There’s something to be said for those in whom the sign of the times less offers an omen and more flashes across their periphery like a neon sign at an amusement park.
In 2019, the assumed excesses of prefixing an ‘Alt’ to any political fringe is virtually guaranteed to incite misunderstanding, scrutiny and suspicion. In that sense, the Alt-Center is a shameless affair. However, it isn’t shameless merely because of its ideas – which are eclectic – but rather, because of its ultimately strategic knowledge of where it sits within the dissident sphere.
The impending antiquation of older ways of thinking about politics is not for them an indication that some inevitable new path will soon announce itself, for which they will conveniently be the vanguard. Rather, this antiquation is for them an occasion to consider the possibility of creating something wholly new whose expression may unfold in ways as varied as one could imagine.
Journalist, artist, novelist and host of Stark Truth Radio, Robert Stark, has built something of a salon for Alt-Center ideas on his show, where, as of late, one may hear talk of Starkianism – existing in its own corner of Alt-Centrism. Roughly put, Alt-Centrism is where ideas of the dissident right and dissident left meet, and is itself comprised of concepts such as Aesthetic Socialism, Aristocratic Radicalism and Alt-Urbanism.
Other key players under the greater umbrella of the movement would be blogger Giovanni Dannato, who authored ideas influential to the movement such as Smart Socialism, Neo-Tribalism and Neuro-Tribalism. Also, blogger Matthew Pegas, whose site title ‘Alt of Center‘ specifically echoes the movement itself, has coined or at least explored and expounded upon interesting terms to explain concepts which are not politically partisan or, for that matter, easy to pin down, such as ‘Neon-nationalism‘ and ‘Homonationalism,’ – the latter a meditation on the singular role that gays have played in society, regardless of their political utillity:
‘ [James] O’meara advocates not “gay rights” as presented by the socially-deconstructive left– a push to establish homosexuals as the same as everyone else based on the doctrine of universal sameness– but a sort of positive understanding of the role homosexuals as a distinct type, can play in societies, even, and perhaps especially, radically traditionalist ones.’
Jame O’Meara’s inspiration to Alt-Centrism is in his positioning gays throughout history as an Aristocratic Radical class, often at the front line of avant garde art movements which capture the essence of Euro-Centric high-trust environments. In fact, one could extract an alternative history of gays as Aristocratic Radicals, in that they culturally progressed without the negative impacts of neolberalism, thus alienating the PC left, whilst producing their own transgressive art and lifestyle, thus alienating the puritanical trad-right.
Searching for antecedents to those who explicitly named themselves among the Alt-Center, one encounters the work of Brandon Adamson, who fronted the Alt-Left as a movement and brand long before Trump and Fox News got a hold of it to disparage Antifa.
Also, Pilleater, who once self-identified with the Alt-Left, pioneered the concept of ‘Asian Aryanism‘ which dismayed both the dissident right with its open endorsement of miscegenation and, unsurprisingly, the Left, with its objectification of Asian women, thus managing to push buttons on all sides of the spectrum. Often, his work explores identitarianism from an unapologetically cosmopolitan and even a postmodern lense, often stumbling upon new ideas and meanings in sexual excesses which leave little room for those who want to return to the past.
Rather than a mere potpourri of ideas borrowed equally from both the right and the left (though they are that too), a series of central themes and motifs form a locus of concern for the Alt-Center: healthy competition without cut-throat social Darwinism, the social distribution and availability of pleasing aesthetics, and, at once a social safety net as well as a place in society for exceptional people to excel without having to compete in the market at their own expense.
In the works of those mentioned, one gathers that society could be traced as working, to some degree, in the following manner:
Some form of basic income or financial incentive should favor people with some level of talent or those who possess a high IQ (Smart Socliasm; at once anti-capitalist and and anti-egalitarian).
Those with some level of talent or who possess a high IQ then have the space and economic freedom to develop aesthetic projects which will benefit society and create the type of environment people actually want to live in. Or, as Robert Stark informs us:
‘As a thought experiment, imagine a society where beauty is spread equally among large swaths of the population. How would this transform our economic structure? Would there be less competition, leading to less innovation? Or would a society where there was greater aesthetic beauty inspire the greatness of mankind to accomplish great things and further innovation?
This is the basic argument of capitalism vs. socialism framed in aesthetic rather than economic terms. If aesthetics like wealth are a scarce resource, most of the populace will be delegated to the aesthetic proletariat. The key to creating a successful society is both making aesthetics accessible to a larger share of the populace, which means more people can compete. In a sense an “aesthetic distributism.”’
If this sounds grandiose, there are more immediate issues along this trajectory with which they align themselves. New developments in Urbanism are also a major concern for Stark and the others. In his article, Alt-Urbanism: Building a Based Urban Middle Class SWPL Utopia, Stark outlines the harm done by globalization and H-1B visas to the native working class, and informs us:
‘This demographic of “based” SWPLs will be much more open to alternative ideas in urbanism and culture than conservatives from the traditional middle class and possibly some of those people can be won over by the grand aesthetic visions.
This will also create a new political and cultural movement which will hopefully flourish, raising families in aesthetically pleasing communities rather than turning into bitter life long NEET’s or childless SJW Hipsters.
Cities are economic power houses where people connect and exchange new intellectual and cultural ideas. It is crucial that we do not continue to allow the liberal, capitalist elites to monopolize them. We must create a new thriving urban cultural, aesthetic, and political vision based on both practical policies and a vision of a better way to live.’
Through what at first seems to be a paradox, but which really gets to the heart of Alt-Centrism, Alt-Urbanism ultimately addresses the grievances of the dissident right but in a dissident left way. Alt-Right folks may dream about the world falling apart and forming their own ethno-state in Idaho after America balkanizes, and regular old right wingers may drift off further into the suburbs, when a more winning strategy would be to emulate SWPLs and recolonize urban communities. Naturally, you’d get all kinds of scenarios under neo-tribalism, as the traditional model of the nation-state is made obsolete through mass technology and the failure of the system to address many local problems.
All of this said, it would be a mistake to simply think of Alt-Centrism as an even blend of Alt-Right and Alt-Left views so as not to be too much of one or the other. Rather, one does best not to think of it chronologically but from the center (as it were), from which point many directions in thought might move at once.
It is, perhaps, an inevitable dialectic formed out of that need for a separate entity, a separate realm of political dissidence, once Hillary Clinton’s mere mention of the Alt-Right as a strategically rendered pejorative and Trump’s misappropriation of the term Alt-Left as a strategic mob-shaming tactic were exhausted by mainstream culture, which seldom unlearns its mistakes and misconceptions in direct proportion to how it is misinformed, if it even unlearns them at all.
An Alt of a different order seemed inevitable. Though the mere presence of an ‘Alt’ to describe anything post Alt-Right would seem like a dubious affair, there is a sense in which there is no discursive alternative (so to speak).
‘What better way to repel certain types and prevent entryism from them than by partially identifying with a label they already don’t like?’ Brandon Adamson said in his Alt-Left manifesto. The same could be said for the Alt-Center. It was going to be used and it is only inevitable that it be misunderstood at some point.
The term ‘Radical Center’ – which I have deployed in the past for the sake of indulging in shameless, speculative politics in general – has, unfortunately, been long ago appropriated by the establishment to prop up every politician whom any less than gullible citizen would have the good sense to call a regular old moderate.
If my memory serves me, I even recall the presence of a blog which is no longer around with ‘Far Center’ in the title. But ‘Alt’ denotes something much different than ‘Radical’ or even than ‘Far,’ if we’re going to look at it three dimensionally.
‘The Alt-Center is not moderate,’ Giovanni Dannato informs us; ‘It’s alternative.’ – Just as the Alt-Right is not conservative per se and the Alt-Left (the real one) is not liberal per se. But the fact that they all offer alternatives to their mainstream, main-wing counterparts is just a categorical feature that they all share in common. If the Alt-Right is more traditional and reactionary than conservative and the Alt-Left is more fantastic and libertine than liberal, what is the Alt-Center if not moderate?
To get an idea, we must dive into the varied batch of neoligisms and political concepts which the Alt-Center promiscuously invents in order to convey their ideas. For instance, in Retro-Futurism, we have a phenomenon which Robert Stark has described as, ‘how the past envisioned the future.’
If nihilism is truly the great crisis of our time, and if nihilism is ultimately a crisis concerning what is to be done with time itself (as an inevitable result of meaning being lost) then the idea that it could be possible to re-imagine the present according to a possible future envisioned by the past is a way to directly challenge the destructive element of our modern conception of time. As it reconfigures our notion of how to think about beauty in time, we are reminded that it is possible to treat the future, as well as the past, as something that one can actually create. In this regard, it could be said, perhaps, that the Alt-Center hopes to coax the head of Ouroboros by placing a diamond in front of its tail.
In Neo-tribalism or Neuro-tribalism, we are given a glimpse of what the world may look like as communication changes the way we live among one another as groups, rather than individual, economic units.
‘…the end is coming for enlightenment philosophy that reduces all questions of society to the individual. In the future, society will not be treated as a machine made of atoms, but as an organism made of cells. Societies themselves will finally be seen correctly as competing organisms in the wild rather than lifeless structures that interchangeable atoms happen to occupy.’ – Giovanni Dannato, 21st Century Nationalism Is Not The Nation-State
Utopian idealism this is not, as Dannato also informs us,
‘An age of tribes promises to be a savage one defined by groups fighting over scarce resources in a world where most niches are already over-saturated. The main discussion between allied emerging tribes right now is what uniting principles will define the new nation-tribe.’
The Alt-Center is not lacking in apocalyptic foreboding. Unlike some of their discursive peers, however, they tend not to suppose that their principles are a means to prevent it and save the west. Rather, one suspects that they don’t see it as a preventable phenomenon but are, nevertheless, prepared to consider whatever it is that might out-meme and out-compete the culture we have today. In a Deleuzian passage, Matthew Pegas illustrates this aesthetic war as follows:
‘What I advocate in this culture war is the creation of aesthetic spaces of hegemonic defamiliarization: spaces in which certain progressive aesthetics and causes are suddenly cut free from the political hegemony with which they were formally, unthinkingly, clustered, and re-clustered with a novel, alternative, hegemony. This defamiliarization experience can be so intense as to seem alien or mystical, as the average observer may have been completely blind to the possibility of any such an alternative hegemony, having taken the link between certain aesthetics and liberal universalist politics to be “natural” rather than the product of historical systems of cultural domination. Its that moment where you’re listening to a vaporwave track, and are suddenly struck by the reality of the decline of western civilization, and its true melancholy. You thought you were listening to a hip, leftist, cultural product, but wait: this nostalgia is politically ambiguous at best, if not inherently reactionary.’
It is precisely the nature of this competitive component, this sort of para-capitalistic undercurrent which makes the Alt-Center, not only unique among Alts of all kinds, but unique among fringe political movements.
Take, for instance, Giovanni Dannato’s lucid illustration of social capital in the current year:
‘An easy tribal initiation is to ask someone to have their face scarred up with a knife. It’s a simple, effective ritual popular from the Amazon to Papua New Guinea. It has a universal appeal because it’s an all-in-one package that requires someone to voluntarily undergo significant pain, adopt a signal of allegiance that can’t be taken back, and is impossible to fake. A tattoo on a hipster or bro-ey pothead comes from that same impulse. When allegiance and affinity are scarce, its most ostentatious advertisements proliferate.
But what if one has no affinity for religious abasement, has little money or care for wealth signals, and has no connection with the outgoing people with tattoos? There are plenty that fall between these cracks who struggle to find a place in the milling horde of humanity. This is especially true of outliers of any kind.
Under these pressures we can easily understand the appeal of the dissident right, antifas, or hard-core SJWs. People who are unusual in some way in the general population try to find ways congregate where their essential nature is distilled. This is the impetus behind the formation of the first neo-tribes.’
PIlleater (Francis Nally) expressed a similar point in an interview with Robert Stark in which he spoke of the Alt-Right and SJW’s as products of capitalism which create cultural bubbles within the greater market.
It is not products or objects or resources which are being competed for, but entire ideologies, ways of interpreting objects and resources, entire value sets in an endless culture war. This is what the Alt-Center understands above all else: social capital from the birds-eye view – a demystified understanding of social capital.
In this way, the movement could be seen as an attitude, a style or an approach more than an ideology with a specific political agenda, a specific diplomatic program or an inbuilt affinity for this or that candidate who fit their overall approved profile.
Though they might express appreciation for specific political candidates from time to time, they do not have a Trump-equivalent on whose every word they can hang in the hopes that he will pave the way for some distant utopia which directly reflects their ideas.
As a matter of fact, a perfect Alt-Centrist paradox would be the recent endorsement of Andrew Yang’s candidacy for president by many people involved in the Alt-Right and the dissident right in general.
In this sense, Alt-Centrism is tragic in character, but it is tragi-comic where its Starkian element is concerned.
Stark’s novel, Journey to Vapor Island, follows the story of Noam Metzenbaum who idolizes a character named Roger Blackstone – himself a caricature and exaggeration of Trump, at least in part. Throughout the novel we see Noam, tormented by his peers, turning now and again to the elitist, guiding light of Blackstone (who remains in the background of the book, never part of the main action), whom he believes embodies his own taste and aspirations for aristocratic individualism.
I’ll leave it to the reader to find out what ultimately happens in the book, but the way Noam’s fate unfolds is multi-level satire – not only of the way that public figures exploit those beneath them, but of the way we project our desires and ideals onto the world, and likewise, how the world exploits them.
The Starkian tragi-comic is also evident in the film Supply, in which Matthew Pegas accompanies Robert Stark on a spiritual journey to seek guidance from Luke Ford. Though I’d be willing to bet on the sincerity of the quest depicted in the film, its very sincerity seems self-parodized as Robert Stark stalks an empty parking lot late at night, with Pegas’s narration informing us that he has lost his wallet and is now search of Alicia Silverstone.
Even as Robert Stark asks Luke Ford if he thinks it’s naive for him to come seeking spiritual wisdom from him, one gets the sense that Stark already knows that the reply will be ‘yes,’ and that the journey is no less necessary. Starkianism is New Sincerity’s worst nightmare, if only because it manages to be strangely sincere whilst ironizing itself to an incredible degree.
Where Starkianism more directly lines up with the greater umbrella of Alt-Centrism is precisely at this point of meta-awareness. Just as Starkianism is aware enough of its sincerity to exploit its underlying obsessions for the sake of parody, Alt-Centrism is aware enough of the nature of competition on all fronts, whether it be aesthetic, neurological, ethical or ethnic, to anticipate and comment upon the nature of competition itself, rather than simply competing for attention by formulating yet another political dissident ideology.
So what is the Alt-Center if not moderate? Ultimately, and paradoxically, it is absurdist and pragmatic.
In a telling passage from Journey to Vapor Island, one character reveals to Noam the nature of the world he helped create:
“Noam, you can’t stay here,” Shadilay responds. “This is not paradise. This is just Vapor.”
“Vapor?” Noam replies, confused.
“Yes, Vapor,” Shadilay says. “A void where all your fantasies are stored, unrealized concepts that have not been implemented and discarded into the abyss.’“
“So basically everything I have ever dreamed of but have not successfully implemented?” Noam says.
Noam asks, “So why can’t we just stay here?”
Shadilay says, “Anything that you have dreamed of that has not come into fruition is in essence non-existent. You must have entered a portal at some point, but if you stay here too long you will get so attached to your unrealized fantasies that those fantasies will seize control of you, and you will become vapor in an essence.”
Noam asks, “Are you implying my crush is Vapor?”
“That is for you to figure out,” Shadilay replies. “But all I can say is that once you become Vapor there is no return. You will be trapped in your subconscious for all eternity. (…)”
Starkianism and Alt-Centrism, likewise, act as spaces of possibility – a license to try on different aesthetic visions and neuro-affinities in an endless project to pair what works best with what is most pleasing. All else is vapor; the vanishing fog of social pathology and collective desire born out of utopian delusions and conceptual abstractions like ‘saving the west’ or ‘revolution,’ – each one little more than a meme crushed by an insurmountable hunger for something more exciting, more beautiful and possibly, more dangerous.