Dark Thoughts

January 30, 2014

Multiple Pages
Dark Thoughts

“Never darken my door again” was the standard Victorian parting shot to a person you wanted to be rid of. (It was adjusted in one of Bridget Jones’s diaries to: “Never darken my towels again.”)

In case it slipped your attention—perhaps because you haven’t been reading my output assiduously enough—there has for six or seven years been a movement afoot to darken the door of the liberal commercial-democratic order ushered in by the Enlightenment.

It calls itself the Dark Enlightenment. “Endarkenment” would have been crisper, but Roger Scruton has already adopted that term for a somewhat different purpose. The Dark Enlightenment is, so far, a critical movement, with no particular intent to endarken individuals. They just want us to be aware that the Enlightenment had a dark side and that the modes of thought and society that it steered us toward might lead ultimately to a dark place, an antithesis.

At least I think that’s what they want. The most-spoken-of among the Dark Enlightenmenteers—Nick Land and Mencius Moldbug—are prone to earnest philosophizing: the kind of stuff of which, for me, a little goes a long way.

“Good grief! I can hear the distant stomp of jackboots already!”

And I guess I should drop the third-person pronoun in talking about the movement. A few months ago the blogger Scharlach (German for “scarlet”) drew up a very handy diagram of the movement, with participants grouped according to their major themes. At 11 o’clock on the diagram, grouped with Secular Traditionalists, is me. (Or possibly “…am I.” Please don’t email in to tell me.)

So Derb-wise, the Dark Enlightenment is not a “they,” it’s a “we,” although as a chronic non-joiner, I’m probably going to have trouble being consistent about that.

Well, mainstream British journalists have noticed the Dark Enlightenment. On January 20th a chap named Jamie Bartlett (Jamie? Isn’t that a girl’s name?) blogged a flesh-creeper piece titled “Meet The Dark Enlightenment: sophisticated neo-fascism that’s spreading fast on the net.” Good grief! I can hear the distant stomp of jackboots already!

What’s it all about, Jamie, this Dark Enlightenment?

Well, they—sorry, we—are fed up with democracy. And:

The neo-fascist bit lies in the view that races aren’t equal (they obsess over IQ testing and pseudoscience that they claim proves racial differences, like the Ku Klux Klan) and that women are primarily suited for domestic servitude.

I didn’t know that races obsess over IQ testing, etc., but let that pass.

Having got your flesh creeping, Jamie (really? Jamie?) closes with soothing reassurance: “I’ll be keeping an eye on them, and report back here with any interesting developments as they happen.” Thank you, Jamie! Who knows what pit of horror our society might fall into without brave souls like you, ever vigilant!

Who is this Jamie person? The indispensable hbd* chick tells us. Jamie…

…is at the UK think-tank Demos. (Demos was founded by a guy who had been editor of Marxism Today, the “theoretical magazine of the Communist Part [sic] of Great Britain.)”


Two days later, while your flesh was still creeping, a different bloke, name of Tim Stanley, followed up with more reassurance. Nothing to be too frightened of, he murmured emolliently: “The ‘neo-fascist’ Dark Enlightenment is more sad than scary.”

Phew! So those weren’t jackboots I was hearing, only the compulsive thumping of neurotic fingers on worn keyboards in some loser’s dad’s garage. We won’t be needing those Moroccan visas after all, Honey.

Not that Tim thinks Jamie is altogether mistaken.

There is a distinctly unlibertarian note of crazy about the neo-reactionary interest in IQ. Aside from the bad science….

Quantifying human smarts is “bad science,” History major Tim wants us to know. Someone should tell the US Armed Forces, and the administrators of the SAT and the ACT, and those stupid Chinese who think they can find some biological foundation for intelligence. If only they knew more history!

Tim then switches to stern finger-wagging:

There is no line to be walked between reason and racism. Racism and biological determinism are unscientific and immoral, and they have no place in a sane philosophy.

(His emphasis.) Tim is in fact so scrupulously, scientifically anti-racist he eschews biological determinism not merely in the cognitive sphere, but even in the digestive. In a Tweet the following day he asserted that lactose intolerance is a matter of “not liking milk.”

His main aim, though, is to reassure citizens who may have been unnerved by Jamie. To reassure them, but not too much:

The Dark Enlightenment is probably more tragic than it is scary. Or, at least, let’s hope it stays that way.

Oh, let’s hope so! Heaven forbid that the brave and sapient guardians of our national destinies be replaced by weirdos who think lactose intolerance has something to do with biology!

There are two things to be depressed about in these jejune pieces.

The first thing is that they appeared in the Daily Telegraph, which was once a conservative paper. It was in fact once home to the deep-Tory humorist and fantasist Michael Wharton, who claimed that his own preferred daily reading was a broadsheet named The Feudal Times and Reactionary Herald. (The Telegraph was briefly home to me, too, as a book reviewer and op-ed freelancer. I would have been proud to write for the FTRH, but alas! It didn’t exist.)

The other depressing thing is the astonished incomprehension on display when these hipster savants peer out from the lace-curtained windows of Liberal Arts Hotel at the arena of the human sciences, where all the most exciting and challenging ideas of our age are being discussed. Couldn’t they—shouldn’t they—at least try to keep up to date?

I’m especially vexed with Jamie. The first article I ever read of his, last month, was an upbeat piece about bitcoins, just as I had acquired some of the little suckers. I assumed Jamie knew what he was talking about and that I could look forward to a comfortable retirement. Svani ogni speranza! 

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