“This is how I exited a decaying modernity.”
Part I: Exiting a Decaying Modernity
Under Nick Land’s The Dark Enlightenment, the first section you see signals you towards the overarching theme of his writing: “Neoreactionaries head for the Exit.” It’s succinct, it’s easily put into a tweet, and, when unpacked, it becomes a way to question the state of affairs we are in. Modernity having failed, the project of the Enlightenment becoming a progressive minefield of indignities, Land’s NRx take is to signal the way out.
What exactly is this modernity that we are exiting? A general, all-encompassing answer would make the mistake of leaving behind some of the more personal components that I would like to bring to this conversation. The demographic changes in Peru around the turn of the century made the conversation around Exit possible. Indeed, in Peru, the prospect of Voice was obliterated by the corruption endangering the place since the beginning of the Republican era. Democracy turned into a working, but decaying machine in this country. So exiting became a Dream to work towards to, to strive and sacrifice anything, just for the chance to Exit this place.
Of course, this is a familiar migration story. But it became more pronounced around the 2000’s, where in Peru the average narrative was that in order to get ahead, and get some money for you and your family, you would have to immigrate to Europe or the United States. There were economic incentives for people who were skilled enough to make it out, and no one will attest that the Visa applications were or are easy to go through. In order to Exit, you have to go through the mechanisms put in place and prove your worth in front of a bureaucratic body. I regard this as essentially a good thing, as I do not believe opportunities to Exit should be handed out if the nation-state to which you want to go to does not deem you capable of fulfilling a productive role in their society. To this I add the qualifier that Peru needs no handouts; we have had, historically, plenty to work with and create economic growth. Due to leftist governments, dictatorships, and corruption, this was squandered. There is a reason why we never reached the era of Industrialization, and it is not for lack of opportunities.
The options of Exit for people in Peru are limited. Peru is mainly a Spanish-speaking country despite the many languages that are trying to be recovered by the Government. However, the ideal was to settle in an English-speaking country and chase the American Dream, or as members of my family succinctly put it, “something better, because there is nothing better here.” For those with a limited arsenal in terms of languages, Spain was a sufficiently decent option to get something better.
My mother was one of the people who, around 2006, had to look into her options to chase the dream of Exit. The feeling of being stuck psychologically and economically in a city which bears no future for your family is pervasive. She wanted to set an example: “you can Exit this place too.” Her plans were not so successful at first, as the US rejected her, and she was put through a bureaucratic nightmare to get a Work visa. Like many people from Peru who Exit the place, she had emotional ties to the place: family, friends, memories. So she came back. However, she had raised me to head for the Exit, but I had to find it within myself why I wanted to Exit. Her examples were clear enough, but they were not mine. By the age of 7, even before she migrated, I knew Peru was not my place. A decaying modernity rotted before my eyes.
Peru is a neoliberal country, economically, that is. One could be facetious and call it “hyper-liberal” since the corrupt Alberto Fujimori regime, but it’s a place where market logic has accelerated the pace of decay of various institutions such as the University, the transportation system, and the press, among other institutions that are being worked on to this day. Alongside this, a political reactiveness feeds Peru’s consciousness, as various political parties proliferate (more than 10) into nonsensical and disorganized competition. Peru swings mostly neoliberal as a response to the failure of Leftist governments, policies around the Region, and our personal days of rage in terms of terrorism in the name of the Left. However, this means that the country, with unfinished basic infrastructure, centralization, and waves of internal migration, is effectively a Chaotic Territory. Diverse, yes, but at the cost of basic infrastructure being left behind. Oh, and democracy, we’ve got that. It is one of the platforms that has effectively given rise to corruption and, well, most of our Presidents are either in jail or being investigated for corruption. Not to mention the congressmen, public servants, mayors, region managers and other politicians that have been involved in major cases too embarrassing to even list. The country, seen from my perspective, is an endless source of shame.
Culturally, Peru is stuck looking at the past. But political economy has a funny way of getting countries such as ours that did not go through Industrialization to jump straight towards post-industrial/information economies pretty fast, and in doing so, fostering a culture of innovation that is growing to eat up anything resembling tradition. The food stays the same, though (colourful and delicious, but toxic in the long run). Women’s rights is still something fought for, abortion rights and LGBTQ rights all the same. It is a broken system.
With Democracy (corruption), the State (corrupting), and Politics (corrupted), both the economic perspective and the cultural perspective leave one with a feeling of lethargy.
A lot of these different decaying characteristics became obvious to me at an early age, so much so that I simply took it as a reality that nothing was gonna get better. I did not pine for a Leftist government, having known the misdeeds it can achieve. The gospel was that you just had to work with the system, even knowing that it was completely corrupt to the bone. Growing up as a person with several diagnoses, I had to separate what biologically and culturally made me depressed. Some things can be treated with pills; others, however, cannot be treated or dealt with. You just have to walk out. The cultural, social and political structures engendered more broken modernities, more corruption, more degeneration of basic values. It all hangs by a thread, and in the Third World each shock is felt more resoundingly. I have always been distrustful of Institutions, believing they were corrupt, dumb, and essentially managed by idiots. I still believe this, but as many people told me (told, not taught, crucially) this is something I had to negotiate with, not reject altogether. And work until my eyes bled.
This is how I exited a decaying modernity.
Part II: The Lobby of Modernity
The United Kingdom is a curious place. Tradition and modernity collide in a particular kind of cultural passive aggression, both polite and repressed and eternally condescending. The problems I had seen in Peru were back under a new, shiny, pathological guise. To put it all in perspective, while Peru is a decaying modernity, or a butchered post-modernity, the UK prides itself on being a successful one. At the very least, London is always quick to show its diversity credentials, its tolerance and the magnificence of its openness, no matter how hypocritical it is.
Western Modernity sings a new gospel, and it is the gospel of Progressivism and an acceptance of Leftist frameworks of thought as common sense, as simply the thing you should think. Having encountered this in both the media and academic circles, I could not help but think this was an inflated version of what I had encountered during my University years in Peru. See, Peru being the decaying modernity that it is, it does not fully buy into progressivism wholesale. Rather, the values of something like Marxism are taught in disparate places, such as public Universities and private Universities. In Lima alone, the amount of private Universities teaching these surpass the public ones by sheer fact: there are simply more private Universities. Even an analysis of the media and overall politics will give out that Leftism/Progressivism are not being bought. Furthermore, the teaching of Marxist theory in private Universities was a paradox, as both the teachers and students (in both cases, upper middle class, if not Upper class) were trapped inside a bubble. To understand Marxism in a Third World country is to look around you, as shanty towns are minutes away from so called “modern cities”. But private Universities in Peru being what they are, students would not so much ignore these realities but actively deny them.
However, in Western Modernity, the situation happening in some Universities in Peru can be extrapolated and elaborated. The Progressive Leftist gospel is canon, and Modernity demands you believe it. A lot of the condition of leftism, taught in theory but more easily accessible through practice in Peru, had been simply indoctrinated and assimilated by various institutions. The situation becomes even more complex in the context of London, and it generates its own bubble, with a different set of characteristics. This is what I have come to term “cosmopolitanism”. It is worth having a definition of the word, as it has denoted “world-citizen” many times, but needs fleshing out, for in the term I see the condition from which the UK suffers, a condition brought about by modernity and its programme of all voice and no exit. From Wikipedia,
“Cosmopolitanism can be defined as a global politics that, firstly, projects a sociality of common political engagement among all human beings across the globe, and, secondly, suggests that this sociality should be either ethically or organizationally privileged over other forms of sociality”
In a country such as the UK, that this type of sociality be embraced is a kind of “no shit, Sherlock!” But I would like to emphasize the two conditions that make the concept of cosmopolitanism useful for characterizing Western modernity. First, the characteristic of “common political engagement” assumes that all people, regardless of wherever they come from, have grounds in common. Behind this, there is an appeal to emotion, that we are all the same in our Humanity, and surely, we can find commonality even in our differences. This first characteristic becomes more precarious when coupled with the second one, that of “privileged over other forms of sociality”. The point is quite simple, and it bears writing it simply: whereas practices of Western colonialism are often linked with popular culture and thought-control from, usually, a bad government trying to get to the minds of its people, neo-colonialism under the guise of Modernity imposes a framework of Progressive Leftist thought-control through the Media and the University. The suppression of difference that many people denounced in both academic and activist circles transforms into an assimilation of difference, but under a distinctive Leftist framework. One either buys into this configuration or is quickly purged to the margins.
Cosmopolitanism’s essential guiding light is a Leftist, progressive framework that projects a sociality of common political engagement and privileges this framework over other forms. If you want Out of this common political engagement or simply do not agree with its framework, only demonization occurs. “You have assimilated the Imperial mindset!” An Us and Them frame, characteristic of any kind of society that privileges Voice over Exit (also known as a Political society), imposes itself. As a person from the Third World, you are denied any political agency, be it formal or informal, and are essentially a token and bargaining chip for other Leftists to rally around their righteous cause. You are a victim. Part of the oppressed. As I was condescendingly reminded by a native-born Briton, “as a migrant, you have rights, you know?”: if you are not feeling subaltern, you will be beaten down until you assume the position from which the Left can fight for you and tell you how to live. You become a cause, not a person. Let us remember that for many of the Western Moderns, the Third World seems like an old dream, something that is in the past, surpassed the obvious superiority of Modernity and its ruthless cosmopolitanism. If you do not feel any attachment to the Left and think the ideology is essentially a disaster waiting to happen, you will be made to feel like Imperialism has infiltrated your mind and you are now at the hands of the enemy, Capitalism! If you point to your own history of Leftist failure at a National scale, you will be told that that was not Real Communism. They will educate you on what you thought you knew about material reality. The wounds and the scars, the death and the pain you and your family felt because of the ideology they espouse, usually a combination of Marx, Lenin, Mao and the like, much like Peruvian terrorist group Shining Path, will be reframed for their convenience.
What is worse, being in trapped in a decaying modernity or in a Western one? The answer for many people in Peru was being trapped in an incompetent system, therefore Exit was a choice to be made and worked for. The people who did not make it through the filter remain trapped in Peru, which politically maintains itself by a thread. Corrupt Democracy can only ever subsist for so long, and the path towards rebuilding something, anything, is only glanced with its decay, be it via the path of authoritarianism or a hard reboot. But if the Third World is closer to an Exit from itself than Western Modernity, it is only because it never actually believed the narrative being woven by the cosmopolitans. The Third World merely saw the Nations that comprised Modernity as a means to an end, an Exit.
In the case of Western Modernity, there is really nothing that can be done to counteract Leftist Progressivism, except letting them run themselves to the ground. Cosmopolitans have been characterized as “white leftists” or “baizuos”. The elegance of the term is undeniable, but I think we have quite a large vocabulary to characterize people who behave in such a manner, borderline assaulting and no-platforming people from Third World countries or quite simply, other backgrounds, to compel them to submit to the Leftist narrative they have created. The Cosmopolitan does not ask, they assume, and by doing so they universalize beliefs regardless of any proof put in front of their faces. At every attempt to help, they hurt. By appointing themselves priests of the Sacred Church of All Truth, in all their condescending mediocrity the Cosmopolitans put you in your place, like a paternalistic dunce stuck in a maze of their own making. While neoreactionaries head for the Exit, Cosmopolitans stay in the lobby of their risible maze, bending over backwards to make sense of themselves.
Let them be trapped.