More on Nagle

Additions to the previous post, more on Normies and more questions to answer Sara, this time from a piece in Feminist Current:

‘Kill All Normies’ skewers online identity politics

Jen Izaakson reviews Angela Nagle’s new book, “Kill All Normies.”

Angela Nagle’s Kill All Normies derives its title from a slogan originated on 4Chan that labels anyone who has made a life outside their mother’s basement as a “normal fag” or “normie.” The book, published in June by Zero Books, applies a much needed critical lens to internet culture and the way identity politics have shaped the alt-right as well as the nebulous online left.

Ideology notwithstanding, those two camps — the alt-right and what Nagle calls “Tumblr liberals” — actually have a lot in common, particularly when it comes to their online cultural practices. Nagle describes one of these common practices as a preoccupation with the “aesthetics of transgression,” wherein whether something appears transgressive is more important than the actual politics behind said “transgression.”  These groups also share a reliance on identity politics and a passion for hounding and abasing those who deviate from the party line.

In chapter five, “From Tumblr to the Campus Wars: Creating Scarcity in an Online Economy of Virtue,” Nagle lists numerous recently invented “gender identities,” such as “Cassflux” (defined as a fluctuating indifference to your gender), “Daimogender” (a gender closely related to demons and the supernatural), and “Genderdale” (a gender that is hard to describe). On the liberal left, one of the ways identity politics manifests itself is through the invention of this ever-expanding  list of gender categories.

Though this a recent trend, Nagle locates Judith Butler as the theorist primarily responsible for the spread of the idea that gender is an identity. Nagle references the 1998 Left Conservativism conference, organized by Butler herself, as one of the first manifestations of the ongoing battle between between what she calls the “materialist left” and the “liberal left.” The conference took aim at leftists who criticized the postmodernist rhetoric that had begun to take over in academia, painting them as “conservative” in an effort to “expel certain people and thoughts,” Nagle explains. Today, similar efforts to “expel certain people and thoughts” have expanded their reach through social media. Indeed, any objection to the postmodern identity politics embraced by Tumblr liberals results in an online mob baying for the blood of the apostate.

In the same chapter, Nagle looks at the practice of no-platforming. One example she references is a petition demanding a talk by Germaine Greer, called “Women & Power: The Lessons of the 20th Century,” that was scheduled to take place at Cardiff University in 2015, be cancelled. The prominent feminist was accused of “trans-exclusionary views,” presumably on account of comments made in a 2009 column, calling the idea that a man could become a woman a “delusion.” Nagle writes, “As far as this new generation of campus “progressives”  was concerned, Greer may as well have been on the far right.” And not only did students try to silence and smear Greer, but they went after her defenders as well, tarring anyone who did not support the attack as “transphobic.” Nagle criticizes the efforts of so-called progressives to no-platform Greer and many others as attacks on free speech and on critical thought, which  filter out from academic institutions into wider society, and even influence public policy.

Mobbing those who don’t toe the line, attempting to destroy their reputations and lives, is sadistic, but also functions as a way to define the boundary between an in-group and an out-group, allowing the in-group to police, test, and demand loyalty. Almost any event can be made use of, opportunistically, to redefine that dividing line, to test loyalty, or to start a witch-hunt — nothing is beyond the bounds of exploitation. Even the most personal of tragedies can be used to draw a line in the sand or deploy the thought-police.

On January 14th, one day after writer and Goldsmiths lecturer Mark Fisher took his own life, British blogger Zoe Stavri tweeted:

“Just because Mark Fisher is dead, doesn’t make him right about ‘sour-faced identitarians.’ If only left misogyny would die with him.”

This grave dancing was deserved, apparently, on account of Fisher’s 2013 essay, “Exiting the Vampire Castle,” which criticized the identitarian politics Nagle calls “economies of virtue.” The article was called “pathetic” by queer theorist Sara Ahmed, and Ray Filar, a genderqueer performer and friend of Ahmed’s (who joined in with the celebrations of Fisher’s suicide on Twitter, retweeting Stavri’s classless tweet) dismissed Fisher’s critiques of the kind of mobbing and witch-hunts that take place online as not being “intersectional” enough.

Kill All Normies’ concluding chapter deals with Fisher’s suicide and the response to his essay, in which he argued that the identity politics adopted by the liberal left had “convert[ed] the suffering of particular groups — the more ‘marginal’ the better — into academic capital.” Fisher pointed out that, while in theory this group “claim[s] to be in favour of structural critique, in practice it never focuses on anything except individual behaviour.”

The pile on against Fisher grew throughout 2013, as numerous leftist white men denounced him in order to signal their own virtuousness, often willfully misinterpreting his arguments. Joining the mob was not only fun, it was strategic and opportunistic. As Fisher himself pointed out, it was a surefire way those men could avoid becoming targets themselves. Vice writer Sam Kriss, for example, called Fisher’s essay “nonsense,” though admitted his own condemnation was “mostly written because everyone else was doing one.” Kriss distorted Fisher’s arguments in order to justify the sadistic pleasure so many seemed to gain from attacking the piece, implying Fisher felt “women and members of ethnic and sexual minorities who belong to the tendency he identifies are somehow unnatural and monstrous.”

Nagle writes:

“The deluge of personal and vindictive mass abuse experienced by Fisher for years afterwards, involving baseless accusations of misogyny, racism, transphobia, etc., became typical for anyone who dared touch any of the Tumblr left’s key sensitivities, perhaps especially from a left perspective…

…The strangest feature of this online ‘call-out culture’ was this mixture of performative vulnerability, self-righteous wokeness and bullying. The online dynamics of this call-out culture were brilliantly described by Fisher as, ‘driven by a priests desire to ex-communicate and condemn, an academic-pedant’s desire to be the first to be seen to spot a mistake, and hipster’s desire to be one of the in-crowd.’ I would add to this that the key driving force behind it is about creating scarcity in an environment in which virtue is the currency that can make or break the career or social success of an online user in this milieu, the counterforce of which was the anonymous underworld from which the right-wing trolling cultures emerged.”

When Stavri was criticized for her callous tweet, she attempted to excuse herself  by explaining that she must have posted it because she was on new mental health medication. (Of course, Fisher’s thoroughly documented mental health issues were never so sympathetically taken into account by the mob who came after him for writing the Vampire Castle piece.) Stavri’s response fits rather perfectly within what Nagle describes as, “a culture of fragility and victimhood, mixed with a vicious culture of group attacks, group shaming, and attempts to destroy the reputations and lives of others’ [that] has been coined as ‘crybullying.’”

The reception to Kill All Normies amongst the groups that the book scrutinizes has been surprising. Leading far-right figure Richard Spence tweeted that he thought Nagle “understands the Alt-Right (and Alt-Lite) much, much better than most.” Queer theorist Lisa Duggan called Kill All Normies “an extremely important book” (an unexpected comment, considering she herself is one of those responsible for germinating “Tumblr Liberalism”).

One weakness in Kill All Normies is that the analysis of male supremacy amongst the alt-right takes a back seat to the analysis of their white supremacy, but given that male supremacy is not confined to the alt-right, it’s clear why that decision was made.

The chapter that most directly addresses male supremacy is “Entering The Manosphere,” wherein Nagle describes the emergence of MRAs online. Roosh V, owner of MRA site Return of the Kings, proposes a strategy of “aggressive, manipulative, social-Darwinist-tinged approach to coaxing women to have sex,” called for rape to be legalized, and stated he would not go down on a woman for “quasi-political reasons.” Another group, Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW), advocates male separatism, telling men to avoid romantic relationships with women in “protest against a culture destroyed by feminism.” (If only!) Even more amusing  are the Proud Boys who have a policy of “no wanks.” (The Proud Boysreject pornography and masturbation, believing it to have weakened men, “making them lazier and more stupid.”)

What unites these men’s rights groups with the alt-right is that they believe white, straight, males have been left behind and now exist at the bottom of the social and sexual hierarchy. They believe that while the world once belonged (rightfully) to them, now women, people of colour, and sexual minorities rule. Indeed, their insult of choice, “cuck,” is acute projection — they feel usurped and humiliated by these groups, and believe they have been robbed of the privilege they are entitled to. This is perhaps best demonstrated by the phenomena of what 4chaners refer to as “incels” (men who conceive of themselves as “involuntary celibates”), lamenting that women refuse sex with them, rendering them modern victims of their self-conceived “sexual hierarchy”.

When Nagle writes of “online culture wars,” we must recognize that the main battle is over truth. While Nagle does not explore the feminist dimension of these online street fights, specifically, the implications are evident. Both the alt-right and the anti-materialist, regressive left believe that prostitution is not about women’s position under patriarchy as a resource for men, but sexual liberation and the free market. Both consider the sex trade to be a situation where women come out on top — with autonomy, empowered through profit and/or sexual freedom. Rather than overturning the system of prostitution, both groups believe we need to offer more rights to pimps and johns, in order to allow prostituted women to benefit from an unregulated free market. (So far, so Marxist!) Most significantly for feminism, both these tendencies wish to block certain feminist analysis and activism — specifically, the kind that challenges the system of patriarchy at its root.

Kill All Normies is the first book to skewer the relations of online behaviour, illustrating the way in which social justice warriors and the alt-right sustain one another. The real world effects of online politics are laid bare. What is left for readers to do is to overcome the navel-gazing of identity politics and oppose political sadism from both the right and the left.

By recognizing the negative impact of identity politics on the left, books like Kill All Normies help us move closer to an honest discussion that opens the possibility of a return to a systemic analysis, instead of one rooted in abstract identity and reliant on performativity. Nagel’s efforts, her endurance in observing the pond life of the internet so closely, and the work she has done in recording and delineating it for the rest of us should be greatly appreciated.

Guest Writer




From the comments:

After Mark died SA reminded us of her paragraph in her ‘Against Students’ essay that offered heavy praise for this:

So there is some context:

Meanwhile, wider concerns:

Still wider – the process of mobbing:

Mark’s original article got it right and he should be widely praised, he is vindicated:





Normies – gunning for MF

There are questions to be answered here too. Absolutely disgusted by gloating and opportunism of Stavvers, Ahmed and Co. This and the next post raise some deep points about which Sara Ahmed and her mobbing acolytes must be held to account:

Kill All Normies: Street Fights Of Tumblr Liberals And The Alt-Right

JUL 2017 Saturday 1ST posted by Morning Star in Features

JEN IZAAKSON previews a new book which explores whether the bullying online behaviour of liberals has more in common with the alt-right than you might think

ANGELA NAGLE’S Kill All Normies represents a break with the usual unwillingness to subject the amorphous left’s internet cultures and identity politics to the same degree of scrutiny as the right’s.

Published by Zero Books, Kill All Normies uses as its title a slogan promoted on 4Chan’s politics board that essentially derides anyone who has ever been in a relationship or had a job as a “normal fag.” Unless still living in your mother’s house you’re not truly qualified sanctimonious loser troll material.

The London launch was held at the Marx Memorial Library signalling that there is still some left-wing support for ventures in critical thought.

On arrival it was a former president of the RMT who allowed me to cross the threshold of the event on the basis I had “a feminist badge on,” reliably representing my lack of membership in either of the camps scrutinised by the book.

The event began with an introduction by US academic Catherine Lui tracing Nagle’s account of the phenomena of sadism and sentimentalism as emanating from the 18th century.

Sade’s writings emerged at a similar time as the emotive public spectacle. Emotional performativity coinciding periodically with sexual sadism is perhaps indicative of a greater relation.

Nagle explained how the alt-right can be identified as clinging to its own brand of identity politics, sentimentalising whiteness and brotherhood to a utopian degree.

The imagined white global state encompassing North America, Europe and Russia is the key example of this.

That this would entail genocide and ethnic cleansing is not just glossed over, but omitted.

However, this glib romanticism can at any moment transfer to another form of group consolidation based on exclusion and sadism, as anyone caught in the cross-hairs of the alt-right can attest to.

The basic trolling of children’s memorial sites, creating memes about a family’s dead loved ones or mocking sexual abuse victims is par for the course.

But these are still sensitive souls: apparently nazi website Stormfront was wounded that Nagle’s book declined to mention them.

Nagle’s answer as to why is that she “just didn’t think they were that important,” surely representing the worst imaginable scenarios for alt-right membership.

Clinging to relevance and personal ambition appears as fundamental for the alt-right as they are for left commentators who are unwilling to tackle the tough questions Nagle does.

A similar merging of sadism and sentimentalism is mirrored in what Nagle calls “Tumblr-liberalism.”

The book lists some of the numerous recently confabulated genders, mostly personality descriptors more than anything to do with gender. Nagle identifies Judith Butler more than any other theorist as primarily responsible for an unleashing of gender taxonomies that have undermined systemic accounts of gender.

In a similar way to the alt-right, any challenge to the new cult of identity politics, concentrated once on Tumblr but now spilling out into what Nagle calls “campus wars,” leads to a mob baying for the heretics’ blood.

A tenured male university professor is as likely a target as a young single mum who administrates for Mumsnet message boards.

However, as anyone ever embroiled in such battles will confirm, if one of the lynchers is “called out” for misgendering, misreading the background or religion of the victim, a heartfelt apology will of course be offered. Right before you’re told to “die in a fire.” The combined hands of sentimentalism and sadism are ever present in these ritualistic measures.

These rituals, according to Nagle, operate more as a way to keep the groups together by identifying an in and out-group, policing the boundary of who is transgressive and who isn’t pure enough, more then they are simply about bullying.

Almost any event can opportunistically be used to create a dividing line, split, or witch-hunt over, as went spectacularly wrong for Zoe Stavri when she celebrated the suicide of writer and Goldsmiths lecturer Mark Fisher back in January.

Her celebratory tweet did have some traction. For example, it remains retweeted by “genderqueer” “performer” Ray Filar, who is friends with queer theorist Sara Ahmed, formerly at Goldsmiths, author of Living a Feminist Life.

Stavri then fell back on an appeal to sentimentalised victimhood, telling those who admonished her that she was on new mental health medication. As if gleefully rubbing one’s hands over someone’s suicide is a known side effect of any drug.

A shield of sentimentality, not emotional honesty, apology or genuine exchange, summoned to excuse sadism.

This group particularly is identified by Nagle as instrumentalising victimhood, competing in what could be dubbed an “oppression Olympics.” It just relies on a great deal of willing self-objectification and confessionalism to compete.

These groups, the alt-right and Tumblr liberals have, according to Nagle, a symbiotic relationship, needing one another as much as the monstrous spectres each joyously opposes.

Both exist as differing camps in what Nagle frames as today’s most brutal online “culture wars,” but they certainly share cultural practices and unfailingly need one another as ludicrous misshapen enemy.

Psychoanalytically, there is more than a small amount of projective identification taking place between them (wherein a projected fantasy of another group or person is so strong it forces them to succumb to it, similar to a self-fulfilling prophecy).

During the discussion Nagle was asked why the left commentariat on Twitter or alternative media do not challenge the Tumblr left’s sadistic and sentimental politics as they do the alt-right’s.

Her answer was unequivocal: fear. And we could add to that, personal ambition. Which Patreon accounted blogger wants to commit possible career and financial suicide over what an Oakland teenager with blue hair claims about themselves?

Further, at least if you are victim of the alt-right mob the left feels sorry for you, but when the new identitarians come after you, well, it was your fault for oppressing the poor lambs.

The rest of the discussion focused around the relation between internet cultures and power, with the alt-right’s direct line to Breitbart and identity politics ability to shape public policy despite any coherence or ability to organise a mass movement.

Kill All Normies is the first book to really nail the relations of the cultural space of the internet to the real world that, significantly, includes an analysis of potentials and problems across the political spectrum.

It should not be the last. The atmosphere at the book launch was one of relief. That finally we could talk about these issues seriously, rather than continually being the adults in the room who excuse the children for setting fire to the dog because we fear we might be next.

Nagle is incredibly brave to step forward to broach these matters, however tentatively. This burgeoning will, for honesty and a return to a structural, material analysis that it is so easy to forget exists when online, should be afforded the admiration it deserves.


See also the next post, More on Nagle, and the links below from the comments:

After Mark died SA reminded us of her paragraph in her ‘Against Students’ essay that offered heavy praise for this:

So there is some context:

Meanwhile, wider concerns:

Still wider – the process of mobbing:

Mark’s original article got it right and he should be widely praised, he is vindicated: