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Re: Thoughts on Silly Hats
a reply to marginalia.nu’s post on fashion and subculture

The operator of memex.marginalia.nu has an interesting post about silly hats today.

The reason we do this, wear silly hats, is because it is fashionable. Compliance with the some perceived fashion trend is one way we compete with fellow human beings, a measuring stick we use to evaluate our standing within society. Oh, you merely wear a modest and peculiar hat? Well mine is bigger and sillier still, therefore I am better!

This post starts off a little slow, and may seem obvious, but it gets better fast.

It isn’t just in fashion we do this. Any norm can be a hat. Teenagers often seek out really obscure music or movies for the sake of having something that the other kids don’t have, it creates identity, even if it’s “the guy that listens to micronesian corecore music from the ‘70s”. Another harmless example is imposing limitations and strictures on what we eat.

I’ve definitely indulged in this myself; one of my hats is rock and heavy metal bands with women as vocalists. You can blame my late father for this since he introduced me to Renaissance with Annie Haslam on vocals, and I grew up in the 1980s and got exposed to the usual suspects: Joan Jett, Debbie Harry (Blondie), Doro Pesch (Warlock), Lita Ford, etc. This only got worse once I started listening to “beauty & the beast” bands like Theatre of Tragedy with Liv Kristine and After Forever with Floor Jansen (via Ayreon), discovered Finland’s Nightwish with Tarja Turunen, and got introduced to Swedish death metal turned symphonic act Therion’s late 1990s albums Vovin and Deggial.

Not that I was doing this just for hipster cred; I’ve always enjoyed alto and soprano vocals in rock and metal, and also tend to prefer clean tenor and baritone voices like those of Ian Gillan, Bruce Dickinson, Rob Halford, and Freddy Mercury — one of the reasons I never really got into death metal or black metal.

Likewise with software…

It absolutely happens in software too. There are definitely people who perceive themselves as gods among men for using the most insanely obscure compile-everything-by-hand Linux distribution, or only using software that adheres to some super strict set of license requirements.

I could just use a Windows PC or a Mac and make do with Microsoft Word or Google Docs or Scrivener like most writers, but no — that wouldn’t be any fun. Besides, my first PC didn’t have anything but DOS and its built-in text editor and I got bitten by the Unix bug in college. The upside is that being a programmer with exposure to Unix pays a hell of a lot better than writing sf.

While I’m prone to enthusiasms in this realm I generally try to keep them to myself. Most people have their own preferences and if they care enough about software to make it a major component of their identity they are more interested in talking about their preferences than hearing about mine.

Unfortunately, this happens with ideology as well…

Some participants of hustle culture makes a silly hat of their poor life balance, working 160 hours a week and barely stopping to sleep. Some people make a silly hat out of their physique, starving themselves to stay impressively thin, or living in a gym to stay impressively wide.

Workism, however, has been fashionable in the US for decades. At least it has been (under various names) long enough for Chuck Palahniuk to write the following in the 1990s, putting the words into the mouth of Fight Club’s antagonist/foil Tyler Durden:

You are not your job, you’re not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You are not your fucking khakis.

Hell, Black Sabbath had a song about workism and hustle culture in the 1970s called “Killing Yourself To Live” (from Sabbath Bloody Sabbath):

How people look and people stare
Well I don’t think that I even care
You work your life away and what do they give?
You’re only killing yourself to live

Unfortunately, it worse than that. There’s more to bad ideology for fashion’s sense than needlessly clinging to the Protestant work ethic. For example, people treat their religions and political affiliations as if they were sports fandoms or something to wear on a t-shirt.

Conservatism used to be about principles, even though the fundamental and most repugnant principle was “a place for everybody and everybody in their place”. Christianity used to be about acknowledging one’s flaws as a human being and doing one’s best to live up to the example set by Jesus Christ. (At least to a point: when was the last time you saw a Christian sell all their possessions, give all their wealth to the poor, and choose a life of holy vagrancy?)

Likewise for leftists: being a leftist used to be about breaking the power of capital and its owners and ensuring that those whose work creates the wealth of the world get their rightful share. It used to be about solidarity among workers. It also used to be about defending freedom of speech for everybody, even one’s enemies, and about upholding freedom of association, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, the right to privacy, and freedom from religion.

Nowadays it seems many conservatives and Christians active on social media think being conservative and Christian means being proud of willful ignorance, miserliness, and insularity. The conservative on Twitter cares nothing for liberty; they wish only to privatize tyranny. The Christian on Facebook has no interest in being Christ-like; they are instead all too often Sodomites or the sort of Pharisees who demanded of Pilate, “Give us Barabbas”.

Likewise, leftism on social media has little enough to do with class struggle or with a desire to realize such old-fashioned ideals as “liberty and justice for all” or “equal justice under law”. Nowadays online leftism consists mainly of book clubs and struggle sessions. The sort of “everything for my in-group and nothing for the out-group” identity politics that was once the preserve of white supremacists1 now seems the rule among self-styled leftists and progressives, and even some of the feminists and anti-racists are sexists and racists — unless they’re the sort that Queensrÿche2 accused in 1988 of…

Fighting fire, with empty words
While the banks get fat
And the poor stay poor
And the rich get rich
And the cops get paid
To look away
As the one percent rules America

Which leads to marginalia.nu’s point regarding fashionable intolerance:

Intolerance is a hat many compete in growing to silly proportions. When they perceive that some intolerance is approved of they grow theirs even more intolerant.

The opposite can also be a silly hat, turning the other cheek even in the face of the most grievous insult.

It would be easy to point to a number of examples, beginning with the resurgence of public racism on both the right and certain factions of the left. However, it’s a nice, sunny day where I am and the prospect of looking for examples of fashionable intolerance and trendy spinelessness is too depressing to be worthwhile.

Instead, I prefer to remember Max Stirner’s warnings against letting oneself be ruled by fixed ideas. By all means indulge in fashion when it serves you but when a fashion forgets its place and demands your service, it should no longer have a place in your life.

Footnotes:

1

Though the phrase “identity politics” was first used by the black feminist Combahee River Collective in 1977, I think it was first practiced in its most pernicious form by the Ku Klux Klan in the 19th century.

2

Unfortunately, if you’re a metalhead and you spend enough time thinking about politics in the US you’re going to find an excuse to quote Operation: Mindcrime. It’s a testament to how little has really changed in the United States that lyrics from songs like “Revolution Calling” and “Spreading the Disease” remain relevant over 30 years later.