After Strange Gods

Last year I saw the video documentary Munted, Random about someone in the “Mens Rights” movement. Now I have seen a rough cut of the new video from the same director, Liam Porter. Whovian Woes is about someone involved in the “alt-Right” movement. Both films include footage recorded over the course of the past decade. They follow their central characters as they start out as harmless hobbyist YouTubers talking about themselves and their ideas, and then as they fall in to bad sets.

Both of these films omit the details of the viewpoints that their anti-heroes espouse during their peak influence, which is just as well in this case as it is indicated that Colin Robertson became convinced of “race realist” ideas and opinions about “the Jewish Question”. None of his videos are now available on YouTube though they are hosted somewhere else. I have not watched any of them. All I have seen from the alt-Right are the clips included in this film. I never looked at Anders Breivek’s “manifesto” (curiously he is never mentioned, although he carried out his killing spree in 2011, before most of the timeline shown here). This film is not a whitewashing of Robertson, so to speak, as he appears as a rather sad and lost character. He is pitiful to the extent that he realises he has not done well and he needs to get out of the poisonous subculture he has fallen in to; like any long-term addict he seems to be having trouble quitting.

The title refers to Robertson’s background as a fan of Doctor Who and other sci-fi films and franchises. He started watching in 1988 and so belongs to that special generation of DW obsessives who regard themselves as “old fans” of the “old series”, and are aggrieved at having it taken away so soon. They nurtured the memory and built it into their own private world during the wilderness years, before being confronted with the “new Who” in 2005: Russell T.Davies giving top roles to women and minorities and mentioning all sorts of “PC” ideas and issues.

The ways in which “culture war” cuts across DW fandom is a simple illustration of the limitations of the conservative warrior: they simply don’t know what they’re talking about most of the time. Doctor Who was always “PC” or “woke” (as it later became); in fact the Sylvester McCoy era stories that Robertson adored were themselves grumbled about by Young Conservative viewers for having a black woman soldier in charge of a UNIT unit; having the Doctor expressing pacifist views (which he’d been doing since the 60s); having a very obvious parody of Thatcher as one of the baddies. The final McCoy story, Survival, features a young man in modern Britain getting seduced into a view of the universe as ruthless struggle; things don’t go too well for him, tied on a leash by The Master.

Feminism reached Doctor Who in the early 70s with Sarah Jane Smith as a freelance female journalist quite capable of tricking her way into a secret establishment in pursuit of a story. She might not have been explicitly in favour of “Women’s Lib” but she was certainly travelling along the same marches. Rose Tyler was not the first attempt to portray a contemporary British teenager, as there was one in the very first 1963 episode: Susan Foreman was a Beatles fangirl just before they existed; Vicki (her replacement from the future) knew the Fab Four as “classical music”; Ben & Polly were groovy young Carnaby Street kids. Zoe Heriot the space age computer whizz was the first clever lady who was as smart as the main man, but plenty followed after her: Liz Shaw the UNIT scientist, and of course Romana the Time Lady, but also remember Nyssa who ended up leaving the TARDIS because she worked out how to cure an epidemic and that was a job to be done. Leela may not have been technically-minded but she could fight and kill for herself. Anyone who thinks that post-2005 DW was a break with tradition probably doesn’t even know which planet the Mentiads came from.

But arguing about this is just jolly old fanworld fun. Things get more serious when we move on to talking about the human world and its problems, and we have no resources to do so: little or no knowledge of history, politics or philosophy or any reading of literature outside of fantasy worlds that were themselves usually thinly-constructed political fables that would be more obviously tendentious and questionable if set in our current world.

Colin tells us that he went to art college in London and found it disorientating as this was the first time he’d been away from his native Scotland, and the first time he’d encountered large numbers of people from minority groups. He indicates that he held conventional opinions, and that he had a “gay phase” when he was 17. After college he came back to live with his Dad, and was out of work after that. He says he was “on the dole” but the time when you could stay that way for years was back in the 80s, and it was gone by the Blair era of the 00s. So that side of the story is rather unclear, but he does state that long-term unemployment put him in a state of depression, and he finally set himself up as a YouTube content provider as “Millenial Woes” to talk about his viewpoint. Then around 2013 he discovered “the Reactosphere”, via a link to a video of some sage called Davis M.J. Aurini:

In case you’re wondering, as I did: the sole Oxford World Classic on view here is of course Machiavelli’s Prince, one of the favourite dipping-in (they never read all of it) texts for American right-wing dudes whose idol is Steve Bannon. C.S.Lewis is also their one-stop shop for all philosophy and theology needs.

I’m disappointed in Davis’s lack of commitment to his brand that he doesn’t do his videos in a suit of armour.

Colin was quite taken in by this new environment in which concepts such as monarchy, aristocracy and elitism were treated positively instead of being dismissed as unworthy of serious discussion. But this raises the question of intellectual maturity and curiosity amongst this boy-world. It is simply untrue that these ideas are not discussed in popular culture: first of all, there is the mass-market Daily Mail supporting them, but then at any time in his life Colin could have looked at copies of The Spectator or the Sunday Telegraph for regular espousals of the High Tory cause. Sir Peregrine Worsthorne summarised his outlook in In Defence Of Aristocracy. For at least a time in the 90s and 00s the Salisbury Review was available in the branch of Waterstones near Gower Street, transmitting Roger Scruton’s critical appraisals of the failures of liberalism, socialism and multiculturalism. There was never any difficulty obtaining conservative opinions in the past 35 years, for whichever reading age they were required for. It is also not true that the lefty academic establishment were any good at suppressing the historical conservative or traditionalist writings. Last time I looked, CUP still had an edition of Dante’s Monarchy, and of course Machiavelli has never been out of print.

With regard to the controversies that “race realists” and their like focus on, it is also not true that they are banned from the mainstream: Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve received plenty of coverage in 90s media, and the Spectator in its 21st century version has given plenty of room to Douglas Murray and every other wannabe controversialist with some kind of attack line on “liberal pieties”. Salisbury Review first got attention and notoriety for publishing Ray Honeyford’s negative opinions about multicultural education. That was back in 1984 and it didn’t stop it being published.

On the general topic of “problems of liberalism”, that seems to be an entire academic industry of which the pop-conservative versions are very poor misunderstandings. After Virtue has been an object of fascination since it was published and I should expect everyone who read PPE since 1981 has at least seen a copy. It is quite possible that Ed Miliband or any number of other left-liberal thinktankers could do a better job of writing an essay summarising the anti-liberal case than the current wave of American Conservative scribblers. Stephen Holmes is available for consulting. These issues will never go away as long as John Gray is alive to keep writing New Statesman articles about them.

The world that Colin was drawn into is the rather shouty adolescent version of intellectualism, with little reading but strong opinions. “Traditionalism” is the big idea, but there is no such political philosophy: there are only the distinct traditions, which usually include their own stories about how they are the correct one and the others are illegitimate if not downright pernicious. In one of Aurini’s chatter sessions he seems to dimly realise that the “redpilling” he is offering his audience is just another turn in the postmodern fancy-dress party of “identity”. Last week we were playing at “social justice”, this week we shall play at “traditionalism”, in every week we are simply playing at being believers in some conceptual authority whilst really just using the costumes and ornaments in our unending game of ego-affirmation. But he does not offer an alternative, because that would be something outside the hall of mirrors and video screens. Although there is talk about christian faith and devotion here, there is not much sign that even the ostensibly Roman Catholic members of this cult are getting out and going to confession or engaging in anything at all that isn’t self-promotion. No one can escape pride, envy or malice when it happens that other channels are getting more traffic by copying their ideas.

Colin has certainly acquired some of the language of sin, repentance and redemption, as it turns up in his later monologues. His career got turbo-charged as he was endorsed and admired by such luminaries as Richard Spencer, and he was invited to appear at the notorious alt-Right conference in Washington DC in 2016. This led to being doorstepped and exposed by the press back in Scotland, and so he finally had to stop living with his Dad.

2017 was just the first of several crises. The alt-Right themselves seem to split over issues of direction, which are rather obviously the result of tension between boys who just want to stay indoors forever, and boys who fancy marching about and shouting a bit. Nobody has any intellectual progress to make except the usual adolescent one of realising that the world is big and complicated and that relating everything to one’s sense of importance is not a good way of understanding it. That doesn’t mean “there are no answers” or “extreme positions are always wrong” (those are themselves characteristically adolescent views), but that finding the better views and positions might be a bit more difficult. Even in 2015 Colin realised some of these people were just attention-seekers who could just as well have adopted “social justice warrior” as their thing, and in fact some of them had stories of having moved on from that. But change is not always growth.

The final section of the film shows that Colin fell out of favour in the alt-Right world as allegations went round about his behaviour with women in the movement. There seemed to be in any case a long-running problems with these boys feeling uncomfortable with having girls taking an active role in a movement that emphasised masculine authority and pre-eminence. Colin is clearly on a recovery programme and talking about taking control and attending to regular routines – which echos the ideas of Jordan Peterson, another seer who briefly appears at the edges of this world.

Around the middle of the decade Colin did a video in which he appeared to be disposing of his youthful collection of scifi films and books. However we see later on that it’s still there when he returns to Scotland from a time in Berlin, and he takes it all away with him to a new life in London. We don’t see if he has any works by Philip K.Dick, who was the route into metaphysics for many teenagers before The Matrix existed. Of course Dick went into writing pulp scifi full time as his career writing social realist fiction about post-war America stalled. One of the unpublished early manuscripts that finally got a posthumous publication was Voices From The Street from 1952. That was centred around a confused young man, who was unhappy with the state of the world, and didn’t feel his smug and complacent left-liberal friends had any answers. So he fell under the spell of the ridiculous Marsha Frazier, publisher of Succubus magazine, which is full of anti-semitism and racist theories. Everyone’s waiting for the apocalypse and just talking each other into higher and higher states of anxiety and getting them in the mood to lash out and damage themselves badly. These alt-Right fellow-travellers and lost boys are not new: the man who invented the Voight-Kampff Test didn’t need it to identify and analyse them.

Marsha Frazier would have owned a copy of After Strange Gods, though by 1952 Eliot himself was no longer convinced of it. “Mr. Eliot asserts the discipline of Christian orthodoxy and provides examples of the evils that result from ignoring it.” remained true, but without the warning against “undesirables”. There still also remains the alternative that “an honest recognition of the class-struggle and all its implications in economic and political life” could be another way in to the mystery of the world.

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