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Vox Day is Wrong About American Identity

Vox Day is Wrong About American Identity

As if to prove my point about the incompatibility between Christianity and Nationalism, Vox Day has been tripling-down on his recent anti-American position:

A question asked on SocialGalactic: What tribe does the American who’s ancestors include multiple Europeans nations belong to?

None. Such individuals don’t have a tribe or a nation. That’s why US society is described, correctly, as “atomized”. It has been literally blown apart by mass immigration and labor mobility. Forget tribe, many US citizens don’t even have a clan, as their extended families are spread out across the continent from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

It’s rather like asking what AKC-registered breed a mongrel is. The correct answer is “none”. No matter what the mongrel’s genetic pedigree might be, it is not accepted as any of the 193 breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club.

The analogy is actually quite apt, but not in a way that defends the non-identity of America. Dog breeds are not like human populations (or canines in nature) in that they are designed from the top-down. This leads to all kinds of monstrosities and deformations (hip displasia being a more pronounced problem) following what is an essentially fascist definition of what a nation is — that a nation is defined by the state.

In nature, dog breeds emerge organically. Canis lupus did not emerge following some Platonic form of “wolf,” as if nature cared an iota about constructs like taxonomy. The relationship of likeness exists prior to taxonomical categorization, and in actuality, these relationships are always more complicated than the taxonomical simplifications try to make them.

Ludwig Wittgenstein described the way in which words’ meanings followed a “family resemblance” pattern, which is useful here both in the sense of understanding the meaning of a word (“national” generally, “American” specifically) and in the sense of understanding the relationships we have to family. An extended family may go by many different names, since daughters tend to take their husbands names. They may display a variety of features, with no single feature being universally shared by all members. One could imagine a family of hypothetical Howards distinguished by a distinctive “Howard eyebrow.” Many of the Howard family possess the “Howard eyebrow,” but some do not; those who do not are still members of the Howard family for sharing other traits. Conversely, a stranger may possess a forehead structure that looks remarkably like the “Howard eyebrow,” but is not, for this reason, a member of the family.

American identity is something which cannot be defined simply. Like “honor” or “pornography,” it is something that is grasped intuitively and distinguished from adjacent ideas more easily than it is conceptually described. American identity follows a pattern of “family resemblance,” of which race is a component, but not the sole component, and perhaps not even the most significant component.

White Nationalism and ethnic nationalism of the kind that Vox Day advocates is appealing because it correctly grasps the importance of genetics to our identity, in a way which Christianity and its spiritual child Liberalism do not permit. But just because something as important as genetics is neglected or shunned for ideological reasons does not, by itself, make that object the most important factor. Race may be a necessary component to a coherent national identity… but how necessary is it? Does a nation need to be 90% pure to maintain itself? 80%? 70%? 100%?

To ask such a question is to mistake the gauge for the thing being measured.

Historically, all nations had a beginning, at which point their constituent members would have “belonged to no tribe.” All nations began as alliances between somewhat disparate tribes and clans, loosely tied together by geography, language, and religious custom. Nations are forged through conflict, distinguishing “us” from “them,” and some degree of genetic uniformity emerges in the aftermath of this delineating conflict. But the identity can exist prior to the genetic uniformity. In fact, the identity can die even as the genetic uniformity persists.

America has experienced great conflict persistently through its entire history, with the Indians, the French, the Spanish, the English, the Mexicans, with North African pirates, Germany, and Japan, but most brutally and destructively of all, with itself. Through all of this conflict, a distinctive American identity has definitely emerged, one which people can discern without needing fleshed-out concepts to justify. But as an exercise, we can describe some of the more major traits of the American identity as follows:

  • Ethnically, Americans are Western European, West African (descendants of slaves), or Amerindian, in that order
  • Linguistically, Americans speak English
  • Religiously, Americans are Christian
  • Politically, Americans are anti-monarchist
  • Geographically, Americans live in America (the lower 48 region of the North American continent)

This is an extremely simplistic list, and each point has many exceptions. There are a great number of ethnically Latino individuals who most Americans would consider to be “American.” Similarly, the Founding Fathers — who in many ways set the tone for what “being American” was all about — were Deists, if not outright atheists, (though it should be noted that their rejection of Christianity was a participation in the Christian world). I myself am not Christian. And of course, there are a great deal of less obvious cultural features that map out the constellation of American identity. Any one of these may be missing in a particular person without sabotaging their American identity. Yet true Americans will meet more of these points than non-Americans.

Ultimately, and perhaps most importantly, Americans are loyal to their nation. What this nation is is, of course, more disputed than more firmly established nations… such as Italy. But this youthful, immature nature of American identity is not an absence of identity; to believe that would be to believe that national identities exist without beginning.

Those who reject American identity to the point that they expatriate and no longer have any loyalty to America have no grounds to lecture Americans about what their identity is or is not. They have no skin in the game anymore. Vox Day is not an American. As a contemptuous expatriate, he is as un-American as any Marxist or monarchist.

I still like Vox. He’s a smart guy, and has a lot of interesting and insightful things to say. I’m never in favor of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. But he is not an American, and is autistic in that particularly Aristotelian fashion in his approach to subjects that simply defy clear and distinct conceptual demarcation. “The West” cannot be simply defined as “Greece/Rome + European Nations + Christianity.” Those are all components of Western history, it is true, but The West is more than that. In the same way, “American” means more than merely “the descendants of the Founding Fathers.”

Philosophers are fond of pointing out problems that science cannot — even in principle — answer. But there are problems which even philosophy has a difficult time answering, and for which art is the better medium of exploration. Identity is one such problem, a problem which the ancient Greeks answered with The Iliad, and which American has not yet received a clear answer for yet, though a few partial answers come to mind: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one classic of two misfits on a journey up the great Mississippi River toward freedom… never quite arriving, but setting out on the journey regardless, self-selecting away from the “civilization” offered by Monarchy, Christianity, Democracy, or any other -y that promised utopia in exchange for freedom.

All right, then, I’ll go to hell.

A more recent example — one I think that is tremendously underrated in its capacity to answer this exact question — is Chuck Palahniuk’s Adjustment Day. After the United States breaks apart into three distinct nations, emigrants flee the structure of their respective homelands (“Caucasia,” “Gaysia,” and “Blacktopia”) to the dangerous freedom of the wilderness. Listening to the howling of the wolves and bearing the cold, these misfits huddle around the fire…

The trembling figure crept into the clearing, illuminated by the firelight. An emaciated wanderer wearing a tailored suit made ragged by months in the wild. The stranger looked upon the curated little group of gays and straights, blacks and whites, females and males.

Of the youngsters seated around the campfire, none dared move a muscle. A twitch would send this stranger bolting. The wanderer, this wanderer met their stares with wide, traumatized eyes. He sniffed the air, his nostrils flaring, apparently tantalized by the aroma of their roasting wieners.

Nick, generous to a fault, Nick rifled his pockets. With an outstretched hand he offered the trembling wild man a pill, saying, “Looks like somebody could use a Percodan.”

Shasta hushed him. She plucked the warm meat from the end of Jamal’s sharpened stick. She felt t he wiener’s damp heat in her fingers and suffered a twinge of wifely guilt. In recompense, she knelt. Her fellows, Nick and Felix, Jamal and Miss Jo, Gavyn and Charm, they hissed for her to keep a safe distance, but she dismissed them with a motion of her hand.

Nodding, his eyes clsoed in bliss, Jamal whisper-yelled, “Cool! Just like in Steinbeck!”

The picture of compassionate grace, Shasta Sanchez offered the sweating, dripping morsel to this, the hounded, haunted, former president of the disunited states.

As with Twain, there is a touch of self-effacing ridiculousness in Palahniuk’s depiction of America. This is in line with the observations of the great American essayist H.L. Mencken, whom is worth quoting at length:

The United States, to my eye, is incomparably the greatest show on earth. It is a show which avoids diligently all the kinds of clowning which tire me most quickly — for example, royal ceremonials, the tedious hocus-pocus of haut politique, the taking of politics seriously — and lays chief stress upon the kinds which delight me unceasingly — for example, the ribald combats of demagogues, the exquisitely ingenious operations of master rogues, the pursuit of witches and heretics, the desperate struggles of inferior men to claw their way into Heaven. We have clowns in constant practice among us who are as far above the clowns of any other great state as a Jack Dempsey is above a paralytic — and not a few dozen or score of them, but whole droves and herds. Human enterprises which, in all other Christian countries, are resigned despairingly to an incurable dullness — things that seem devoid of exhilirating amusement, by their very nature — are here lifted to such vast heights of buffoonery that contemplating them strains the midriff almost to breaking.

[…]

Turn, now, to politics. Consider, for example, a campaign for the Presidency. Would it be possible to imagine anything more uproariously idiotic — a deafening, nerve-wracking battle to the death between Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Harlequin and Sganarelle, Gobbo and Dr. Cook — the unspeakable, with fearful snorts, gradually swallowing the inconceivable? I defy any one to match it elsewhere on this earth. In other lands, at worst, there are at least intelligible issues, coherent ideas, salient personalities. Somebody says something, and somebody replies. But what did Harding say in 1920, and what did Cox reply? Who was Harding, anyhow, and who was Cox? Here, having perfected democracy, we lift the whole combat to symbolism, to transcendentalism, to metaphysics. Here we load a pair of palpably tin cannon with blank cartridges charged with talcum power, and so let fly. Here one may howl over the show without any uneasy reminder that it is serious, and that some one may be hurt. I hold that this elevation of politics to the plane of undiluted comedy is peculiarly American, that no-where else on this disreputable ball has the art of the sham-battle been developed to such fineness…

It is difficult — with this characterization in mind — not to think of President Donald Trump as perhaps the most American of presidents in history, and to think no better of him for it.

But this taste for the ridiculous (which defies all autistic disciples of Aquinas and Aristotle) disguises an unironic and genuine love for freedom that goes hand-in-hand with the joy of the absurd. At some level, Americans understand that the “American dream” and the freedom they pursue are just that — a dream; one which will never be fully realized or accomplished. It is absurd. But they see everywhere else on earth the absurdity beneath all other societies, and the ridiculous solemnity with which they pursue their own ideal, be that the formation of a clan, political dominance, the sack of Troy, achieving Nirvana, or having Jesus inside them.

American freedom is ridiculous. The freedom of speech is ridiculous. The idea of everyone owning guns seems ridiculous. But perhaps these things are no less worthy of pursuit because of their ridiculous nature.

So the European romantic or Greek literalist looks at America as doomed or nonsensical. The American laughs and agrees and carries on, not because he is unsophisticated, but precisely the opposite; he knows that romanticism and reason are also ridiculous. The idea of freedom is, indeed, ridiculous, but it is somehow a more attractive absurdity to pursue in our time on this planet the boring and monotonous.

This doesn’t help us getting any closer to defining what it means to be an American — The America that can be named is not the eternal America. There are ethnic and ideological and geographic and linguistic and religious components all circling each other, all related and important without being intrinsically necessary. But these self-confident European assertions about what an American is, or is not, provide a delusional pretense of knowledge that lead to all sorts of misunderstandings and failed predictions. American identity is complicated, but something being complicated, or even incomprehensible, is no proof of nonexistence or doom. American identity is visible and visceral; everybody understands what it is like and what it is not like, especially if they have traveled abroad. This understanding exists even if it cannot be easily explained, and we do not need to articulate and justify what it means to be an American in order to believe in America, in ourselves as Americans, and in the future of America. America — and American identity — exist, even without a philosophically crystalline definition.

Or, put another way,

Don’t sit in darkness because you cannot fully comprehend electricity.

Vox Day, On the Existence of Gods

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Do you think Vox Day is a bit insane man? I read your review of Jordanetics and in fact read Jordanetics myself and enjoyed it as well as one other of his books.

    1. I don’t think Vox is insane. He might be a little on the Aspy spectrum, but if so, he’s learned to cope pretty well. He’s a very smart and insightful guy, I just think his skin is in the wrong game on the subject of America specifically.

  2. I wrote about how America is going through a second revolution, and the two sides are those who believe two different stories of America, referred to as “Story 1” and “Story 2.”

    “Story 1 goes roughly like this: The founding of America was a remarkable achievement in human history, the first country rooted in philosophy, rather than genetics. These ideological roots enshrined liberty and allowed non-elites to have a say in how they were ruled. Although there have been fits and starts since the founding, Americans have used these roots to continue to build a more perfect union.”

    “Story 2 goes something like this: America was founded by white supremacists who oppressed others. The racist descendants of the Founders continued the oppression. But the jig is up. There are now enough woke people to wrestle control of this country from the oppressors to create a utopia.”

    The piece discusses the clashes between “Tribe 1” and “Tribe 2” and what we can expect.

    https://theamericansun.com/2020/03/25/the-second-american-revolution/

  3. The assertion was not that Americans don’t have an identity, it was that a descendent of a mix of various European nations living in the United States is neither American nor any one of the various nations making up their ancestry. Americans are descendents of the people who founded the United States. This does not include West Africans nor Amerindians. Both of those groups are their own nations distinct from Americans, who are predominantly of English ancestry with Scottish and Dutch having varying regional prevalence. Do note that this view is not “white nationalism” by any definition, as it refutes the notion that America was founded for Europeans as a whole.

    1. Fair distinction, but even early Americans were not usually exclusively English. But to cut to the heart of the matter more decisively, even these European home nations can be subdivided into more discreet nations: England itself was composed of Picts, Celts, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and later, Normans. These can be thought of (accurately) as distinctive peoples, and yet we call them all “English.” There is no bottom to this hole.

      I like Vox’s analysis of things, as he has a natural propensity to pick up on critical aspects of an equation that are often neglected. But while ethnicity is a critical part of national identity, it is not the SOLE aspect of national identity… which is why American identity, though related to English identity in certain important ways, is its own thing, and which DOES include certain West Africans and Amerindians, for historical reasons. They are a part of a shared experience and history, and this shared experience and history is ALSO important in identity formation and cohesion.

      1. I worry that you are not actually dealing with Vox’s beliefs about the American nation (or any nation). This is suggested by the fact that the point you have just made in this reply actually supports Vox’s case.

        Based on my understanding of Vox Day, he contends that a nation is not something you can opt out of as you are suggesting he has. By Vox’s definition no nation is and no nation ever was voluntary. Your argument about Vox not being American, and thus not having the requisite epistemic legitimacy to know who is or is not American, only makes sense if you are already holding to the position that America is a “new kind of nation” like no other based on voluntary membership. Otherwise the best Vox Day could hope to become, if he was as anti-American as you contend, would be an American who rejects America and who now lives in Italy. He could neither become Italian any more than he could cease to be American. He is aware, however, as he has stated many times, that he is not really an American as he defines it, but a mostly native american with “identity issues”.

        This is because Vox’s argument is historical and not aspirational. It is about what happens not what we think should happen or what we believe will happen in the future. Vox’s historical definition of a nation is not about what an individual consciously thinks he is, or who he thinks his nation should include. Nations are identities that are implicit in what people assume about themselves and others prior to making any other judgment, even if it is one about their own nation.

        Your argument that West Africans in the United States should be included in the American nation implies that you already know who is currently in a position to do the including and who should be included. If you are having to consciously “include” people into your nation, like Black people in the United States, your argument already fails. Your nation is you and your people. Who, then, could you possibly be making a case to include in that nation? An American does not need to have a case made that he should be included in the American nation. He is a member of the nation doing the including. The reason it is evident who needs to be included in the American nation and who needs to do the including is because, as the “social justice warriors” correctly point out, Black people in the United States do not have the same inter-generational experiences or the same inter-generational story as do those who recognizably descend from its founders. If you have to intentionally “treat someone the same” as you would treat an ordinary member of your own people, they are not a member of your own people.
        This brings us to the next point.

        Neither the Saxons nor Angles, nor any of the other nations you mention here existed when the English settled America. They once existed, but they no longer did once their members had fused into something new. That new thing was the English nation (or in the case of the Picts it was the Scottish nation). There was no Angle nation and English nation running parallel. No Englishman settling America viewed themselves as a Jute or as an Angle. Why? Because the mass movements that set the conditions for the English nation destroyed those which came prior. That is Vox Day’s point. Mass movements of people, and forced “inclusion” destroy nations. Mass movements of people destroyed the Angles, and Saxons, and Jutes in England, because they were all subsumed into the English nation.

        The reason the Angles and the English nations did not coexist is because they could not. You cannot include people into a nation that already exists. The moment you attempt that, you already know who needs to be included and who needs to do the including, which is the same as knowing who is actually a member of the nation and who is not. You can only create a new nation that subsumes those which came before it. If the component peoples forming into the new nation collectively wear the old nation’s name as a skinsuit, that does not make it the same nation.

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