Irony is good, actually?

*Extremely Adam Curtis voice*

“In 1729, irony was born in an orgy of bloodlust and cannibalism. Nobody knew it then, but the seeds had just been sown that would flower into Brexit and Trump almost three centuries later. Though modernity and its iphones often make us forget it, the rise of fascism and the alt-right is intimately bound up with the story of History’s Greatest Monster: Jonathan Swift.”

This article uses the word irony ten times in its body text and the funny thing about that is that if you think the alt-right are being ironic, you either don’t grasp what irony is, or you are not understanding what they are saying. Whichever, it is certain that Guardian journalist Jason Wilson sees no need to explain what he understands the word “irony” to mean. Nonetheless, he is happy to parade the word around, blaming it as a cause (rather than an effect) of the popular disillusion with establishment politics that has produced phenomena like Trump and Brexit.

It’s remarkable how utterly ahistorical this position is. How it requires that the reader see the rise of the alt-right as something that exists only in the current moment, with all its causes and effects also only existing in the current moment. How strange the choice of this bipartisan angle of attack — it is not what these fascists are saying or doing that is objectionable, but the irony they claim, and which Wilson uncritically asserts is essential to their nature.

I wonder if there is any causal link here to the widespread disdain for a newspaper that long ago betrayed the left, and the working people for whom it once claimed to speak. In its cheerleading of Blair’s adventures in the Middle East and in its more recently awful treatment of Corbyn, the Guardian has become a crucial part of the machinery geared to preserve the neoliberal status quo at all costs, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that it has brought disaster upon us.

The combination of bourgeois pomposity and a cheery willingness to ignore class inequalities for the sake of not rocking the editorial boat makes Guardian staff writers particularly vulnerable to being owned by ironists. On one level then, this article is a declaration of how Wilson is definitely Not Mad that millennials are doing better political journalism with smartphones than he and his colleagues manage with the infrastructure of a national daily newspaper behind them.

Anime nazis are not ironists. They are not playing with language in a way that “tells two stories, whose meanings are opposed to each other, using the same words”. There is no subversive subtext in the ugly things they say that can conceal or reveal itself according to the predisposition of the reader. When a Pepegruppenfuhrer says that “slavery was great” or “jews done 9/11” or whatever, they are not being ironic. They might shrug and say that they don’t sincerely hold those (or any) beliefs, that it was only said in provocation, and that because they didn’t “mean” it, it qualifies as irony.
This, in fact, is wrong.

And of course they don’t care that it doesn’t actually qualify as irony. Caring, at all, is anathema to them, and this is a fatal flaw in what passes for Wilson’s argument, because developing an actually ironic position on a subject is the clearest of indications that you care very much about it indeed.

This reporter also quotes Milo, Spencer, and the Daily Stormer with zero interrogation of their claims. These guys, and their followers, are accustomed to claiming that they are “just joking” when their racism, sexism, homophobia, or other petty hatreds and resentments get them into any public confrontation they can’t bully their way out of. Wilson asks us to accept that defense at face value. Folks, insincerity is not the same thing as irony.

Wilson’s failure to bring any kind of critical light to bear on this exact distinction is important, because it is sincerity that the alt-right despise the most. If you care about something, if you find value in something, then you are weak and controlled. The New Man of the Chan, by contrast, is an enlightened and cynical free agent who recognizes that all is futile and meaningless and that there is no value in any person, concept, or object of perception except in the nihilistic glee of its destruction. This is not a remotely ironic position. I’m not sure how you conflate the carefully artificial detachment of ironic distance for the reflexive and oblivious detachment of a glassy-eyed sociopath, but that’s what time it is at the Guardian.

Because, sure, the pressing issue of this historical moment is idiot neo-nazi clowns making spurious claims to irony and certainly not the responsibility of the neoliberal political and social order, and the newspapers who are an essential part of its machinery, for creating the economic conditions for fascism’s global resurgence.