Way back, before the olden thymes, there was a guy calling himself Ken Kesey. He is famous with Baby Boomers for having led the Merry Pranksters, a group of hippies and degenerates, that scandalized American society in the 1960’s. He and his crew drove a psychedelic school bus across country, hosting parties and handing out LSD. Tom Wolfe wrote about their early escapades in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Most people no longer recall that Kesey wrote One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
That last fact is important. The movie version of his book is a classic that transcends generations. The movie was released 42 years ago and people still reference it today, even when they don’t know it. It’s like The Godfather or Gone With The Wind. Despite its status, Kesey is best remembered for a bus trip a half century ago. That’s because his provocative hi-jinks came to represent a key element of the counter-culture movement we associate with the 1960’s and the baby Boomer culture that arose from it.
The provocateur has always had a role in human affairs. The court jester, in many respects, was the formalization of this role. The jester was the one person who could mock public piety – to a point. Eventually, the role of the formal jester was replaced by theater and then comedians and writers. The pranksters and now the internet provocateur are an extension of this, and to some degree a revival of the classic jester. Kesey was jester for his age. Today, an Andrew Anglin is the jester of the modern information age.
For those unfamiliar with Anglin, he is the guy behind the infamous website The Daily Stormer, which has been shutdown on numerous occasions. Whether or not it was actually shut down by his registrar is hard to know, but most people believe it and that’s what is important. If it was shut down because it was outlandishly offensive, or he cooked up the story as a prank, is not important. Whether it was provocation or a prank, it has put the spotlight on the very real fact that on-line speech is now controlled by an oligopoly.
That is precisely the role of the provocateur. What Anglin is doing, by running around breaking every conceivable taboo, is forcing a debate on the topic of speech. How much speech will be permitted and who will set and enforce the limits are fundamental questions that determine the arc of a society. In America, it has long been understood that the limits are immediate public safety and they are set after long public deliberation and due process. Everyone is taught the famous line about burning theaters for that reason.
Americans have also just assumed that free expression is to sacred that no one would dare violate it, but that is not where we find ourselves today. The people in charge believe they have found a loophole. They have outsourced policing speech to private companies, who can claim to be enforcing terms of service as private companies. Under the current arrangements, FaceBorg can ban any mention of the country Niger, even though it is perfectly legal to yell “Niger!” in a crowded theater.
That’s the value of an Andrew Anglin. Yes, his pint-sized Nazi routine is tiresome and stupid to most people. His followers on-line are embarrassing to those involved in dissident politics. This was true of hippies and the Merry Pranksters too. Read a guy like David Horowitz and you’ll learn that people in the New Left worried greatly about the loose cannons and provocateurs. In the end they figured out it was best to just let those guys do their thing and not comment on the acts, but focus on the larger moral issues they raised.
That’s how a guy like Andrew Anglin should be treated. You don’t want to be seen standing next to him at a public event, but you do want to be seen supporting his right to attend public events. You don’t want to be paling around with him on-line or posting links to his stuff, but you do want to be the guy defending his right to be a Nazi asshole on the internet. When his antics threaten your assets, you want to be the guy who crushes him like a bug. The jester must always serve at the pleasure of the king.
That’s what some of the important figures in this thing have to learn. Anglin causing trouble on Gab, for example, is fine up to the point where he puts the enterprise in jeopardy. At that point, the owner needs to quietly step on him. Similarly, alt-right big shots would be wise to comment about Anglin and his antics, but not get in bed with him. Anglin is a pyromaniac who can just as easily burn down your house as someone else’s house, so you don’t invite him to stay in your basement, where you keep the flammables.
The thing to remember is provocateurs and jesters are important tools in modern political discourse. The key to victory is to destroy the other side’s moral authority. The most effective way to do that is to mock their piety and taunt them into revealing the face behind the mask they present to the public. When someone loses their marbles over being mocked by an Andrew Anglin, they inevitably say and do things that reduce their status in the eyes of the public. Don’t be that guy and don’t be the guy standing next to Anglin.