Something weird is going on in the world.
The data doesn’t exist to prove it to your senses, but you can certainly feel something. New forces are coalescing to the left and right as both the Democrats and Republicans scramble to reorganize. The tension in civil society is maddening. The air is thick and electrified in the no-mans-land between. All the old –isms have re-emerged in ugly hate crimes towards all varieties of people. Things are undoubtedly serious.
A bizarre experience leads me to conclude that to some, this hyper-tension is only a very fun game, slightly symbolic; bringing their internet-trolling activities to the real world. Strange times. I’m tired of hearing that ‘conservatism is the new punk rock’ and seeing that hip, reactionary-chic haircut, ‘the fashie‘. How will we reckon with these strangers? A recent brush with an ‘alt-righter’ is elucidating.
It was back when I was working as a sign-holder for a certain labor union. After a long day of paid-protesting in front of the endless automobile stampede I felt the beckoning escape of a couple beers, nostalgia, and hockey at an old friend’s house.
I put my protesting supplies in my trunk, bought a six pack, and rode 40 minutes up to North Phoenix, where all the working white people live.
The clank of bottles and nasal laughter greeted me from inside. I embraced my friend from high school, Vaun. A visible, heavy wind of smoke wafted from him, like that character from Charlie Brown. Vaun, at that time, about a year ago, was working as a valet in the parking lot deserts of Scottsdale.
The blinds were closed. The couch was full of Vaun’s cousin’s friends. A shudder crawled down my vertebrae as my eyes met with a certain Wesley, whose sinister, confused smile sat in the folds of his many chins like a centipede squashed in the mud. His cronies surrounded him on the couch. We were all mutually surprised at meeting again. I think I had repressed their memory in the 4 years (too short) we hadn’t had to associate.
They were facing the ginormous television, trying to not grimace at sips of beer, celebrating. They had apparently gone on a spree and screamed ‘N—–!’ (amongst other horrible insults that would peel the skin of Lucifer) at a pair of young Black girls walking down the street.
They were giggling at their escapades like thrilled little children.
I really didn’t know what to say. I had spent all day, as well as the last 3 months, working with people of all different colors and origins, protesting an abusive grocery store chain in the city’s Latin communities. I was totally thrown off. I had to think of some correct, responsible, social scientist response. When I could manage to speak, I remember I said something like “dude… they’re going to think this city is full of racists now. Why would you-” among other typical responses. I tried to put it in a social context, to make him realize just the utter weirdness of doing something like that, not to mention the ugliness. But I mostly wanted, immediately, to leave. I remember he replied: “good. She’ll go and chant her ‘Black Lives Matter’ or whatever now.”
I had a flashback of high school when this same group of poor suckers would hang around my friends and I, one of them being a cousin of Vaun and all that. They had been giggling riotously, all those years ago, at some incident involving screaming the N word at a Black man eating at Dairy Queen. He had stood up and left the restaurant, mid-meal. I remembered also how we would berate and heap scorn upon Wesley for it. But he would just giggle and fart, and giggle some more. He’s poisonous.
It was really his joyous, psychotic laughter, which neutralizes all insults, which I sought to destroy. But he seems to enjoy the whole procedure.
So I sipped my beer. The inevitable question came forth: “Wesley, what you do if you were a young black girl walking home, and some van full of vicious morons screamed shit at you? How would you feel?”
I drove it home in several reformulations. I think it hit something in him. I remember catching a look, unintentionally completely melodramatic, in its utter, real seriousness, as he explained to me in a hurt voice that he didn’t have anything special, that he also struggled, “that he never protested or acted like a victim.” He (or one of his cronies) mentioned Wesley’s depression medication and emotional problems. Vaun’s cousin mentioned to me, as if it was an uncomfortable faux-pas, that Wesley ‘can’t help it. He has a mental disorder.’ There was so much gravity in their voices. I was torn between a violent scream and an outburst of incredulous laughter. (Not at depression, but just in exasperation at the strange paradoxes that our society creates between human beings.)
I was convinced. He (and all his friends) were clearly insane, or getting there. I stopped insulting him. I drained my beer and put my shoes back on. I was making to scram.
But the door opened for Wesley’s fiancé, delivering pizzas (in a caricature of femininity) for all the fat, farting guys. She told us she was ‘afraid’ of the ‘stinky Mexicans’ at Little Caesars. I was exasperated. My girlfriend was Mexican. Vaun’s roommate was Mexican. I didn’t touch the pizza and they were offended. I left.
Postmodern-Racism is Racist.
Several interesting and alarming things happened in this interaction. Primarily, it was clear to me that Wesley and his cronies couldn’t fathom that their actions would hurt people and make the world worse for everyone. They were too caught up in themselves, busy looking at their own ‘edginess’ and gall, to even think of that or take it seriously. After having enough of my insulting and questioning them, they finally ‘got serious’ with me and, in an unnecessarily ashamed way, confessed Wesley’s mental illness and maladjustment, in a moment of candor that was only hypocritical (what false-consciousness!) as he claimed he never asked for attention or acted like a victim, as he was asking for attention and claiming to be a victim (of depression, of hardship, of mediocrity.)
The conversation never breached the confines of their own actions, their own selves, and their own lives and problems, to even approach imagining how another person would feel. This is rather alarming, no? These are fairly average, (white, lower-middle class) American kids. It is worth noting that Wesley is a self-identifying ‘internet troll’ and, I was told, an ‘apprentice hacker.’ I’m not sure what he did for work- his cronies worked normal jobs at grocery stores, pizzerias, etc. None were in school.
But in retrospect I get the sense of another dimension to this whole event. That their specific racism isn’t the same as the historical and systemic racism of the United States. The bigotry and idiocy of Wesley’s crew was like an MTV, Jackass-style caricature of racism, a performative game engaged in not because of mis-education and a socially-constructed neurotic hatred of other groups of humans, (maybe a little bit of that) but mostly in an adolescent, postmodern way; racism simply because interpersonal, egregious, primitive discrimination and hate-speech is forbidden by today’s social norms. This atavistic violating of taboos is a kind of rebellion. They are, in their manner, registering discontent with society by ‘breaking the rules.’ Not that they’re aware of this, they just feel the need to be ‘rebel’ in some manner. Maybe, in a way, they aren’t completely off; they’re just striking at the wrong target, their anger channeled into a destructive path which does not challenge the system, but only worsens the situation. Perhaps.
From conversing with this psychopath and his gill-cleaners I gathered that it’s not some cathartic release or sadistic thrill they get from calling teenage girls vile, racist names and quickly slamming the gas pedal in their mom’s Honda Odyssey. It’s more awful and sad than that. They do it for nonsense, for the ‘lolz,’ as these kids would say. They get a silly, giggly, ‘stealing-from-the-cookie-jar’ joy, the elation of a bored, aggrieved child who emotionally lusts to defy the cold, austere policies of his parental authority figures, hint hint. Kids do a lot of things for a lot of reasons, but I think there’s truth in the vulgar Freudianism of the Thief who Desires to get Caught. These were misbehaving kids who desire to be reprimanded, corrected, and paid attention to.
Who he voted to be the next POTUS, I can only speculate, (hmmm?) but there was only one candidate who shared his sense of humor. In Wesley and his cronies we have a concrete example of what intellectuals describe: a vote for Trump to be ‘a message’ to the snooty, wealthy (neo)Liberal elite and the policies of deregulation, financialization, and outsourcing of both parties that have hollowed out the middle and working classes (hyperlink: Thomas Piketty: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capital_in_the_Twenty-First_Century). These words are becoming mere refrain now. Austerity is being cracked down with more force and less modesty and make-up than Clinton could ever dare. Father Trump’s punishment and belt-lash of neoliberalism will be harsh. Daddy loves you. Did we really want this all along?
Of course, in reality, they are not organized fascists or members of a white power hate group (at least not yet). Despite being over 20 and engaged to be married, Wesley really is just a misbehaving child, channeled into a Southpark-esque casual racism. If you heard his malignant giggle, you would agree, in it was contained a sort of Tears-of-the-Clown. All it communicated was a deep, unspeakable sadness, choked down with Little Caesar’s pizza and prescription drugs.
Probably due to the election, research is ‘discovering’ in a crawling, quantified manner, the reality of the anomie and alienation that so many philosophers have analyzed in theory. Perhaps Will’s case is exemplary of wider social phenomenon. I think he would fit in this demographic idea of the ‘fallen white working class.’
One thing is completely certain. He would be utterly thrilled, he would probably orgasm, from hearing these attempts on his psychology. The mocking mask of this self-identifying internet troll, of course, hides only a weeping child, or perhaps is the cover of a more simple nothingness behind.
The world isn’t Real to him. It’s all a joke. Fuck you for getting offended, why does it matter? Is this posture familiar? He wants to ‘trigger’ me. What a strange world we live in.
What is to be done?
I’m trying to point out that as activists and conscious people we’ve got something weird on our hands here. Casual Racism like this goes beyond the idea that whites are racist because of a perceived threat to jobs on the Darwinist labor market. This theory simply doesn’t explain why these pretty-much average American kids are faux-racists. The truth is that it’s more insane than that. Anything to do with sensitivity and vulnerability is the object of that cancerous giggle, the source of which is the insecurity felt when confronted by people who actually have an identity to be sensitive, a self to be vulnerable, in general.
I don’t mean to wax in too grandiose a manner, though all the signs would indicate this milieu of suburban twenty-somethings are a political force we must reckon with. These ‘failsons’ will come around if we can see the weeping child behind the mocking troll, and perhaps, with maturity, defuse the abuser by pulling forth his victimized feelings and re-directing them in a sympathetic way, towards others. Sometimes you fight fire with a flood. Peace.