Is the alt right the new punk rock?


Note: this is a preview of the notes for an episode of the podcast not yet available.

It’s a question that’s been thrown around quite a bit lately with hyped up claims that the alt right is inspiring a youth movement better than the youth crews of the 80s and 90s hard-core scenes, with “blood and soil” replacing “I’ve got the straight edge” as the rallying cry. I do not believe that the alt right is the new punk rock, mainly because of significant ideological differences that many people more punk them myself have already pointed out but also because of the notable lack of a significant alt right music scene. However I believe there is an important connection between conservatism overall and some of the alt-right in particular and the more liberal ideologies of things like punk rock and skateboarding that is far more significant than all this prognosticating about whether or not the alt right is the new youth trend to supplant punk. In fact, I think this connection could be a missing link to proper diplomatic relations between young activists for social justice and those with more conservative tendencies, alt right or not.

Is there a missing link between the right and the left? There is, and it is in the most unusual place.
Punk and skate have the DIY ethos. These are both relatively liberal traditions in common perception, although their ideas are actually closer to a sort of communitarian oriented libertarianism. This unusual, seemingly paradoxical mix of ideologies has the potential to be part of the answer and bridge to the concerns of the right. These are what I term bridge ideologies – ideologies with components appealing to disparate parties but that allow for sufficient flexibility to allow them to both at least respect them and also which ideally have components that lead to constructive problem-solving. I believe these ideologies can be key to de-escalating tensions in politics .
I’m pretty sure you’ve heard the term snowflake and SJW – short for social justice warrior – used in a derogatory sense to describe those who hold left-leaning positions, in particular those relating to diversity. And you would have to have been living in a rock without Wi-Fi to have not heard the millennial’s are lazy trope, that tends to be closely associated with their perceived political liberalism. These two ideas originate and end at roughly the same points that being liberal leaning people are weak, conservatives are strong and it’s better adapted to creating a productive and efficient society, thus their ideas should be adopted wholesale to prevent the inferior ideologies from seeping in and weakening society. Such weakening arises by way of mooching off of the strong conservative hard workers by way of welfare programs, hence causing increases in taxation, for example. But such things are not as binary as one would have you believe. And holding to such a binary view is actually adversed to the society’s welfare and ironically often times the welfare of those who promulgate these views.
Now let’s analyze. The term for the positive aspects of the ideology I just explained is rugged individualism. It exists in the hard-working values of the shall we say stereo typical conservative, but it also exists in the values of some of the most liberal or at least liberal seeming youth movements around. These movements don’t take to the term rugged individualism as easily as conservatives but their ideas of a DIY ethos amount to the same. Think about it on a very superfluous level. The stereotypical conservative is probably somebody who does a lot of work with their hands, a lot of DIY. Someone who takes their ability to take initiative and their raw strength seriously. Now the term DIY means different things for different groups in context, namely that the more politically liberal users of the term like punk and skate are less likely to be referring to home improvements and more likely to be referring to the development of businesses and community institutions that are in line with their values, whether that be, say, a record label like Dischord Records or a skatepark like Burnside in Portland.
However, on the conservative side, their own version of the DIY ethos as compared to their perception of the other side is used on the offensive against “lazy liberals” and strengthens entrenched policy preferences on the basis of moral distance, when all along there is a not insignificant segment of the ideology they oppose that stands in total agreement with them and puts it into practice by creating things to build a culture and community and not just complain about the lack thereof. One example of traditional political and community forces acknowledging this is when a Kennedy Center Rep said that skaters didn’t want a skatepark built for them, but they wanted to build it themselves. This is the kind of stuff that should warm a conservative or alt-right person’s heart. But they get a perception of liberal ideology, lumping them in with the so-called “snowflakes” that flushes this down the drain, along with their revolutionary ideas that may work well with, in particular, disaffected young people that get pulled into alt-right racism.

The most painfully ironic instance of this occurring is the story of rock musician and surfer Jason Greenslate, who was depicted by Fox News as being a lazy slacker on food stamps. There is, in fact, a very common perception of surfers and skaters as being lazy that I call Spicoli’s Paradox. This is because these sports are just as difficult, if not more difficult than the major four sports: baseball, football, basketball, and hockey but they don’t get the credit for it from many people. Perhaps if he was a baseball player, for example, and working on some other business that was not music related then they would cut him some slack for being on food stamps, but the story was chosen for drama and effect, not to mention the magic word of media: ratings. And also the ideas of freedom and independence that Fox News purports to epitomize are actually key components of action sports culture. They could have easily shown you the examples of surfers who build succcesful businesses and do so with a keen eye for social responsibility, but that doesn’t get ratings, especially in the demographic target Fox has. And I digress.

Now what does this have to do with politics? Good politics requires a very significant amount of common ground. The less common ground there is the more likely we are to devolve into the street fighter, beating each other up mindlessly, and less likely we are to be like the street skaters, working individually and in community to create. This is the root of much of the problems we have seen over the past few months or so since the election of the president. I go into this framework in more detail in my street fighter versus street skater episode.

There is an important concept called intersectionality that takes the focus away from who is more oppressed, aka the Oppression Olympics, toward common struggles and understanding of differences of experience. I’m going to go a little further than intersexuality which primarily looks at a common problem and look at a common solution. Now if only intersectionality can help us stop skateboarding from going into the Olympics.

First, the common struggle. We have a lot of disenfranchised white people in punk in particular who are looking for an alternative to the current culture and also a way to solve an adverse economic situation. Same with the alt-right. There actually used to be some racist punk bands many years ago, showing just how close together these groups can get. The kind of adverse economic situation they are Raging Against The Machine and seeking a General Strike for is that which many of the alt-right are struggling with. Problem is that socialist candidates like Bernie Sanders don’t appeal to a rugged individualist like those in the alt-right and other conservative or libertarian type movements. But we have something that is more liberal that does work great with this component of their ideology, hence we have a path away from antagonism.
Now, the common solution. Notice how the DIY punk-skate tradition focused both on individual creative freedom and community at the same time. Normally it is freedom going against community and in an authoritarian, government power focused approach, they can be put in opposition quite easily but when you have something that is libertarian in nature you don’t have that problem any more. And we have a group and idea focused not just on creating a better future for themselves but also for those around them. Sharing with your crew. Skaters in particular are about supporting their own brands and athletes that don’t sell out. If we replace “crew” with “whites,” as apparently preposterous as it sounds, then we have a community oriented idea that has a slight semblance of the alt-right, except skaters are not a racist group, and have inadvertently partly figured out a way to better the whole of society. This is a more tenuous connection than the liberty orientation I discussed but any connection is worth noting. It shows there might be a half-millimeter opening of light on community but that gets bigger as you get closer and your Overton windows ease up a bit. Community orientation is always tough with conservative types due to its connotations but there is a path when you get the first part of freedom as a gatekeeper handled.

This isn’t quite so with conservative type rugged individualism. I personally believe that when Christianity is added to this picture it actually resolves quite a bit of this but needless to say I am no theologian.
A big part of this show will be about how we as a nation can solve divides like these to create a better solution.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *