[This is a revised version of the article posted on 2015/11/08]
Why do I find John Green so unbearable? I bear no ill will towards the man personally, and I am sure he lives happily. Yet it seems to me that at any moment his skin might peel off and reveal some monstrous Lovecraftian horror. To avoid any confusion, I would like to once again state I do not dislike John Green personally, and in fact would love to meet him someday. John Green, as a public figure though, is merely a symbol. To me, John Green represents how our society has totally lost any sense of direction or guidance. Even as he seeks to provide the answer to this problem: mindless self-indulgence. The host of media surrounding the man is steeped in modern ideology. We sit at the end of history, and we won! Everything is permitted and we are finally free! You can have your cake and eat it too, even if you have a terminal illness! This idea permeates all of his works. (see, Socialism and Capitalism, Globalization parts 1 and 2, for examples) In a way, he is the anti-Situationist: he takes ideas and shapes them so they are easily swallowed and safe for the masses, lest they get upset. The master of Recuperation!
His Crash Course videos are particularly insidious: while having outwardly no agenda other than teaching, they unintentionally magnify their actual agenda. By largely stripping back the interpretation of history, or at least claiming to, he open things up to the individual completely. This will ensure the viewer will agree with Green. The Subtle jabs at Putin, half-hearted and cynical jabs against inequality, are much more vile to me than the most blatant spewings of Trump. Because, in our allegedly post-historical society we are, now more than ever, submerged in history, and it can be freely interpreted by the ones we trust the most: ourselves! And thus, any doubt of the veracity of history is lost. If they were coloring it more, then they could be doubted and countered. Without prior opposition or education, Green’s videos become merely semi-helpful, and perhaps dangerous, because the most infuriating part of John Green’s message is that in today’s world, we are past ideology. This attempt to distance himself from any particular viewpoint is in fact a viewpoint unto itself. One that leads to a sort of narcissistic nihilism in which we can find our perfect position that lets us feel like we are making a difference in the world.
The covert message behind John Green is that you can be important and make a difference, and the best part is you do not have to sacrifice anything! All that needs to be done is a lifestyle change, an adjustment of the current system a bit, and everything will be fine; there need be no guillotines, everything will be fine. Robespierre may have done horrible things in the name of Liberalism but we have gotten past that, as long as we remember to whip ourselves before we go to bed. Granted, he does acknowledge that there are deficiencies with modern Liberalism – he should know as he is the physical embodiment of it – but they are quickly swept under the carpet because at least we have a black president. The only thing to be hoped for in the world of John Green is to be expediently and painlessly struck down before the problems of your time emerge.
What exactly is it that John Green represents? I have said above that he is essentially the physical embodiment of Liberalism, the dominant capitalist ideology of the world. What is meant by Liberalism encompasses most dominant political movements today, essentially anything left of France’s National Front, and anything right of Syriza to massively oversimplify. Liberalism remains true to its roots in a way: it prides itself on individuality, freedom – the definition of which is up for debate when it becomes inconvenient – and equality when convenient. These ideals form the Liberal social contract. I am not so tactless as to say the leaders of our society do not believe in them, and are merely cronies for our evil overlords. The terrifying part of every ideology is that people, unless they are psychopathic (and even then), probably believe it wholeheartedly. Obviously no one can verify this for certain, but it’s much easier to believe that people commit atrocities for what they believe to be greater causes rather than pure sadism. What differs Liberal-fanaticism from other forms of fanaticism is that Liberal-fanaticism does not result in the violent explosions of terror and violence that characterized the adolescent Soviet regime and modern Islamic terrorism, but a violent explosion of the self. This can be seen in the intense egoism pouring out of every orifice of the modern citizen, or a celebrity for example. On its own, this is a rather juvenile and even whiny observation, but the truth is that we should not have contempt for these people, as they are the biggest victims.
Modern technology and media has allowed people to completely extrovert themselves. Very few people who become famous enjoy their newfound fame, this is common knowledge. Andy Warhol once said “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes,” and this has come true in a fashion. Although, perhaps it could be rephrased to “In the future, everyone will be miserable forever.” These things are essentially equivalent. Someone who buys into Liberal ideology, and is lucky enough to able to use the modern world to fulfill their desires, finds themselves in an interesting predicament. They will be unable to fulfill our most forbidden desire: to not desire. This can, ironically, be seen even more so in Asian societies that have fully embraced Liberal Capitalism. In South Korea, conformity, especially in the realm of beauty, goes from the harmless cultural difference that similar nations have, to an almost dangerous and unhealthy force when magnified by this lens. Almost 3 quarters of Korean Women have gotten plastic surgery to avoid being a social outcast for their looks. They are strung along in a Catch-22. Everyone probably hates spending horrifying amounts of money on plastic surgery and wishes secretly that people would just get a grip and live with themselves, but everyone will go along with it because everyone will keep this secret belief to themselves. At first the hyper-conformity of a collective body being magnified by Egoistic and allegedly individualistic Liberalism seems counter-intuitive, but in fact it reveals that Liberal Egoism is a false Egoism. In a society with many external pressures, like Korea, the removal of boundaries in expression that comes with liberalism will increase those external pressures. In a society like America with a more individualistic culture, it results in the feedback-loops of ideas that are common on internet-communities dramatically altering people’s personality. These are typically referred to as “Circlejerks.” When everyone is famous in their own way, miserable, and may express themselves however they wish, everyone will find an audience and subject themselves to its whims to get the approval that society as a whole no longer provides. The only difference between Korea and America is that in the latter you may pick your minds masters to a greater extent.
The only way for a true Egoism, like Stirner’s, is for a person to develop in the normal conditions of a society, and be exposed to the contradiction of that society. Camus said in “The Rebel” that Stirner tried to go “as far as he can in blasphemy.” A heretic can not be a heretic without the original doctrine. Ripping someone from their native society simply results in violence. This can be seen in places like the Middle East, who have tried democracy without letting the virtue of the guillotine purge the malcontents. Simply allowing normal development in The West results in the Western Liberal-fanatic. Why is the Liberal-fanatic, so different from the other kinds of fanatic though? In the past, and on the fringes of the modern world, liberal-fanaticism begins to resemble its cousins. Besides the Puppet Dictatorships favored by the Liberal Imperialists (Vietnam, Guatemala, Etc.), there was the French Revolution’s terrific and almost suicidal displays of violence in the name of freedom. The difference between mere violence and revolutionary terror is the former is mere murder of the weak by the strong, whereas revolutionary terror is the self-destruction of the impure. The ones who had the most to fear in the Great Terror were not peasants, but members of the Committee of Public Safety, especially the ones who feared themselves to be guilty. The unchanging feature of Liberal Fanaticism is that if you fear you may be found guilty, you are guilty. If you fear that you do not really want plastic surgery, that means you absolutely must get it. Why has this transformed into a relatively docile force in the Western World? Because Liberalism has won. Revolutionary violence’s most key feature is it terminates itself last. The famous cartoon depicting Robespierre executing the executioner, after every last frenchman has been put to the guillotine, is not entirely inaccurate. It is utter insanity of suicidal revolutionary terror, directed against its perpetrators, that forces it to end, if only so the powerful can save their necks and proclaim themselves victors. Of course, the liberal forces only believe themselves to be the victors. Fukuyama has already been proven wrong. There are still contradictions and tensions in society that will inevitably cause a new crisis that will continue ad infinitum.
This is where John Green enters back into the picture. His statements – particularly in his comments on an anarchist history of Southeast Asia – on these tensions acknowledge the inherent instabilities in the modern economy (limited resources, inequality etc.) but promptly sweeps this under the table. This is a reoccurring pattern. In his “Capitalism and Socialism” video he essentially states that capitalism has “won” so it may claim the spoils. This was the catalyst of this article, but recall that it is not a direct attack on Green. This is similar to the attitude towards those with non-debilitating terminal illnesses, and is reflected in the aforementioned profile of the fanatic. Essentially, the attitude of living for the day and not worrying about the future, so long as there are starving children in Africa who have it worse. To quote Slavoj Zizek: “When we are shown scenes of starving children in Africa, with a call for us to do something to help them, the underlying ideological message is something like: ‘Don’t think don’t politicize, forget about the true causes of their poverty, just act, contribute money, so that you will not have to think!’ Even if something is acknowledged about our role in the poverty of billions, it is in one of two ways. The Liberal-fanatic way of self-flagellating, almost Christian attempts to alleviate these causes, or the cynical-apathetic cry of “It doesn’t affect me! Who cares?!” which is easily observed by probing a teenager with questions about the subject.
The cynical-apathetic attitude is perhaps the more intelligent one; at least it recognizes there is something blurring your vision. It is a result of the most nefarious modern construction. In past societies, once people saw the injustices for themselves, and realized how terrible it was, it was far more likely for them to become radicalized. Even in the most conservative countries, Russia, China etc., the backwards peasantry would jump on the bandwagon of revolution once the excesses of the old society became apparent. Things are different today. The reasons behind this are likely similar to the fight-or-flight mechanism of most animals. In the past, horrors were close and human, they could be fought. Today, we are so horrible as to inspire not merely flight, but suicide. Our ideology openly displays its inner workings for those willing to investigate, and does so completely. The sheer volume of information we can acquire about the United States’ crimes is enough to send one into shock after a few minutes of Google searching, and thus the cynical-apathetic attitude is born. Things so Lovecraftian in their horror can’t possibly be stopped, it must simply be the way of the world. I’m reminded of the stages of grief. Denial and bargaining represent the fanatic, while the stage of anger can lead down two paths: depression or acceptance. Acceptance represents perhaps escaping this thought process, but is such a thing even possible or desirable?
“What is the solution?!” one might cry out in frustration I offer none. If I knew, I would have provided one earlier. Like the world I live in, I know only how to eliminate thought. Perhaps there is a way to at least help things: complain. Complain a lot. No significant change ever happened without complaining. Not a single person who ever changed the course of history did not complain. Do not merely complain, if you ever wish to change society you must make grievances that would make Diogenes roll his eyes. So do it! Eventually, someone will get angry enough to figure out what to do about it, if at least to put an end to the whining.