Walking With Sargon

I watched the YouTube video Munted, Random, about the world of Mens Rights Activism, centred on the life of Michael Stephenson.

The first third of this documentary is about Michael’s attempts to become an on-line celebrity, as an escape from his day job as a postman. Starting around 2012, we see him beginning an on-line business trying to get interest with his videos and animations as “Dark Cheese”. The Twitter account for that still exists, although it hasn’t done anything since 2014.

We also see shaky footage of attempts at open-spot comedy shows, in which inevitably he tries out “edgy” “extreme” material. This gets us to clips about the controversy around American grandstanding prick Daniel Tosh, who is now so unimportant that his wikipedia page hasn’t been vandalised in years. More notable about the stand-up segments is that he tries the observational joke format that goes “{Topic X} – how did they have the meeting to decide it should be like that?” I think the template for all that sort of material goes back to Ben Elton’s old Tampon Advert routine, which was on the Motormouth album of 1987 (“Was there a law against it? What a great day in Parliament that must have been!”). Ben Elton also had the best comment on the entire topic of Acceptable Subjects For Comedy, which he stated in his interview with Jeremy Isaacs in the late 90s: “There are no subjects that are outside comedy, but there are attitudes that are not funny”. That’s the only quote anyone needs and we don’t need any flakey chancers trying to reinvent it all over again.

DarkCheese was a winner of a competition sponsored by David Mitchell, and Michael’s career seem to be advancing forward slowly, although it also seems he wasn’t getting much of an income from it. His exact employment details become obscure from now on. Although we can see the bedroom walls behind him in his videos change over the years, the bed he sits on seems to travel the world as a faithful companion. He also manages to link up with a soulmate, Alison Tieson and her buddies at the HoneyBadgers website. They make contact in response to the Gamergate controversy, a topic I have always found tedious beyond redemption so I won’t attempt to precis it. PacMan will always be better than Call Of Duty, that’s all anyone needs to know about “gaming”, which has now become a bloated and pretentious behemoth.

We hear a clip of anti-feminist chatter which Michael joins in, giving a ponderous analogy to the attitudes of agnostics towards atheists, which goes on for over a minute and seems to kill the mood… until the others respond and say that it was brilliant and insightful. This gives us the background detail that all these angry people are in a zone adjacent to the on-line New Atheists, another phenomenon I’ve managed to avoid. It doesn’t sound like I’ve been missing anything good. The most I get out of the fragments we hear is the section in which they complain about a feminist’s criticism of Spiderman. They may have a point about an insensitive critic simply being tone-deaf to genre conventions they were unfamiliar with… however it gets slurred over in to general gripes about anyone attempting to bring any interpretative framework to criticism. This is the usual flashpoint between “cultural theorists” and the humble fans who are perplexed or bemused by their “insights”, it was touched on by Mark Fisher in one of his essays. It is quite true that all interpretation includes a backdrop of assumptions and models. It is not correct that that entails all purported interpretations are valid or useful; it is not the case that anyone who queries any particular application of “Theory” must be a “positivist”. I am not convinced the people who are quick to use that as a curse know what it means or what might be wrong with it.

But that’s the enjoyable parts over with. From now on is a grim death march through the Men’s Rights Movement, and falling under the spell of the relatively magnetic personality of Carl Benjamin a.k.a “Sargon Of Akkad”.

We do not have to stare very hard to see Michael overawed by the fluent and confident Carl, and in one sequence he sits dumbly whilst the other chunters away, despite regular invitations to contribute. Carl passes for an intellectual in this world, he has read several books and can mention names of famous thinkers such as Socrates and Aristotle and… that’s it. But I expect he has lots more names written down somewhere. He might well have one of those Quotation Dictionaries, beloved by teenage intellectuals and post-adolescent catcher-uppers.

When we see the gang altogether it’s very sad-lads-in-a-pub. But meanwhile Michael develops a good game of making videos commenting on videos.

The guys put on a big meeting at Conway Hall at the end of 2017, during which Sargon jokily shows off the flag of his people:

In the Q&A session one chap is upset that Carl wasn’t too positive when he interviewed some old pseud called Jared Taylor, who apparently is very keen on the naturalness of racial preferences. Taylor tries to justify by proposing that we would have no objection to anyone preferring to work with their own family. Although there are many cuts in this section, two things strike me. Firstly, it is not true that we have no objection to familial favouritism, in fact we have a negative term for it: “nepotism”, and we (in the modern Western countries) think it is outrageous and should have no place in public life. Secondly, this line of justification by appeal to “natural” states and tendencies only works if we take it that much older, technologically more primitive societies (like the one that the real Sargon Of Akkad reigned over) are somehow the truer expression of “human nature” which has been lost… but that primitivist position is quite at odds with any sense of supremacy or cultural superiority for the West, which is the foundational point for the “edgelords” of this movement. Modern westerners can’t be the very best of humanity if they are in fact degenerate amnesiacs who have lost their true nature. Taylor is however the only person we see wearing a suit in these videos, and that could count for a great deal for these lost little boys who feel a terrible lack of older men who can confidently tell them how the world works and what life feels like when it finally starts happening for them.

We also see footage of the boys and girls earlier in 2017 when they jaunted off to the VideoCon event to confront a panel of feminists, who literally talked down to them in response. In the later stages we see Michael clearly unhappy and in a very distraught, depressed state, and then getting angry and contorted about where the movement is going and what it might have achieved.

Altogether I suppose it was good to see a tour of this microcosm, with all its videos and podcasts and memes. Michael is still active on Twitter on a different account and still doing his videos. He seems to be slanting toward an anti-lockdown position, as you’d expect from a youthful libertarian background. We never got to hear much about his pre-internet life, or how he ended up a postman – what other careers, if any, did he try for? What has he read, did he ever get further than a few chapters of Atlas Shrugged? It’s great to have opinions, but not all opinions are as good as each other, and the bad ones are usually bad in a quite unoriginal way. If you want to see the value of a PPE degree, just read any Pete North blog where he attempts to do an essay on political theory.

One thought on “Walking With Sargon

  1. Dear Casmilus,

    Many thanks for writing this neat summation of my film, that I sent you. It was entirely unprompted, which I take for a compliment.

    I liked how you took the time to dismantle Jared Taylor along the way.

    A small correction: the young man from Australia was not criticising Sargon, but commending him for his platforming of the ideas of Taylor in the first place.

    According to this Australian, it ought not to “sully the reputation of an institution” to have conversations with even the remotest reaches of extremism in political thought. Here is the crux of the matter: does free speech really include every opinion, and every group, no matter how marginal or incendiary? Obviously not, because even the Taylor fans would admit that **they** wouldn’t want, let’s say, hooded KKK bumpkins representing **them** on said platforms.

    But why is it that we don’t platform white nationalism, “even” in its most respectable form? Under what principles do we decide that their free speech is over the line? In my opinion, a good many of us work from the principle of the “smell test”, also known as the “dinner table test”. We use our freedom of association wisely, so that people do not get the wrong impression about us. It is not necessarily the case that we have a well-worked out system of taboos that sustain close examination. An intellectual defence of this instinct is beyond me, but I think to entirely dismiss the notion of good taste would be to lose a good political defence mechanism.

    But anyway, finally, thank you for your fine observation, regarding Taylor, that:

    “He is the only person we see wearing a suit in these videos, and that could count for a great deal for lost boys who feel a lack of older men who can confidently tell them how the world works and what life feels like.”

    I think that what you are alluding to could be summarized as the search for an intellectual father figure.

    I believe that the search for a intellectual father figure is an inevitable part of all adolescence (think of Hegel, Bertrand Russell, Derrida), and these days we have more Jordan Petersons than Noam Chomskys. Things will change as the times change. The press has been entirely democratized. We have intellectual father figures all the way down. Even Benjamin served this role to his fans: it is almost Shakespearean.

    Kind regards,
    Liam Porter

    Liked by 1 person

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