Sunday, 16 December 2018

What's the Matter with YouTube's Alternative Influence Network?

Skipping over to YouTube and noting the subscription levels for various content creators deemed to be part of the right wing "Alternative Influence Network", I make the following observations. Note that these figures are rounded approximations, not exact figures as these fluctuate as subscribers come and go:

Styxhexenhammer666: 329,000 subs
Lauren Southern: 675,000 subs
Milo Yiannopoulos: 839,000 subs
Sargon of Akkad: 865,000 subs
Stefan Molyneux: 883,000 subs
Dave Rubin (Rubin Report): 899,000 subs
Jordan B Peterson: 1,670,000 subs
Steven Crowder: 3,168,000 subs

This is just a sampling of so called right wing YouTube. There are dozens more. I could go on. Now a quick detour for those of you who don't know, YouTube's "Alternative Influence Network" was a term coined by researcher Rebecca Lewis in a New Data & Society report entitled Alternative Influence: Broadcasting the Reactionary Right on YouTubeRead a Guardian article on the subject here. The Alternative Influence Network apparently consists of "65 political influencers across 81 channels" that tend to lean right to varying degrees (though some vehemently deny this, with varying degrees of accuracy), do tend to be affiliated with one another despite numerous personal and political disagreements and play a prominent role in the alleged radicalization of socially marginal young men. Does this sound familiar?

As a matter of comparison:

Feminist Frequency: 222,000 subs
Kat Blaque: 135,000 subs
Chescaleigh (MTV Decoded): 247,000 subs

These being among the more prominent feminist and social justice channels. The new punching bag (as of this writing) of the YouTube reactionaries, Edinburgh University professor "Tiny" Tim Squirrell's channel has a whopping 364 subscribers as I type this, and he boasts 2,770 followers on Twitter, as of this writing. Proving that sometimes people really do live up to their names.  My own Samizdat Broadcasts on YouTube dwarfs this (I have the big 513 subscribers, and I haven't really done any work in ages). Progressive media watchdog Sleeping Giants, allied with Squirrell who apparently claim responsibility for Alex Jones's deplatforming and was instrumental in Sargon's being kicked off Patreon, claims 214,000 followers on Twitter and 55,000 on Facebook.

To be fair, some leftist YouTube presences are substantial. The flagship here would be The Young Turks, with over 4 million subs. For ways of thinking closer to my own, Kyle Kulinski's Secular Talk has around 618,000 subs, David Pakman has around 558,000 subs, the Jimmy Dore Show has around 427,000 subs, and the Amazing Atheist has just over a 1 million subs, as of this writing. The later four would not participate in a deplatforming campaign against Sargon, I'd wager to say.

Still and all ... does anyone else see what I'm getting at here?

Now I get the fact that the social justice crowd has influence beyond their numbers. Their presence in academia and mainstream media is commanding. Despite a recent study finding that only 8% of Americans identify as "progressive activists" and that somewhere in the neighborhood of 80% of Americans believe that "political correctness is a problem in our country" and that these figures are remarkably consistent across all demographic lines, race and gender included.

Which is really the problem here. How did we end up in such a tail wagging the dog kind of situation? Are progressive activist dollars just worth ten times more than those of the subscribers to supposedly reactionary YouTube channels? Patreon and PayPal must certainly think so. How else does one explain the rapidity with which the mighty tech trusts of Silicon Valley, truly the robber barons of our era, knuckle under to the demands of social justice warriors so swiftly and readily, despite the greater numbers of reactionaries on these platforms?

Sargon of Akkad boasts approximately 865,000 subscribers on YouTube. For perspective, this is slightly higher than the current membership rolls for the United Steel Workers (currently about 860,000) and dwarfs the total number of employees for each single private employer in America except Walmart. This is greater than the total membership of all three of Canada's major political parties combined (near 300,000 for the governing Liberals, around 260,000 Conservatives and about 125,000 New Democrats).

Granted that many of these are generally passive followers, many no doubt haven't followed his channel in any real sense in years, or are not necessarily loyal true believing subscribers to his ideology but who agree with him on some things (I'd be among these). Never the less, he manages to continually get six digit view figures. "You can't Trust Patreon", detailing his expulsion from the platform, published 8 December of 2018 boasts a bit over 373,000 views as of this writing.

So the obvious question is: why can't this kind of subscriber base be wielded as a significant political or even cultural force? Can a constellation of social media personalities with millions of followers between them (granted a considerable degree of overlap) not use that to leverage access to more mainstream media platforms, and from there commandeer the narrative regarding what it is they exactly stand for, making them less vulnerable to "alt right" smears from pseudo leftist outlets with lower subscriber bases? This might have to entail some research and study into media and public relations, marketing, political strategy and similar disciplines, but I'm sure that's not beyond the capacities of the intellectual dark web. These guys aren't stupid.

One fourth of Sargon's subscriber base surpasses the number of twitter followers Sleeping Giants has. And that's just Sargon. So why are Sleeping Giants and not the legions of Kekistan calling the shots here? Is there something preventing them from, at their emperor's call, exerting their own leverage in the marketplace and leaning on advertisers a bit themselves? I can't help but wonder if that isn't why these faux progressives are actually so afraid of this alleged dark web of YouTube reactionaries. If they got their act together and flexed their muscle - really strategized and organized effectively - who knows what they could accomplish?

I'm here to tell you that with 865,000 followers, I'd be seriously discussing a general strike. When I wasn't hiding or running for my life from C.I.A assassins, that is.

So why is this Alternative Influence Network so vulnerable to social media deplatforming? They've hurt Patreon via a substantial exodus already. Imagine what a truly well coordinated strategy involving even a half dozen or so content creators close to Sargon (Jordan Peterson is an obvious choice here) could accomplish. It's not like they don't have the loyal and dedicated fan base.

Is it those dirty rotten SJWs refusing to listen to reason? Are social media executives fanatical SJWs themselves, or just stupid? If they're so willing to hemorrhage loyal paying patrons to appease a vocal ideological minority, than the CEO's basic competency must be called into question. Boards of directors, who hire the CEO, have a fiduciary responsibility to the shareholders to maximize shareholder value and run the company responsibly. Notice that the fiduciary responsibility is to their shareholders, not to the women's studies department of their local college or university. Are you paying attention to this, libertarians and reactionaries? This is how the capitalist system you claim to so love works. There's more of you than there are social justice warriors if YouTube subscription rates and social media following figures are any indication. So take the hint. Anyway, is it the influence of George Soros? Of the "globalists?" Of the "cultural Marxists"  or of (((you know who?)))

Or is the real problem deeper and more subtle? A fundamental weakness embedded in the very deep structure of conservative, classical liberal and libertarian thought? A weakness that isn't so much a falsehood in the direct claims that this constellation of ideologies tend to assert, but rather something that's more nebulous and metapolitical, if I were to call it anything.

To illustrate, let's compare libertarianism with its opposed strands of critical theory. Deriving ultimately from Marxism, critical theory both in its specific formal Frankfurt School form and more generally as a tendency in political thought, tends to posit some sort of oppressed/oppressor dynamic as being at the heart of how western civilization operates. This has deep and significant implications: Individuals belong to broader classes of people, and different classes have different interests and thus naturally antagonistic relationships with one another. Marx's bourgeoisie vs proletariat dualism is, perhaps the ur-example of this. Other variations I'm sure we're all familiar with posit people of color vs. whites, or men vs. women and non cisgender heterosexuals.

Contrast with libertarianism, which tends more towards the kind of belief that "there is no such thing as society, just individuals and their families" or something similar. For the critical theorist, social inequality is seen as the result of some or another kind of social power structure, and its role is to ensure the dominance of one group of people over another. In this world view, inequality isn't a bug, but a feature, so to speak. The upshot of that is that there's an impetus to change the system.

Contrast with libertarianism, which isn't necessarily opposed to equal outcomes provided they occur on a free market and are thus "voluntary" or "volitional" as they'd put it. But let's be honest here. These transactions are often taking place between the owners of productive capital on the one hand and a proletariat who have only their own labor power to sell on the other. So the outcomes are going to be very unequal, and the libertarian is much more okay with this than they are with government intervention into the process to level the playing field at some point. This makes libertarianism fundamentally conservative, however different a policy direction they would go from dominant neoliberalism or neoconservatism. Reactionaries go further, and insist that inequality is indeed the natural order of things. Attempts at social change in a more egalitarian and inclusive direction is "cheating" as far as the reactionary and the libertarian are concerned, since this involves the imposition of more equal outcomes where more unequal outcomes would be more natural or even desirable.

The important takeaway here is that for the critical theorist, the marginalized and oppressed categories of people are individually weaker than their power wielding counterparts, it is therefore necessary for them to organize, which is to realize strength in numbers and to strategize, which is find and exploit choke points in institutional systems so that marginalized groups can achieve what they believe to be more balanced outcomes - social justice so called.

A very brief peek into the Alternative Influence Network and into libertarian, conservative and reactionary spaces is all it takes to quickly gather their opinion of this way of looking at the world. This is the "cultural Marxism" or the "postmodern Marxism" they're always railing against. Libertarianism (the purest form of what conservatism and classical liberalism are) denies the existence of competing power interests among differing groups in a capitalist society, where conservatives and reactionaries view society as something in which all have a shared stake. Some people earn more because they work harder or smarter, or fulfill a more important place in the social structure, and therefore deserve it. 

Now, read this next sentence closely, because it's the crux of the whole problem for the the right on social media and by itself the entirety of the reason they're losing the culture war against the social justice warriors: This denial of class, race or gender based antagonisms in western civilization obviates the necessity for organization and strategization on the right. That statement is bold red because it's that important. It's absolutely foundational for understanding why things like Sargon being booted from Patreon happen. If you don't get it yet, the core of the problem is that the conservative, reactionary and libertarian world views mitigate against their adherents organizing politically, except perhaps to exchange views or, at most, achieve electoral victories so as to reduce the tax burden on higher income earners. But electoral politics are fundamentally limited in liberal democracies, and a separation of politics and culture is actually a fairly crucial thing in classical liberal and conservative thought. This is precisely why the critical theorists and the social justice crowd long ago deemphasized traditional politics in favor of culture war long ago. 

The right simply has no idea how to effectively wage a culture war, because as far as they're concerned, culture is taking place in a realm consisting only of individuals and maybe their families. Not society and certainly not anything systemic or structural for the benefit of some people at the expense of others. If you don't believe me in that assessment, go and use words like systemic and structural in your next conversation with reactionaries or libertarians of any stripe and see what kind of response you get. 

So they don't think in terms of a "long march through the institutions" or of organizing any kind of wide scale political activity targeting the institutions they claim have been hijacked by social justice warriors. That sort of "playing dirty" is precisely what they despise about the SJWs. Some libertarians explicitly reject all forms of political activity, for it implies collective action.  For their part, the SJWs, on the other hand, have zero qualms about doing any of that. Indeed, the need to do so is likewise built into their ideology. There's no such thing as fighting dirty against the beneficiaries of structural oppression. 

The Alternative Influence Network, the Intellectual Dark Web, the Skeptic Community, the Cultural Libertarians, the Kekistanis or whatever they're calling themselves in current year cannot defeat the social justice warriors, even if they enjoyed five times the numerical advantage they already enjoy. They would never consider any kind of organized strategy for dealing with of any of these supposedly leftist social media platforms. They may seem to depart one for another in tandem, but only because each has decided on his own to do so for his own reasons. Hardly a recipe for changing the world in any sort of serious way.

The libertarian core of their philosophy was quite deliberately designed to mitigate against any kind of sustained organized activity against corporate power. We have them to thank in good part for four decades of neoliberal hegemony. The reactionaries may claim that feminism is cancer - a good metaphor since feminists operate by invading both public and private spaces of all kinds and shift the purpose of those spaces towards the promotion of feminist ideology. Very much like how a cancer cell operates. Could we not likewise suggest that libertarianism is AIDS. The capacity of individuals within the polity to politically organize is its "immune system" against tyranny, and libertarianism attacks that immune system to such a degree that the polity becomes vulnerable to capture by any interest with the desire and capacity to do so. As such, I sometimes find them hard to feel sorry for when they get kicked off of social media, though I certainly don't condone or support it. Hair of the dog that bit you, boys. Maybe learn your lesson here.

What then can defeat the social justice warriors?

Only one thing: the use of their methods of analysis and activism against them. That would mean viewing current year critical theory, feminism and social justice, however radical they may have at one time been, as being themselves systems of power designed to benefit a certain class of people at the expense of another.

The democratic centralist vanguard party in the Soviet Union is a clear and obvious example of a left wing version of an oppressive system of power - regressive leftism, so called. They appropriated the moral force of the worker's struggle and socialism - considerable at the time - to legitimize their claims on power, but never altered the fundamental relations of production because they were now the beneficiaries of those relations. Marxist ideology became mere slogans legitimizing Bolshevik claims to absolute power while upholding precisely the kind of alienating productive relations Marxism so rightly criticized.

The highly educated professional activists that make up the core of current year social justice activism are the cultural version of a democratic centralist vanguard party, as they were envisioned by the critical theorists who came to see it necessary to wage a cultural revolution as a prelude to the establishment of a centrally planned economy. They've merely replaced socialism and the worker's struggle with feminism and anti-racism as sources of moral legitimacy. Since totalitarian methods were not available to the self styled revolutionaries of the west, this kind of Marcusian kulturkampf became necessary instead. Where the power structures constrained by liberal democratic norms are forced to manufacture consent for their oppressive policies, the self styled revolutionary vanguard must manufacture dissent to achieve its own regressive goals. 

This has been a failure, and no metric more closely measures that failure than the historical materialism that so brilliantly animated Marx's initial critiques of class structure. 

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