So after contemplating it for several months, I decided to deactivate my Twitter account. I’ve been 8 years or so on there, and over that time it’s slowly changed from a useful networking tool to a soul-crushing hellscape that was poisoning my real-life interactions with people, so I had to let it go. I’m writing this blog post for anybody that wonders where I went.
The proximal cause for my decampment was a series of four political shitpost tweets I sent out the evening of Aug 6. The tweets were motivated by a rash of news reports of prominent Democrats unironically accusing President Trump of being a “white nationalist”, and taking the position that his supporters (with whom I proudly count myself) represent a “white nationalist” movement that supports terrorism against “people of color”. This concept struck me as so over-the-top and irresponsible, and so dangerous coming from such prominent, powerful people, that I felt I really needed to say something. Unwise, certainly, but I honestly couldn’t stand silent while that kind of bullshit attack was being lobbed at people I care deeply about. Below I’ll talk about the tweets, and I stand by each of them, but it occurred to me even as the hate responses started coming in that it was pointless to try to defend them since the responders are True Believers that the President is an Evil Naughty Person, so I left the field of battle before getting dragged into some big thing. Sure, I ran away — but not just from this fight, but from all the other ones I knew were coming between now and November 2020 as the US tears itself apart again like it did starting in the summer of 2015. I just have no interest in suffering through the next year and a half on that garbage platform; I have plenty of better things to do with my time.
Since I deleted my Twitter, I don’t have the exact text of the tweets, but I can reconstruct them pretty faithfully. Let’s have a look:
TWEET 1: “The idea that ethnonationalism is intrinsically hateful or terroristic is just ignorant. It’s probably the most common form of social organization on Earth.”
This is self-evidently true. Something like what we call ethnonationalism today was probably the ONLY system of social order through most of human history, and is still the dominant political force in a lot of pretty stable countries. It’s more of an emotion than a coherent ideology, and it naturally emerges from the affection one feels toward close kin and the familiar comforts of home and hometown. The evils of the colonial period created situations that disrupted that organic unity, but arguably it was ethnonationalism that helped preserve many unique cultures as their countries were settled by foreigners. Ethnonationalist ideas are hugely varied, ranging from completely biological ideas of who gets to be part of a state (e.g., ancestry requirements to be a part of Native American tribes) to completely social ideas of who gets in (e.g. Israel, or the multi-racial civic nationalism espoused by Trump). They also run from the open and pluralistic (again, Israel and the US) to the sealed-off and totalitarian (e.g. Nazi Germany, North Korea).
The important point here, though, is that there is literally no reason to expect that a person who understands their country to have an ethnic basis, would therefore “hate” people of other ethnicities, or would support using terror or violence against people of other ethnicities. Sure, they might, but people have hateful or violent attitudes for all sorts of other reasons as well. Ethnonationalism, including when it is practiced by various kinds of “white people” (whatever that means), is not synonymous with hatred or terror.
Which bring us to…
TWEET 2: “Let’s be honest: “White Nationalist” is just a racist slur used to incite hatred and violence toward people because of the color of their skin.”
There are actual “White Nationalists” in the world that fit the definition commonly understood by the left: people who believe in the creation of a “white”-only ethnostate of some kind. These people are rare, and run the gamut from calm studious types who disavow violence (see below) to Nazi prison gangs that sell drugs and kill people for fun. People who advocate for a “white” ethnostate are rare, however, and the dangerous latter type are despised by nearly everybody (including other “White Nationalists”).
But in the news, we have Very Important People claiming that the 50,000,000 Americans who voted for Trump, or at least a large fraction of them, are White Nationalists. Most of these people (including me) would laugh at the ridiculousness of forming a “white”-only state. Indeed, both Trump and his media supporters bend over backwards to elevate “people of color” who support Trump, and these are not insignificant in number. Sure, some of this pandering is super cringy, but it’s still really odd behavior for people who want to build a white ethnostate. No, there’s no reasonable way you can claim that a large number of Trump’s supporters are true-blue White Nationalists.
So why do those Very Important People say such things? Simple. It scares people, and scared people vote. If they can hoodoo enough “people of color” into believing that Donald Trump and the Russians are going to try to put them into concentration camps, they will show up in droves to vote him out of office. Never mind that it’s completely fatuous to draw a line connecting “civic nationalism that is concerned about unchecked immigration” with “violent psychopaths that want to kill Mexicans”, it’s still a brilliant campaign strategy, especially if you own enough media outlets to completely saturate the airwaves with your propaganda.
That’s dirty politics, which is of course business as usual in any democracy. But the problem you can’t get past is that concentration camps aren’t something you can just overlook, or take your chances at the ballot box about. Let’s be clear — if you genuinely believe that millions of your countrymen want you dead, how can you not support violence against them? What kind of coward, believing that the government was planning to exterminate his neighbors, wouldn’t take up arms to stop them? Especially in a country where you can just skedaddle down to the local gun shop and buy a semi-automatic assault rifle for $500. You want to talk about dog whistles?? Calling the President a White Nationalist is a straight-up dog whistle to every antisocial leftist nut in the country that it’s time to start shooting. It’s an open call for civil war, for no reason except to win elections.
TWEET 3: “Anyone who believes that mild-mannered scholar Jared Taylor is a hate-filled terrorist but Rashida Tlaib is an ambassador of love and tolerance is literally insane.”
And that brings us to “civility”, a concept the left despises, and why it’s so important. These two people are in some ways very different — Jared Taylor is a White Nationalist pariah, Rashida Tlaib is a left-wing icon and congresswoman. But they also have a lot in common, in that they are both racists who share a cartoon understanding of “white people” that they use to explain how our society works. Both seem to agree that “white people” and “people of color” can’t peacefully coexist under the current order, and would be better off either separated, or with one of those groups presiding over the other. It’s all very dumb, since both “white people” and “people of color” are comprised of dozens of different ethnicities with radically different histories, social networks, and modern interests, such that imagining that they represent coherent political groups is completely silly. But nevertheless, that’s how these guys think.
The reason I bring them up is that they clearly flip the concept of “hate” on its head. Taylor is this old professor dude who writes calm, philosophical pieces on his beliefs about social organization and the history and future of humanity. I’m no Taylor expert, but from the couple of pieces I’ve read and his Wikipedia article, there’s no indication that he has EVER advocated violence, or expressed any emotion toward “people of color” that could be viewed as “hateful” without really butchering the common understanding of that word. Leftists reject Taylor’s civility by insisting that there’s no way to form an ethnostate without massive violence — and while that MIGHT be true, Taylor doesn’t seem to believe so, and goes to great lengths to disavow violence and support voluntary separation of “white people” and “people of color”. Let me be clear, I deeply disagree with Taylor’s vision for the ideal future of the United States, but there is simply no reasonable way that one could see this genuine White Nationalist as a terrorist.
On the other hand, Tlaib is a wild-eyed demagogue that doesn’t shy away from using incendiary, racially-charged language to whip up crowds. While she ostensibly represents “diversity” and “tolerance” and the other virtues of “Wokianity”, she is clearly motivated by a visceral hatred of conservative “white people”. I mean, you can see it on her face — scorn, contempt. She sees us as vermin, “White Nationalist terrorists”, lumping millions of people together into a single sub-human, disposable class, based purely on the conditions of our birth and the color of our skin. And she know she’s using words that flame that hatred in others — she obviously chooses them for that effect. If you’re looking for a Hitler analogue, there you go — an angry ranting demagogue who gleefully blames all the world’s problems on a single hated ethnicity.
Again, let me be crystal clear, I don’t agree with either of these people. I’m a civic nationalist who believes the US has a traditional ethnic character comprised of multiple distinct ethnic groups, whose uniqueness should be preserved by limiting immigration. Both Taylor and Tlaib believe things that would threaten that traditional nation. But there’s only one of them that I believe would support using violence and terror to achieve their stated goals, and it ain’t the “White Nationalist”.
(As an aside, it’s maybe worth noting that one of those two people is also a rabid anti-Semite, and it’s not the one you’d expect…)
TWEET 4: “But if you want to sign up with a hateful mob and attack people like me because we were born with the wrong color skin, at least have the common decency not to ask me why I feel the need to own a gun or twelve.”
And this is where it ends, and it’s pretty much how Twitter makes me feel. Over the last 6 years I feel like I’ve watched the country fall apart, and now we’re teetering on the edge of civil war, with one party in our country convinced that the other is comprised of Nazis led by Russian secret agents. If they believe that, how could they not want to use violence against us? And how could I not want to protect myself and my family as best I can? It’s not the world I would choose, but it’s the one we apparently have.
So what I try to tell myself, though, is that Twitter isn’t the real world. In the real world, I know few people who believe any of this crazy bullshit. I can talk about politics with people on the left without getting into shouting matches or even feeling like we were fighting after we’re done. I have friends and colleagues from many countries, with many varied beliefs and colors and interests. Even those colleagues who I see on Twitter RTing hateful political shit from leftist pundits, are pleasant enough in person, and it’s hard for me to believe they think I’m a White Nationalist or a Russian Stooge. Maybe they do, and they’re just being polite, but fuck, why can’t they be polite online too?
So Twitter isn’t real life, and Twitter makes me angry against real life people and probably makes many real life people angry toward me. I used to have meaningful interactions with scientists on there, but most of that has ebbed away over the years, leaving nothing behind but sports news and angry politics. So I’m gone. For that matter I also deleted my Facebook account. I’m actually completely free of social media at this point.
Just a reminder, I’m still a real-life person, and you can get in touch with me the old-fashioned way, via email or even a phone call. I know you’ll miss my paper retweets and opinions on heavy metal music, but you’ll live.