That Which Will Not Return
Time as the enemy
The following is a piece I sent to a prominent publication a month or so ago. Having not heard back from them one way or another, I present it here in slightly modified form.
Social scientists talk a lot about “revealed preferences”; that is, the things a man does and believes even when they’re different from what he says he does and believes. You can also think of these as priorities. One clear indicator of a man’s true priorities are how he spends his time. Upon having some free time, does he read a book or exercise, perhaps take care of some outstanding housework? Or does he immediately head to the couch, snacks in hand, ready to kill some time. If we could be an unseen observer of this hypothetical man, his preferences would be revealed in stark relief.
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You can imagine other, more sinister or salacious revealed preferences other than vegging out with junk food. A grade school teacher of mine used to tell us that character is what we do when no one is watching. I later learned that he did not coin this axiom, and it is generally attributed to legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, but it’s stuck with three decades later nonetheless.
Many of us want to do great things. In a degraded age, opportunities to rise to the occasional feel absent from life. It’s as if all the opportunities have been bled out of our safety-conscious world, all edges sanded down and aspirations tucked into neat boxes in the corner of the longhouse along with the other toys. Absent these physical, real-world chances to prove oneself, the digital world stands as a tantalizing beacon of freedom, a place where we can make ourselves into anything we can imagine. Part-proving grounds and part-Neverland, where the only price is your time, the big danger is conflating “activity” for “action.”
I would know, because I found myself addicted to this heady frontier. Formerly addicted, I guess. My drug of choice was dopamine. And my delivery mechanism was social media.
Don’t laugh: social media addiction is an actual thing. It appeals to people’s desire for attention and recognition that they feel they’re otherwise not getting in the real world. Social media addiction does not always walk hand-in-hand with clinical narcissism (after all, a true capital-N Narcissist would never ask themselves the question, “Am I a narcissist?”) though it does feed into our narcissistic tendencies. And social media addiction is correlated with clinical depression, which sounds counterintuitive until you pull on that thread a little bit.
See, when you’re depressed, it’s typically because things in your life aren’t going the way you want them to, or expected, or are even working towards. There’s a disconnect between ideal and reality, often fueled by the perfect depictions of life people project to the world via their social media profiles: “If they can live their best life, why can’t I?” This cognitive dissonance is difficult to live with, especially when one feels like they have no control over things and no ability to make things better. So you retreat.
Barring the actual, horrific exceptions, we have much more control over our destinies than we think. Many of us just feel more comfortable in sadness and misery, and it is far easier to duck one’s head in the digital sand and find a world where everything seems to work out, where people seem to love you, and where you can be—and may God have mercy on me for using such a cringe term—a rock star.
I jointed Twitter in the early days of the platform, the pre-smartphone days, but I found it of little use.
There weren’t many conversations going on in those days, and I used it mainly to announce where my band would be playing next. Back then, you could text your tweet to a phone number associated with your account and post it that way. With follower and following counts in the single digits, it was no surprise that I viewed the platform as a novelty whose utility escaped me. I hopped on again in 2014 or so after seeing the platform grow and be used by musicians, celebrities, and news pundits I liked, but quickly deleted my account after getting dog-piled for a particularly spicy take. Young(ish) Alexander hadn’t yet learned how to deal with the trolls.
All this changed in the fall of 2015 when I took a new job that required me to be away from my family for long stretches. Lonely, bored, missing my wife and son, and living all the disadvantages of bachelorhood with none of upsides, I created a third account—this time as an anon (I later, regrettably, became a facefag)—and something clicked. The platform made sense and I joined the conversation. It was also when I started getting into writing, so I also used it to build a community and friendships in that realm. But holy cow, what a time to be on Twitter.
Memes! Jokes! New ideas! New media personalities! A shake-up of the old ways by a new edgy, irrelevant crew who were not actually conservative in the boring, stodgy, useless American sense, but dangerously opposed to the status quo! And the status quo hated us.
I was good at Twitter, but what does being “good” at Twitter mean? What does it get you? I had viral tweets, posts, and really felt like what I did mattered. How? To whom? These were questions whose answers seemed obvious at the time. I mean, through my tweeting I was saving Western civilization. My tweets were fighting back! I was mutuals with people like Mike Cernovich! Ed Latimore! Alexander Cortes! Later, with people like Lom3z, “Bad” Billy Pratt, and Michael Millerman! Mark Granza! Conan, Esq.! Indian Bronson! Covfefe Anon! Bennet’s Phylactery! Marc Andreesen! The Chivalry Guild! I had over 5,000 followers. My blog posts and Substack were read by hundreds, if not thousands, of people. I was a big deal.
But what was getting accomplished? Was the needle moving? Was anything I did actually putting that which I believed in into real-world application? Was I proving myself and rising to the occasion, or merely generating more heat than light?
Dissidents need to think about this in a world where actually doing things in the real world is decried as performative and self-aggrandizing, too risky, a grift, or some sort of psyop/controlled opposition. It’s much easier to critique from the peanut gallery than to do. We love mocking critics who slag this band or that movie but who aren’t there in the arena themselves. Why do we tolerate the same thing in our like-minded fellows, and in ourselves?
Social media “success” requires a real investment in time, and demands more from you the more you put into it. Likes, retweets, dopamine; rinse, repeat. Of course, none of it is real. And this realization, that online success is about as real as pro wrestling or pregnant men, is inescapable. The momentary yet highly addictive dopamine rush feeds the depression byreminding you of your failures and driving you back into the virtual world to get away. Maybe some anon is getting more traction than you today for a similar take you had last week. Thus the infighting begins, the sniping, the ankle-biting. That gets attention, and so you do more of it, yet our goals, our beliefs, our dreams languish in the realm of the possible instead of the actual. A truly vicious circle.
Pay attention to how heavy social media users talk about the platform and their time on it. “Hellsite.” “Waste of time.” “Why am I doing this?” These, my friends, are the words of addicts in the grip of a deep, dark affliction. These are blatant cries for help masked in the irony of someone trained to never let on that they care. Social media kills sincerity the same way that porn kills love. Both have more in common than you think.
The Internet and social media have been a boon for those with alternative views, offering a true alternative to the rotting status quo. It is where ideas can spread without gatekeeper interference, and where bonds are formed. We are not alone. But as all of us were given different gifts and talents, we are not all cut out for social media. For my money, you’re better off addicted to cigarettes than social media. You might not believe it, but I’ll bet you fritter away hours per day on this that could’ve been spent on better things that actually have an impact. Believe it or not, while real life tends to equal Twitter plus one year, the vast majority of Americans are not on this platform and have no idea what’s going on in the digital realm.
There’s a danger is to conflate “shitposting” with “making a difference.” It is vital for once-forbidden ideas to get out into the zeitgeist, but the battle cannot end there. At some point, concrete action must be taken. The best of the dissident sphere, the kind who writes for and reads this fine publication, have found ways to put their ideas into action. I know others from the online world who have joined their local GOP, started men’s reading groups and other clubs around shared interests, gotten active in their church, and started to infiltrate these institutions we talk about needing to reclaim.
Too many in the dissident sphere spend all day spamming memes. Worse, they devolve into catty, clout-chasing squabbles about ideological purity and who is and isn’t a fed. And saddest of all, heavy social media use can replace meaningful relationships that could result in action with the soul-sucking labor of creating a digital life that has little to no connection to the person behind the screen.
I write this to warn about these landmines via the magic of first-hand experience. Yes, you will learn things, particularly about politics, philosophy, fitness, and art. But the true allure of social media is the banter. Be careful! When I stepped back and realized I was reacting to the outrage du jour, something I myself had no choice in selecting, the devious nature of these platforms came into stark relief. Instead of keeping our eyes on the prize, we’re tempted to whine about cartoons.
Yes, you will make friends. But why not start trying to meet some of these people in real life? Or go to church or some other place where people gather and cultivate friends that way sans social media? Why indeed. Social media is attractive to the mostly male cohort of adults with no serious friendships. The death of male friendship is a thing society notices but just observed from afar instead of encouraging these friendships, mainly because strong male friendships threaten the status quo. However, seeing the recent spate of “men have no friends, women hardest hit” pieces springing up like mushrooms on a pile of manure, there may very well be some movement, albeit misguided, on this score.
It is high time to give those entering the arena at great personal and financial risk the benefit of the doubt, if not support. It’s not always a grift. It’s not always a psyop. It’s not always a futile attempt to get attention while angling for a book deal or a spot at some conservative think tank. Social media is a tool—a powerful one—and like all tools, it should not use you.
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