Being mean online: a postscript

As a follow-up to last month’s thoughts on the topic, here’s another example of the way that Angela Nagle’s work seems to be like catnip for absolute arseholes:

The actual review itself, while it could do with a bit of editing, is generally a pretty sound and thoughtful piece of work, by the way.

Of course, the fact of Heartfield and his mate Wolfe being pricks isn’t particularly interesting by itself; any movement or opinion that appeals to a large enough group of people is inevitably going to end up appealing to a few people that you’d cross the road to avoid. What is noticeable about the “Nagleist” camp, and the folk who seem determined to keep on refighting one particularly ugly internet argument from 2013 like some kind of pathetic Sealed Knot society, is the combination of this kind of intensely personalised bullying cruelty with a discourse that claims to be a critique of intensely personalised bullying cruelty.

Richard Seymour’s review, while it does contain a really silly, dishonest swipe at Maryam Namazie*, does sum up these points well, much better than I could:

“Nagle, by such expedients, elisions and evasions, almost certainly keeps the same cycles of outrage, condemnation, defensiveness, bravado, bullying, and sanctified victimhood perpetually going on.

After all, who would respond well to such a one-sided scolding? Who would rise to their best, and think most critically and openly, in response to such a fierce blast of superego spite? Who would begin to question their own moralistic reflexes in the face of what is itself a form of moralism? This is the sad thing about Nagle’s book — prompted, no doubt in part, by online moralistic sadism, it is itself punitively moralistic…

…what one needs…, surely, is not the increasingly hokey attacks on a straw ‘identity politics’, but a political (and psychic) economy of social media. What one needs is an account of how attention is engaged, retained, bought and sold; how online platforms are structured and structuring in their effects on users; how existing social and cultural tendencies are selected and accentuated by these technologies and their corporate organisation; and so on.

What this book does, sadly, is circle around the familiar, well-trodden terrain, not only in terms of its theory, but in terms of its unreflexive ‘backlash’ anti-moralist moralising. It perpetuates the dynamics that it purports to anatomise, scold and shame.”


*in an astonishing moment, he talks about newspapers running anti-Islamic cartoons “as though in brave defiance of an actual threat”. I don’t think you have to think those cartoons are good, or defend their content in any way, to recognise the fact that printing cartoons that criticise Islam is an endeavour that is not entirely safe, and the idea that people who print such cartoons might face violent consequences is not just a silly joke.

About nothingiseverlost

"The impulse to fight against work and management is immediately collective. As we fight against the conditions of our own lives, we see that other people are doing the same. To get anywhere we have to fight side by side. We begin to break down the divisions between us and prejudices, hierarchies, and nationalisms begin to be undermined. As we build trust and solidarity, we grow more daring and combative. More becomes possible. We get more organized, more confident, more disruptive and more powerful."
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