Kanye’s Return to Twitter and Liberalism’s Love Affair With Fear

by Benjamin Studebaker

Kanye West recently returned to Twitter. Many people think Kanye is an idiot, but if he is, he’s something of an idiot savant–the unrefined one-liners he tosses out are often in the neighborhood of truth, and those of us who pay attention can make use of what might seem useless. For instance, here’s two Kanye tweets:

Is it really true that everything single thing we do stems from either fear or love? Probably not–but it got me thinking. Have you noticed how completely and totally animated by fear contemporary liberal politics is, and how manipulative it has become as a result?

People often associate fear with pessimism, but I think that’s a mistake. In politics, fear is really about optimism–even gratitude. When we think life is good, that the society we’re living in is fair and just, that we have much to be thankful for, we have an optimistic attitude. But when we’re feeling this optimism, our politics can’t really be about solving problems. Grateful people don’t problematize anything. They’re too busy thinking about what they already have. When you’re thinking about what you already have and how great it is, it’s intuitive to imagine that other people who don’t have what you have might want to take it from you. Optimism and gratitude breed fear.

So when we’re feeling optimistic and grateful, insofar as we have problems, the problems are that some people don’t share our optimism and gratitude. Some people want to take our stuff, or burn our happy little world. We don’t have problems, but other people make themselves problems for us. Optimists don’t problematize their situations, they problematize pessimists and pessimism.

Pessimists engage with politics in a very different way. If you feel that you’ve already lost what was valuable in your life, or that you’ve never been able to get anything of value because you live in a society that is cruel or unfair, you have clear problems. Your world is messed up, and you need to change it. Why not start right away? What have you got to lose? Revolutionaries are often thought of as utopians, but their utopianism is motivated by a deep pessimism, by a strong dissatisfaction–Karl Marx thought the proletarians had “nothing to lose but their chains” and “a world to win”. The motivation in embarking upon a politics devoted to change–whether it’s revolutionary or reformist–is love of what you might gain for yourself, or love of the others whom you might benefit.

When there are lots of people expressing this kind of pessimistic love, political establishments are threatened. Political establishments are the ultimate embodiment of optimistic fear–the world is already theirs, and all they have to do is lose it. If they want to stick around, they have to counter pessimistic love with optimistic fear. They have to make people feel like they have much to be grateful for, that their main concern should be conserving what they have. As Kanye put it, fear often causes people to be manipulative. This is what conservatism is–it’s about identifying what’s good about the status quo and emphasising it, about cultivating gratitude so as to cultivate fear. It can be a manipulative tactic used by whoever is in charge to protect themselves from interlopers. We even see it interpersonally–your boyfriend can use it to control you.

Liberalism has become very conservative lately, at least in this sense. It has become obsessed with emphasising all the good and wonderful things it did ages ago, with building and directing fear at challengers on both the left and right. In Britain it was routine to argue that opponents of Brexit were engaged in “Project Fear”, in an effort to make British voters afraid that if Britain left the EU, all these wonderful things we ought to be grateful for would disappear. In the United States, we see liberalism cultivate a continuous fear of Donald Trump which evolves anew everyday. One moment we are to be afraid of Trump because he might fight North Korea or Russia. Then we are to be afraid because he might become friends with those same countries. Then we are to be afraid because he might undermine democratic norms. Then we are to be afraid because he might make racist or sexist policy, or cultivate through his words racist or sexist attitudes in the population. Always the emphasis is on what liberalism has ostensibly done for us and what Trump might take away.

It’s always been easy to see what kinds of fears motivate traditional Republican conservative factions. Economic conservatives fear that the government is going to take their stuff. Religious conservatives fear that the government is going to take their religious freedom. Nationalists fear that the government is going to let other countries and peoples and races and groups take their stuff. Gun activists fear that the government is going to take their guns.

But now liberalism is about fear too. In just eight years, a political movement which launched under the banner of “hope and change” became about all the bad things that would happen if Hillary Clinton didn’t win. It continues to be about all the bad things that will happen if someone like her doesn’t win next time.

It can’t do anything new for us, so it has to be about what it did long ago, about what we have to lose. Liberalism is exhausted. And so if you’re a believer in pessimistic love, where do you go? Somewhere else. And if the left doesn’t give you a “somewhere else” you’ll have to find one or make one elsewhere. The internet is full of entrepreneurs of pessimistic love. But they are mostly right wing, like Jordan Peterson. We have to step it up.