With each passing year, the list of issues that are off-limits, that are not to be discussed, and with respect to which one is only permitted to hold one view, grows. It currently feels as if the trend of groupthink as well as political and societal hyperpolarization will intensify ceaselessly, and whilst one may be forgiven for believing that this trend has already reached its fevered crescendo, it hasn’t. Rather, the din of the mob that is attempting to drown out and silence individual voices in a juvenile attempt to control the way that others think and perceive the world grows increasingly louder.
As a direct consequence, the world grows ever blander and more monolithic, a great homogenous mess of drab colors of gray and brown. Thankfully, however, the predominance of any monoculture inexorably gives rise to a counterculture and given the undeniable reality that modern Western society has become dominated by a stale and dusty sort of political correctness, the counterculture that shall arise, that, indeed, is presently arising, is that of political ‘incorrectness,’ which will appear garishly bright and ludicrously exciting in contrast. This is necessary.
What is truly needed in this modern age of infantile hypersensitivity is a resurgence of the No Wave and anti-art scenes, à la Lydia Lunch, The New Blockaders, hell, even mainstream artists like Suicide or Siouxsie. Art, statements, and a general way of life that deliberately provokes, offends, and shouts a loud “fuck you” to everything: to the masked masses, to the leaders and to the sheep, to those who think they are being progressive while sharing their views with major corporations, equally to the mainstream left and the mainstream right, anyone who can be offended.
It is shocking that this has not happened already because the idea at its core is so simple: it is simply to embrace all that infuriates, all that is deemed unacceptable. It can even be called juvenile – to respond to everything that you are told to do by doing the opposite. Contemporary society shouts a seemingly infinite plethora of commandments at the individual: “Don’t smoke, don’t bully, don’t use slurs, wear a mask, pay your taxes, vote.” The rejection of all of their rules ought to be continued and carried to a point that is well beyond ridiculous.
It were precisely the rigid social frameworks of what was deemed acceptable behavior, expression, thought, and so forth in the 70s and 80s that gave rise to the emerging subcultures of a similar vision at that time. If anything, this is even more pronounced today with the only difference being that the prevailing societal attitude was then conservatism and is now liberalism. However, this fact makes absolutely no difference in how one should meet it; one ought to double and triple down.
This philosophy of universal rejection was once outlined by The New Blockaders in their manifesto:
“Blockade is resistance. It is our duty to blockade and induce others to blockade: Anti-music, anti-art, anti-books, anti-films, anti-communications. We will make anti-statements about anything and everything. We will make a point of being pointless…”
It is worthwhile to note that this standpoint is easily confused for counterculture or for alternative politics, but this proposed ideology is indeed distinct from either of the two movements.
“A lot of the industrial stuff that I see coming out follows a template: a band symbol, a logo, a manifesto, and some ‘radical political ideology’ attached to it. Yet, it all just feels so unconvincing and predictable. The language of Industrial does not speak with certainty. Yet, voices of certainty are all around … Content is not the issue, but that it does not feel believable, and by believable, I mean at least sincere interest in the topics or the fantasy … These ‘declarations’, these ‘manifestos’, they mostly reek of insecurity to me.” (Noise Receptor, 2018)
In other words, the idea is not to merely fight against what is perceived as a negative thing, whether that be liberalism or conservatism, but instead to fight against all ‘isms,’ against the very foundations that form the façade of that which people believe. The goal is not to convince or convert people to some sort of cause but is instead to cast a shadow of doubt on the things that are regarded as unquestionable truths. The idea is to challenge the very notion of truth and to deconstruct all of those things that have become a seemingly unassailable part of our public and social identities.
“It’s really more about headlines… a game where you don’t know who’s winning or what side you’re on. I think that’s fair. I like the idea that there are multiple events happening simultaneously, and they may be unrelated, but somehow, they’re creating a larger picture. I like the idea of things working behind the scenes, particularly in a sinister way. Even the name Vatican Shadow, and all the song titles, are based around this idea of fear and mistrust…” (Fernow, FACT, 2012)
Therefore, this encompasses the sowing of mistrust as to whether our “good guys,” our heroes, our representatives, the people generally described as being on our side are truly good and equally whether those that we are told are our enemies are truly evil. This again can be misconstrued as mere contrarianism or as polemicism, but the distinction may be found in the overarching purpose of such doubt. Rather than attempting to demonstrate that the other side may have its points or even may be good, or conversely, that the side that is considered good may be flawed, the central thrust of this exercise is to instead instill and venerate the practice of universal doubt. Put another way, the goal is not to convince an individual to switch to the other side, but rather to realize that one should not be on any side at all. Simultaneously, this does not imply mere neutrality, but rather a devoted commitment to criticism of all possible sides equally.
However, to challenge our need to identify with external causes or the ideals of others is still at the surface level of what is proposed, only encompassing the extrinsic aspect of what is intended to be explored. This practice of systematic mistrust must be extended to the internal as well, for instance, by analyzing whether the goals towards which we strive and the things towards which we work are worth the effort or are even desirable whatsoever. This has the objective of challenging our deepest beliefs and convictions, but it is nevertheless distinct from nihilism. Whereas nihilism, as interpreted simplistically, argues that nothing contains meaning, the argument here is instead that meaning is contained in the meaningless. The intent is not to reject meaning entirely, but rather to reject the systems and structures of meaning that have been imposed on us by external elements, whether through media, contact with others, upbringing, past experience, education, or anything else.
The consequence of this, or the methodology through which this can be achieved, is through the finding of patterns where, to others, none seem to exist and to, conversely, see absurdity where others see obvious connections.
At its most foundational, the practice can be defined as challenging the truths that are held to be self-evident. Indeed, the average individual has been encumbered with a veritable myriad of tautological claims that are then unquestioningly adhered to by the majority. The issue is not just that these principles are external, but also lies in the fact that most people proceed to convince themselves that these beliefs are their own, that the principles that have been instilled in them were instilled in them because they themselves agreed with them. This is a vivid example of the psychological phenomenon known as cognitive dissonance, the way that people handle discomfort when they become cognizant of contradictions in their patterns of thought or in the systems of beliefs to which they adhere. In order to convince oneself that a belief that one questions is correct despite feelings to the contrary, the average person makes themselves believe that this belief must have originated with them, or at least resonated with them, causing them to embrace it. Put simply, this is a coping mechanism that has no foundation in truth. People convince themselves that they hold a certain value in order to deal with this internal malaise, but in reality, most of the things that an average person believes were imposed upon them by external actors, and the individual accepted them out of a desire to conform and therefore be accepted in the society in which they live. Due to this fact, what an individual believes is generally malleable and is subject to change, particularly when an individual relocates (whether physically or socially) and consequently finds themselves in a community that holds different views. Most individuals will then unconsciously go through a process of reassessing their values and subsequently adopt a new belief system, and moreover, persuade themselves that this new system of beliefs is what they subscribed to all along. This phenomenon is precisely why one finds countless prescient examples of individuals ‘redefining’ themselves and modifying their behavior and modes of being, erratically and unceasingly.
Simultaneously, there is a set of central values, of so-called ‘self-evident’ truths that are unassailable in a given society. In the West, these include ideas that are put very simply: “democracy good, authoritarianism bad, freedom good, slavery bad.” The average person, because these ideas were imposed upon them externally, cannot go into depth as to why they believe these things and become flustered and frustrated if they are forced to explain their adherence to these statements. The source of that lashing out, is, of course, the very same cognitive dissonance. In the vernacular of the New Right, these sorts of people are referred to as ‘NPCs’ (non-playable characters) who seem to have preformulated responses to entire bundles of inquiry. However, it should be pointed out that the right, the New Right included, demonstrates similar commitments to their own set of ideas, with typical responses being the mere inverse of their ideological opponents. It is not by coincidence that the left frequently attacks the right using the very same methodology of demonstrating the lack of depth of ideological commitments by putting them as glibly as possible: “Orange man good” in response to “Orange man bad,” “ancestors right” in response to “ancestors wrong,” “wealth good” to “wealth bad.”
The difference here is that if we commit to no such imposed realities at all, if we eliminate all that we feel is true due to outside influence, we can finally come to realize our own frameworks of truth, and by extension, morality. This process pairs naturally with the destruction of all external arbiters of truth, including both mainstream and alternative media, the taking away of the power of the critic, of the influencer, of the leader, of the politician, of the bureaucrat, of the journalist. The process is a shaking off of the chains of false dichotomies – conservatism and liberalism, Trump and Biden, Putin and Navalny, war and peace, communism and fascism, art and politics, wealth and creativity, esotericism and common knowledge, the mainstream and the underground. If morality is just another word for the process by which society foists upon the individual its bundle of realities, concepts, beliefs, and opinions, then the general aim is to reject the concept entirely, but nevertheless, not fall into the pit of counter-morality, of the triviality of taking up the converse in faux-rebellion.
This sort of act is naturally most recognizable in counterculture, the underground scene, which is particularly prone to emerging when a society instills its systems of morality with particular vehemence. The allure of counterculture stems from the fact that we long to belong.
“Control is a cause, and resistance is an effect, but the root of the problem is morality. The very heart of underground music is ultimately the struggle against morality.” (Fernow, Noise Receptor, 2018).
The concept under discussion can be confused with typical counterculture, as some of the ideologies and notions of each do have surface-level similarities with one another. Each purport to challenge what is acceptable, of what is considered good and evil, social norms, society as a whole. The key difference, however, is that counterculture, despite frequent and loud protests to the contrary, does not in fact reject value systems as a whole. It strives, but ultimately inevitably fails to transcend culture, art, and politics, each failure demarcated with the end of one or another wave. The problem with common counterculture is that it is created and thrives in reactionism, in responding to what is embraced by and embodied by mainstream society. Instead of escaping the confines of the false dichotomies and false truths, it remains trapped in surface-level, knee-jerk rejection. When one counters what is held by mainstream society with the inverse, they are still operating in the same field of reference, within the same general framework of reality. Neo-reactionism and general counterculture alike constitute nothing beyond being flipped, mirrored, upside-down versions of the very same familiar, tired, and worn-out concepts.
In contrast, if neo-reactionism is but a knee-jerk reaction to what is happening, or more accurately to what has already happened, post-reactionism goes beyond reactionism. In order to escape the confines of reality and truth as it has been defined by others, one must generate content within the void, outside of the space that which exists. Unlike countercultural work, its creative outputs are not created in response to anything and are perceived to the Outsider as inherently meaningless but nevertheless elicit emotions of self-doubt and questioning. Simultaneously, to those within, they bring forth a joy in the practice of ceaseless questioning.
The goal of post-reactionism is to trigger reactions from what one does rather than stooping to reacting oneself. Art and other products of this school are then designed as a sort of litmus test of values, that are intended to reflect the external in the observer, a Rorschach which is interpreted individually and reveals something about the nature of the individual perceiving it. The objective of these creations is thus to expose the preconceived beliefs of the viewer, preferably causing them to be challenged in a painful, unpleasant manner, with the aspiration to unlock a new paradigm in the observer through challenging their existing patterns of thought.
Essentially, post-reactionism is the practice of deconstruction as opposed to creation, and is not counterculture, but rather counter-counterculture. It aims to create anti-art instead of art, to not convince or convert but ‘deconvince,’ to not inspire new values and continue the cycle of imposition upon the individual but instead to merely inspire doubt in values previously held. At its core, the goal is to inspire doubt in the very concept of belief.
In contrast to other movements, it also seeks to ‘unbrand’ and ‘unmarket,’ to avoid mainstream appeal and popularity, to be impossible to subvert, commercialize, or corrupt. It is presumed to bring together people with a fascination for metaphysical questions, of an alternative political background, and who place great value in art and culture. What is pursued is indeed a most general deconstruction, an unraveling of the concept of art, music, entertainment, and sin. The final destination is to challenge and disassemble the very nature of epistemological reality, to question and confront what we hold to be real and what we hold to be illusory, what is being and what is nothing, to unflinchingly face head-on all that we believe. It seeks to enlighten through a blinding sear.
From a philosophical standpoint, post-reactionism can be compared to Cartesian epistemological idealism. Whereas the former argues (in brief) that all that exists is contained within our internal mind, the latter goes further by demonstrating that one’s thoughts are not truly one’s own either. Therefore, doubt is cast both on the senses that are deemed unreliable and susceptible to being manipulated but also on the mind’s constructs which are likewise vulnerable to external influence.
With all that said, it is worthwhile to reiterate that this conceptualization is not nihilism, is not despairing, but rather is a joyful embrace of freedom. In contrast to the beauty of faith, it celebrates the beauty of the absence thereof. It is not existential dread but rather a firm and loving embrace of mindful meaninglessness, post-existentialism, if one will. In sum, it is the realization that meaning can only be found in the willful rejection of externally derived meaning.
i The New Blockaders. The New Blockaders :: TNB :: Home. (n.d.). http://www.thenewblockaders.org.uk/.
ii Sande, K. (2011, July 15). Dominick Fernow on Prurient’s Bermuda Drain and Vatican Shadow’s “atmosphere of degeneration.” FACT Magazine. https://www.factmag.com/2012/04/01/prurient-and-still-wanting.
iii Stevenson, R. (2018). Interview with Prurient / Hospital Productions. Noise Receptor, 1(6).