“Sorry Nazis, I’m Not Going to Sleep With You” is a Strange Reaction to Racist Violence
Whenever I find myself thinking, and thinking, about the latest strange article to get roasted on Twitter, I close my Twitter window and ask myself “Am I still thinking about that bad take?”
Eight times out of ten, I’ll forget the take in 90 seconds. I don’t post about it, I don’t post longform about it. But with today’s “We’re Not Going to Fuck You Nazi Losers,” that didn’t happen. That take was a hot one, and it stayed in my memory.
It stuck with me because it represents a phenomenon that often comes up in conversation but isn’t written about as much as it should be. As far as I know, nobody has tried to name this phenomenon. I hope that someone will come up with a better name for it, but for now I am going to call it: the Personalitical.
The word “personalitical” is exactly what it looks like: a portmanteau of “personal” and “political.” What I’m thinking of when I use the capitalized Personalitical is something slightly more specific: it’s a disoriented, exhausted state in which you can’t tell the difference between the personal and political, and, as a result, you can’t tell when the personal and the political intersect. It’s a state where one day, you try to resolve your individual resentments by voting for a presidential candidate, and the next day, go to therapy to talk about being underpaid at your job. It is the psycho-social equivalent of being unable to tell the difference between peanut butter and bread, and therefore unable to tell if you’re having peanut butter, bread, or a peanut butter sandwich.
“We’re Not Going to Fuck You Nazi Losers” is written by an author who is lost in the Personalitical. Perhaps it is oxymoronic to call someone “lost in the Personalitical.” To call someone lost in the personalitical is akin to calling someone lost in the dark in a labyrinth. To be in the Personalitical is to be lost.
As I read “We’re Not Going to Fuck You Nazi Losers,” I was reminded of Alex Press’ excellent “Always On.” In “Always On,” the writer sympathizes with people who feel compelled to personalize the political, and feel exhausted because of it. She concludes with something inspiring:
Most of them are radicals. They can be won over and if some of us don’t engage them, we cede further ground to the Democrats, the neoliberals, the non-profits, to anyone but the left.
Press recognizes something that many critics of anti-socialist, hyper-individualized politics fail to grasp: that the practitioners of these strange variants of liberal politics are not arrogant and hyperconfident but exhausted and lost. Some — perhaps many — of them are amenable to a more substantial politics. In her words, many people, at heart are looking for this:
A politics that emphasizes winning collective gains over manipulating symbols and language as if material progress flows from better ideas rather than the reverse.
Press’ “Always On” is good inspiration, and good advice, for any leftist or progressive looking to talk to misguided radicals. But the Personalitical state doesn’t just contain radicals.
We all, to some extent, are lost in the Personalitical. Some of us are just better able to imagine a different, better world. Some of us have that imagination because we’ve seen glimpses of what a different, better world can be. Some of us haven’t seen a glimpse, but we rely so much on imagination that we need to take imagination seriously.
For many of us, in 2017, the default is a world where the personal and political are not so much blended but blurred. And not blurred in an intriguing and exciting way but blurred in a messy and draining way. The blurriness of the Personalitical is not like watching the nighttime lights of a beautiful city blend into the illuminated ocean waves, but like trying to run across a Cairo street where nobody follows traffic signals on an unusually smog-filled afternoon.
The palpable unease in “We’re Not Going to Fuck You Nazi Losers” comes from that. It is the jittery pessimism of someone who has never been told that a politics exists outside of personal hangups, and never been told that personal hangups exist outside of politics.
It is the confusion of someone who sees themselves at the center, or at least close to the center, of every conflict that moves them to tears. Who sees Nazis brag that they are attractive to women and writes “I’m not attracted to you so you’re wrong, and Nazis lose.” Who then sees the sexually-charged racism of Nazis and treats the racism as an untouchable, unknowable force and the sexual anxiety as a flimsy barrier. Who shuttles between writing “I don’t want to fuck you,” “Women don’t want to fuck you,” “You want to fuck women,” and “You want to fuck me.”
The Personalitical Subject doesn’t just react with empathy to massacres that occur a thousand miles away. The Personalitical Subject feels obligated to see themselves — their personal histories, their cultural tastes, their sexualities — in these massacres. The Personalitical Subject never disengages from conflicts they don’t know, or don’t want to know more about. They also never engage in a manner that allows them to appreciate how far from the battlefield they actually are.
Many Personalitical Subjects, like most of us, voted for Hillary Clinton. Like Clinton, they see the world as a place where Nazis can be defeated through shame and rejection, even though they can’t. But even after reading about the violent conflict in Charlottesville, and seeing who the badguys were, the Personalitical Subject still can’t even summon a vision of a world where the courageous anti-fascists have any power at all.
The Personalitical Subject is all of us. And we can’t be cured of it; we can only take maintenance medication for it. The solution is not to merely “get out of the house and do something,” although that helps. The solution is imagination. And not the type of imagination that allows you to envision yourself rejecting newsworthy neonazis who are a thousand miles away. The only way to avoid succumbing to the Personalitical is to cultivate a different type of imagination: one where you can close your eyes and imagine that it is the world, not you, that is changing.