The problem with having an internet-connected mobile phone and bringing it into the bathroom with you to play with while defecating—instead of doing the sensible thing and grabbing a paperback—is that you’re likely to find yourself doomscrolling. I made this mistake, and found myself reading a rant called On the Infestation of Small-Souled Bugmen by somebody named Adam Winfield. Here’s a sample:
A consequence of a perilously overpopulated, brutally capitalistic, shamelessly hedonistic, morally decaying society, the humble bugman has come to define an age of technological dystopia in which everyone has everything — their gadgets, their fast foods, their fashion accessories — but somehow everyone also has nothing — no community, no natural spirit, no substance of mind. He is a zombified consumer, an emasculated wage slave, a vessel emptied of meaning and refilled with plastic, pixels and silicone.
He is what a sterile corporate wasteland spews out. Millions of him, almost exact replicas who are relentlessly told they are unique by clever marketers, and who believe it. He is a personality defined by brands, a blue-checkmarked Twitter user. Bugmen are what we get when a culture is infantilized, watered down and stripped of the very intellectual, philosophical and honourable fibre that once made it great. Totally dependent on the compromised support of his nanny state and high-tech devices, the bugman has been reduced to the status of a domestic animal. A 200-pound child.
I’ve seen this movie before. I think it was on MTV in the 1990s…
The rest of Winfield’s screed is more of the same, and it reads like the work of a man who has overdosed on Nietzsche Pops while reading Fight Club and missing the point. These are the words of a Last Man who mistakes himself for an übermensch (overman or superior man) and proceeds to lambaste his fellow Last Men for being what their families, culture, and society taught them to be.
While Winfield occasionally links to leftist critiques of capitalist society like Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism and David Graeber’s “On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs” he is equally prone to linking to the Unabomber’s manifesto or to op-eds blaming the erosion of “traditional masculinity” for declining sperm counts in the late 20th century. Never mind that we have thousands of photographs of manly men from the 19th century doing things that people like Winfield would denounce as unmanly: hugging their friends, for example, or even having friends in the first place.
- Does the society in which we live suck? Yes.
- Are most jobs pointless, thankless, and soul-crushing? Yes.
- Do we deserve better than a life spent further enriching the already wealthy? Yes.
- Is our government corrupt and unresponsive to the concerns of people who aren’t billionaires? Yes.
However, the reactionary material with which Winfield supplements his reading of leftist critiques of late-stage capitalism won’t lead him to anything resembling a constructive solution. Griping about “SJWs” won’t help; either. Most of them are just angry, self-righteous young idealists ripping into anybody slightly more successful than them because they don’t have the means or the guts to go after the people who benefit most from the status quo—who just happen the same people abetting if not outright bankrolling the resurgence of right-wing populism.
I think “Bugmen” is the work of somebody who hasn’t read Nietzsche, let alone Fukuyama (in fairness I haven’t read this book either, just the essay it expands upon), and is trying to make sense of the world in which he finds himself. He thinks he’s “red-pilled”, but he’s another blind man grabbing an elephant by the tail and thinking that because he’s touched part of the elephant he understands the whole. Unfortunately for him, his effort to extrapolate the whole picture from the puzzle pieces he has handy leads him astray because many of the pieces don’t form a picture of reality, but of the fantasy world with which the alt-reich would like to replace reality.
This is why techies need better liberal arts education, particularly in history, the humanities, and philosophy. Without this background, we’re too easily taken in by any con-artist capable of boldly claiming to have rediscovered the answer to our existential woes in dead ideologies we left behind for good reason.
Then again, this might just be how he goes about promoting his dystopian sf novella Under Toronto, and he admits that his voice while writing online is mostly a pose in the same blog post in which he brags about being “a lean 6 ft 2 in, have a beautiful, feminine wife, a 6-month old son, my own house and a good-paying job” lest people mistake him for “a fat, basement-dwelling incel behind the keyboard”. Winfield is just begging to be trolled with a few good “masculinity so fragile” jokes, but I don’t think it would actually help.
Instead, I feel sorry for this guy despite his flirtation with ideology I associate with the alt-reich, neo-reaction, and the soi-disant “grey enlightenment”. He seems desperately frightened that he might be one of the small-souled bugmen himself, and somebody really ought to point him toward Discordianism or the Church of the SubGenius. Or maybe Bokononism?
I’ve also noticed that a lot of techies like Adam Winfield tend to be obsessed with 20th century Japanese poet, playwright, actor, novelist, and nationalist Yukio Mishima, a man so obsessed with tradition, masculinity, and making a grand artistic statement of his own life that he participated in a failed fascist coup and then killed himself by committing seppuku. I’m not sure what conclusion to draw from this, but I must admit it’s tempting to seek meaning through grand gestures when one’s own life seems devoid of purpose.