Giving the powers of a god to those without the godhead is a recipe for sowing chaos, which is, again, the business of demons. Thus, there should be a healthy skepticism of liberators. “Liberated from what… to what?” is a question that should always be asked. The average man may not have the vision or the wisdom to ask that, but natural aristocrats do, which brings us to our next point.

The second takeaway begins by reiterating that most people can’t rationally, much less virtuously, handle a great deal of liberation. Most people need to be taught and led, and it is, in fact, inhumane to deprive them of this structure and guidance. Lester’s basement prominently features a poster that shows a fish swimming against the direction of all the other fishes, with a caption reading: “What if you’re right and they’re wrong?”. But most people are not Socrates. They cannot rationally and virtuously find their own way; left to do so, they will, as Lester did, only turn into selfish monsters who destroy themselves and those around them. Most people can’t and shouldn’t swim against the direction of the rest of the fish, so it is the responsibility of the elites of society – of the very natural aristocrats who could find their own way – to make sure that the rest of the fish are swimming in the right direction; i.e. that the basis of the ideals on which their orderly and harmonious society is based are indeed rational and virtuous.

Because otherwise we end up with a world of Lester Nygaards. A world of utter chaos.

Sailor Starlight

I didn’t know Peter Brown all that well. I’m not saying that I did. But in the mid-90s, anime was still not mainstream yet, the fan base was smaller, and everybody knew everybody, at least a little, or by reputation. And Peter Brown certainly did have a reputation.

In those days, the staff of the computer lab at Laney College – on the border of Oakland’s seedy downtown and its distinctly non-touristy Chinatown – was effectively the same as the makeup of its college anime club, Beefbowl Anime. It was run by a crazy bald second-generation Korean who mostly created fansubs by coercing his elderly father, who had been forcibly taught Japanese as a schoolboy during the Japanese occupation of Korea – to translate the likes of Tenchi Muyo and Macross Plus into English. The lab itself was a motley collection of computers that were ancient even then – some Mac SE/30s, a couple of squat IIci and IIvx machines, and a few PCs that still had 5 1/4” floppy drives. I’d go up there sometimes, hang out, wheel and deal for tapes – in those days, fansubs came on VHS tapes put together with Video Toasters, and you had to have connections to lay your hands on them (thus one reason why everybody got to know everybody – so you’d have people to trade with). As with so many things, it’s easier now, but with less human connection or sense of community. But I digress.

Peter Brown was kind of a member of Beefbowl and kind of not – it isn’t like most anime clubs back then had much real formal organization unless they were big operations like Cal Animage up at UC Berkeley. Everyone just kind of showed up when they could. Peter Brown showed up a lot. The first time I saw him was in the Laney computer lab before a Beefbowl showing (of a couple episodes each of Maison Ikkoku and DNA^2, I think). My first thought was “What a weird-looking girl!”. There was certainly a distinct androgyny to him: a plump, round, rather feminine face that was unmistakably half-white and half-Asian, long hair hanging down in a ponytail, a fanny pack (these were, and perhaps still are, thought of as a feminine or at least effeminate article of clothing); and besides this (much to my disapproval), girls do commonly wear jeans these days, so the rest of his clothes were no help.

Later, during the showing (the cool kids watched anime at home and came to club showings to hang out in the hallway, talk, and make connections), I asked who the girl in the blue jacket was. There was a round of laughter at my expense. Some ribald teasing ensued, which I professed bafflement at. One of the members of the club, a Chinatown native named Raymond, stopped to explain.

“That…” he said, crinkling his nose up as if he were smelling something bad, the way Chinese often do when they talk about something they dislike, “…is Peter Brown”.

I continued to be baffled. Who was he?

Peter Brown had a reputation, you see, as a cosplayer. But with one distinct quirk – he always dressed as female characters. They have a name for that now; they call it “crossplay” (a portmanteau of “crossdressing” and “cosplay”). But Tumblr didn’t exist back then, so our name for it was “fucking weird”.

“How could you think that looked like a woman?”, somebody asked me accusingly.

Thinking fast, and wanting not to spend the rest of the evening as the butt of jokes, I shot back “Well it sure as shit doesn’t look like a man!”

And everyone conceded that I had a point there. The ribald teasing subsided.

Fast forward a year…

* * *

The next time I remember seeing Peter Brown was at Anime Expo ’96, which was the Best. Con. Ever. It was the last anime con before anime started really going mainstream, and thus the last con before poseurs and casual fans started showing up. It was the last time that any anime con was really just a gathering of knowledgable, hardcore devotees. Being in my early 20s, I saw nothing wrong with going down there with no badge or hotel room ready. I’d figure something out about the badge, and besides, the best part of the con was the room parties anyway. As for a hotel room, I figured that it was just a three-day con; staying up 72 hours wouldn’t be that big a deal, and I could sleep when I got home (you think those kinds of things at that age). So I bummed a ride down to LA (with the crazy bald Korean driving – an odyssey in terror is ever there was one) and walked in the door of the hotel with a grand total of $40 in my pocket for the weekend.

The badge issue got solved. Somebody from (I think) the Cal Animage branch at Chabot College hadn’t been able to make it, but the guys from the club had picked up his badge anyway, and since they were connections, I talked my way into it.

The hotel room issue was not resolved so neatly. The first night, I stayed at the Cal Animage Berkeley room party until it shut down at 7AM or so. They showed all kinds of animated shorts on (what in those days passed for) a big TV set – I remember seeing some Seishun Shitemasu fundubs, Bring Me The Head of Charlie Brown, and an obscure little thing called Spirit of Christmas. I grabbed a couple of hours’ sleep under a table, and woke up to find that someone had drawn Madoka Ayukawa on my forearm with a Sharpie.

That night was the masquerade, and it was magnificent. You couldn’t get a crowd to chant “Seig Zeion” with that enthusiasm today.

I don’t know whether this still occurs, but on Saturday night, Anime Expo used to feature an unofficial Pool Party at the hotel pool. Every anime in history has its inevitable fanservice beach episode, and girls would come to the Pool Party in costume as some character from a beach episode. There were fewer girls in fandom then, but they tended to be prettier and thicker-skinned when it came to getting rid of conslugs (as we called guys who came to cons to hit on girls back then – before somebody invented the concept of “stare rape”). I forget why I didn’t go, but I didn’t. Somewhere during the evening, however, I ran into a couple of the Beefbowl guys, who were laughing their asses off at something. I asked what happened.

“Peter Brown damn near started a riot at the Pool Party!”

Again, bafflement on my part.

It turned out that Peter Brown had shown up to the Pool Party dressed as female Ranma, in a red wig and one-piece swimsuit. It hadn’t gone well. A lot of people saw him and headed for the exits. Nothing quite ruins a Pool Party, the general consensus said, like a pudgy half-Asian male sporting a visible three-piece set under a tight red leotard.

I burst out laughing too. I said I was going to the pool to see it all for myself, but the guys told me that the party had broken up and he was gone.

“This isn’t fucking funny!”, Raymond insisted.

But it was.

Fast forward a year…

* * *

Anime Expo ’97 was different. Anime had started to go mainstream in earnest. The casual fans had started showing up. There were more people there, but fewer people you knew. There were more girls – a lot more. For the first time, you heard of lots of people who planned on meeting face-to-face with others who they’d become friends with on the internet – mostly on IRC or ICQ. That was part of my plan, too – I was going to meet Winnie for the first time. Not with any idea of romance – I had been able to even over the internet that she had some psychological issues that I didn’t want to deal with, and anyway she had a jealous harem of male admirers – but I was curious to meet her all the same. She and her harem were doing a group cosplay as the characters from Fushigi Yuugi, with Winnie herself as Miaka. There wasn’t a Yui – hives can only have one queen, after all.

I ran into Peter Brown in the registration line. He said he had something special planned for the masquerade this year. The general consensus was that this was not good news. The general consensus was that Peter Brown’s costumes were indeed beautifully-crafted and meticulously-made, and that they would be a wonder to behold if only he wasn’t wearing them personally. Perhaps he could create the costumes, and he could find a girl to wear them instead? A few people had suggested this to him, and a couple of girls had even volunteered, but Peter Brown was not interested.

That year, also for the first time, the number of attendees had grown such that not everybody who wanted to see the masquerade could fit into the ballroom where it was being held. Thus, big (again, for the time) TVs were placed in smaller ballrooms, and the masquerade was simulcast into them so that everybody could watch. Winnie and her harem had grabbed some front-row seats. I lay on the floor at their feet, right in front of the TV.

About halfway through the masquerade, Peter Brown took the stage, wearing a bright red business suit with a green shirt and a yellow tie. I was not a great Sailor Moon fan, but I had seen enough Sailor Moon: Sailor Stars to suddenly understand what the special thing that Peter Brown had in mind was. He started his skit, struck a pose… and waited. Something had gone wrong; someone had missed a cue for something. There was a long, awkward delay. Peter Brown, trying to keep things going, said in a diva-ish voice (barely audibly over the TV in the remote ballroom) “I cannot work like this!”. The wait, with him still holding his pose, seemed to go on forever, until finally the tape was played and the feed cut to Sailor Star Fighter’s transformation sequence from the anime.

“Oh God no!” someone shouted.

The feed cut back to Peter Brown. The suit was supposed to have been a velcro-secured, tearaway affair, covering the Sailor Starlight costume of black leather thigh-high boots, hot pants, and a bikini top, to be revealed when he tore it off. But it had malfunctioned, and as the feed cut back, he was still desperately trying to pull it off of his plump, rotund body. The crowd – both in the main ballroom and in the remote hall where I was, broke into jeers. I turned to one of Winnie’s hive, who was dressed as Chichiri, complete with the sort of round, conical hat associated with Chinese and Vietnamese peasants…

“Gimmee your hat!” I pleaded

“Why? What for?”

“Just gimmee your hat!”

He did. I speed-crawled up to the TV, and in one motion, clapped the hat onto the screen right over the image of Peter Brown’s mostly-uncovered body as it pranced around on stage – safely obscuring it, completely.

And the crowd cheered!

Fast forward a few hours…

* * *

Later that evening I was at a room party (I think it was run by someone who later was manga editor for Dark Horse – it’s a bit hard to remember). I arrived late, had a drink or two, and settled in. I wandered around, said hello to the host, and to Raymond, and to someone I knew from IRC and had already met once in person the year before.

I ended up half-drunk, and eventually ambled over to the room’s bed.

And there was Peter Brown. He was sitting on the bed in the room, half-drunk himself, normally dressed, and alone.

My head was spinning. I needed to sit down for a while. So I sat on the bed, and Peter Brown recognized me, and we started talking.

I forget the exact words of the conversation, and I wouldn’t try to repeat them here even if I did. But, as it got late, and the crowd thinned out, and we drank a bit more, the conversation turned personal, and I heard Peter Brown’s story in full.

Peter Brown’s father had met his mother while in Japan in the military. They married, moved to the U.S., had him, and divorced when he was very young. His mother had gone back to Japan and neither he nor his father had ever heard from her again, though they had heard thirdhand that she had remarried, and that Peter Brown had Japanese half-siblings who he had never met. His father had remarried as well, and he had ended up with new stepsiblings, and eventually half-siblings, from his new stepmother. She hadn’t liked him very much though, and neither had her children. His being the child of his father’s first wife was most of it, and the obvious racial difference between him and the rest of his new family hadn’t helped. There was a lot of emotional abuse, and sometimes the abuse from the other kids in the family crossed into the physical. Always the outcast, at 18 he was unsubtly requested to leave, and did. He worked where he could, and took classes at Laney where he could. That was his lot. And then there was the cosplay.

He didn’t directly say that his life was an unhappy one, and always had been. He didn’t have to. It was obvious from talking to him that the conventions and the cosplay were the only things that brought him any real joy or sense of accomplishment. The whole crowd had booed him that day, and I’d stuck Chichiri’s hat over him on the remote ballroom TV, and yet that moment on stage at the Anime Expo masquerade was still all that he had lived the previous year of his life for.

Of course he would never just make a costume and let somebody else wear it.

I felt for him, but said little. Perhaps just letting him talk was what was best, or perhaps I just couldn’t think of anything to say about it all.

The party wound down in the wee hours. Eventually everyone left, including us. The next day was the last of the convention, and I didn’t see Peter Brown again before we all went home.

Fast forward five years…

* * *

If you’re ever in Oakland Chinatown and you’re in the mood for some Dim Sum, Restaurant Peony is a good choice. It’s on the top floor of the Pacific Plaza, a block off of Broadway, and a few blocks from Laney College. On a clear, cool early afternoon in the fall of 2002, I was there for lunch with Raymond, his brother, and another of his friends.

A lot had changed in the previous few years. I had gone to Japan to teach English for a year, and then come back to the States. I’d fallen in love, been engaged, and had gotten my heart broken. I was working at a job that involved a lot of time on the road. Raymond had started to have some health issues, and didn’t get out all that much. But my being back in town for a while merited a lunch out.

We were both getting close to thirty. We both still liked anime, but it wasn’t – couldn’t be – an obsession or a lifestyle anymore.

Dim Sum is a leisurely experience, especially on a weekend. You sit, and talk, and eat a bit, and sit some more, and drink some tea, and let a couple of hours pass. If you’re with Asians, you can expect gadgets at the table; nobody thinks of it as rude. Between the many courses, Raymond’s brother sat smashing buttons on a GameBoy Advance. The rest of us talked. Someone (probably me, though I can’t be sure) brought up Peter Brown and asked what he was up to.

Raymond crinkled his nose. “He’s out at sea.”

Surely this was a joke?

No. It wasn’t. Raymond explained that you can make a lot of money fast by signing up as crew on a cargo ship; so much so that if you lived cheap, you only had to work half the year. Peter Brown did this, and with the other half, worked on his costumes and went to wear them at conventions.

“Besides, the ships go back and forth to Japan a lot, and while he’s there he can go anime shopping.”

I suppose he could. Or perhaps he could spend the time looking for someone…

The conversation moved to other things. We talked, and sat, and ate, and drank some tea, and Raymond’s brother plinked away at his GameBoy.

Fast forward ten years…

* * *

Raymond’s house is a beautiful one, or would be were it not a total mess – cluttered to every last inch with toys, models, figures, DVDs, and an ever-more forlorn looking collection of VHS tapes – all artifacts of an increasingly distant youth. And not just in his room, but everywhere. His mom lets him. I’d complain if it was my house, but it isn’t. And besides, he and I are of the same generation, and the toys of his youth were all familiar and comforting things to me, too.

And I myself have little right to complain of anyone else not wanting to grow up.

Still, a lot had changed in those ten years, too. I had ended up back in grad school and was putting the finishing touches on my thesis. Raymond’s health problems had gotten worse, and he’d gotten very close indeed to death before a new set of kidneys became available. The transplant had been a success however, and he’d only had to stay in the hospital a week afterward. Raymond still didn’t have a driver’s license at just short of forty, so I occasionally drove him down to Pill Hill in Oakland for his periodic post-transplant checkups. They were all fine.

It was a Saturday afternoon. Raymond had gotten back into building and launching model rockets, which were a part of his childhood, and mine as well. He’d gotten me back into it, too. And so we sat at his dining room table – gorgeous lacquered wood under the double tablecloths that sat under the gaming laptops and scattered piles of parts from rockets and Gundam models. I glued fins on an Estes Big Bertha. Raymond’s glue was drying, so he distractedly played some game on his computer, while an 80s mix played from the smartphone he’d laid on the table.

Somehow, the anime Queen’s Blade, noted for its unrealistically huge-busted female characters, came up.

“Let’s see Peter Brown cosplay that!” I joked.

Raymond looked away from his game for a second. “No chance of that. He’s dead.”

“Wait – that’s terrible! What happened?!”

“Killed himself. Got ahold of a pistol somewhere and shot himself in the head.”

“That’s awful…”

Awful… yes. Though I guess not all that unexpected.

“Yeah, well…” Raymond added, staring down at the table “…at least he checked out on his own terms.”

There was, not an intentional moment of silence, still silence for a moment nonetheless. Then something loud happened in the game on Raymond’s laptop, and he went back to it.

My rocket sat before me, needing fins. But I let it wait for just a bit, and I thought about Peter Brown.

No… not unexpected. Had the boos finally gotten to him? Was damn near twenty years worth of being a running joke in the only places he’d ever found any real happiness enough? Maybe it was the fact that we were all getting older. If people booed what he did when he was twenty-three, what would they say when he was forty years old? And what was there for him on the other side of forty, anyway? Certainly not a wife, children, family, accomplishment, respectability. He’d have none of the sweet things about growing older, and he couldn’t keep up what he had been doing much longer.

And so it seems he checked out.

Had there been a somberness in Raymond’s voice when he had told me? Respect for the dead, perhaps. Or maybe some reflection on the fact that he’d come close to “checking out” himself recently, and not on his own terms? He hadn’t crinkled his nose this time. But then again, if he really did dislike the guy so much, why did he always know what he was up to when I asked?

Or it could have been a realization that he and I had more to count as ours at forty than Peter Brown did, but not all that much.

Raymond’s mom came home. We made dinner. We ate. I glued my fins. He finished his game. The sun went down. I went home. Life went on.

* * *

So why am I telling this story? On a political blog, no less?

I suppose a liberal would say that Peter Brown hadn’t been tolerated enough. That he faced structural racism. That he was some manner of sexually baroque that should have been celebrated. That if we had all been more supportive, he wouldn’t have seen that gun as the only logical conclusion of his existence on this Earth.

Maybe.

I also suppose that traditionalists would say that Peter Brown had been robbed of something important by modernity. That he needed direction in his life; something more than the enjoyment of foreign cartoons as the thing that gave him meaning. Or that he had been tolerated too much – allowed to be a man-child too long in a society that is too permissive when it comes to such things.

Maybe.

Perhaps being on the wrong side of forty has made me reflective. Perhaps I’ve started to become an old man who tells pointless stories. Perhaps it’s just summer, and life is slow, and it’s the right time to spin a yarn about the old days.

Maybe it’s all of that. Or something else entirely.

They say that nobody really ever dies so long as people remember them. For this reason, Peter Brown’s name is the only one that I haven’t changed or concealed in this story.

I didn’t know Peter Brown all that well. Maybe nobody did.

But I do remember him.

In Which I Determine Whether Friendship Really Is Magic

I recently took a fair amount of criticism online – from both left and right – over a series of retweets I posted from BronyCon, a gathering of fans of the television show My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. I’m usually pretty inured to criticism (I get a lot of it in this gig, as you might expect) but this time, there was a certain ring of truth to it. After all, it really is rather unfair of me to offer an opinion on something I’ve never actually seen. Beyond this, I do understand the fact that, especially with “genre” shows, a property cannot always be fairly said to be represented by its fandom. As someone who is well-known as a longtime anime fan, I have seen myself that some anime fans can be a bit, well… excessive. And so it was in this spirit that I sat down to give My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic a fair shake by (in old-school anime fan tradition) watching the first four episodes of the show, with the movie My Little Pony: Equestria Girls thrown in for good measure. Below are my scattered impressions of each episode, written down in my notebook as they occurred to me.

Episode 01 – Friendship is Magic, Part 1:

  • This show seems more monarchistic than I might have expected. Two sisters ruling a kingdom?
  • The “Elements of Harmony” – this speaks to the feminine value placed on group consensus. What does it say that this was used to shun a misbehaver?
  • “Spike”? There’s a male character on this show?
  • So the main character is a bookworm. Explains a lot.
  • So the male character is physically tiny, and a servant. Typical.
  • So there is a princess! This demonstrates the truth that women, deep down, do totally grok hierarchical monarchy.
  • Spike – the little male dragon servant has the most masculine name ever – definitely a metaphor for the subjugation of masculinity.
  • The ponies who drag the chariots are “sirs” – again, subjugated male servants.
  • Twilight Sparkle is a “geekgirl” – quite telling. The people who created this show know their audience.
  • So this show is basically a monarchistic, hierarchical matriarchy. It is weirdly simultaneously reactionary and progressive. This brings up a question: Do women not object to hierarchy, as long as it’s *they* who rule it?
  • “There are only two kinds of women: Feminists and masochists” say feminists. In that vein, male MLP:FIM fans are surely masochists.
  • Fluttershy – the Tomoko Kuroki of Equestria.
  • There’s a definite femdom aspect to this.
  • I’d smack Pinky Pie.
  • Soooooo much matriarchy.
  • Nightmare Moon is definitely a villain of the animesque “Ufufufufufufu…” variety.

Season 01 Episode 02 – Friendship is Magic Part II:

  • UFUFUFUFUFUFU…
  • Predictably, the male is useless.
  • This show is rather Sailor Moonish. Expected from two shows based on feminine values.
  • So the females encounter a roaring lion, and engage in the fantasy of “fixing” a dangerous male.
  • Ever heard of a “testosterone-soaked” action movie? This is estrogen-soaked.
  • SOMEBODY FUCKING SMACK PINKY PIE!!!
  • Ah, the dragon who is the middle class white woman’s illusion of what gay males are like.
  • Shadowcolts! They’re, uhm… dressed like they came from a gay S&M club.
  • YMCA… Shadowcolts come from the… YMCA…
  • If you believe in yourself, anything can happen!… and other things that nobody over 30 believes anymore.
  • “Now, young Jedi, you will feel the pow-wah…”
  • Yes, yes… they each have a crystal that makes up the Ginzuishou… I’ve seen this before.
  • Yay! And everybody gets jewelry!
  • It’s like the end of the Sailor Moon R movie… but not as good, and twenty years later.
  • And they bow to their Princess. Very hierarchical. Very monarchstic.
  • The queen as healer (which is how all women see themselves). See? Females really do grok monarchy!
  • …as long as males have no effective power, that is.

Season 01 Ep. 03 – The Ticket Master:

  • Whatever this is, it could’t be worse than the actual TicketMaster!
  • And here we see that the male incessantly needs correction by the females.
  • Ah, an excuse to dress up. Females love that.
  • Applejack: My Capitalist Pony
  • Speaking of which, do any of these ponies besides Applejack have, you know, a job?
  • Females jockeying for social position. I am amused.
  • SOMEBODY GVE PINKY PIE RITALIN!!!
  • So Rarity dreams of meeting a man at a high society ball… in other words, to mate with a high status male.
  • Women in social competition sure do get vicious.
  • How does all this speak to the degree of manipulativeness among women?
  • This episode would be impossible among males. There is too much status-seeking and social jockeying in it.

Season 01 Ep. 04 – Applebuck Season:

  • So Applejack has a brother. Again, I’m actually surprised that this show has any male characters at all.
  • The female predictably lets a male suggesting that she can’t do something goad her into foolishly taking on what she can’t handle. Never forget that, ye who seek to use Game.
  • Yet more unrealistic grrl power fantasies.
  • And magic makes up for lack of opposable thumbs.
  • Ah, the fear of social embarrassment. To the female mindset, there is nothing worse.
  • Women really can be easily goaded into doing the stupidest shit.
  • Pridefulness is the heart of feminism. And that’s not a good thing.
  • Complimentarianism is simple, obvious sense. Which means that like all obvious sense these days, it is deeply controversial.
  • Surrender to womanly pride, and you get a bunny stampede. Truly a valuable lesson learned.
  • Sure, I know – but the actual consequences of giving into feminism are no less bizarre, and far more disastrous.
  • And the females discover the male ethic of helping with hard work… after getting dragged into it.

BONUS! My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic the Movie: Equestria Girls:

  • So Twilight Sparkle is a Princess now? How did that happen? Silly question – she’s an author avatar (and audience avatar), and all girls, no matter what egalitarian nonsense they may spout on Tumblr, dream of being princesses.
  • And again, in this show, males are servants, window dressing, or irrelevant.
  • And also, not particularly competent.
  • Who is this new pony? She is evil! In this show’s normal “Ufufufufufu” way, of course.
  • So monarchistic! I mean… in an utterly matriarchal way.
  • This show isn’t really leftist so much as oddly reactionary politically, yet sexist towards males.
  • And now she’s a real girl!
  • Just about all the girls here wear skirts? Oddly traditionalist!
  • Oh! Look! The show just turned into Mean Girls! Again, we see social hierarchy, and the fear of ostracization from the ingroup as the sum of all fears.
  • And the males retreat before the powerful female.
  • And Twilight Sparkle faces her most dangerous challenge yet! High school cafeteria food!
  • Yup – social stratification/separation into thedes rules here as well! See? Females really do understand the basics of reactionary thought.
  • Again, in this show, males are useless and stupid, fit only to be simple servants.
  • Ah, female signaling and status-jockeying.
  • Bookishness to the rescue! The awkward teenage girl’s fantasy.
  • The fantasy of female dominance over males is a serious theme here.
  • As is status and social shaming – to be honest, I’m not quite sure that females quite exactly understand not responding to social shaming.
  • And in this feminized society, a lot of males don’t either.
  • Boyfriends are commodities here… as are all males.
  • Another song. A time-waster?
  • There’s really no hint of “gay rights” in this show. Males – gay or straight – are too inconsequential here to bother spending time thinking about.
  • Wow! A male briefly did something mildly important. But only to support a female and become a fantasy boyfriend, of course.
  • Dare I hold the brief hope that they’re going to lez out?
  • More of the female virtues of consensus and cooperation.
  • The dress-up montage! The female equivalent of the 80s action movie training montage!
  • Uh oh! She’s got the HHH sledgehammer!
  • GIRLFIGHT!!!
  • Predictable climax! Yay!
  • Heavy hangs the head that wears the crown!
  • “A true princess in any world leads not by forcing others to bow before her, but by inspiring others to stand with her.” Wow… so the principal/queen declares that there’s no power without noblesse oblige! Very reactionary!
  • “You know what Spike? I am a little more comfortable wearing it!” I’ll just bet you are!

Wrapup/Overall thoughts:

This show is far less doinky, and also far less egalitarian than I thought it would be. That said, it is positively estrogen-soaked… deeply imbued with female thinking. As such, I can understand why females like it, but any male who willingly watches this (fathers of young girls excepted) can only be considered masochistic. In short, it isn’t terrible in itself; but Sailor Moon did largely the same things, 20 years ago, and with more sympathy for males. Which may be explained by the fact that Japanese males and females are far less at war with each other than in the West, and especially in America.

If anything, MLP suffers from insufficient respect for the proper balance of male and female essence.

Grade: Not as bad as I feared, but I don’t understand why it has male fans or why it seems to have sparked a movement, and I wouldn’t bother watching it again.

(P.S. The tradition of giving a show four episodes as a basis for determining whether you wanted to watch any more goes back to the days when anime fansubs came on VHS tapes and were very difficult and time-consuming to lay one’s hands on. Recorded at SP, which was the highest quality, a standard VHS tape gave you two hours of recording time, which worked out to four episodes of a show each. So you’d get your hands on the first tape, watch it, and then decide whether you wanted to go through the often-considerable bother of trying to lay your hands on any more of it. Kids these days with their crazy BitTorrent… they don’t know how good they’ve got it!)

Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out

Let’s face it – being on the right is tough these days. The left has completed its long march through the institutions – media, academia, technology, government bureaucracy – and stands dominant in all of them. Through these, they have come to utterly dominate not only much of public policy and the mainstream news media, but also to act as arbiters of the mainstream culture as well. As Mencius Moldbug noted, in the Modern state, culture is downstream from politics, and public morals are set by whoever’s army is guarding the television station. Through their machinery of cultural control, the establishment left (which is by no means antiwar or against police statism on principle) has manufactured consent on all manner of issues. Not only that, they’ve created and sustained a culture of leftism – the propagation, whether explicitly presented as such or not, of leftist memes, not the least important of which is leftism as hip and intellectual.

This leftist culture has become the absolutely dominant mainstream culture in not just the United States, but all of the West. And there’s no hope of changing it anytime soon – not with the mainstream academic and media cartels enjoying the legal protections (not to mention the favor of much of the political system) that they do. And where does that leave the right? It leaves it in a position that’s…

…well, that’s a hell of a lot of fun, actually. Because we are the counterculture now. For the left, in all of its dominance of establishment culture, has now run into what I call Bakunin’s Corollary to Flair’s Law.

Flair’s Law states: To be The Man, you’ve got to beat The Man.

Bakunin’s Corollary states: Once you do beat The Man, then you become The Man, whether you said you were going to or not.

And as it stands now, the left most definitely is The Man. Not only that, but they act the part, down to the smallest detail. A more moralizing, censorious, hectoring, endlessly instructive bunch of tut-tutting know-it-all pearl-clutchers you could not find anywhere. The left, long ago, when they were out of power, once understood the sheer joy of sticking a thumb in the eye of people like that. They understood both the necessity and the power of creating a counterculture. Now it is time for the right, and especially the alternative right – all manner of traditionalists, reactionaries, right-libertarians, separatists, monarchists, and elitists – to drop out of the establishment mass popular culture and work on creating a counterculture of our own. Not just because it is necessary in order to maintain and pass on our values in the face of the ceaseless onslaught of that leftist popular culture (Note that there is increasingly nothing – nothing – in popular culture that is permitted to be happily apolitical; to not incessantly parrot the left’s memes. Not television, not comedy, not music, not video games, not football or basketball, not web browsers or search engines, not even chicken sandwiches or hamburgers), but because it’s just plain fun.

You are the counterculture now. You get to flip the bird to The Man, to be anti-establishment, to get off the grid of pop-culture garbage and live the way you see fit. Those of the alternative right are not just in the positions of being the Marxes and Nietzsches and Gramscis opposed to bourgeois mass-culture morality, but we also get to be Kerouac in San Francisco, to be Wyatt and Billy on the open highway, to be Ken Kesey on his Magic Bus, to be Lenny Bruce making people faint from the stage.

Nearly everything necessary for this is already in place. In many ways, the alternative right community reminds me of my father’s descriptions of Greenwich Village circa 1964. It is filled with all manner of eccentrics and thinkers and radicals and rebels and misfits. Some speak deep truths, some seem half-crazy; some are charismatic and charming, others seem scary and dangerous. Sometimes it is the scary, dangerous, and half-crazy among them who speak the most deep truth. All throughout, there is a feeling of throwing off what the establishment gives us, of finding a better way. There is also a feeling that something big is inevitable, and coming sooner rather than later.

How exciting!

I’ve long said that the path to being a reactionary starts with conceding some points to the left. So let us start now, by admitting that many of the criticisms of the establishment and its machinery of cultural control that the left made when they were out of power (and now seem to have forgotten) were true. Their criticisms of the educational system, of how news is reported, of corporatism and consumerism, of the 9 to 5 rat race, of suburbia and its cultural and spiritual sterility, of the entertainment industry in general, and most particularly of television, were all absolutely correct. These aren’t the arguments of leftists, per se, but the arguments of those who are anti-establishment. By no means should they be rejected simply because they were once, long ago, voiced by the left. Remember that the left is demonic, and thus, like any demon, it will tell you whatever it thinks it needs to tell you in order to get you to do what it wants you to do. If that means lying to you, then it will lie; if that means telling you the truth, then it will tell you the truth; if that means mixing truths and lies, then it will mix truths and lies. If anything, the fact that the left said these things once, but threw them aside once they gained power, should indicate to you that there was some real truth in them. Beyond this, once one casts aside the foolish notion that an argument cannot possibly contain any truth just because one’s enemies once used it, the faculties of reason of any traditionalist or reactionary should make the truth of these ideas easy to discern.

So, then, the task before us is twofold: First, to reject the establishment mass culture. Second, to build a full and unique traditionalist/reactionary counterculture.

Sound familiar? It is, essentially, “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out”. A great figure of the left-counterculture made this saying famous, and it is a sentiment well worth revisiting for those who wish to create a right-counterculture.

Naming what exactly should be dropped out of is the relatively easy part, but still it bears saying.

First, as the leftists used to say, “Kill Your Television”. I am not one who generally thinks that machines are inherently evil. Television is an exception. It is no more and no less than a hypnotic mind control device. Don’t believe me? Sit a hyperactive toddler in front of a television and watch what happens. They freeze, turn away from everything they were doing, and stare at the screen. Gavin McInnes once noted that the “on” switch of his television was an “off” switch for his kids, and so it is. Do you think this device does not place ideas in the minds of those who fall into a trance in its presence? And what ideas do you think the Hollywood/New York axis wishes to place there? I recall reading one account of a father who, tired of his two under-10 daughters’ bratty attitudes, limited their television viewing to a DVD box set of Little House on The Prairie. The change in his daughters’ behavior was dramatic – within a couple of weeks, they were referring to him and his wife as “Ma” and “Pa”, and offering to help with chores. The lesson is obvious: people (and especially children) learn their social norms from television, far more even than from the people around them.

Ideally, one would cut oneself off from it totally. Many find this rather difficult (I must admit, me included – as my reviews of Fargo, Game of Thrones, and Legend of Korra demonstrate). Some keep a television set, but make sure it is disconnected from broadcast channels and use it only as a monitor for a carefully-selected library of DVDs. Others (myself included) don’t own a set, but download a few select programs from torrent sites and watch on laptops or tablets. My total viewership of television programs tops out at perhaps 3-4 hours per week during particularly good seasons. Any traditionalist should strive to do the same. In fact, traditionalists should reject – should “drop out” of – all popular culture (especially that produced after, say, 1966) to the greatest degree possible, and make sure their children are exposed to it as little as possible. Music, video games, even the web – either drop out of it completely, or, at very least, carefully limit the time and scope of it in your life and the lives of your children.

While we’re on the subject of children: DO NOT send your children to a public school. “Drop out” here too; by which I do not mean that your children should go uneducated, but that you should – you must – homeschool. To do otherwise is pure child abuse. Perhaps fifty years ago, this was not the case, but these times are not those times. The failures of the public schools need not be repeated here, but they are undeniable, and any reasonably smart ten-year-old whose attention span hasn’t been destroyed by television can learn more by being left alone all day with a stack of books than they can in any public school classroom anyway. As for the universities, there are not quite any suitable replacements for them yet, but some lurk just over the horizon and will appear before long.

To say that one should “drop out” of – not bother listening to and not ever trusting – the mainstream news media goes without saying.

One more thing to drop out of is the hamster wheel of consumerism and “career”. By this I do not mean to suggest that one should go on the public dole. Rather, be mindful of the old saw “Work to live; don’t live to work”. Defining oneself by one’s job is a soulless Whig horror, and yet everywhere in this Modernist world, “career” is thought to be everything. This should be rejected. Do something you don’t hate, and work only as much as you need to in order to get by. How much is that? This will shock many, but I assure you that, if you are single and don’t live in the urban core of a megacity, you can get along fine on $1000 per month. How? By living with what you actually need. Here I don’t necessarily suggest going as far as the Minimalist movement, though I believe them to be largely on the right track. Rent a room in a house instead of having a whole apartment to yourself. Drive a good-condition used car. Buy and keep only the clothes you’ll actually wear. Buy quality and make it last. This is getting possible even in electronics, now that desktop/laptop computers have passed the “good enough” threshold, with tablets and smartphones not far behind. Speaking of which, the only electronics you really need are a laptop and a smartphone, and even the need for the former is becoming questionable for many. As for the latter, they are getting cheap, and a decent service plan can be had for $50 a month. You can work less, and make less, and live with less, and devote more time to the pursuits that mean something to you.

Drop out of fast food. Abandon all junk food to the extent that you can. Leave that poison to clog the arteries of the lumpenproles. Eat like a human being, even if it takes longer and requires more effort. For your physical health, yes. But it’ll work wonders for your sense of self, as well.

Perhaps most importantly, drop out of the need to conform to the prevailing establishment culture; which includes dropping out of the need for its approval. When a culture is decent and virtuous, conforming to its norms is a good thing. When it is not, conforming to its norms is moral and spiritual suicide. Such is the case now. The prevailing establishment culture is a horror. Rebelling against it is a necessity. But more, it is fun. Revel in it. Go on – raise your middle finger to The Man. It feels great!

Which brings us to our next point: If there is to be a right-counterculture, what shall it look like?

This is a difficult question, and I do not pretend to have anything approximating a full answer to it. But I can start by confidently stating a couple of things that it shouldn’t be.

The first thing it shouldn’t be is an imitation of the leftist counterculture of the beatniks, the hippies, and the hipsters. Every time something rightist/traditionalist/reactionary tries to copy an artifact of leftist culture, it turns into a risible failure. Anyone who doesn’t believe that can try listening to some “Christian rock” – for as long as you can stand it, that is. Or try watching some episodes of The Half-Hour News Hour – the short-lived attempt to create a right-wing version of The Daily Show. No, a culture (or counterculture) that suits one faith, philosophy, or worldview will seem bizarre or out of place when adopted by another. For a right-counterculture to look like Woodstock, differing only in that copies of Evola’s works are substituted for those of Alinsky, would be ridiculous. And more, it would be falling into the trap that so consistently ensnares mainstream conservatives: allowing the left to define us. Ironically, the challenge for “reactionaries” is to stop reacting to the left – including by trying to copy them or produce “our own” versions of what they have done – and to start building that which is truly and uniquely ours. Our own ideas, our own art, our own (counter)culture.

The other thing it should’t be is an attempt to restore the pre-hippie “conservative” culture of 1950s America. I once heard Glenn Beck say that the world he wanted was “the 50s, but with civil rights”, and I daresay this captures the sentiments of most of mainstream conservatism. But (beyond the simple fact that Glenn Beck wanting it is a bad sign), there are a couple of fundamental things wrong with this vision. The first is that that world was neither truly traditional, nor did it have any real strength to it. It has been said that the hippies were pushing on an open door, and that was quite correct – the ease with which it crumbled when a few teenagers blew marijuana smoke in its face shows its essential weakness. It was a point along a path, and it is not possible that we shall tread that way again. And what made it unsustainable is that it, too, was an artifact of the Whig worldview. This worldview/philosophy, like all of them, has a logical endpoint; a destination that it cannot be halted from moving ever-closer toward (This is the true meaning of William F. Buckley’s remark that conservatives stand athwart history yelling “Stop!”, and of Spengler’s remark that time does not suffer itself to be halted). We cannot say that we didn’t like how the story ended, so we shall rewind the tape to a certain point in the tale that we did like, hit Play, and hope that it ends differently this time. That just won’t work. The honest truth is that the much-mythologized pre-hippie America was pure Whig/commercialist, and had much that was ugly about it, including the very lack of soul and a strong moral center that led to its easy demise. There was little to stir the soul in it.

No, we need something different. Something old-yet-new; something that both reaches farther back, and forward past the collapse of the current system.

What shall it be? Well, I don’t know, really. Most likely, it has to develop organically, and will do so – if at all – in a way that cannot really be predicted. That said, I have a few humble suggestions for starting points.

My recent visit to Maker Faire has convinced me that adopting/co-opting the Maker/DIY movement as our own would be a good place to start. Even if it’s not directed towards anything critical for survival, the very process of learning craftsmanship, inventiveness, patience and persistence – no matter what it actually produces at the moment – is something that will serve one well, especially in lean times. Learn to make something useful, or to fix something broken. This is not just as a means to further self-sufficiency, but as a replacement for television and other bourgeois/proletarian forms of establishment mass entertainment as well. If you have children, build something with them – a go-cart or a treehouse or a Raspberry Pi-powered omelette-flipping robot. Teach them, or learn together – but don’t stare separately at electronic screens.

Again, something akin to the Minimalist movement (though not necessarily as stringent) would be a good thing, especially if one does it alongside cutting mainstream establishment pop culture out of one’s life. What, for example, do you need a TV set for if you don’t watch television? Have less stuff, and make more of what you do have with your own hands.

In music, some strains of punk and heavy metal have a traditionalist/reactionary element to them, and if that is to your taste, then by all means listen to, or perform, that. A renewed interest in classical music can’t be viewed as a bad thing either. But perhaps even more promising, to me at least, is traditionalist folk along the lines of the Quebecois group Mes Aieux. Get to know and appreciate the musical styles of your ancestors, and perhaps even learn to play them or to compose in those styles yourself.

In clothing, men should reject the infantilizing manchild look that James Howard Kunstler has so bitingly condemned. Traditionalist women must rediscover feminine dress – skirts and dresses instead of trousers – as part of rediscovering the feminine in themselves. This is, in fact, far more important than anything connected to male modes of dress. How men dress is not a political statement – how women dress is. the left, as part of their motte and bailey doctrine, may deny that it is important, but one can easily watch them go into hysterics when one suggests that this “progress” should be undone. Rejecting masculine modes of dress rejects not just feminism, but the entire Whig paradigm of all people as “equal”, interchangeable cogs in the machinery of industrialized Modernity. It says that the uniquely feminine within you has an irreplaceable value; a value that you place above other concerns. To be truly feminine is to live life as art. Nothing could be more bold, or could challenge the Modernist world more stridently.

But the single most important task is to develop a unique traditionalist/reactionary aesthetic in everything. There is no aesthetic to mainstream conservatism beyond the aesthetics of a Wal-Mart. Traditionalists and reactionaries must break with this, and make it clear that they value the beautiful simply for its intrinsic goodness, apart from any “practical” concerns. We should – must – develop an aesthetic style that reflects our vision of truth and beauty. Like the intellectual ideas of the movement, it should be simultaneously old and new. It should evoke the best concepts of the past, without simply rehashing exhausted ideas. And it must be uniquely, recognizably ours.

Among other things, what all of this demonstrates is that the traditionalist/reactionary movement already has enough intellectuals; what it needs now are artists and poets. This should by no means be taken as an insult to the intellectuals we already have – just the opposite, they do such fine work that there is barely any need for more of them. But as for people who can produce the art, the music, the poems, the novels, the architecture, and the aesthetics that are needed by the movement in order to develop its unique (counter)culture, they are still sorely needed. The idea that the right cannot produce any such people is ridiculous leftist slander – the likes of Ezra Pound, G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, Samuel Johnson, H. L. Mencken, and Christopher Nolan are testament to that. Mainstream conservatism perhaps cannot produce them, but a soulful traditionalism can. And so I put forth a call to such people to make themselves known, and to lend their strengths to building something great.

For those who are not artists or poets, I say again: Recognize that you are the counterculture now. Live it, revel in it – throw off The Man and his constricting, bourgeois mass culture. Stick your finger in his eye, tell the truth, and live the way that you know is best. The left may have utterly conquered that mass culture and turned it into their most powerful weapon, but that means that they can no longer, no matter how they try to present themselves as such, be the one thing that we now can be: the authentic outsider, the dancer to a different drum, the rebel who rejects the whole damn thing and lives as he sees fit.

There could be nothing more enthralling; nothing more fun! And now – right now – is the time.

Review: Avatar, The Legend Of Korra, S03 E01-02

The third season of Avatar: Legend of Korra has just started, and seeing how it is, as I have already noted, the most traditionalist/reactionary thing on television, some thoughts about the new season seems to be order. Having seen the first two episodes of Season Three, this are the impressions I have so far:

The first season seemed to have a strong political message of an anti-communist, anti-egalitarian bent.

The second season seemed to be all about family – what it means, why it’s important, and what constitutes one.

So far, the third season seems to be about leadership, and the burdens it places on those who have it fall upon them.

Korra made some momentous decisions at the end of Season Two, and by the beginning of the third season, these have had some serious consequences – some positive, some negative, and almost all completely unforeseen. This is the great bane of wise leaders – they understand that no matter how wise they may be, there are always consequences to decisions that cannot be accurately predicted. This is what makes good leaders cautious, and caution is perhaps the most important lesson that Korra has yet to learn. She is passionate and has a strong sense of justice, but is impetuous, undiplomatic, impatient, quick to (admittedly usually justified) anger, and often acts without thoroughly thinking things through. Something tells me that this season will give her occasion to learn to temper those qualities.

She also made a decision to exercise mercy with the young airbender Kai, and to give him a chance to become something better than he is. Will this turn out to have been a good decision or a bad one? There is simply no way to tell right now. All that a leader can do is to do what they think is right and to be ready to accept and deal with the consequences. Wisdom comes with time, and makes the decisions easier (which is of course why Tenzin is with her), but even wisdom is never perfect. Even the wisest leaders will make mistakes, and then must do their best to fix them and move on, both having learned a lesson and without having succumbed to “impostor syndrome” or lost the confidence necessary to lead. There is a reason why Shakespeare’s Henry IV noted that “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown”, and Korra is beginning to learn what it is.

In addition, Korra has much to learn about being a leader of people. The refusal of almost all of the new airbenders to leave for training at the airbending temple was a major failure for her. She most certainly learned that she could’t compel people to follow her by simply dragging them out the door behind her. She has yet to learn how to effectively persuade and inspire people, so that they will follow her willingly, and as good-hearted as she is, this will be a challenge for her.

It is worth noting too that the democratic politicians in Legend of Korra continue to fare badly in their portrayals. The President in Republic city is a buffoon; he shows no loyalty to the Avatar, nor seems to much care about what may be objectively right. He instead is endlessly concerned about appealing to a sensationalist press corps (who come off looking just as bad as he does) and to a capricious citizenry represented by ever-changing poll numbers. He even causes Korra to momentarily allow herself to care about her own poll numbers, despite the fact that poll numbers mean nothing to the divinely-chosen Avatar. He is an incompetent, short-sighted demagogue who makes awful decisions, and it is no coincidence that he is the face of democracy in this show.

I keep fearing and dreading that someone at Nickelodeon will figure out the subversive traditionalist nature of this show and start demanding changes to conform to the establishment egalitarian party line – perhaps force them to insert a supremely wise homosexual character or have Korra give a speech extolling democracy – and that still may happen, but so far this show hasn’t broken my traditionalist heart nor let me down a bit. The themes of all of its seasons – anti-egalitarianism, family, leadership – are ones that have deep resonance with the traditionalist heart. It continues to be the best, and most subversive, thing on television.

On Elitism

Surveying the reactionary scene as it is today, it seems as though something that it needs to work on developing is a proper sense of elitism. This may seem a bit unnecessary, even ironic – are not reactionaries (who are mostly, if not all, monarchists and/or feudalists) elitists by definition? To some degree, yes. But perhaps this is a point at which a fuller exploration of what elitism is, what its implications are, and how it would look in a well-run society, is worth some effort.

What, then, is elitism? Elitism begins with the acceptance of a deeply anti-egalitarian, yet deeply true fact: A very few people are smart, strong, sensitive, and innately wise enough to transcend the mentality of the group around them and to find their way independently to a belief set based on truth, virtue, order, and sustainability. Most people cannot reach this on their own; most people do not have a fixed point of either truth or morality, and set theirs more or less where they are set by the group they belong to. This is why there are “blue states” and “red states”; why there are “Christian countries” and “Muslim countries”; why gay “marriage” went from ridiculous to essential as soon as the gatekeepers of the prevailing mass culture decided it should – because most people accept as truth whatever is presented to them as “good” or “normal” by their group. What this amounts to is the fact that the vast majority of people need to be taught and led. This does not make them either particularly stupid or particularly amoral – it simply makes them normal. And if they are taught properly and led properly, then the society in which they live will be decent and functional. If, however, they are taught badly and led badly, then the society in which they live will be indecent and dysfunctional.

So then, a decent and functional society needs teachers and leaders. And who shall they be? This is where elitism becomes both the simplest thing in the world, and the most difficult. For elitism is the granting of responsibility to those who have proven themselves responsible, potentially dangerous knowledge to those who have proven that they can handle it, and power to those who have proven that they can wisely wield it. And it is the denial of those things to those who have not proven that they can do so.

How this grates upon the Modern soul! After all, equality demands that all people be given a chance at attaining positions of responsibility; knowledge is for everyone and denial of it to anyone is Dark Age repression; power is to be shared (is this not the very basis of democracy?). At very most, the Modernist will grudgingly agree that some kinds of responsibility and power should be apportioned based on the “brains and hard work” technocratic meritocracy of the Whig capitalist (a corporation cannot, after all, have a thousand CEOs), but only after we ensure free access to all knowledge, and unrestricted “equality of opportunity”. This is the dogma of egalitarianism; it has been drilled into every child of Modernity (and, no matter how much we may rebel against it, all reactionaries are native-born sons of the Modern world) practically from birth, and breaking free of it – of all of it – is a difficult task indeed. On some levels, it may be a bridge too far even for the most strident of reactionaries. Have we not, after all, found our way to where we are because we encountered some knowledge that persuaded us, and which was available freely? Have we not accepted the responsibility to teach, to pass along what we have learned, and to form communities (online or in person) based on our philosophy? Do we not strive for the power – either placed on us personally, or on someone we trust – to remake the world based on what we know to be true? And have we not done all of this without asking anyone’s permission?

Indeed we have. And yet there is a trap waiting at the end of this line of thought. It is the error that Anton LaVey referred to as the “Sin of Solipsism”, which, to paraphrase, means the assumption on the part of smart, strong, sensitive, and innately wise people they are themselves a proper baseline by which to judge the the rest of humanity. It means, in short, an assumption that everyone else is pretty much like you, that what they would do in a certain situation is pretty much what you would do in it, and that the set of rules that might wisely be applied to you could just as wisely be applied to everyone.

To indulge in this is egalitarian madness. It is what has simultaneously resulted in the crucial roles of teachers and leaders ending up (especially in institutions like academia and the mainstream media) in the hands of those who intentionally sow the seeds of immorality and instability in the name of the fanatical egalitarian utopian cult of leftism, and also in what Fred Reed referred to as the “you ain’t no gooder than me” lowest-common-denominator flattening of the common culture. It is essential that reactionaries must not retain a residual Enlightenment egalitarianism that would allow them to think that a worthwhile society can be established if we just have a king and some lords, but that everyone underneath them should have exactly equal privileges. No! Again, responsibility to the responsible; potentially dangerous knowledge to those who can handle it; power to those who can wisely wield it! And not to others!

The elitist must, in fact, realize that in many important ways, he is better than others. Not in all ways, of course – for we are all fallen sinners – but in many key areas which amount to both a blessing and a call to bear a burden of responsibility. It is this latter idea that represents what was once known as noblesse oblige – and it is this that is one of the most crucial points that separates the reactionary elitist from both the tyrant and the capitalist, who, each for their own reasons, do not practice it.

And here a very important point comes to the fore: Elitism is not a call to abuse the average man. Just the opposite – it is a call to do service for them by teaching and leading them. It is also not an excuse to abrogate their basic rights – these should of course be protected under any decent system of common law. It is, however, the justification for a decent society to maintain virtue and order by keeping certain things off limits to those who do not have the innate ability, nor have the education or training, to handle them wisely. Conversely, it is the justification for a decent society to allow for a greater freedom of inquiry and study to those who have proven that they can handle them wisely.

Thus do we say: Of course some knowledge is too dangerous to be widely shared with those who have neither the wisdom nor the rigorous spiritual and philosophical training to be able to fully understand all its subtleties, appreciate its dangers, and apply it (if at all) non-destructively. In a decent and functional society, therefore, of course there should be locked and guarded rooms in the archives of great libraries into which only trusted clergy and scholars should be allowed. Yes, some monsters really are too dangerous to be let out of the basement, and some ideas too dangerous to be left to spread. The one hundred million or so people who died in the previous century during various attempts to make Karl Marx’s batty ideas work in the real world would attest to this, if they could.

In the Medieval and Renaissance eras, this confinement of certain knowledge to the presumed elites was done mostly in an indirect way – much of what was then considered potentially dangerous knowledge consisted of texts written in Greek or Latin, and these remained untranslated into local languages. The sons of families above a certain social status were expected to learn these ancient languages, and thus to be able to read these texts in their original forms. Certainly, there were sometimes abuses of this system, especially when it came to religious matters. And equally certainly, this system could not now be replicated. But it did provide for a great deal of stability and social order for a very long time, and there are lessons to be drawn from that.

So now we are still left with these important questions: Who shall the elites be? How shall they act?

The first thing that must be understood is that the elites of a decent and functional society should not be the same sort of elites that a Whiggish capitalist society would select. These latter base their selection of leaders and teachers on the “brains and hard work” paradigm. This can provide a technocratic society with a capable, amoral managerial class. It cannot alone provide a decent, functional, and (also rather importantly) sustainable society with teachers and leaders. No, this sort of society needs something more from its leaders: it needs proven virtue. Instilling this in leaders and teachers was, it is easy to forget, the primary mission of the universities until very recently. Back before universities were “democratized” into becoming glorified trade schools, their missions were, in order of importance, first to produce a virtuous and enlightened Christian leadership class, second to produce refined and cultured gentlemen, and third (and last) to produce men trained in fields that required advanced education. It was a system that worked well, and to say that it has been completely lost today is a grave understatement. A decent, functional, and sustainable society would be well advised to rebuild this system.

But whether taught in universities or self-taught (as natural elites often will be), the requirement for proven virtue in teachers and leaders is essential. Would this mean that we might miss out on some leadership provided by the bright, ambitious, and amoral (i.e., precisely the sort of people who built and maintain this Whig capitalist society)? Perhaps. We’ll get by without them. We may not be quite as rich or have quite as many impressive machines around us, but that will be more than made up for by things being better in other ways.

This is crucial, because the placement of virtue above all other considerations is the single most important distinction that separates traditionalist and reactionary elitism from Whig and capitalist elitism. This must never, ever be forgotten.

As to how the natural elite shall act, it should be expected that their high IQ and their exposure to knowledge that is not widely shared (in a decent society some knowledge would be kept under lock and key; in the present society there is much knowledge that is technically available but left forgotten by the masses in amongst all the football, internet porn, cable television, and centrifugal bumble-puppy) will make many of them eccentric, and this is neither to be feared nor discouraged so long as it never crosses the line into either open immorality or disparagement of faith and morals. If it does, then they should be shunned and purged by whatever means are available. But, and this is crucial, they should not be shunned or purged until they do so – neither inquiry into troubling areas of knowledge nor personal eccentricity should be taken as justification to do so. Again, those who form a natural elite should be permitted, even expected, to live by a slightly different (but in its own way no less stringent) set of rules than the average man.

This applies even when the “man” in question is a woman. The contributions of great women should not be ignored, and elite women who make themselves known should not be discouraged. It does a decent society no good to have its Hroswithas, its Jane Austens, and its Marie Curies rendered unable to lend their talents to the world. They too should be allowed extra leeway in inquiry, and allowed a certain eccentricity. However, in addition to the above constraints, it should by no means be accepted that they shall openly undermine femininity or motherhood. Women and girls need to be taught and led properly as well, and this is especially crucial because good women are the backbone of any decent society. Femininity is the foundation of good womanhood, and being a mother is the highest and most necessary of callings. The disruption of these in the name of the Whig virtues of wealth and “progress” has been disastrous, and must not be encouraged by any who hope to establish or maintain a decent society.

So now comes the question that I’m sure is on the mind of all: How does one join the elite? A decent society would have methods and institutions in place for identifying natural elites and ensuring for their proper education and advancement (as well as for their purging, should they turn to immorality or heresy). But we live in a Modernist society, and Modernity only has systems in place that select for the traits needed in technocratic Whig elites. What if one’s talents do not tend towards buying and selling, or towards building machines, or towards flattering either the rich or the masses?

The bad news is that there’s presently no one to select or elevate you into a traditionalist or reactionary elite. The good news is that there also presently exists infinite opportunity for you to select and elevate yourself.

For the moment, traditionalist and reactionary elites are indeed largely self-selecting, or selected by essentially leaderless peer groups. If you want to be one such elite, the monetary cost of admission is nothing. Open up a Blogger or WordPress account for long form writing, and a Twitter account for engagement with the community. Then prove yourself with your own dedication and talent. Listen to what others say, but don’t parrot it or feel the need to always agree with it. Write things that contribute to the body of thought; that build on or play off of the work of others with the addition of your own original ideas. Or if your talents tend toward art, or fiction, or poetry, or song (and the reactionary movement sorely needs people with such talents), then self-publish, self-record, release on a blog, or on YouTube, or on iTunes, or on Amazon, or on The Pirate Bay. Those with practical talents, including teaching self-sufficiency and self-defense, are needed as well, and have the same methods (and more) for sharing knowledge and becoming known. Do so in a way that others will value, and you will get noticed. Do not, or display obvious instability or immorality, and you will go nowhere. It is entirely up to you. This may or may not be optimal, but it is the system for selection because it must be – again, there is no other method in place. There is no King to give you a title or noble patron to shower you with money. I’ve long said that the reactionary movement is an open audition for a certain kind of aristocracy, and so it is.

So if you want to become an elite – an aristocrat of the soul – and if you are able, then become one. The time is right, and there could be nothing more exciting.