I’ve increasingly become conscious of a problem that I’m tempted to dub hipster politics. This is a problem in modern politics generally, but it especially effects radical circles. I’ve noticed that in libertarian and anarchist circles, you can find an abundance of people in their teens and 20’s (and earlier 30’s) who constitute the defacto youth culture of those political groups. And a lot of these people have latched on to them in a way that resonates with the problem of hipsterdom, which basically comes down to young people trying to find identity and meaning in a consumerist society in which god is dead; or the lack of a non-manufactured culture or personal identity.
Radical politics can function to fill that void and be an outlet for naive youthful enthusiasm, allowing the young hipster to have an absolute answer or ultimate cause to be self-righteous about and providing them with iconography to obcess over. Hipsterdom isn’t a particular fashion style, it’s the fruits of a cultural crisis.
Young people want meaning while meaning has been significantly destroyed and market forces have perversely effected culture. They want to be unique individuals by joining a radical or marginal or specialized community that gives them the sense of being part of the cool elite. Sometimes the hipster radical becomes too attached to their political identity and it takes over their life in a way that is unhealthy. Once someone ceases to be a libertarian, the rose colored glasses come off and libertarian youth start to look a lot more like a bunch of self-righteous know-it-all kids whose politics is their religion, and often actively get off on trying to be subversive or different.
If the hipster radical has some self-awareness and is reasonably intelligent, hopefully at some point later on the fog clears and they can self-critically look back at it as a confused phase. To be sure, a lot of people can get passionate about politics, but there is a difference between a passion about politics and turning your politics into a youth cult of mutual ideologues, one that maybe even tends to expect you to be an adherent to a hip lifestyle. At the very least, it will require one to be hip to the esoteric use of language and common tropes of the group, and when push comes to shove one will tend to defend the group in general from any criticism out of ideological loyalty.
The crux of the problem is conformity to a social group under the pretense of rebellion, and consequently becoming personally invested in a subcultural dialogue, often in the form of blogs and pamphlets and interest in obscure 19th century writings. And the libertarian youth feels so special to be so immersed. Furthermore, in hipster politics, the political movement itself becomes an object of consumption with its own marketed products.
Buy this Ludwig Von Mises shirt, invest in gold, use bitcoin, move to New Hampshire, buy from this small business, pay to come to our private event for choir-preaching. Then mix it all in with be a “feminist”(TM), embrace polyamory, look into 3-D printing, check out this micro-brewery, come to our “safe space” discussion group, join our urban farm, and you have left-libertarian youth culture in a nutshell. The hipster aspect of Left-libertarianism exists because hipsterdom exists as a broader cultural phenomenon and has worked its way into libertarianism, as young people naturally take their baggage to the movement. Moderately intellectual libertarian youth can now be smug would-be revolutionaries who flirt with the contradictions between capitalism and radical leftism without seeing the contradiction, while identifying themselves with the marginalized.
Libertarian youth culture has also become very centered around the notion of online community and online celebrity. Just look at the social networking profiles of many young libertarians. What you’ll observe is a series of clicks with people seeking social approval and a sense of community, sometimes seeking to be a celebrity, people speaking as if they’re part of a select enlightened group, and a big load of cliched imagery that includes recycled pieces of earlier American culture. And, of course, the appropriation of traditional anarchist imagery, with a capitalist twist. That’s how we get the irony of someone who *looks* like an anarchist going around preaching to people about free markets. Of course, the grand irony lies in priding oneself in being a nonconformist while being mentally enslaved by a group ideology and likely making much the same arguments as everyone else.
A lot of the young libertarians have a preoccupation with shoving their politics in everyone’s faces and trying to give themselves certain appearances or associate themselves with certain imagery (insert image of someone painting an anarchy symbol on a wall). We can’t forget the obligatory posing shot for when the young libertarian met an older established libertarian at some event, and the sea of shots posing with flags or in front of a stall at some event. And then there’s the explicit marketing of libertarianism into different brands of hipsterdom. This includes the “cute nerd girl libertarian” trope, which is pretty much the nail in the coffin if you ever wanted an explicit example of hipstertarianism gone dull commercialism.