Jason Reza Jorjani and Richard Spencer Got an Apartment Together in Virginia to Turn into a Salon and Party Pad for the So-Called "Alt-Right"
It wasn’t my intention to revisit the saga of Jason Reza Jorjani again until I had finished reading his book Prometheus and Atlas, but events have overtaken me, and I think it’s worth talking about him some more. Regular readers will recall that Jorjani became the subject of controversy late last year after his alma mater raised questions in a private faculty meeting about his affiliation with the so-called “alt-right,” prompting him to angrily and publicly deny that he is a white nationalist when the school accidentally emailed him the meeting minutes. Jorjani, who embraces the deceptive “alt-right” moniker, which the Associated Press advises is a euphemism for white nationalism, fancies himself an intellectual force reshaping radical rightwing ideology in favor of his particular version of the Aryan race, which he defines as including most white Europeans and also the people of his family’s ancestral homeland, Iran.
A few weeks ago, I reviewed the introduction to Jorjani’s Prometheus and Atlas, a book based on his doctoral dissertation, which I was shocked and dismayed to discover was founded on a fundamental misunderstanding of Greek mythology, an acceptance of ghosts and psychic phenomena, and arguments based on the alleged validity of UFO and ancient astronaut evidence presented by the slipshod scholar Jacques Vallée in his faulty treatise Passport to Magonia nearly fifty years ago.
An academic journal asked me to write a review of Jorjani’s book, and I have been trying not to comment on his actions until I had completed that task.
However, Jorjani is back in the news because he is teaming up with avowed white nationalist leader Richard Spencer to run an intellectual salon for the so-called “alt-right” out of the apartment that the two men leased together in Alexandria, Virginia. They also went halves on the domain name “altright.com,” which they plan to use to publish white nationalist writings and writings from the xenophobic European “new right.” According to an article in the Atlantic, Jorjani met Spencer when Jorjani spoke at Spencer’s “Hail Trump!” rally in Washington after the November election, the same event that sparked his alma mater to discuss his actions, and the two quickly struck up a bromance based on their shared hatred of multiculturalism.
The Atlantic described Spencer’s bachelor pad, which will also be an office for Jorjani, in a way that recalled the foreclosed McMansions in California that were converted into “cam house” makeshift porn studios during the housing crash. Only this time, the pornographic product is white nationalism:
The loft has no furniture yet; the only decor in the living room was a bottle of whiskey Spencer was working his way through around 3 p.m. on Wednesday. Upstairs, his belongings were strewn about in suitcases. The pair imagine the space as a kind of office-salon hybrid for the alt-right, a private space where people in the movement can make videos, throw parties (there’s an outdoor patio) and work on the nascent website, which Spencer said would launch on Monday.
All that’s missing are the cameras mounted to the ceilings to capture every move.
Monday, of course, is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I doubt it is a coincidence that a new website celebrating the white race will launch on a day commemorating the Civil Rights Movement.
But let me be clear: Jorjani’s words and actions belie his claim to have no connection to white nationalism. Spencer, his business partner and co-lessee, describes himself as “dedicated to the heritage, identity and future of people of European descent.” There isn’t a way around that. In an interview with a Montana newspaper this week, Spencer cited history as a justification for identifying the United States with white people: “Our bones are in the ground. Ultimately, we do have a claim to it just in the sense of our people dominated this continent. That might seem brutal, but history is sometimes brutal.” This is the exact same argument that nineteenth century Americans used to justify atrocities against Native Americans, arguing that Native peoples were interlopers who squatted amidst the mounds and graves of forgotten ancient whites. Spencer told the Billings Gazette’s reporter that while Native Americans have a “place” in America, white Americans hold pride of place because “we won.” He added that Black Americans cannot be true patriots, and he hoped to replace Hispanic farm workers with “robots.”
Jorjani, for his part, took photos of himself at Trump Tower following the November election and shared on his social media feed a Photoshopped image of Donald Trump dressed in a general’s uniform giving what resembled a fascist salute while announcing a battle to defeat European Muslims. Jorjani captioned the picture with Trump’s famous phrase about making America “great again.”
I also want to take issue with Jorjani’s claim to be both an intellectual and an academic. I cannot blame the Atlantic for assuming that a man with a Ph.D. is both, but now that I am halfway through Prometheus and Atlas, his magnum opus, I know that he is only a pretender. (Spencer, for his part, says that education should be restricted only to the 5% identified as the “cognitive elite.” I will try not to guess how he will determine these elite.) Jorjani’s book is intellectually sloppy, betraying either an extremely limited ability to see beyond his preconceived notions, or else was an intentional piece of propaganda that apes scholarship in order to undermine it.
Let me give you an example beyond the errors of Greek mythology and ufology studies that I indicated in my first comments on his book.
In the subsequent chapters of Prometheus and Atlas, Jorjani adopts the views of Claude Lévi-Strauss as the latest and most accepted ideas in anthropology, even though Lévi-Strauss wrote almost half a century ago, and his school, structuralism, has faced important challenges from post-structuralist and postmodernist theories that arose in its wake. Using Lévi-Strauss, Jorjani adopts his contention that culture is mediated through an intellectual framework composed of opposites: hot/cold, up/down, man/woman, human/animal, etc. In each case, the existence of the opposite is what gives meaning to a word; it is, ultimately, a theory rooted in language and how we define what we experience. What he does not articulate is the underlying reason for doing so: Lévi-Strauss drew on German philosophical traditions, and his structuralism is predicated on the dialectic that passes under the name of Hegel, who just happens to be a key influence on Nietzsche and the Nazis, like Jorjani’s most important philosophical influence, Heidegger, who was literally a Nazi.
The theory of binary opposition has many critics, but it is not worth going into here. Jorjani, though, cites an opposite that isn’t one: heaven/earth. Nearly all traditional cultures recognize at least three levels, not two: heaven, earth, and the underworld. Heaven and Hell are often paired as binary opposites, yet even here we see that the theory is imposed on a more complex framework. But beyond this, Jorjani, speaking of the supernatural under his preferred term of spectral, claims that societies around the word deny the supernatural because it would destroy their ability to use binary opposites:
The spectral has a de-structuring force that undoes these binary oppositions from a place between and beyond them. […] It is because the spectral most extremely and enduringly transgresses these binary oppositions that it provokes a terrifying feeling in many that, if the “reality” of spectral phenomena is to be admitted, there is nothing solid and secure left in the whole world for them to hang on to at all.
He speaks either polemically, or ignorantly, or parochially. Even a novice will recognize that if “heaven/earth” is a binary opposite that a culture can handle, so too is the binary of “natural/supernatural,” or in Jorjani’s parlance, “material/spectral.” It goes without saying that most cultures throughout history have embraced the supernatural, including our own, and few have collapsed from it. Traditional cultures often recognized no distinction between the material and the spectral, as all matter was alive with spiritual essence and power. Others did recognize a binary of spiritual/material, but had no problem with it. Even Christians, who debated the issue at length in trying to specify how Christ could be fully both, did not go mad as a result. American culture has been ripe with the embrace of the supernatural and spectral in its many forms, from the colonial period (see Cotton Mather’s Magnalia Christi Americana) through the age of Spiritualism and down to the New Age. Europe was historically plagued with specters and witches and Fallen Angels and what-have-you. So who then are the “many” who experience this horror?
Jorjani only just barely recognizes this problem, writing that “academics” ascribe to the “primitive” (whether person, culture, or mental state, he does not specify) a “holy dread of the numinous,” which only makes sense, he says, if society were attempting to suppress the chaotic spectral forces that threaten reason itself. This is wrong on many levels. Unacknowledged by Jorjani, the exact wording “holy dread of the numinous” comes directly from Carl Jung, the psychologist, in “A Psychological Approach to the Dogma of the Trinity,” where he was speaking of followers of Abrahamic religion. Jung, in turn, borrowed the words “holy dread” from Rudolph Otto, a Lutheran theologian. Jung’s exact words, in standard translation, were: “Nowadays most people are afraid of surrendering to such experiences, and their fear proves the existence of a ‘holy dread’ of the numinous.” The “nowadays” clues us in that Jorjani’s implications of universality are false. The “academics” are really one: Jung. Most other citations of the phrase are merely discussions or critiques of Jung. Jung was not an anthropologist, and he was in many cases wrong. To describe his views as those of the majority of social scientists is deceptive. But he does share something with Jorjani: He investigated ancient astronaut theories, a topic Jorjani returns to in his book and cites as further evidence for his embrace of the Romantic irrational.
Jorjani uses this misrepresented claim to argue that one of two things must be true: Either the “primitive” (again: person, culture, or mental state is not specified) is “pitifully vague” because the spectral is a delusion, or scientific rationalism is a psychological defense mechanism creating a Freudian “totemic taboo” to suppress the reality of the supernatural. I trust that you can see that this false dichotomy is a logical fallacy. A belief can be sincere and wrong, for example, without detracting from its power. Is Nazism, for example, less terrifying because Aryan race theory is a lie? Science could, in theory, include “spectral” claims by discovering natural mechanisms (say, another dimension in which matter and energy operate, for example) that govern what we perceive as spectral. There are more than two options, one of which just happens to help Jorjani destroy the Western multicultural world order he despises. But ultimately his claim is a circular argument dependent on the assumption of a spectral force beyond the investigation of science, which his philosophy then uses to argue that science is at fault for not investigating that which has yet to be proved actually exists. The proof, of course, is the problem: By discrediting science as an investigative tool (at one point he accepts the claim that the presence of a skeptic scares away the spectral), he eliminates the potential to demonstrate the reality of the spectral in natural terms, so its reality therefore must be accepted through assumption and assertion by those, like Jorjani, who offer an alternative to science through appeal to the irrational.
This was all on page 2 of Jorjani’s 400+ page book.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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