No one likes a quitter.
No one is proud of a quitter.
But yesterday, Gavin McInnes quit the organization he founded -- the Proud Boys -- after the FBI labeled the group "extremist."
McInnes claims that his exit was for the sake of others. Reading from a script, he said, "I'm told by my legal team in law enforcement that this gesture could help alleviate their sentencing." How or why his membership could possibly have any impact on the guilt or innocence of others, he didn't say. He did say, however, that it was all a big joke. They weren't really Western chauvinists trying to stand up to Antifa. Well, they were, but kinda not. It was all ironic, you see. Not serious.
Or was it?
Gavin McInnes is a comedian first. He does provocative and outrageous things to get a reaction, because it's fun. He may look like a thoughtful political commentator, but deep down, he's still a hipster. He even looks the part. His game is humor; politics is just the medium.
Much of the political right is drawn to the goofy unseriousness of his type. After all, it's enjoyable to be around. But the greater attraction is the safety. Irony appears as a shield, a bottomless well of plausible deniability. I was just joking.
But there comes a point where the plausible deniability of irony crosses the threshold of disloyalty, rootlessness, and vacuousness. If the pretense of irony is challenged on something that truly matters, then withdrawing behind your wall of humor means leaving behind the very values you sought to uphold and defend. Sometimes, you have to stand for something, and not hide behind an ironic smirk. Or else you stand for nothing.
David Foster Wallace was right when he said that the ironist is both powerful and dissatisfying because he is impossible to pin down. "All irony is a variation on a sort of existential poker face. All U.S. irony is based on an implicit 'I don't really mean what I say'." This kind of preemptive posture of irony may even be helpful in cases. But you will never earn the love or appreciation of those you care about by laughing them off in the moment it matters most.
And there isn't even safety in irony anymore.
Maybe a decade or two ago, detached humor might have kept you safe, because you could only be attacked if you supported a value that they disapproved of. But those times are gone. These days, you can and will be attacked for not supporting the values that they approve of. He who is not with them is against them, because ambitious young warriors for Social Justice get pats on the back for collecting scalps.
There is no protection in irony. There is no security in being an unaffiliated loner.
Nor can there be pride in irony. There can be arrogance, that cynical elitism that holds itself past and above the childish games of group association, ideology, or hope -- that's for the dumb masses. But when everything is a joke, there is nothing for you to be proud of, and there is nothing in you for others to be proud of.
Having a sense of humor is important, and being funny is even better. But when push comes to shove, being able to see -- or more often, invent -- internal contradictions that reveal absurdity won't help you. After all the laughs, when the chips are down, you have to be able to stand up and speak the truth with sincerity. Otherwise, irony is just a path to nihilism, loneliness, and destruction, and an excuse for cowardice.
Gavin McInnes ditched the Proud Boys because if he didn't, he might be seen as standing for something. He holds to "Western Values" because it is an amorphous and pliable term. Like irony, "Western Values" cannot be pinned down as anything in particular, so long as it is left unexplained. But once those "Western Values" are actually defended by real people, in a real organization, the ambiguity of the goal means nothing next to the concrete reality of the individuals Gavin gathered together. For Gavin McInnes, "Western Values" was an evasion. An ironic shield. An object that he tried to be proud of, in safety.
The truth is that there is no safety in irony any more.
It is true that with sincerity, the risks are greater. You are a bigger, and seemingly easier target when you demonstrate true care for something. What you care about becomes a point of weakness. An Achilles heel, that others will try to shoot at. But nothing great or beautiful comes without sincerity. Nothing good can be defended with irony; only sincerity.
If you wish to defend "Western Values," or the nations, institutions, and people who comprise the West; if you wish to take pride in your family, your nation, your civilization, and yourself; if you wish to truly love others, and be loved by them in return, then irony won't cut it.
Quitting won't cut it.
Only sincerity -- unapologetic and enduring -- can do that.