In a chapter of her new book Kill All Normies
titled "From Tumblr to the Campus Wars: Creating Scarcity in an Online Economy of Virtue," Angela Nagle summarizes her theory on how the right was able to take political power even while the left has become more stridently vocal. She writes:
In the early days of Twitter, a platform in which users are supposed to compete for followers and through which lagging careers can be instantly boosted through the correct virtue signaling, minor celebrities realized that one could attract a following greater than through traditional media. At first, self-righteously or snarkily denouncing others for racism, sexism or homophobia was the most instantaneous and certain way to achieve social media fame. Something about social media platforms, it turned out, was conducive to the vanity of morally righteous politics and the irresistible draw of the culture wars. But soon the secret was out and everyone was doing it. The value of the currency of virtue that those who had made their social media cultural capital on was in danger of being suddenly devalued. As a result, I believe, a culture of purging had to take place, largely targeting those in competition for this precious currency. Thus, the attacks increasingly focused on other liberals and leftists often with seemingly pristine progressive credentials, instead of those who engaged in any actual racism, sexism or homophobia.
Although I tend to think that Tumblr functions differently than Twitter in a number of meaningful ways, this hypothesis makes sense. In fact, I've posted multiple times here on Dreamwidth about how confusing and frustrating it's been for me to be attacked for seemingly minor infractions (such as finding nonwhite fictional characters attractive in the "wrong" way) on Tumblr while actual literal white supremacists drove the U.S. presidential election and were then treated seriously in the discursive forums of mainstream media.
That being said, Nagle's ostensible emphasis on rationality and resulting lack of empathy for other human beings calls her conclusions on leftist culture into question in its creation of major critical gaps. To give an example of what I mean, Nagle is deeply steeped in academic ideology (she wrote a dissertation about this, after all), but for some reason she refuses to reference any political theorists who aren't white, male, and European. As a result, the only women who appear in her discussion are either (a) real or hypothetical victims of online harassment, (b) "special snowflakes" on Twitter and/or Tumblr, and (c) herself, whom she repeatedly positions as being above the "fetishization of vulnerability" that she claims characterizes identity politics.
Essentially, Nagle is uncomfortable looking at the current political situation from the intellectual perspective of anyone who is not white, male, and European. This leads her to make numerous statements such as the following, which precedes a brief discussion of Gamergate:
First, let me be clear on my own position on gaming. If you're an adult, I think you should probably be investing your emotional energies elsewhere. And that includes feminist gaming, which has always struck me as being about as appealing as feminist porn; in other words, not at all.
Statements like this demonstrate that, for someone who goes through great pains in order to connect the contemporary alt-right to twentieth-century academic political philosophy, Nagle really... hasn't done all of the required reading, I guess.
Even though what Nagle is saying about the self-cannibalization of identity politics on Tumblr makes sense, I find it difficult to have any faith in her overall argument, which is basically that the trolls on Reddit and 4chan hate Tumblr-based leftist culture because of course
they do, any sane person would. I mean, that's a reasonable thing to say, but it's not really a thesis statement that I would expect someone with a PhD to make, you know? What I'd like to see is a more sensitive and nuanced critique of Tumblr-based political culture from the perspective of someone who is more sympathetic to the concerns of the people who have created communities there; but, to be fair, Kill All Normies is very clear regarding the fact that its focus is on white men.