Review of Against the Web: A Cosmopolitan Answer to the New Right by Michael Brooks (2019)

To understand why I bought and am reviewing this book, it’s important to know my deep respect, gratitude and appreciation for the intellect of and ethos espoused by Michael Jamal Brooks.

I must indicate from the outset that I write this only in the capacity of an admirer. I wasn’t his friend, relative or even someone who had met him. As such, I don’t want the first half of this blog entry to imply that what I felt on the day he left us was in any way comparable to how his his friends, family or colleagues at The Majority Report, The Michael Brooks Show (TMBS) or Jacobin must have felt.

I shed tears of grief when the news had been confirmed Michael had died, and spent the day trying to suppress the pit of sorrow in my stomach and the racing thoughts that surged through my body like a hot stream of dull electricity. Yet, I knew what his loss meant to me despite my muddled state of mind. Perhaps that’s why I took the news so hard.

Along with Phillip Adams (and to an extent, Melvin Bragg), he was integral in me realizing that I needed to expand the issues that I advocated for from beyond domestic economic issues, culture wars palaver or whatever was trending on BreadTube at the time to those that also affect life in the Global South. That embracing intellectualism over crude populism wasn’t inconsistent with being male. That a good argument can be made calmly and rationally, but also empathetically.

Along with the team at Chapo Trap House, he taught me that you could be a Left winger and have a wicked sense of humor as his impersonations of charlatans like Dave Rubin and Alex Jones as well as Nation of Islam Obama, Right Wing Mandela and Anti-SJW MLK would attest. That people can be flawed, but they are overwhelmingly good. That while being knowledgeable is important, it doesn’t make you morally better than anyone.

Along with my reading of Martin Luther King Jr.*, he convinced me that I shouldn’t discount the role of spirituality in the pursuit of social justice. That inclusion is the paramount goal of any movement seeking greater equity, justice and liberty for all. That the fight for the expansion of civil and political rights is intrinsically tied with delivering an improvement in the living standards of all. That we should hate systems, but love people.

And along with Kyle Kulinski, he reassured me that the so-called ‘Intellectual Dark Web’ (IDW) and pseudo intellectual talking heads who emerged after 2016 were paper tigers despite the exaggerated testimonies festooned all over YouTube talking up their near daily destruction of Leftist snowflakes/SJWs/feminists/insert reactionary snarl words here. He kept my spirits up in what has been a globally dark time.

Be like the lobster!
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Michael’s second and last book ‘Against The Web: A Cosmopolitan Answer to the New Right’ covers the emergence of said IDW, and provides a Leftist response to a movement that was portrayed as having captured the cultural zeitgeist for a short time. It is a short read at 82 pages, and mostly focuses on three of the supposedly intellectually unimpeachable of the bunch: Sam Harris, Jordan Peterson and Ben Shapiro. I would recommend it for those who want a starter’s kit for debunking the sophist nonsense of those boosting these craven self promoters. With that being said, I also feel that a lot of what he covers here, such as Harris’ disingenuous ‘nuclear football’ thought experiment or Peterson’s conflation of Marxism and Post-Modernism, can be just as easily found in many TMBS and Majority Report episodes.

I also felt that more could have been written about regarding how the IDW is just as much a PR organization as they are supposedly a scholarly one. While they would be loathe to consider themselves being raised in the same breath as the Alt-Right/Alt-Lite, I believe many of the IDW employ many of the same self promotion techniques as their equally YouTube savvy and cynical brethren, such as constant and public reinforcement of their self proclaimed intellectual invincibility against the forces of emotion and irrationality, remaining cocooned in their own intellectual bubbles and gabfests where they are rarely seriously challenged, and the selling of themselves as being transgressive and taboo when we have all been able to access their ‘edgy’ ideas in a variety of forums over the last 300 years.

The thing that I took the most heart from was Michael’s solution as to how the Left can build a viable response to the IDW. It thankfully differed from another Zero books publication, ‘Kill All Normies’, in that it didn’t blame a feckless and self indulgent Left for people turning towards these characters, nor lionize agent provocateurs like Milo Yiannopoulos as some type of philosophical prodigies. However, he did give it a gentle nudge.

Firstly, it addressed the ability of the IDW to speak to the needs of a resentful audience, and give answers that reinforce existing hierarchies while putting up the facade of being rebellious. Peterson, in particular, gears his message to alienated white men in their 20’s to 30’s who are suffering under late capitalism. Certain Leftist voices have been all to willing to crap on them as impotent losers. However, as Michael points out, we shouldn’t be mocking their existential ennui. Instead, we should be providing an alternative to them based on a material analysis of their living circumstances. This theme has also been picked up in Innuendo Studios’ excellent YouTube series ‘The Alt-Right Playbook’ as well as by Australian feminist commentator, Clementine Ford, albeit they were both talking about slightly different demographics.

He also highlights the necessity of creating more space for debate on the Left for those of good faith, who may not be completely au fait with terminology or ideology. His touchstone for this is Mark Fisher’s ‘ brilliant 2013 essay ‘Exiting the Vampire Castle’, something that has also become a touchstone for me*. If we are to actually forge the type of solidarity required to take on the New Right, we will need to stop jumping on the back of those of good faith who make a perceived faux pas, This only feeds into the IDW’s narrative that the Left is tribal, hysterical and fanatical, and makes our side more of a hipster enclave than a political movement.

As mentioned above, this was Michael’s second book. If you have time, check out his other book ‘The Buddha’s Playbook: Strategies for Enlightened Living’, something I fully intend on doing.

Rest in power, Michael. You will be sorely missed.

* I know Michael would be embarrassed in having his name mentioned in the same sentence as MLK. I should stress that I am referring to their impact on my thinking in this case, not their historical impact.
* Another excellent article concerning this phenomenon on Leftist/Liberal Twitter is the review by Ben Burgis, a regular guest on TMBS, of Jon Ronson’s 2015 book ‘So You’re Still Being Publicly Shamed’ .

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