Climate change marches. Black Lives Matter marches. Anti-Trump marches. Women’s marches. LGBTQIA marches. When it comes to the question of “why,” we suffer from a case of Nietzsche’s eternal return—and the question always becomes, should I care?
From there the questions multiply. If I should care, why? Am I permitted not to care? What are the requirements of caring—where do they end? Does there exist some authority who can compel me to care? If so, what do I think of them? Does my identity force me to care? Does my identity prevent me from caring? Should my identity dictate my cares, and is that even advantageous? Is it advantageous for someone else who is not me? How deterministic is my identity, anyway? Am I bad if I don’t care? Do I really care if I only care in private, but don’t express my concern in public? What if everyone at the march is only pretending to care? How can everyone care this much about so many things? Is it possible to avoid being a hypocrite?
Drawing from the philosophies of Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus, the jouissance of the New Right—and perhaps the defining characteristic of the MAGA intellectual—is a relief from caring-as-such.
Part of Trump’s genius as a politician has been to resolve the fundamental question of caring-as-such by returning it to its original, intended, and functional framework: polis. The nation-state. A collection of laws and property protected by a military and unified by the actions of putting abstract core principles into practice. Literal territory; a set of boundaries. A collection of industries and institutions that either succeed or fail. Land, resources, people. An idea. We care about our nation being “great”—and we should. What else do we all have in common? In a world where civilizations rise and fall, the first-order psychological and political will to succeed, even just as a commitment in the abstract, is a necessary precursor for, well . . . actual success.
“Things that are not within our own power, not without our Will, can by no means be either good or evil.” —Epictetus
Does marching bring anything into our own power that isn’t already there? Yes, if rarely, and often under unusual circumstances. The right to protest is sacred, protected first amendment speech, but an act that is not only increasingly calibrated around “feelings” rather than “goals,” as in the case of the Women’s march, but one that can quickly lose its meaning when abused. To march in the street over worry about other people’s opinions—and even to care about them at all—is worse than a waste of time; it’s a theft against the self. And like the sacred 2nd, 9th, and 10th Amendments, while its scope is wide and often seen as absolute, the 1st Amendment right of protest can easily dull itself through misuse, losing its potency.
Victim politics: coin of the realm
Who among us has not suffered? Who among us won’t? The Stoics would say that it is in our nature to suffer—and if suffering is a thing that happens to us, it can be neither good nor evil. In the absence of a court, there is no relative merit to be assigned or confiscated in the political comparison of harm, least of all as it pertains to identity. Who is the greater victim? Who has suffered the most injustice? What if the weather changes? To get lost in questions like these is to deprive oneself of will.
“Choose not to be harmed—and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed—and you haven’t been.” —Marcus Aurelius
This is not an argument against empathy. It’s an argument against the movement-politics of empathy, which is never empathy-as-such, but rather the exploitation of a delusional projection of empathy-in-the-abstract onto matters which are ultimately neutral and beyond the control of the individual. Like identity politics, the politics of virtue-signaling is a politics of marketing and manufacturing consent. Consent for what? Does it matter? It could be anything. It often is.
Of course, one is ethically obligated to act justly. But one doesn’t need to—and shouldn’t—go out of their way to compel others to act virtuously when it is not in their nature to do so. Here we are speaking on a level beyond futility. Whether other people act virtuously or not is irrelevant, and to spend our precious time in the streets decrying an alleged lack of virtue in others is not an action of the wise.
Towards the form of the MAGA intellectual
The ideology of the new radical left permits no distinction between what happens to us and who we are. It fetishizes what’s beyond the control of the individual, creating a rhetorical asymptote, an imagined “arc of history” that is only a story about other people in another place and what they are doing and one authority’s opinion of why, and it only has influence over us to the extent that we identify with the narratives, no more or less real than fiction, marketed to us. The MAGA intellectual has chosen, rather, to red pill herself. The MAGA intellectual doesn’t watch television. The MAGA intellectual isn’t concerned with The New Yorker. The MAGA intellectual probably doesn’t have a Ph.D., which only indicates that she was red pilled years ago. The MAGA intellectual is either exceptionally popular at cocktail parties or shunned, and in being shunned de facto become more popular.
The laugh track laughs for you. The audience claps for you. Trump plays Trump-the-bastard so you don’t have to, because you can’t. You don’t want to. You wouldn’t know where to begin. Trump is confident against impossible odds so that you can remain meek and miserable against easy odds. The streets are wide enough for marching. You decide to stay home and read a book.