Beware Lifestyle Fascism

We’re living in an era of crisis. Enter lifestyle fascism: a bid to remake society by remaking the beleaguered male body. By Maya Vinokour. Originally posted on Jacobin.

 

The first thing to know about Bryan Johnson is that there are two of him. One is Bryan with a “y,” the forty-six-year-old founder of the Blueprint life-extension system. This Bryan Johnson spends his days submitting to full-body scans, blood tests, and something called “penis rejuvenation” in search of physical immortality. The other is Brian with an “i,” a forty-five-year-old influencer known as “Liver King” who advocates an “ancestral lifestyle” allegedly unavailable to modern humans due to our penchant for living indoors, staring at our computers, and cooking our food.

On the surface, the two Johnsons seem totally opposed. Bryan is a vegan who subsists on custom-made vegetable goos and avoids sunlight, while Brian eats a pound of raw liver every day and sports a deeply bronzed physique. Bryan, a tech centimillionaire who made his fortune on payment-processing apps, telegraphs introspection and asceticism — at least, when he is not posting about injecting his penis with vasodilators. Brian, who used to work in his wife’s dental practice, is a self-described “dominant man” who perches on a plush throne and gleefully chows down on raw organ meats, often in staged family meals featuring his obviously reluctant children.

Whereas Brian seeks to recapture man’s lost prehistoric grandeur through pull-ups and squats, Bryan prepares his flesh vessel for an AI-mediated technofuture. Yet their distinct views of exercise, nutrition, and even time itself contribute to one and the same political project. Drawing on American individualism, Silicon Valley’s quenchless thirst for “optimization,” and the self-help platitudes of a hippie culture that curdled in the late 1970s and ’80s, the Johnsons and their ilk help constitute a right-wing politics I call “lifestyle fascism.”

Unlike influencers in the so-called “wellness-to-fascism” pipeline, the Johnsons do not exploit skepticism toward mainstream health expertise to prime their audiences for right-wing talking points. Instead, they start with a fascist aesthetic tradition that prizes hard young bodies and fuse it with the language of self-help culture, promising potential followers eternal life among a cadre of superior male specimens. The only criterion for participation is a willingness to take one’s destiny into one’s own hands and sign up while supplies last. The monetization of their worldviews through the sale of raw-liver supplements or $75 bottles of extra-virgin olive oil further domesticates their Nietzscheanism.

The Johnsons’ projects dovetail with a defining characteristic of American capitalism since Ronald Reagan: the systematic platforming of grifters. Like many other wellness influencers, the two men tout idealized lifestyles while strategically omitting their inaccessibility to the average mortal. In December 2022, for instance, it transpired that Liver King was downing nearly $12,000 of steroids per month, undermining his claim that he had achieved sculpted abs through “ancestral” eating and exercise alone. Meanwhile, Bryan Johnson refuses to disclose the purportedly “scientific” underpinnings of his Blueprint methodology, even to doctors and scientists wishing to collaborate with him. In any case, with its $2 million a year price tag, Blueprint as Bryan Johnson experiences it is available only to a select few.

The overlap between the Johnsons thus transcends their superficial differences. Their bids to remake society by remaking the beleaguered male body capitalize on the enduring popularity of self-improvement schemes while signaling unmistakably right-wing views. Both Johnsons believe that any problems in a person’s life proceed from individual choices. Fix your diet, workout patterns, and sleep schedule, they claim, and you will conquer your worst impulses, live virtually forever, and break with the toxic aspects of modernity — no solidarity or institutional change required. Both attach a clear moral valuation to the lifestyle they see as optimal while tarring their former selves — and, by extension, anyone living contrary to their teachings — as inferior. Bryan Johnson refers to his pre-Blueprint mindset as “rascal brain.” As far as Liver King is concerned, “Brian Johnson” no longer exists because his alter ego “ripped open a cage and ate” him.

Without ever calling themselves Übermenschen or decrying modern ways of living as “degenerate,” the Johnsons slot their intention to recover a lost golden age (Brian) or attain futuristic utopia (Bryan) among myriad online wellness trends. Against this background, their contributions to right-wing masculinist discourse seem almost incidental. It is true that Liver King proscribes the consumption of seed oils as one of his “ancestral tenets,” and that programmatic opposition to seed oils correlates with conspiratorial right-wing thinking.

Similarly, Bryan Johnson’s belief in the life-extending power of blood transfusions aligns him with technofascists like Peter Thiel, but, on its own, proves nothing about his political views. It is no coincidence, however, that once someone has “collected them all” from a specific set of personal commitments — paranoia about seed oils; rejection of vaccines; a belief that biohacking or “data” or artificial intelligence can make humans physically immortal; a nostalgia for “traditional” foods or gender relations — we can pretty much predict which political forms they will favor.

In a world of fraying metanarratives, fragmented sociality, and rule by unaccountable oligarchy, the only remaining choices seem to be consumer ones. In the Bill Clinton era, triangulation and focus grouping accelerated the commodification of politics, transforming candidates into products and voting decisions into lifestyle choices. Since the advent of social media, which has monetized extreme content and siloed users into filter bubbles, politics and lifestyle have drawn even closer together. Not only have political decisions become matters of lifestyle, lifestyle choices accumulate into ideology.

If in Walter Benjamin’s day, fascism was aestheticizing politics, contemporary fascism has lifestylized it. Nowhere is this clearer than in the realm of wellness, where the individualistic drive for self-improvement easily shades into condemnation of the suboptimal, the enfeebled, the inherently unworthy.

Like the deranged newscaster in the 1976 media satire Network, the Johnsons are “mad as hell” at modern life and unwilling to “take it anymore.” Couched in the boosterish language of the online wellness guru, their projects link perfecting the physical self to building a better future for white men and those who love them. The “robust energy and biological resilience” of Liver King’s “ancestral lifestyle” is fueled by patriarchal values as much as by raw liver. Bryan Johnson writes that although his Blueprint methodology “may seem” like it’s “about health, wellness and aging,” it’s actually “a system to make tomorrow better for you, me, the planet and our shared future with AI.”

Acolytes of these approaches need not travel the “wellness-to-fascism” pipeline that starts with vaccine skepticism and ends with QAnon or Alex Jones. In the case of the two Johnsons, the call is coming from inside the house. The fascism is already in the lifestyle.

Source >> Jacobin

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