Against the Web: A Cosmopolitan Answer to the New Right by Michael Brooks

Full disclosure: I am a big fan of The Majority Report podcast. Watching their video clips online has become a daily habit of mine for keeping up with the political world, especially during these tense last few years.

Co-host Michael Brooks (who also hosts his own solo The Michael Brooks Show) always has a very poignant take which I enjoy listening to, with the ability to summarize complex issues in a way both intelligent and entertaining.

The news market nowadays is indeed very oversaturated, particularly when it comes to opinions on YouTube, yet there is a reason I find myself drifting towards the Majority Report more than sources like the more independent and objective Democracy Now. Because in this current climate, it’s not just about getting the most facts. Anyone can do so if they want.

The battle over messaging has really become about being able to fight back against misinformation as much as anything else. And that is what I truly love about Sam Seder and Michael Brooks, that they aren’t above the fray at all—unlike that example I’ll use again, Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman. They fully take on the trending online garbage of the extreme alt-right, refusing to cede the internet world over to those charlatans.

For whatever reasons of history, social media’s biases tend to reward the worst of the worst when it comes to extreme political rhetoric. Even the old medias of cable news and talk radio can’t compete with the unfortunately powerful trolls of today.

But at least some people are fighting back, and are damn good at it. Therefore, I was very intrigued when I heard about Michael Brooks’ book project titled Against the Web: A Cosmopolitan Answer to the New Right published by Zero Books. The book is slim at only a hundred pages, which fits well as an e-book for those more low-attention spanned readers struggling to keep up with the information overload of the times.

The main focus of his critique concerns the so-called “Intellectual Dark Web,” the IDW, which is truly one of the dumbest names for the cheap yet successful motivational speakers who now pervade the gross right-wing. He starts of with an analysis of Sam Harris, who rose in fame as one of those New Atheist war-mongering neo-cons during the Bush era. Brooks lays out the laziness of his debate, which never truly was very intellectual at all. Particularly embarrassing is his email spat with Noam Chomsky, in which he actually says: “The history is completely irrelevant.”

And that’s it right there. These grifters cash in by presenting themselves as deep, yet don’t care to analyze how much of the state of the world is a product of historical context. Again and again, they are proven to have an authoritarian mindset, “a penchant for defending hierarchy” as Brooks expertly sums up. Even the late Christopher Hitchens was able to mock the “IQ obsessed.” He may have been wrong on Iraq, but I can’t imagine Hitchens today tolerating the logicbro nonsense of his old contemporaries.

Much of the book focuses on Jordan Peterson as well, the very definition of a self-help hack trying to cash in on the zeitgeist. Clearly, Peterson is not very good at being an academic as he flames the campus culture wars with his overuse of the term postmodernism—that catch-all nebulous term which is usually conflated with Marxism for no reason whatsoever. Peterson famously crashed and burned in his big Zizek debate, and has since gone so off the deep end that he is now in some of kind of rehab and/or in a coma in Russia of all places after hawking a bizarre all-meat diet. You can’t even satirize this stuff.

As Brooks says, “the Petersons of the world want to naturalize or mythologize the injustices we see around us instead of analyzing them as a function of historical process that, because they are human-made, can be rectified in the future.” They never were very interested in honestly learning what makes the world turn and, God forbid, trying to make the world better. The truth is, they only want Patreon subscribers.

The way they pretend to be victims and underdogs while growing in power is particularly infuriating. As he says, “The IDW and right in general love to have it both ways with free speech. On the one hand, if a reactionary is criticized for something they say, Free Speech is Under Attack. On the other hand, if a left-wing professor says something they find objectionable, or if too many faculty members have political views they dislike, they have no problem asking the government to step in to examine the curriculum and impose ‘balance.’” (Hell, check out the presidential Twitter fact-checking controversy happening right this very moment…)

“Still, right-wing media is one of the easiest gigs in the world.” You said it, Michael.

While it’s easy enough to dunk on the shallow Dave Rubins and Ben Shapiros of the world, that standard conservative trying to rebrand as wannabe intellectuals all of a sudden—and dunk he does, who couldn’t not reference Shapiro’s disastrous BBC interview with Andrew Neils—Brooks’ real point goes far beyond such critiques. The true core of his thesis is that it’s time for the left to do better in winning over that angry young man demographic these guys so easily convert.

Don’t let them use fake terms like “classical liberal,” don’t let them have free reign on Joe Rogan and then just hope the moral superiority of the left will actually win elections and change hearts.

In his final criticisms of the “ultra-woke” left, Brooks has much to say on why we should encourage moral growth instead of shaming and canceling, of which the latter often adds fuel to the bad faith arguments of the right. Personally, I think the apparent craziness of the university protest crowd has always been exaggerated and never was as big a deal as the clickbait merchants would have us think. But Brooks does have a point.

Like it or not, this new crop of right-wingers is a loud voice today. It’s time to understand them, so that the good guys can win. The end goal is a fair and just society, a cosmopolitan socialism as Brooks concludes which is able to express itself successfully in the modern landscape and that can unify the positive traditions of cultures from all over the world. That’s the fight worth having.

It is time to form an international message of solidarity, and the path forward with be both for the left to get it together and also to finally defeat the manipulative new right of the web.

So let’s do it!

 

Turtle Burn the Video (Regional Burning Man in Taiwan)

In April I went to the Spark Decompression. It was great, but in fact was was a practice run in leading up to last month’s amazing Turtle Burn!

This is the official regional Burning Man event for Taiwan, located on a campsite in the mountains of Yilan and featuring an array of activities including drag shows and fire-dancing. And a muppet serving waffles.

Please enjoy this video I made about my experiences, and for more information please check out: turtleburn.com

Video: June 4 Candlelight Vigil in Hong Kong

I recently went to Hong Kong, and happened to be there during the June 4 protests commemorating the Tiananmen Square Massacre from 1989.

I admire the spirit of dissent in Hong Kong, one of the only places in China were it is possible, and the event was powerful. Over a hundred thousand attendees gathered in Victoria Park and it was an honor for me to be among them.

Here is a video from my humble perspective:

Reading at the Shenzhen Writers Afternoon

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Last week on a Sunday afternoon I participated in an event in which writers based in Shenzhen can read their works aloud. It was part of the Shenzhen Book Exchange, which is an interesting sort of amateur library that English-language readers put together to promote reading and finding books while abroad. I’ve borrowed a lot of books from there, and donated a few myself.

 

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Reading in #Shenzhen

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While at it, I decided to print some of my one-page comics and share them as little books. That went over pretty well. (They don’t work very read aloud but great to give away.) Now six pages long. The working title of this slowly-growing anthology is “A Random Assortment of Cautionary Tales.”

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I can #comics .

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I am somewhat afraid that I’m not very good at reading. The audience seemed attentive, but maybe I read too fast. Ah well, I’m not quite an actor but I hope the words are interesting.

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Reading from my new story THIS MODERN LOVE:

 

As much as the point was to share my works, it was also much fun to organize the event in that I found new writers in Shenzhen to work with as well as help to edit for translations. While I’ve read at the book exchange before, and I had a ‘Shenzhen Writers Night’ earlier in the year, this was the first time putting those two in particular together and I think it was a good forum for the city’s literary scene. I’m lucky to have come across these great authors, both established Chinese and (such as me) aspiring American. Here they are with links to their works below:

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Xie Hong
 is the Chinese author of 14 books, and he also writes in English. He studied in New Zealand in the English department of the Waikato Institute of Technology. Xie has won the Shenzhen Youth Literature Award as well as the Guangdong New Writer Award and New York Award. He will share some of his experiences in writing, and read poems or excerpts of short stories. He read from his poem collection The Story of Time, and the short story Casino.

http://lithub.com/on-xie-hong-master-of-chinese-unreality/

http://blog.sina.cn/dpool/blog/xiehong

 

Greta Bilek is a self-published travel writer and author of the book China Tea Leaves. Writing about travel in China, she finds inspiration in ancient poems, historic travelogues, stories told by Chinese friends and more. This is her second time presenting at the Book Exchange, sharing reflection from the road and experiences of taking on layers of cultural traditions as an expat.

http://www.chinatealeaves.com/

 

Tiga Tan is the scriptwriter and novelist. She has written more than 300 episodes of TV series for Shenzhen’s children’s channel and the animated series Fuwa for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. She is author of “G.O.D.I.S.E.T” a science fiction novel. She read from her short fairy tale “So Long, Aga.”

 

Nicole A. Schmidt is a published author, poet, educator and editor. She shared poetry, creative non-fiction and art she has created while in China. She is the author of Inside a Young Soul, and runs NAS Writes as an editing platform.

https://about.me/nicoleaschmidt

https://www.amazon.com/Inside-Young-Soul-Nicole-Schmidt/dp/1507800452

 

 

I hope you will take the time to look up these writers and learn more about their brilliant works! I’m honored to have had the chance to share the creative side of Shenzhen.

I’m looking forward to the next event already…

 

Talk Show video

A few weeks ago I participated in a nice little talk show in Shenzhen to promote my novel, and riff about writing and creativity. I posted some info here: Annie Talk Show

Unfortunately I only had a link to the QQ video at the time, which wouldn’t embed. I am now pleased to share that I have since uploaded it to my seldom-used YouTube page and that’s much easier for view non-Chinese Internet viewing.

I’m afraid it may not be my best presentation of myself, but I’m always pleased if anyone would like to watch…

 

Art and the City panel

Went to the Art and the City panel at 812 Design Center in Shenzhen last week.

Here is Bronwen Shelwell’s speech on microspaces, about working in South Africa. Artists mentioned include Steven Hobbs, Hedwig Hoben, Nina Barnett, and Theaster Gates.

Forgive the many cuts in my edit, because there were lots pauses for the Chinese translator to speak which I took out of the video.

Very interesting, and inspiring!

Bookworm Literary Festival: An Overview

What a week!

I was lucky enough to be a part of the Bookworm Literary Festival, both in Beijing on March 14th and Chengdu on the 19th, and what a week it was. I got to share my novel South China Morning Blues and represent Southern China to a whole other side of the expat scene in this big country.

First, I decided to take an express train from Shenzhen to Beijing. It took a reasonable eleven hours, still with no no ears popping it’s preferable to flying, and with the sleeper bunk overnight it was nice. I do recommend the express trains one-way. When I arrived in Beijing on Sunday morning, it was cold!

Good thing I packed warm clothes. Four days scheduled in Beijing, I then set out to explore. Staying nearby Bookworm in the Sanlitun area, I went to several panels at the literary festival, including one about pregnancy abroad featuring Ruth from ChinaElevatorStories.com.

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#BookwormLiteraryFestival

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The obvious tourism thing to do was to visit Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. I got some good photos, but mostly the experience was more about seeing all that security than it was seeing the major BJ sites. Due to the big government meetings currently of course. Seriously, the situation was insane. The padding, the lines on the streets. I must have had my bag x-rayed a dozen times; it was glowing green by the end of the day.

I do recommend going to the 798 arts district, though it may not be what it once was. The exhibition at the UCCA was particularly interesting, and I will write about that in detail later.

My talk on Monday went very well. I read a favorite scene, had an excellent conversation about blogging with Adam Robbins of CityWeekend.com, and the questions from the audience were very thought-provoking. And I am happy to say that my book is now officially stocked at the premiere bookstore in Beijing.

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Been great, #Beijing!

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My flight to Chengdu on Thursday went smoothly. The Bookworm was even kind enough to send a representative to pick me up! I also met my lovely girlfriend there — who could only get a three-day weekend off, and it was all timed well in that she was flying from Shenzhen.

Together, we had a great time in Chengdu. We enjoyed the hotel and went to various famous spots such as Kuanzhai Alley, Song Xian Qiao antique street, and Jinli. The food was absolutely wonderful. Don’t get me wrong, Beijing is worth visiting, but it can get a bit grey and looming and just overwhelming in scope. Chengdu was incredibly welcoming and reminded me what I have always loved about China travel all over again.

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It's been brilliant, #Chengdu! 我喜欢 #成都 😀

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My talk on Saturday was fun. In fact, girlfriend was nice enough to record much of it so you can watch below. Yes I know I say “um” too much, but I do like to think I am improving at expressing myself somewhat at these sorts of things.

I would also like to add that it was a pleasure to meet and hang out with renowned Irish author Eimear McBride — she of A Girl is a Half-formed Thing fame. Her talk was powerful and full of literary inspiration. Bought a book, got it signed, and will definitely read soon. The world needs more books like that, and authors like her.

I was sad to leave Chengdu on Sunday, but it was time to go home and resume my normal life down in the humid tropics. Phew. Well, that was the most intensive book tour week I have had so far in my career. I will be forever grateful to the good people at Bookworm (and one day I must go to the other location in Suzhou), yet at the same time I feel relieved to be back home to plan the next stage of events…

Letters From China… Cold Reading in Guangzhou

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Last weekend, I was honored to have been invited to the Letters From China bilingual poetry event in Guangzhou courtesy of GZ-based poet Aaron Styza. It was at Yi-Gather, one of my favorite places in the city, and the turnout and conversation were excellent. I, of course, read from my novel South China Morning Blues.

Unfortunately, it was one of the coldest nights of the year and the place doesn’t have heating! This happens when living in the tropical southern regions; all year you’re sweating and you never know what week is going to be actually cold… and you are not at all prepared for it. Seriously, even though it doesn’t get below freezing (and I did grow up in a place with four seasons), the combination of humidity and winds makes for some very harsh conditions.

The next day, something magical happened that made the weather more than worth it! It actually SNOWED. It was about two or three degrees Celsius and by some miracle small pellets of frozen water (maybe technically hail, but looked enough like snow) softly fell to the ground and immediately melted. Brief and ephemeral, we couldn’t believe our eyes. Not that it was a polar vortex like elsewhere, but in the context of this tropical environment it was amazing. Sadly, wasn’t really photographable.

I heard it’s the first time the weather had been this low in the region in some fifty-sixty years. And, a month ago was the warmest year’s winter ever. Not going to get into climate change or anything, just sayin these temperature extremes are interesting.

 

Anyway, here is an Instagram picture followed by Youtube video concerning the event:

[Yes I know I do not look good nor sound good but the self is an eternal process and I shall work on it]

More Updates: HK Literary Fest, SZ, GZ, Instagram…

Been busy lately.

Firstly, thanks to everyone who came to the excellent panel at the Hong Kong International Literary Festival! I was honored to be a part of the event, and add to the conversation on ‘Cross-Cultural Love’.

Anyway, I dare say I think it went well. The audience seemed to enjoy hearing what we had to say, and I actually think it was a success. It was an interesting talk, most of all due to all those other excellent writers to meet.

As well as the moderator David Nunan, it was great to meet the very intelligent Marshall Moore. Nice to see Shannon Young and Susan Blumberg-Kason once again.

The event was at the intriguing building known as the Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences, and I shall share via Shannon’s Instagram account here:

 

While at it, here’s Susan’s Instagram. Feel free to like and follow!

https://instagram.com/p/96aiyLlGMy

 

https://instagram.com/p/98jdIPFGIV

 

 

There I am. And now, back to my new pic-sharing blogging strategy of just sharing previous uploads from the app. Readers rest assured you are enjoying the best of these…

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What do you think, makes for a good profile pic~? #HKLitFest

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