Monday, November 28, 2016
Alt! Who Goes There?
We’re hearing a lot these days about the “alt-right.” Short for “alternative right,” it’s a term widely attributed to Richard Spencer, a white nationalist who heads the National Policy Institute, a small think tank that spreads propaganda against racial equality.
Spencer used the term in 2010 to describe an extreme conservative faction as an alternative to the conventional mainstream conservatism, represented largely by the Republican Party. In fact, however, the term “alternative right” had been used earlier, in November of 2008 by Paul Gottfried, who is known as a "paleoconservative," in an address to the H. L. Mencken Club.
The alt-right today is associated (some would insist not accurately) with white supremacy, anti-immigration, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, anti-feminism, and homophobia.
In shortening “alternative right” to “alt-right,” political writers are following the lead of music critics who have spoken of “alt-rock” since the 1980s. “Alt,” or “alternative” rock music is a cutting-edge genre that is distinct from mainstream rock music, and includes “punk,” “underground,” “new wave,” “post punk,” “college,” and “indie” rock. Alt-rock is fiercely iconoclastic and non-commercial.
Some pundits are now also referring to an “alt-left,” by which they mean a radically liberal philosophy that looks to such icons as activists Saul Alinsky and William Ayers for its inspiration.
Alternative, as used in this sense, means “outside the established cultural, social, or economic system.” Related but not identical in usage to the adjective alternate, it is derived from Latin alternus, which means “occurring by turns or in succession.”
“Right” and “left” became political terms during the French Revolution when members of the National Assembly who were conservative royalists seated themselves on the right side of the chamber, and those who were revolutionists seated themselves on the left.
The Bard of Buffalo Bayou has always written what he regards as “alt-verse.” Certainly it is an alternative to all we hold sacred.
I’d call a halt
To all that’s alt:
I’m always orthodox.
My crayon shines
Inside the lines,
And I think inside the box.
It’s not my fault
If you like alt,
They say to each his own,
I won’t complain
If you remain
Outside my comfort zone.