Reaction is lots of things. Pop reaction is fun, truth-oriented and cathartic. Actual reaction, in its truest form, is also self-critical, humble and hard-working.
What Reaction is not, or not exactly, is cool.
There are a couple reasons for this. The first is that we don’t explicitly optimize for it. Crazy enough though it’s been a few years—these are still early days. There is a lot not figured out yet. Lots of stuff to figure out besides the right kind of jeans or whatever.
Another is that past a certain point, type-of-cool is hard to pin down. Fashion involves risk. When writing about how new trends catch on (or don’t), noted fashion blogger (well…) Scott Alexander writes about:
the intellectual equivalent of the very trendy people who start wearing some outrageous fashion and no one knows if it is going to catch on or whether they will be soundly mocked for it.
You can spend a lot of time and effort spinning your wheels trying to spot the next big thing—and politically, that’s exactly what we’re doing. But you can only stay bleeding-edge in so many fields at once.
So why am I talking about this? Don’t we have better things to do?
Well, yeah. But a couple assertions change the picture a bit:
- Degree can, to an extent, substitute for kind. Tall strong dudes with good hair and complexion are attractive in generic fashions, rich people in index funds make a lot of money, Wall Street hires Physics Ph. D’s, birth rate is a big deal.
- At its core, techne-obsessed modernity does not really understand this—or worse, understands and revolts against it, seeking to escape the heavy pressure of waterline requirements by claiming protected status for some specific characteristic. In no particular order: Excuse me from armed force requirements because of my gender, offer me a scholarship because of my race, give us funding because we have a really great idea (but lackluster fundamentals), love me in spite of my lack of confidence because of the dreamy poems I write, don’t cut down the forest there because the crayfish native to it lays eggs with a particular pattern. To be clear, this is not an inherently bad thing—some gendered aptitudes do compensate for gendered weaknesses, racial scholarships are not inherently a terrible idea, some ideas or technologies do transcend surface fundamentals, men with depth are a good thing, and species diversity is a good thing. But the pendulum has swung too far.
Reaction is in danger of being a political movement, or affectation, that seeks to escape the burdensome requirements of having money and attractive young people. Make no mistake, those don’t make a movement—money isn’t helping Hillary, and the young for Bernie won’t vote—but it is a requirement.
What reaction should seek to do is defer this requirement, rather than avoid it.
Slavishly obeying it is what modern politics does: watch the polls, pay consultants a lot of money to help you craft an acceptable narrative, etc. Ideals be damned.
Wantonly disobeying it is what a particularly annoying ideologue does: call the entire process corrupt, and conspicuously make known your refusal to have anything to do with it.
The first is obviously empty and has no motive force; the second is akin to trying to reverse the course of a cruise ship with an outboard motor.
The path we ought to take is neither: it’s to stay quiet, personable, and hardworking, while hewing to ideals—and then to spend some degree of surplus on appearances. And importantly—some on charity.
The face of reaction on the upswing is an upwardly-mobile young couple in a middle-class neighborhood with three kids, who give some amount of money to charity, and visit their redneck parents on Christmas without being condescending. It’s a college professor who gives funny lectures that take students back to the fundamentals, while helping his colleagues get their work published. In short: extraordinary (not superhuman, just extraordinary) t-shaped excellence, plus humanity.
It’s a combination between this:
Now, I’ve described the face, but that’s not all there is. We are, after, all, not all superhuman. But we should be aiming to be.