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Descent into the Reddit Abyss

Recently, I decided to involve myself in the Reddit community.  For those who don't know, reddit is a site where people can post links or comment and discuss/debate the postings and it is fragmented along various "subreddits" dedicated to a variety of topics.  Initially, when I first learned of Reddit, I was disinterested in wasting time posting and debating because the subreddit dedicated to socialism, the supposed lefty forum where communists were welcome, was generally a liberal cesspit filled with confused wind-bags yammering on about "free speech" and attacking almost everything that was actually progressive. (Which was why, months back, I jokingly argued that the socialism subreddit, or /r/socialism, should consider renaming itself /r/liberalism.)  But then communist bloggers I knew and respected became moderators of the communism subreddit and, because of the discussion community they were building through principled and disciplined moderation, I chose to create a reddit identity and occasionally debate and discuss topics and articles posted in this topical corner of the Reddit universe.

What was most compelling about /r/communism was that, unlike every other political discussion island in the ocean of Reddit, the moderators were working hard to produce a subreddit where reasoned debate was fostered and learning was encouraged.  Whereas other subreddits, whether they called themselves "socialist" or another supposed anti-capitalist label, allowed liberal free speech ideology to produce an anything goes policy where even pro-capitalists and reactionaries who imagined they were "socialist" to say whatever the hell they wanted, and to most often refuse to engage in honest argumentation, /r/communism simply produced a guideline for moderation that was generally pro-communist (no mindless sectarianism, no dismissive posts without properly reading the arguments, no red-baiting, no oppressive language, etc.) and then mercilessly pursued this guideline.  The result was a forum where the people who were not interested in real political engagement and education––and who might even be anti-communist––were swiftly removed from the threads, and where honest and critical communists from various traditions were empowered.  In other words, an actual communist town hall.  And ever since these moderation policies were applied, /r/communism's subscription rate has grown.

Unfortunately, now finding myself with a reddit identity, I eventually wondered beyond the borders of /r/communism and made the mistake of interacting with other political subreddits.  As I had suspected, the communism subreddit was rather unique and learned in practice that the average political redditor, like the average "internet activist", is an arrogant and petty-bourgeois individualist.  Impressed by the supposed uniqueness of their own ideas, the average "left-wing" redditors are obsessed with Millian notions of freedom and human rights, will dismiss any argument that challenges the history and analysis they have received from wikipedia and mainstream culture, and will probably side with counter-revolutionary forces at world historical moments.  And as annoying as this is, it is still pretty interesting to find such people over-represented on one internet site because it allows for a sample check of the internet activist species.

Sample #1: "I am more intelligent than you!"

This type of redditor likes to call anyone who disagrees with hir position, and does so in a somewhat academic matter, a "pseudo-intellectual".  A quick dismissal, a refusal to even respond to the comments made in an honest manner.  But how does one even mark the division between intellectual and pseudo-intellectual which, sometimes, is a rather arbitrary division?  Most often this division exists because of an academic discourse which argues that anyone outside of academia that fancies themselves and intellectual is really, since academia supposedly has the monopoly on intellectualism, is a charlatan.  Sometimes, the term "pseudo-intellectual" is used to brand those pretentious types who like to speak about things they've never studied, nor care to study, as if they are great authorities.  The former definition is a problem; the latter generally replies to idiot redditors who imagine they're smarter than everyone else and like to throw the term "pseudo-intellectual" around.

The difficulty of arguing with someone who tries to pull the "I'm more intelligent than you" card is that if you turn the argument into one of credentials.  Where, say, you might ask for their qualifications for making these claims about their authority and maybe point out that you have a PhD in a connected area, the following problem emerges...

Sample #2: "Your qualifications are bad form!"

So when your intellectual legitimateness is challenged and you reply (as I have stupidly done) that actually you do have academic qualifications, you're sometimes told that they don't matter, that you were rude to mention this in your reply. The hilarity, of course, is that the people who are offended by this mention of credentials were the ones who were trying to make you accept that they had unquestionable intellectual superiority in the first place.  And of course they won't reply to the other arguments you made, or even try to figure out why you brought up your qualifications in the first place, but simply, but just "call shenanigans" on you for being a bastard for revealing that you might have wasted your adult life and money vigorously studying the contested topic and so might have read more in this area then they would ever be interested in reading.

Ah the activist redditor!  One one hand an intellectual elitist who thinks they're the smartest person in the universe, on the other hand an anti-intellectual who bangs at their keyboard with great offense when they encounter academics.

Sample #3: "This truism will prove your entire argument wrong."

This is really the best, and it actually makes me laugh; it reminds me of some of my old posts about politically banal insights people imagine are somehow profound.  The political reddit world is filled with common truisms that are used as fall-back positions by people who can't be bothered to actually grapple with the foundations of their ideology.  These truisms are the justification of their ideology and they treat them as eternal truths.  "You're wrong because absolute power corrupts absolutely" … "Don't you know that, as Orwell said, all animals are equal but some are more equal than others?" … "You've forgotten that while capitalism is the unequal distribution of wealth, communism is just the equal distribution of poverty."  And on and on.  Try interrogating the foundations of your knowledge for once in your bloody life rather than just regurgitating tired maxims that are not fallacies but just sayings, mostly coined by reactionaries, that prove nothing.

Sample #4: "You've straw-personed my argument."

I've complained about this bad appeal to the straw-person fallacy before.  It's the only fallacy internet activists seem to know, and when they don't like that their core assumptions are being revealed they tend to refer to this as a straw-personing rather than except that their ideas are stupid.

Sample #5: "You're dogmatic and can't think critically."

Which of course brings me back to all those posts where I complained about anti-dogmatic dogmatism and the like.  The point here is that the people who make these claims are actually being dogmatic and uncritical about their own positions.  So when they see someone challenging them to rethink, say, their bourgeois interpretation of the Russian Revolution they call you dogmatic for upholding communism under Leninism and being "brainwashed" by antiquated communist ideology.  But dogmatism would require a church like institution with the hegemony to foster cultishness and, uber-sectarian marxist cults aside, the only institution capable of wielding this type of hegemony and brain-washing people into accepting its ideology is capitalism and its narratives about the revolutions that failed.  So when supposed anti-capitalists repeat and repeat these narratives, name them "critical", and then call you brain-washed for challenging dominant ideology, it becomes rather laughable.

All-in-all, I think I need to go back to spend more of my allotted internet time on this blog rather than in the reddit world, or at the very least confine my activities to r/communism which is probably the only political space where people will argue honestly, will be trying to learn from each other even if they disagree, and who are generally the kind of communists who understand that liberalism is not communist, no matter what Chomsky says about free speech, and won't waste their time crowing about American notions of human rights.


  1. You have to understand that until recently, the political culture of the American Internet was mostly libertarian (Rand, not Bakunin) and Marxism in any form was relegated to the outskirts....this is changing thanks to social media and the ease of the new blogging systems and message boards. Why libertarian? The geekish technoculture of the early `Net was very much "fuck you, I'm server, my rules" and informed by the business culture of the 1980s. I know this from my own experience because I've been fooling around with this glorified electronic junkdrawer since 1995 or `96....I remember when crypto-encoded sites were a big thing and was hot. What energized these Lysander Spooners was the breakup of the Warsaw Pact and the USSR - new markets to conquer, money to make....the death of the "New Economy" in 2000 was a blow to this new techno-utopianism; the Bush war years drove these people back into statism, then wiped them out after `07.

    Reddit is a smaller, nastier variant of that techno-libertarian culture combined with the new social misfits of the new social media. It's no surprise that the master of the site was a supertroll named Violentacrez (pron. "violent acres") who turned out to be a 40+ man named Michael Brutch, an IT guy. The creator/owners of the original site let him run subreddits in gross photos and child porn because he helped them keep the site going before Conde Nast bought it (why?) a few years ago. So that's the deal; those redditors who give you problems are probably anywhere from 17-35 in age, more interested in popular culture than politics or philosophy, and very new to how the Internet works, because let me tell you, they are trusting little bastards (scammers have worked over the site in the past.)

    Keep up the Communism....

    1. Oh I understand American culture completely in this regard, especially American internet culture. But do not think it is changing because of blogs and message boards but because a shift in the activist political landscape in the real world, especially a shift where a new communist movement is emerging that is not content to hide its politics and thus promote anti-communism. I've talked about this before, somewhere, just as I talked somewhere here about Violentacrez: most of my posts, however, aren't about internet communism.


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