Part 1—The soul of the New York Times: Tom Whyman, age 27, had a rough go of it Thursday.
Whyman summers in Alresford, by which he seems to mean this small town and civil parish in the City of Winchester district of Hampshire, England, as opposed to Alresford, Essex.
Whyman summers there with his parents; this seems to trigger his loathing of everyone else on the face of the Earth. We say this based upon Whyman's account of what happened to him last week.
Still being perhaps a bit of a slacker, Whyman had failed to make arrangements to cast his Brexit vote in Alresford, the beautiful town where he summers. For this reason, his time was wasted on trains last Thursday, and he never quite managed to vote.
That said, Whyman hadn't shown much interest in Brexit until Jo Cox was killed. Did we mention the fact that Whyman may possibly still be a bit of a slacker?
In the ridiculous piece which headed the New York Times' Sunday Review this weekend, Whyman described his ennui-flavored lack of engagement in best existentialist fashion. Only the New York Times, no one else, would publish such manifest crap:
WHYMAN (6/26/16): Since my late teens, every effort I have ever exerted has been with the intention of escaping Alresford. And yet, I am an early-career academic and so I am forced to move back, every summer, to live with my parents because I cannot afford to pay rent elsewhere after my temporary teaching contract ends. Then, sometimes, I think: What if I’m actually secretly comfortable here? What if I have chosen the security of death in Alresford over the risks of life elsewhere? What if I am in fact fully in the clutches of Alresfordism?Do we detect the hint of a tonal borrowing from Camus? Whyman, you see, isn't just any "early-career academic." According to the New York Times, he's a "lecturer in philosophy at the University of Essex."
It was for psychological reasons, as much as anything else, that I didn’t register to vote in Alresford. Registering to vote here would have felt like actually moving here. I registered in Essex, where I live during the academic year, for the recent local elections, so I just thought I’d retain that registration for the Brexit referendum. I also don’t like filling in forms, which is why I didn’t register to vote by mail or look into how I’d amend my registration.
I admit that I was very complacent about all this. I didn’t think one vote would make a difference. And besides, I wasn’t particularly motivated to use my vote anyway. Brexit, supported by some very bad people, would definitely have some bad consequences, but on the other hand, who knows what positive effects it might have? I wasn’t willing to endorse it, but, hey, I certainly bought the argument that it might be a worthwhile shake-up to the system.
My complacency lasted until June 16, when Jo Cox, a Labour member of Parliament and a vocal defender of immigration, was killed; the man charged in her death, Thomas Mair, had ties to far-right groups and introduced himself in court by the name “death to traitors.” That shocked me into a realization that this referendum wasn’t really a referendum about whether or not we should remain in the European Union. It was a referendum on immigration and on race—on whether to have our borders open or closed.
By his own more specific description, he's "a philosopher who works at the University of Essex. In my day-to-day life, I do research about (and teach) critical theory, German Idealism, and ethical naturalism. This blog is a place where I publish what I guess I would call ‘cultural criticism’. Philosophy is the most serious thing of all, but in order to meet the immense stupidity of reality today, it cannot confine itself to pretensions of academic seriousness."
Do we detect the hint of a borrowing from Camus? In part, we ask because the title of Whyman's revealing piece—"Hell is Other Britons"—is a reference to immortal Sartre, as we'll note below.
At any rate, you can detect the hint of the slacker in Whyman's account of his emergence as a despairing anti-Brexit hard-liner. Two weeks ago, he didn't much care one way or the other! By Sunday, he was condemning the whole human race, over the result of a vote in which he didn't take part.
You may think we're exaggerating about his alleged condemnation of the whole human race. Surely, you will think, this young philosopher issued no such blanket denunciation—and if he did, the New York Times certainly wouldn't have published such a manifesto.
In fact, that is precisely where Whyman was led by his existential despair concerning a topic he didn't care about until June 16 or later. Inevitably, the outcome of the Brexit vote has filled him with loathing for The Others, pretty much for the whole human race.
He seems to want them all to die, or at least to disappear. Here's part of what he wrote this Sunday. It stems from his vast existential despair about the place where he grew up and summers:
WHYMAN: My parents’ house stands in the middle of a 1980s housing development of suburban ugliness, all detached red-brick blocks and generously proportioned driveways. There is not supposed to be nature in the suburbs, but in Alresford (pronounced AWLS-fud) nature is still powerful—every year the grass at the top of the road will suddenly grow tall, and fill with wildflowers, hedgehogs, little birds of delirious and unusual colors. Every morning the birds wake you up at 4 with a chorus of hoots and trills.Whyman doesn't seem to like the fact that Alresford is "human." More specifically, fifty-five percent of the people in Hampshire County disagreed with the judgment he only recently reached about Brexit, and he seems to be taking it hard.
But no sooner has nature started to assert itself than the grass gets cut back and the mornings return to being silent and still. Alresford becomes human again. Human in a normal, provincial English way, in a place where people own homes, save for pensions and vote to leave the European Union—as 55 percent of the population of Hampshire county did on Thursday.
Sometimes, in the summer, I walk up the hill and I look out over it, the housing development on one side and the Georgian town center at the bottom of the other, and I have this fantasy image of how it once was, before Alresford was founded in the Middle Ages, when all of this was untouched: just the wild, untamed nature that it keeps wanting to turn itself back into. And sometimes, I think: I wish that would happen. Because all that humans have ever done here is ruin things.
Alresford is my personal hell.
The town in which mummy and daddy live "is my personal hell," Whyman explained in his anguished essay. As he continued, he sketched his loathing of The Others in crazier, ugly detail:
WHYMAN (continuing directly): We are not used to thinking that a place like this—a pleasant town with a pretty center—might actually be hell. There is almost no poverty and only the occasional act of violence. There are good schools, a range of shops, a heritage railway. In fact, it’s somewhere that a lot of people, apparently, actively want to live: Houses in the center easily sell for upward of a million pounds. (What they will cost once the vote to leave the European Union makes the economy crater remains to be seen.)Whyman can see "the demons crawling" everywhere in the personal hell he's too lazy to abandon. More specifically, Whyman can see "the demons crawling" when he looks at The Others.
But dig below the surface, and you will find the demons crawling. You can see them in the looks that residents give you when they pass; sneering snobs glaring down their noses with entitlement; small-minded townies, bullying you with eyes that you recognize from the primary school lunchroom; the old people, 80 and above, wearing blank stares. You can hear it in their bothered tutting at the bus stop (especially if they ever hear a visitor mispronouncing the name of the town), the shots that constantly ring out from across the countryside as they set about murdering as many of the local pheasants as they can.
Forty-five percent of the people in his county voted the same way he would have voted, had he managed to vote. But Whyman seems to loathe everyone in his town. An instinctive democrat, he loathes them all the same.
He even loathes the 80-somethings, who he imagines snubbing him through their imagined "blank stares." Newtown may have started like this, a sensible person might think.
By the end of his piece, the philosopher is explicitly wishing that everyone in Alresford would cease to exist. Everyone in all of England, in fact!
"I want a demented, throbbing, fecund nature to overrun this whole country," the disappointed philosopher-king writes at the end of his piece. He wants that demented nature "to overturn the wretched consequences of the laws that we have, in our stupidity, set for ourselves."
As noted, the headline on Whyman's essay says this: "Hell is Other Britons." It's a reference to Sartre's demon-infested Huis Clos (No Exit), in which one of the characters makes the eternal declaration:
"Hell is other people."
More on immortal Sartre tomorrow. For today, let's note what makes Whyman's piece so revealing.
Whyman's cry for the death of all humans started as a blog post. Incredibly but inevitably, the New York Times became aware of the post—and sure enough!
Instead of suggesting that Whyman seek help, the Times decided to publish his piece! ("Sorry for selling out," the philosopher declares.)
Indeed, the Times didn't just publish this slacker's lament; they made it the featured piece on the front page of last weekend's Sunday Review. We'd call that decision revealing.
Whyman is still quite young; we'd be inclined to say he seems depressive, and quite foolish at this point. That said, his loathing and contempt for his neighbors captures a cultural style of the pseudo-left over the past many years.
That cultural style is ugly and self-defeating. On the merits, it's breathtakingly stupid, but it's very much ours.
Sensible people of the left can learn a great deal from the loathing expressed in Whyman's piece. Americans can learn a great deal from the fact that the New York Times published his troubling blog post.
We'll assume that young Whyman is well-intentioned—but on its face, his essay is a paean to loathing and the desire for death. It's also an instructional manual in the loathing of the underclass, The Others, the subhumans who create Whyman's personal Hell.
His piece is all about loathing The Others, us humans. Inevitably, the New York Times rushed to publish the piece on the highest platform it holds.
Tomorrow: Immortal Sartre's apricot cocktails. Also, lessons in loathing "white trash"