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, myself included at times). 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.