What the alt got right

There was a bizarre inversion earlier this month when the right was protesting against the overreach of the secret services, while the left found itself cheering them on.

This was just the clearest example of the left coming untethered from its own foundations, driven to that position in response to its political opponents. But despite an enmity that could drive such a profound inversion, many of the observations and complaints of the alt right, could have found a home in the left.

The alt-right rhetoric took a swing at issues that are concerns for people on both sides — Bernie was pointing all of this out as well. In ceding the battle ground to the right, the left’s own answers risk being drowned out by the blame and scapegoating of the right. Is engagement on shared issues a way to protect the people and communities targeted for scapegoating by the right? Would engaging give the left some leverage in reshaping the situation?

The Alt-Right recognised that intermediaries are unreliable, unaccountable and duplicitous. Much of the value that people are and create, is taken in a way that does not give satisfactory returns. The intermediaries are “blind platforms” that take individual and community goods without being transparent about how they put it to use to generate value.

Politicians receive public political capital at the ballot box, doing what they perceive they need to get the vote to be intermediaries between us at the state apparatus. Our political capital is then spent on our behalf. There are no guarantees that it is spent as we would want it. There are no guarantees that our aggregated capital is spent in defence of public goods. Instead it feels as if private political capital is able to yoke ours to its aims.

Banks get our financial capital, as intermediaries between us and the markets. We give them decision making control over our money from the perspective of making more of it, and yet the impacts of how they make it extend well beyond what we imagine. They are free to invest in ways we disagree with, whether it be in weapons manufacturers or clean tech. Their investments often erode public goods like clean air, healthy land, peace. Once they have our funds, they do with them as they like. They seem to put our financial capital at risk, but reap the rewards themselves.

Media organisations clamour for our attention capital — as intermediaries with reality. But most of the mainstream media is owned by oligarchs with an interest to present reality in certain ways. The profit motive of the media itself drives a particular representation of reality — one in which buying the products advertised is a good idea. Because they need our attention, they masquerade what draws our attention as being what is important and true.

Facebook and Google offer to mediate our social and shopping experiences. But they take a lot more in exchange; identity and data capital. They are not even transparent mediators within our own network, Facebook makes most prominent those posts of my friends it thinks will keep me on the site longer. They also decide to sell information about who I am, and who to sell it to. The alt-right is actively seeking alternatives to these internet giants and proposing wholesale migrations onto other platforms.

All these blind platforms are, or should be, of concern to the left. The opportunity to reshape them into a form that better serves humanity is exciting. Somehow the left was content with incremental improvements as long as it was in power. Now it is no longer the bulwark of institutions that failed by the left’s own standards, these institutions can be rebuilt.

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