Tell us a bit about yourself.
Like my real name? Ha ha. Like I'm dumb enough to do that. Enough of my readership knows who I am anyway. I live in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. I'm middle aged - early 40s now. Married with two kids. Work full time - at a union job with good benefits and wages. Too few people have that these days.
Why are you such a political wonk?
I learned the hard way at a young age that you can ignore the broader world all you want, but the broader world won't always ignore you. Back in 1988, I was 15 and just wanted to listen to heavy metal music and play Dungeons and Dragons. So it goes without saying that I wasn't the most popular kid in the conservative Catholic school I went to. That was when Geraldo Rivera did his expose on Satanic cult activity in America. I remember the moral panic well.
Next thing I knew, I was getting into fights at school, getting called into the Principal's office, quarrels with my parents and so on. A lot of people really thought that Satanic panic stuff was real. So at an early age I became accustomed to advocating for myself and the freedom of people like me - oddballs, misfits and so forth, to live our own lives. The one thing that stands out in my mind, though, is that I did know some leftist people even in those days. What they pointed out to me was that the things I enjoyed, the metal music and so on, were primarily enjoyed by white males, and it was implied that this was not really a good thing. This had to mean that those hobbies were racist and sexist. It was the first time, though by no means the last, that I would notice that the regressive left and the right wing overlapped on a lot of cultural matters. Nothing has really changed these days, "geek culture" is a favorite punching bag of both moral conservatives and progressives.
So ... Agent Commie?
Well, the funny thing is that I'm not actually a commie. Not so much these days, anyway. Friends of mine gave me that nickname years back when I first really got into leftist politics. That would have been around the mid 1990s or so. This was a lonely experience - the Berlin Wall had come down, the USSR had dissolved and so the political climate of the time was extremely libertarian. This was good in some ways. People weren't so caught up in stuff like heavy metal music and Dungeons and Dragons. Some were, but not as many. But free markets were supposed to be the cure-all for everything, for everyone. So Agent Commie is used somewhat ironically. But I also think there's something to be said for theoretical communism, even though I don't think revolutionary socialism is practical. It had an emphasis on class and economics that has increasingly been lost on the left wing. I think it's important to bring that back.
Because economic and ultimately legal structures provide important context to cultural issues. I suspect that a lot of the problems on the left today are a result of there being no real political or economic theory. As a result, issues surrounding race and sex are seen entirely through a cultural lens. This precludes use of either the political process or economic redistribution to redress inequality. So unequal outcomes are attributed to discriminatory or supremacist cultures among white males, and it becomes necessary to police these cultures and curtail their expression in order to make things more equal. This obviously hasn't been helpful. There's now a lot of anger and resentment towards "political correctness", much of it justified, that is in real danger of being expressed through very toxic politics, such as xenophobia, Donald Trump and stuff like that.
Have you always been on the left?
No. There was a time, in the late 1990s and early 2000s that I became disillusioned with leftism. I thought it had become too anti-white male. I still think that, actually. Even when I was a true believing communist, I thought that this streak of white male guilt that ran through leftist politics was dragging it down. It's only gotten worse since then.
But you're leftist now?
I think it's the only thing you can be if you care at all about the 99%, if I may borrow the phrase. But for a while I looked into right of center ways of thinking. There is a certain logic to it, and some of it has stuck with me. To this day, the more articulate alt-right commentators talk about concepts related to an organic society - a complex network of social interdependency that evolves and arises over time and in response to a the needs and issues a particular culture faces. There's something to be said for that. I'm not religious now, though I sort of was in those days, but I can see how shared mythology is a potent force for social cohesion. Today we're seeing a retreat of religion, a retreat of cohesive family units, romantic and erotic love between the sexes is dying, and other kinds of relationships that used to give people an identity and a sense of belonging are eroding, and I don't think that's a good thing. This is part of what's driving people to toxic political and religious ideologies. The innate need to belong that's not being fulfilled on a more personal level.
That said, it became obvious to me fairly quickly that right of center governments could not, or would not really address cultural issues. They simply didn't interest them. Rightist parties might exploit and even stoke populist anger for votes, for popular support and to keep the base loyal, but their hearts aren't really in it. At the higher levels, parties like the Republicans in the US, the Conservatives in Canada and Great Britain and so on were all for, or at least indifferent to stuff like radical feminism, mass immigration, multiculturalism and so on. And why not? Social liberalism is good for business.
Social Liberalism is good for business? What do you mean?
It's a natural consequence of the embrace of free market economics that swept the world in the 1980s. In the Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels describe rapacious capitalism as a force that destroys bonds based on land and kin, and "strips the family of its veil of sentimentality" and reduces human relations to money and commerce. While I think Marxism is overly deterministic, I think Marx was on to something back then and we're seeing it now. The economy becomes almost an all consuming social force. Take feminism, for example. Notice how feminism has become more successful and wide spread in the days since Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, despite its supposed liberal leanings? Part of that is because the left embraced identity issues as a substitute for increasingly discredited socialism. But part of it was that in a more capitalist economy, women are more valuable as workers and consumers than they are as wives and mothers, so it becomes preferable to have them go to school, work outside the home and so on. Now, I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. I don't believe that women should be forced to stay home and raise kids if they don't want to. But the more capitalist the society, the more people become valued strictly in economic terms, and so the tendency to measure "success" in financial terms becomes greater. And so more women work outside the homes, and this created a new demographic to market consumer products to.
What about the right's claims that feminism, multiculturalism and immigration are destroying western civilization?
They're pretty much false. Now I do think that social liberalism has become excessive and is having a lot of negative social consequences. But social liberalism didn't start the fire, so to speak. The far right is putting the cart before the horse. The truth goes back to what Marx said. While racial and sexual equality were compatible with the values of the left, and things leftists have long advocated, capitalism really made socially liberal ideas flourish. Untrammeled capitalism is an extremely dynamic force. It causes unprecedented social change. This was always the problem with conservative thought in general. Social conservatism and capitalism are actually not compatible.
It's no secret that rates of marriage and birth in the developed world have been falling since the 1970s. Consumer capitalism has enabled a higher - some might say decadent - quality of life, measured strictly financially, to childless couples and singles. Plus, the welfare state, private and public pensions and so on have done away with the need for large families, and contraception decoupled sexual activity from procreation. So the upshot of all of that is that you saw feminism proliferate in the 1970s and after. Governments then turned to increased immigration to keep population growth sustainable. Plus, immigrants formed a useful pool of cheap labor, and kept wages down. As free trade enabled by freer markets allowed industry to move oversees and reduce the strength of the unions, the leftist parties found in immigrants, minorities and liberated women a new base of political support. But those things were not caused by the left or by a nefarious conspiracy of "cultural Marxists" like the far right is always going on about.
You call yourself "Alternative Left." What do you mean by this?
To the best of my knowledge, the term alt-left started with a blogger named Robert Lindsay - whom I've had a few online chats with; great fellow, as a kind of mirror image of Richard Spencer's Alternative Right. The alt-left is basically people who are economically left, and don't fit in with either the right wing or most of today's left. Especially political correctness and the social justice warriors. The SJWs are the real fascists today.
So you regard the SJWs as having more in common with the far right than with the left?
Definitely. You have a total rejection of a materialist conception of history. You have a rejection of class struggle and liberal ideas of free speech and cultural pluralism. Politics is seen entirely through the lens of cultural or racial identity, which must be purified and strengthened in the face of a hostile world. Their world view is emotionally as opposed to rationally driven. It targets groups that have attained autonomous political identity relatively recently so that there isn't a lot of history, custom and tradition to fall back on, so a romanticized narrative of struggle is contrived to fill the void. They exist in an uneasy collusion with existing political and cultural institutions - they're favored in the media and academia and so on. This isn't something you'd see with an earlier leftist cause. They sometimes profess to be anti-capitalist and have a semi-socialist way of coming across, but have little real interest in economics except as an extension of the tribe. Loyalty to race or gender must supersede any kind of class consciousness or individualism. That right there tells you all you need to know. The only thing missing for the SJWs is a single messianic leader.
The alternative left rejects the SJWs for the same reason it rejects the alt-right. It's anti-authoritarian. It strongly upholds enlightenment values and champions rationalism over knee jerk emotional responses. We're odd relatives of the libertarians and Randian objectivists that way, though we're poles apart from them economically. Oppression and privilege have to be seen in political and economic terms again. so that some kind of measurable progress can be made.
So the Alternative left is basically just the old left?
To a degree. But a lot of alt-leftists have very real concerns with how excessive social liberalism has effected society. While most alt-leftists reject social conservatism, a streak of concern for cultural stability runs through our world view. This is a bit different than the strict economics of the old left. Most of us look at 3rd wave feminism, Islamism and the more militant elements in groups like Black Lives Matter and are aghast. These are very, very destructive movements. But so are the alt-right and the libertarians, who so far have been the main opponents of the SJWs. The problem with them is that they go too far the other way. Even when they try to deny it, it's hard to avoid the distinct whiff of very real racism and misogyny in these online right wing counter-cultures. So I'm hopeful that the alt-left can be a sane egalitarianism in contrast to the white male supremacy of the alt-right and the white male guilt of the regressive left.
What's next for Agent Commie?
I've started an Alternative Left Facebook page that's still small but growing steadily. Now I'm doing my blog - Samizdat Chronicles, and hopefully a YouTube channel in the near future - Samizdat Broadcasts. Now the historical samizdat was underground media in the Soviet bloc that was critical of the regime, so why would Agent "Commie" call his blog and YouTube channel that? The answer is that some of the samizdat was critical of the Soviet failure to live up to genuinely socialist ideals, I hope for my own work to hold the regressive left to similar account.
Any more heavy metal music or Dungeons and Dragons?
<laughs> Dungeons and Dragons, no. I'm more a Dragon Age guy these days. I'll be blogging and YouTubing quite a while before I catch up to the amount of time I lost playing DA Origins. Heavy metal music? Always!
Agent Commie also plans on spending time with his wife and children, who do not play D&D or listen to metal. He can also be found at https://www.facebook.com/alternativeleft