Catherine Fitzpatrick writes about the pervasive nihilism of the hacker culture. These people are all fairly young, under 30 or even under 25, and have spent their lives immersed in the internet in a way older people like me don’t understand. And yet the lawless and destructive attitudes Fitzpatrick attacks are hardly new. They go back at least to the 1950’s and span the entire political spectrum of American society.
Abbie Hoffman was a 60’s protest leader, but like the other leaders of anti-war protests he wasn’t a baby boomer but born much earlier, in 1936. He became famous for the theatrical nature of his protests. But for Hoffman it was never really about the issue, it was about him. Being the center of attention and being able to disrupt and disorient the social environment was what he enjoyed more than anything.
Ayn Rand goes back even further than Hoffman, having her first big novel in the 1940’s, The Fountainhead and her signature work, Atlas Shrugged, in the late 50’s. Although she cultivated an image as a dispassionate intellectual devoted to reason, Rand was almost as solipsistic as Hoffman. The geniuses of her works were very much stand-ins for her. The concept of the creative genius outside human limits was hardly derived from rational thinking, but was an old idea of German Romanticism dating back to Beethoven.
The idea of personal liberation from all restraints was a potent one in post-WWII America. The idea of reciprocal justice and a set of mutual obligations and rights applying to all citizens was the ostensible motivation for civil rights, feminism and later gay rights. But people who weren’t black, weren’t women and weren’t gays weren’t going to support liberation for others if they weren’t liberated themselves. So the idea that everyone should and could live their life for themselves, for their own happiness, without any obligations or constraints, went from radial social outliers like Hoffman and Rand to essentially everyone.
The libertarian movement of the 60’s to 80’s- it’s ridiculous to call it a conservative movement, as it was anything but, of course there has never been a conservative movement in America- was the response of the business community and middle class to the mass liberation of blacks, women, and gays. If they get to be free, to live how they want without constraint, so do we, they said. The sexual liberation of the middle class and liberation from the family through divorce was taken apace. The big push though was in taxation, and the left howled with rage at the idea the conservative middle class would not pay what was expected. Ultimately they found ways around this and government spending was not restrained.
The attitude goes back even earlier. The Cambridge spies betrayed England, despite being part of its establishment, because they felt like it and felt superior to it. Leftist political culture works by fostering this sense of destructive arrogance in its operatives. It really can’t work hierarchically, because it doesn’t recognize hierarchies formally, even its own. Fitzpatrick notes that the hacker culture is actually quite hierarchical, in that hackers who make unauthorized attacks on her were punished by those higher up. I think that because the leftist political culture needs to encourage unbridled aggression, it does so, and when it doesn’t like the results simply eliminates those not doing what it wants.
The communist purges seem nonsensical- how can you be a good communist one day and a counterrevolutionary the next?- but seen this way, they make sense. In that case leftist entrepreneurialism is not a fringe phenomena, but an essential aspect of leftism. The fire is allowed to burn until it has done its work, then it’s dowsed with cold water.
The business culture and the counterculture were at odds for some years, but with the appointment of Robert Rubin as Bill Clinton’s treasury secretary, they came together for mutual protection and benefit. Thus we have a country that is leftist, but not socialist, at least not for white people. Minorities don’t get money from the government for the sake of redistribution, as they would in a socialist society, but because they serve the system. All good soldiers get rations.