Google’s Diversity War: The Alt-Right are not just White Supremacists.

January 26, 2018 Civil Rights, Featured, In The News Comments (0) 380

The “lifehacker” philosophy of the alt-right movement is what makes them distinct, and the reason they are so dangerous.

This morning, Wired published an excellent piece by Nitasha Tiku about the white supremacist guerrilla war going on at Google. You should read it, not only because it’s good and interesting, but because it’s important in understanding the modern white supremacist movement known as the alt-right.

When the alt-right first came to national attention during the 2016 Presidential Campaign, many (including me) argued that the media should avoid the term, and stick with more traditional — and accurate — terms like “Nazi’ and “White Nationalist.” There is, however, a specific trait that sets the alt-right apart from other hate groups: Their philosophy of life as a game or program, that can be hacked or “beaten” if one learns the rules.

The white supremacists who marched on Charlottesville, Virginia, last summer, did not wear white sheets or Confederate uniforms. They wore polo shirts and khaki pants, a uniform of respectability. This modern trend of the “dapper” white supremacist comes from leaders like Milo Yiannopoulos and Richard Spencer, who rose to prominence online. It’s a hack, a specific attempt to deceive the public by manipulating their perception. This is from The Cut, in 2016:

“We have to look good,” Spencer told Salon…explaining that middle-class whites are less likely to join a movement that appears “crazed or ugly or vicious or just stupid,” and that stereotypes of “redneck, tattooed, illiterate, no-teeth” are an impediment to achieving his goals.

Klansmen in white sheets are evil, everyone knows that. Skinheads in studded leather will scare people. But put on a polo and a neatly-creased pair of khakis, and maybe the media will debate your Confederate flag and the true meaning of your antisemitic chant, instead of ignoring you. Congratulations, you just beat the game.

A movement born online

The alt-right has roots firmly in the Internet and online culture. Though it first came to mass attention in 2016, it festered for years prior on 4chan and various subreddits. Alt-right leaders expanded their influence through platforms like Twitter, YouTube, and Amazon, often gaming algorithms to gain exposure. But the views and tactics of the alt-right go back even further, to the pre-web days of Usenet message boards. Even the name takes a cue from Usenet: “alt” was the prefix for ‘alternative’ boards, where no one was moderating and users could find (among many more benign topics) nude photos of celebrities, recipes for explosives, and child pornography. A common belief in the early days of the Internet was that “alt” stood for “Anarchists, Lunatics, and Terrorists.

It’s no surprise that a movement born on the Internet would attract “brogrammers” and similarly tech-oriented members. The alt-right grew as a conglomeration of online communities of disaffected young men. What’s important to recognize is that their programmer tactics extends to the real world — and as the real world becomes more interconnected and reliant on the Internet, their tactics sometimes work.

So-called “lifehacks” are common and generally harmless. Here, for example, is a bot that understands Comcast’s internal policies and employs machine learning to get you a lower price on your cable bill. But the alt-right’s approach can be traced to one of the earliest and most nefarious lifehacks: so-called “seduction techniques,” first developed on the Usenet board alt.seduction.fast and later published by reporter Neil Strauss in his book, “The Game.”

Hacking goes IRL: The Seduction Community

Disciples of the seduction community, self-designated “pickup artists,” bring a hacker’s mindset to dating and conversation. By employing the right sequence of interactions — “negging,” or complimenting a woman in a way that’s actually a put-down, feigning disinterest, and initiating physical contact in the right way at the right time, a pickup artist believes he can unlock a sexual encounter as if it were the secret boss level of a video game.

Usenet’s seduction board was founded in 1994, but its teachings are alive and well on 4chan and Reddit, where so-called incels (short for “involuntarily celibate,” men who aren’t having the sex they want) were banned in November for preaching violence against women. More than one prominent alt-right leader came directly from the seduction world: Daryush Valizadeh, alias “Roosh V,” has written extensively on seduction and published more than a dozen of his own guides. Mike Cernovich, promoter of the false Pizzagate scandal and the idea that “date rape does not exist,” is the author and self-publisher of Gorilla Mindset: How to Control Your Thoughts and Emotions and Live Life on Your Terms, a guidebook for men who want to “improve [their] health and fitness, earn more money, and have stronger relationships….[and] live a life others don’t even dare dream of.”

Cernovich is divorced, incidentally (which he blames on “feminist indoctrination”) and was once charged with rape. But since we’re on the topic of books, it’s a good time to talk about Theodore Beale.

It’s notable that Theodore Beale appears in Tiku’s Wired piece. A former WorldNetDaily contributor and alt-right thought-leader writing under the alias “Vox Day,” Beale plays various roles in Google’s racist guerilla force. Perhaps most importantly, he is the author of a “manual for fighting advocates of social justice,” which Beale believes James Damore is using. An excerpt:

Whatever you do, do not agree to any gag orders or sign any confidentiality agreements that will handicap your ability to use the documentation you have acquired to prevent them from spinning a Narrative about what happened.

Beale’s manual is a chapter from his self-published 2015 book, “SJWs Always Lie: Taking Down the Thought Police,” which sold thousands of copies on Amazon and includes a foreword from Yiannopoulos. And here we have to dive…a little bit deep.

2015: Theodore Beale hacks the Hugos

Beale, an author of self-published science fiction and a well-known troll in the SciFi community, is also the self-appointed nemesis of best-selling author John Scalzi. Scalzi is a prominent voice for progressive thought and inclusion, particularly through his blog, Whatever. From 2007 to 2013, Scalzi served three terms as president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), a prominent membership organization for authors in those genres). When Scalzi’s last term ended, Beale attempted to run for president. He lost, drawing only 10% of the vote, and shortly thereafter was expelled entirely from SFWA after calling fellow member (and African-American) N.K. Jemisin an “ignorant half-savage.”

Are you with me so far?

The Hugo Awards, one of science fiction’s most prestigious awards (if not the most prestigious) are presented annually by the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS) at Worldcon. Nominations and winners are determined by a vote of WSFS members. In 2013, conservative-leaning authors Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen (who, not incidentally, has a background in computer programming) engineered a scheme to rig the Hugo Award nomination and voting process. Claiming the awards were biased in favor of progressive authors and diversity, they arranged a block-voting scheme that would advantage conservative and libertarian authors. Voters who joined this block called themselves the “Sad Puppies.” The scheme repeated in 2014 and 2015, though it generated no awards and only a scant few nominations. Enter Theodore Beale.

In 2015, Beale engineered his own Hugo voting scheme, which he called the “Rabid Puppies.” Unlike the Sad Puppies, the Rabid Puppies were wildly successful, owing in large part to Beale’s sizable audience and bylaws that allow any person to join WSFS and vote, as long as they pay a fee. Nominations went to 51 of 60 Sad Puppy books, and 58 of 67 Rabid Puppy books. The ensuing response at WSFS is best summarized as “bedlam,” with nominees refusing their nominations and presenters withdrawing from the ceremony. Authors as prominent as George R. R. Martin condemned the Puppies for ruining the Hugos, and within two years the rules for voting were changed.

Beale, for his part, referred to the Rabid Puppies effort as “a giant Fuck You — one massive gesture of contempt.” None of the Puppy nominees won an actual award, except one: the Marvel Studios film Guardians of the Galaxy.

The complicated saga of the Hugo Awards and their “Puppy” schemes perfectly illustrates the defining attribute of the alt-right. Unlike past generations of white supremacists, they are not content to declare their position and recruit those who agree. Like the Rabid Puppies, the Pickup Artists, and the polo-shirt clad Charlottesville marchers, the alt-right approaches the real world like a piece of software, learning the rules so they can hack them.

Beale built his popularity by espousing white supremacy, but he’s made money using his large following to game Amazon’s algorithm, which gives preferential position to top-selling books. When “SJWs Always Lie” debuted in 2015 (in the midst of the Rabid Puppies uproar), it became the center of a Kindle self-publishing war. A pseudonymous author countered with a parody, “John Scalzi Is Not A Very Popular Author And I Myself Am Quite Popular: How SJWs Always Lie About Our Comparative Popularity Levels,” to which alt-right authors responded with parodies of their own. Within days, a half-dozen parodies, parodies-of-parodies, and parodies-of-parodies-of-parodies were sitting on Amazon’s various genre best-seller lists. Breitbart, where plenty of Beale’s friends and fans still write, gleefully reported that he had “turned Amazon’s Kindle Store into a Battlefield.

Beale’s most recent gambit, again centering on his obsession with Scalzi, was to debut a pseudonymous self-published book, The Corroding Empire, on Amazon the day before Tor released Scalzi’s novel, The Collapsing Empire. The two books have almost identical covers, right down to the font in which Beale’s chosen pseudonym — Johan Kalsi — is printed. When a person searches Amazon for Scalzi’s book, guess what the algorithm presents right beside it?

Image: Tor Books/Castalia House via Gizmodo

A “Dirty War” against guerrilla hackers

I am genuinely sorry to fill your head with the saga of Theodore Beale, but again, it’s important to understand how the alt-right operates. When a senior engineer at Google describes the actions of white supremacist employees as “a denial-of-service attack on human resources,” that is not a mistake and hardly a metaphor. The alt-right’s guerrilla tactics are a specific carry-over from its members’ approach to programming and video games: Learn the rules, and you learn how to hack them.

When James Damore’s internal memo leaked and became a nationwide scandal, he and many media outlets portrayed himself as a naive savant just asking innocent questions. This was by design. A white supremacist openly calling women and people of color inferior can be neatly discarded by the mainstream. A naive programmer, asking honest questions about what science says, is not so easily dismissed — and he might just have a shot atwinning a discrimination lawsuit.

It’s not far from Damore’s act to the tactics employed by Yiannopoulos — generate controversy, stir up the hate of the “Social Justice Warriors,” and you are rewarded with (a) publicity in the mainstream media, and (b) the adulation of your alt-right sympathizers. When Yiannopoulos books controversial speaking gigs, like his notorious appearance at Berkeley last September, the gig itself takes a back-seat to the controversy. By stirring up protests (and dozens, if not hundreds, of think-pieces about so-called “attacks on free speech,”) Yiannopoulos builds his brand. It doesn’t matter if he even gets to take the stage — in fact it’s often better if it doesn’t. We know this for sure because we’ve heard it from the man who developed Yiannopoulos’s strategies — although he originally developed them for someone else: Tucker Max, the author and provocateur who first rose to fame from the Seduction Community.

In December, Ashley Feinberg at the Huffington Post exposed the styleguide used by Andrew Anglin, founder and editor of the white-supremacist web site Daily Stormer (piieces of that styleguide had previously been leaked by — guess who — Theodore Beale). While any casual visitor would likely recognize the Daily Stormer immediately as racist and antisemitic (prominent use of the “Happy Merchant” meme is a big clue), in Anglin’s rules we still see an intentional and deliberate effort to manipulate readers and platform algorithms:

“By simply commenting on existing news items…we can never be accused of fake news — or delisted by Facebook as such.”

The guidebook urges writers to block-quote from mainstream news outlets, “to co-opt the perceived authority…and not look like one of those sites we are all familiar with where you are never certain if what they are saying has been confirmed.”

The Daily Stormer even encourages doxxing and harassment, if it leads to pageviews:

“If you’re writing about some enemy Jew/feminist/etc., link their social media accounts. Twitter especially. We’ve gotten press attention before when I didn’t even call for someone to be trolled but just linked them and people went and did it.” [Emphasis mine]

In today’s Wired piece, Tiku quotes Google site reliability engineer and diversity advocate Liz Fong Jones on the moment she realized some of her fellow employees, who had been discussing the potential negative impact of diversity initiatives, weren’t acting in good faith. It came when excerpts from her private conversations were leaked to, and published by, Theodore Beale.

The resulting deluge of threatening comments, messages, and DMs, woke Fong Jones up to an ugly reality: “We didn’t realize that there was a dirty war going on, and weren’t aware of the tactics being used against us.”

It’s a lesson we all must learn, sooner rather than later. The alt-right isn’t participating in a good faith discussion about the accepted premises of progressivism and diversity. They aren’t marching in polo shirts and khakis because they are clean-cut and honest members of polite society. They are hackers, seeking to use written and unwritten rules we all observe— social mores, etiquette, and electronic algorithms that shape our daily experiences — to spread their views, make money, and eventually engineer a white ethnostate.

This is what sets the alt-right apart from other white supremacist movements, and what makes them far more dangerous than what came before.

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Video: My Top Halloween Horror Movies

October 25, 2017 Featured Comments (0) 793

Let’s take a little break from the horror that is American politics, in favor of another type of horror. It’s Halloween, and I’m here to help you find the perfect movie for your next graveyard smash. From John Carpenter’s 1982 THE THING (my all-time favorite) to more recent classics like IT FOLLOWS and THE BABADOOK, here are a few of my favorite horror movies of all time.

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Video: What is the Death Tax?

October 25, 2017 Featured, In The News Comments (0) 661

Seven Minutes on the Estate Tax and why it's important.

With Republicans in control of Congress and Donald Trump in the White House, we’re hearing a lot about repealing the “Death Tax,” better known as the Federal Estate Tax. But what IS the Death Tax, and who actually pays it? Once you know the truth, you may feel differently about repeal.

You can learn lots more about the Estate Tax, and other taxes, by visiting the Tax Policy Center.

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Every Comic, Easily Archived

July 26, 2017 Blogging, Featured Comments (0) 1126

It’s been pretty quiet around here, I know. It’s for a good reason–I’ve been pressing my nose firmly to the grindstone trying to finish revising a novel. Having just done that (at least for this draft) I should be back more often. In fact, I spent a few hours tonight updating my Comics Archive page, so you can easily access every single comic I’ve ever uploaded.

The whole site theme is new, you might notice, including a spiffy new portfolio where I can centralize all my creative output: Fiction, comics, essays, and even photography, a hobby I’ve been pursuing more recently.

I’ll be back again soon, but for now feel free to poke around, and let me know if you find anything that isn’t working properly.

(The comic below isn’t new, it’s a personal favorite from 2014.)

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First Amendment Friday: February 3, 2017

February 3, 2017 Featured, First Amendment Fridays Comments (0) 1423

Fun fact: Donald Trump isn’t even three weeks into his Presidency! If you’re like me, you are already tired of winning.

Like the previous two weeks of Trump, this one has been overwhelming, especially if you’re concerned about the First Amendment. We’re going to focus on the big cases here, and maybe come back in a future week to some things that slip through the cracks.

If there was a theme this week in First Amendent News, it was “Conservatives Misintepreting the First Amendment.” So grab your handy study guide, and let’s dive in.

Does the Alt-Right have Alt-Rights?

A massive protest by students at UC Berkeley led staff to cancel a scheduled speech by Twitterless alt-right troll Milo Something-or-Other. The move ignited debates across the Internet and inspired our President, who has not yet made any statement about the alt-right terrorist who murdered innocent Canadian Muslims during prayer service, to threaten the university’s federal funding.

Despite outcry, of course, Milo’s First Amendment rights were in no way impinged. The First Amendment does not protect against opposing speech from fellow citizens, nor does it guarantee a podium and a microphone. It is a protection against punishment or censorship by the government — and it is likely, had Milo the courage to step out onto the sidewalk and engage his speech rights the way any other American may, that the government (in the form of police) would have protected him.

Instead Milo ran away, because alt-right trolls are cowardly, and claiming persecution fits his narrative and his brand better than, you know, using his freedom of speech. The protesters, meanwhile, fully engaged their First Amendment rights to assembly and expression, and responded to offensive speech in exactly the right way — by raising their own voices.

The First Amendment does not mean the police force thousands of protesters to keep silent so you can give your Nazi PowerPoint. That said, I’ll step off my soap box.

Religion, Refugees, and Resistance

Late last week President Trump kept his promise to ban Muslims from the United States with just about the sloppiest roll-out of immigration policy in US history. You may have heard of this one. In response, thousands of Americans turned up at airports across the country to protest. Notably, Presidential sycophant/Svengali Steve Bannon blamed these protests, which happened in cities like Indianapolis, Louisville, Omaha, and Nashville on the metropolitan coastal elites. One wonders where he thinks the coast is.

On Thursday, more than one thousand small business owners in New York City, most of Yemeni nationality, closed their shops for eight hours to join a protest at a federal courthouse in Brooklyn. Messages of solidarity and donations came from neighbors and supporters in New York City and worldwide.

There is debate as to whether Trump’s Muslim Ban (which, notably, extends only to nations in which Trump does not have personal business interests) violates the Constitution’s prohibition on religious discrimination, but many experts say it runs afoul of Constitution law in multiple ways. Immigration law is complex, and the President does have significant leeway, but several federal judges have issued orders suspending various elements of the ban on several rationale. Further court scrutiny is still to come, and the ultimate fate of the ban remains to be seen.

Trump Threatens LGBTQ+ Rights… or Does He?

The queer community watched Monday as reports emerged that Trump would reverse President Obama’s executive order protecting LGBT employees When word spread Tuesday that Trump would keep Obama’s policy in place, some in the community expressed cautious relief. Then on Thursday, the press obtained a leaked draft of an executive order protecting “Religious Freedom” that would legalize discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Just another week with Trump in the White House.

Trump’s order would also limit women’s access to contraception under the ACA, and would present particular harm to trans Americans. The administration has stated he has “no immediate plans” to sign the order, though it’s up in the air what exactly that means — that he won’t sign it this week? Today? That he doesn’t have a pen in his hand at this moment? Who can say?!

This SCOTUS Nomination Gor-Sucks

Speaking of “religious freedom,” the likely next member of the Supreme Court (occupying the seat left vacant by the illegal and immoral obstruction of former-almost-justice Merrick Garland) has a lot of scary ideas. We don’t yet know his views on abortion since, like many lawyers hoping for a Supreme Court appointment, he has avoided the topic almost entirely.

What we do know is that the Religious Right is extremely excited about him, and we know that Donald Trump promised during his campaign that he would only appoint Justices who opposed abortion.

We know that Gorsuch was unhappy with the Hobby Lobby decision, which allowed employers to decide whether female employees can take birth control, because he didn’t think it gave the employers enough authority. And we know that he has strong opinions that Americans should not be permitted the autonomy over their bodies to decide when they want to die. Because, you know, God and stuff.

On LGBTQ+ rights, Gorsuch has expressed an opinion that it should be left to so-called states rights, and state legislators should have say over what queer people can do with their own bodies.

Oh, and he really hates liberals. In high school he thought it was a hilarious joke to compare liberals with fascists, and as recently as 2005 he published essays about how awful liberals are.

So… Not great.

The Collection Plate PAC

Sigh. Staying on the theme of so-called “religious freedom,” President Trump vowed to “destroy” the law that prohibits churches, as non-profit organizations, from engaging in unlimited lobbying and political advocacy.

 It’s hard to get too upset about losing a law that really hasn’t been enforced in recent years. But it’s worth pointing out that, once again, there is no First Amendment violation in the law.

The law does not prohibit churches from political speech. In fact it solely addresses their non-profit tax status. Under the US Tax Code, specific types of activity are granted non-taxable status. Religious practice is one of those types of activity; political advocacy is not.

Nonprofits are permitted only a limited amount of political advocacy as part of their mission. Non-profit organizations that do a lot of lobbying therefore establish multiple corporate entities; the ACLU, where I was on staff as a fundraiser, existed as both a 501(c)(3) charity, which did little to no lobbying work and to which contributions were tax deductible, and a 501(c)(4) lobbying organization, which funds the political advocacy work and to which donations (including membership dues) are NOT tax deductible.

Churches nationwide, however, have been getting away with spending massive amounts of money on lobbying and political advocacy all under the banner of their 501(c)(3) tax status. Many people (myself included) have insisted that they should be subject to the same rules as other charities, but there has been little to no effort to enforce the tax code. Now Donald Trump wants to “destroy” the law that has not been enforced.

If churches are spending a lot of money on political advocacy, they should be paying taxes on that particular money. That’s the only question here, there is no “prohibition” on any type of speech or religious expression.

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You are one person, and your brain can’t handle the whole world.

February 2, 2017 Featured, In The News Comments (1) 1426

As the resistance to President Trump approaches its third week, one of the most frequent comments I hear from protesters, in person and online, is how overwhelming this feels.

Every day there’s some new horrible thing — no, scratch that. Every day there are ten new horrible things to worry about and oppose, and the harder we fight on one front, the more likely it seems that something else will slip through the cracks.

It’s a lot. More, I think, than any human is really designed to handle. So even as you keep up the good fight, you need to be kind to yourself and know your limits.

Fieldstone Cottage

Doesn’t this look cozy and relaxing??

Humans are incredibly social animals. Our brains are pretty much entirely dedicated to social interaction, and for most of us the entire world exists in the social interactions with our peers and neighbors. Most of the incredible infrastructure and technology we’ve developed ultimately serves to further our social interactions, and there is no other animal, as far as I know, that will end its life because another of its species rejected it.

It’s important to recognize the power that has over us — and also to bear in mind that we are not evolved to have all the world’s problems delivered to us in real time, the way modern media makes possible. We’re evolved to have relatively small lives, focus on a finite number of family members and friends, and handle the occasional threat or crisis.

Think about humans a hundred and fifty years ago; most had no idea what was happening in the rest of the world. Even their newspaper was likely focused on local happenings, with a few stories of national interest. They hadn’t a clue what was happening in Mexico, let alone China or Pakistan or the Sudan.

Even just a couple of decades ago, most Americans got everything they knew about the world from the morning newspaper and the evening news. Yes, they knew more about the world, but it wasn’t a constant bombardment of push notifications and tweets and breaking news alerts.

Sure, we’re capable of more than that, but to care for yourself and protect your mental health, it helps to compartmentalize, and give your brain what it’s evolved for.

Find your little world, and focus on that.

Imagine for a moment that all your electronics vanished. Who and what would be left in the world around you? That’s the world your brain evolved for.

Take time, periodically, to focus on your family and friends. Get away from TV and Internet, set your smartphone aside. Play a board game, or a video game. Talk, face to face. Hug one another, take in sights and smells. Make memories.

For me, it helps to remember that even in the worst crises the world has ever known, people have found solace in their closest relationships: their family and friends. Don’t lose sight of that.

If you can, get out into the wilderness. A nature walk in your neighborhood is great, and very soothing. Even better is to get out into a remote part of the mountains or the forest, so far from civilization that you don’t even get phone signal. Camp out if you can. There’s a certain primal instinct that activates when you feel like it’s just you and the natural world. To me it’s almost like pressing the reset button on my brain. Nothing puts my life in perspective like a weekend deep in the woods.

Spend time with animals. If you don’t have pets, go to the zoo, or a farm. The crazy thing about animals is they have no idea all the big dramatic problems humans are stressing about. I worked at a zoo in 2001, and I very clearly remember taking a walk around the grounds on September 11 and realizing none of the animals had the slightest clue about the crushing shared trauma I felt. There was a certain peace in that.

My theory: Don’t get your news from a person on screen.

I don’t get any of my news from the television (or any video medium) and I recommend you follow that example. I have a theory that watching and hearing an actual human on screen tricks your brain into feeling like you have a relationship. You unconsciously pick up the emotions of the speaker, and that adds to your stress — it makes your world too big.

I don’t think the same thing happens when you read or listen to the radio or a podcast. Those things certainly stimulate emotional response, but I don’t think it triggers the same degree of social stimulation that TV does.

Mind you, I have no scientific research to back this up. It’s just my own pet theory.

I’m not saying don’t watch video — just don’t get your news that way. Video can be great for escapism, and when times get really stressful I like fun, frivolous entertainment. When I’m feeling stressed, I’m particularly fond of watching Hannah Hart’s My Drunk Kitchen on YouTube. Hannah’s fun and funny with just the right does of insight and perspective. She makes you feel like you’re friends — in a very good way, unlike your TV friends Rachel Maddow and Bill O’Reilly, who are constantly freaking you out.

When I was in college, and dealing with crushing (undiagnosed) anxiety disorder, I found a TV show called “Acorn the Nature Nut” on Animal Planet. On each episode, an Edmontonian named John Acorn would explore the wildlife in his back yard, and talk about animals like slugs and tiger beatles. It was incredibly soothing — I can’t find any full episodes on YouTube, but you can watch the intro song if you’d like:

For you, maybe it’s episodes of Mister Rogers (another personal favorite) or Bob Ross, or a sporting event. Maybe it’s home movies.

The point is, as important as this fight is (and as much as you may feel like the world is burning down while your back is turned) it’s critically important that you focus on the small, immediate world in which you exist.

That’s what your brain is designed for. And you aren’t going to get very far without your brain.


Images from Wikimedia Commons

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Inside the Mind of the Alt-Right, the Internet’s Nihilist Nazis

February 2, 2017 Featured, Politics / Religion, Pop Culture Comments (4) 1923

A friend and I recently spent an hour or so dissecting the mind of the alt-right. Brian is a good workout buddy not only because he gets me to the gym, he also shows up with interesting topics.

This time around, he said he’d just had an epiphany: The members of the alt-right are frustrated pick-up artists whose misogyny fills them with hate.

In my experience this is pretty accurate, but I don’t think it’s quite that specific. I am, fortunately or unfortunately, pretty familiar with the alt-right. This is thanks to my early Internet adoption (when Usenet was one of the few interesting places), and several years of morbid fascination with 4chan.

My read is that young men (primarily) are led to the alt-right by a particular blend of toxic masculinity, animal instinct, and frustrated entitlement. Members of the alt-right are struggling with the very feelings of powerlessness and disillusionment they project onto left-wing “snowflakes.” It’s their chosen solution, a performative embrace of cultural talismans of power, that makes them pawns of fascism.

It all starts with the rules.

Let’s back up. First, what’s the profile of your typical alt-right troll?

Male. White. Intelligent, but not TOO intelligent. Just a bit above average. Young — usually not older than 30, and often too young to drive. Tech savvy; gamers and programmers are over-represented. This may be a product of the alt-right’s primary recruiting channels (4chan, Usenet, and Reddit) or it may be something deeper. Notably, I do not believe sexual orientation plays a prominent role — in my non-scientific observation, there are just as many queers inside the alt-right as outside.

There are certainly exceptions to this profile. There are certainly women, older men, and people of color inside the alt-right, but they are far less common, and I believe them mostly outliers. In my theory they are drawn into a community created by angry white men, motivated by a sense of tribalism and a desire to belong.

As an intelligent white male who generally understands how systems work, your future alt-right member grows up feeling like the world should pretty much give him what he wants. They regard themselves as masters of the world, in a way. They know the rules, they understand how things work. My theory here is that programmers are especially prone because they’re especially rule-oriented. They write code, which dictates how the world operates today.

This is where stuff like “Seduction” arises. If you regard the real world as a sort of Matrix with underlying program you can manipulate, then it stands to reason there are cheat codes for stuff like social interaction and sex. A peacock, three negs, then going caveman should unlock the next level as surely as the Konami code.

When it doesn’t — when knowing the rules doesn’t pay off the way it should, in love or money or fame, and our future alt-right member feels he isn’t getting what the world owes him, the result is a powerful cognitive dissonance, frustration, and anger.

The alt-right is about performance, not belief.

Clearly, none of this functions without a baseline of toxic masculinity. But toxic masculinity in itself does not forge the alt-right; most, if not all men in the United States grow up with toxic masculinity. The path to the alt-right, like the path to the Dark Side, originates with how one handles that cognitive dissonance.

The alt-righter’s response is to blame the rules. Maybe they decide their failures stem from cultural bias in favor of women and people of color; maybe it’s just that the rules are inconsistent and unfair. One way or another, they decide they will no longer obey those rules. They are above the rules, outside of them. They’ve taken the red pill; they can see the Matrix.

This is why a key aspect of the alt-right is the performative aspect. It’s not sufficient to sit at home and quietly hold alt-right beliefs, or even to join like-minded conversations on Internet forums. No, to truly embrace the alt-right, one must troll social networks and confront strangers. With your pepe avatar and a ready arsenal of memes, you unload racist invective and display your lack of empathy like a peacock spreading his tail.

The motivation is pure ego defense. Rather than process feelings of inadequacy and failure, the alt-righter grasps onto some alternative iconography that makes him feel powerful; some stimulus that will generate a predictable response and restore his feeling of being in control. There is nothing in American culture that fits this definition more than bigotry.

This is why trolling is a definitive aspect of the alt-right. The specific content, the argument itself, is totally unimportant. The only important thing is to keep their attention and make them behave the way you predict. Specifically, to make them angry.

Spend some time on 4chan, and you will find threads in which young trolls share screenshots of long trolling sessions, which generate a collective laugh. The longer they can keep a conversation going, especially if the target of their trolling responds with escalating anger, the more powerful and successful the troll.

Within alt-right culture, the worst thing to do is show an emotional response to provocation. This grants power to your tormenter. Strength comes from stoicism, from being the first who can accuse the other, “U Mad, Bro?”

The alt-right worship the anti-hero.

Brian mentioned a letter he’d read from an alt-righter, praising the film Taxi Driver and suggesting its creator would appreciate the alt-right movement. My question to Brian was whether he thought the letter’s author recognized Travis Bickle as an anti-hero, or related to him as an ordinary protagonist.

Alt-righters worship anti-heroes, but especially those anti-heroes who express a declarative philosophy that puts them outside society. Heath Ledger’s Joker looms large, and alt-right memes and artwork often place members of the movement in the role of “wanting to watch the world burn.” There is no greater hero to the alt-right, however, than Fight Club’s Tyler Durden.

Rarely do members of the alt-right recognize the inherent tragedy of anti-heroes. Brian asked me whether I believe they even understand what an anti-hero is, or if they outright mistake them for the protagonist. Here he and I diverge; he thinks they know full well what an anti-hero is, and choose to embrace them. I think many of them mistake sociopathy for bold individualism, and (like stockbrokers quoting Gordon Gekko) completely miss the point.

From what I can tell, the alt-right recruits most followers when they are young. Very young. It begins during the early teens, when emotions and sex drive both run their hottest, and when feelings of shame and failure and inadequacy are at their most powerful.

The alt-right as chimps in a bonobo society

Brian drew a parallel between rape and alt-right membership, the thesis being that both are attempts to reclaim power after sexual rejection. That got me thinking, as often happens, about humans as animals and the influence of our baser instincts.

A dramatic and interesting contrast exists between our two closest animal relatives, chimpanzees and bonobos. Chimp society is violent, and stresses on chimp tribes often lead to brutal attacks. Bonobo society, in contrast, is entirely non-violent but hyper-sexualized. Introduce any stress to a bonobo group (a newcomer, a food source, or any other social disruption) and the response will be a literal orgy. They have literally replaced violence with sex as a means of social sorting.

Bear with me, I promise I’m going somewhere with this.

This leads to a question I’ve seen some raise: Are humans more chimp, or bonobo? We have traits in common with both. Look at the murder rate among our primitive ancestors, however, and an interesting trend emerges. Experts place the murder rate among the earliest true humans at a level consistent with most other mammals, but as our species evolved that rate shot up to 30 percent, extraordinarily high but consistent with other primate species — except bonobos. That rise in the murder rate correlates roughly with the concept of property ownership — the point at which many experts say humans turned from a matriarchal, free-love society to one where men expected to own access to reproductive resources (ie, women).

I’ll phrase that in a shorter, simpler way: When men decide they own women, they either get the sex to which they feel entitled, or they turn to violence. To be clear, I’m speaking of animal instincts here, so it should not be interpreted to excuse any behavior. We also have an instinct to shit wherever we stand, but to maintain a society we learn to use the toilet.

Here’s where we come back to the alt-right. See, that instinctive behavior, the idea of men owning women, the braggy, chest-puffing machismo is something American society, what some would describe as liberal society, has worked hard to purge. As a culture, we have deemed that unacceptable, but it retains a power over our animal instincts and urges. Humans will always be vulnerable to the political strongman for exactly that reason.

To the alt-right, that social compact by which we devalue machismo in favor of egalitarianism is just another rule they are above, one more aspect of the Matrix that those of us who are “blue pilled” cannot see. Thus they embrace sexism and male domination (“Gorilla Mindset,” if you will). They embrace tribalism in all its forms — racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia — and reassure themselves that anyone who claims otherwise is only pretending, only trying to abide by the rules.

This is not an especially new phenomenon; Rush Limbaugh is an early example of an alt-righter, with his screeds against the “Feminazis” who were “Pussifying” American society, and his rants about how liberals value consent above all else. Rush never particularly cared about what he was saying, as long as he could keep the attention of his listeners, and as long as their anger made him powerful. His politics were never defined by classical conservatism, but a performative display of lack of empathy. He, and his listeners, are classic alt-right.

From 4chan trolls to fascist pawns

 

Given this background, it isn’t hard to understand what attracts the alt-right to fascism and totalitarianism. Beyond a simple reinforcing of those base animal instincts, fascists are dedicated to the rules. By instituting draconian policies with no exceptions, the alt-right can reassert their mastery and control of the world they believe they understand.

Interact with them enough (hard as that can be) and you’ll gradually realize that their primary objection with liberals is that our compassion leads us to inconsistency. Because bleeding heart snowflakes are so concerned with people’s feelings, we make all kinds of exceptions that make the rules no longer apply.

Affirmative action gives people of color an unfair advantage over white people. Immigration is allowing outsiders access to limited resources that should go to real Americans. Women’s equality runs counter to the natural order and denies alpha men the sex to which they are entitled.

Way down deep, at the heart of it, is the same consistent theme of ego reassurance: The world hasn’t been fair to me. I haven’t received what I believe I deserve. I don’t want to feel like a failure.

This is, to me, the defining feature of the alt-right, the thing that sets them apart from conservatives, Republicans, true fascists, white nationalists, and the rest of the Right. It is perhaps ironic, perhaps predictable that it’s the exact accusation they most often level against their perceived enemies: They are special snowflakes who haven’t received the participation award they think they deserve.

The problem, of course, is they also become useful idiots for more nefarious forces — the true fascists, whose interest isn’t ego defense so much as actual power, or wealth, or racial purity. Your true motive is irrelevant when you’re embracing and voting for fascism and white nationalism; the end result will be the same.

Is there a practical lesson here?

So if we assume my theory holds — and I’ve done my best to sell it here — is there anything we can learn to undo the power of the alt-right?

I’m honestly not sure.

There are certainly lessons in how to deal with an alt-right troll:

  1. Don’t take anything he says as an actual argument, but understand that the central goal is (a) to show you how he’s outside the rules, and (b) to feel powerful by taking up your time and triggering your emotions.
  2. When an alt-right troll responds to something you say by demanding you “prove it” with links to news articles or other sources, understand that the motivation is just to waste more of your time and keep the conversation going. Nothing you link will prove anything.
  3. Understand that the ultimate reward for the alt-right is a strong response of any kind. Milo Whathisname isn’t upset when his speeches are cancelled by massive protest, he’s delighted — because he made that happen, and it makes him and his followers feel powerful. 10,000 people got mad, bro!
  4. Know that the best way to deal with the alt-right is to ignore them. Their deep insecurity and desire to feel powerful means something like an on-camera punch in the face will traumatize them, which is satisfying — but their need to reclaim power means such public embarrassment will motivate them to terrible ends. Were Richard Spencer not in the public eye, I would fully expect his next action to be a shooting spree or bombing.

As to preventing their rise? Keep an eye on your kids, I guess. If the primary motivator is avoiding feelings of inadequacy and powerlessness, then our best hope is to teach our children how to process those feelings in a healthy way.

I guess what I’m saying is we’re all counting on those Feminazis to Pussify the country before it’s too late.


Disclaimer: I wrote this in a big hurry and I’m pretty tired, and I sure hope it makes sense. If you liked it, I’d love if you would follow me on Twitter and consider supporting my work at Patreon.

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People Matter. Enough Already with the Macro-Analysis

January 31, 2017 Featured, Politics / Religion Comments (0) 987

I don’t understand how a person can watch refugees sent back to the nation they fled, families separated, children handcuffed, and write 1,200 words about how it’s a “head fake.”

On second thought, yes I can. Because we live in the era of the “30,000 foot view.” In our modern age, data is available and accessible, and big systems-wide analysis dominates our media. But when we reduce humans to data points — whether it’s Jake Fuentes writing about a systemic power takeover, Nate Silver forecasting election outcomes, or Barrack Obama assuring us we’ll all be fine — we lose sight of the individual experiences and stories that actually matter.

Mr. Fuentes might have a point about the Trump team testing America’s appetite for fascism. In fact, I think he does. But what he might regard as a “head fake” or dry run does serious harm to actual people.

Dozens were detained in airports nationwide, some for days. Reports say they were subjected to interrogation tactics, and pressed to sign away their rights Others, fleeing religious persecution and fearing for their lives, were turned away and sent back into harm’s way. Seniors, some with very little language access, were kept from family members waiting for them right outside of customs.

All of these are real human beings, experiencing real suffering, at the hands of a government whose sole rationale for existence is to protect the rights and well-being of the innocent. They are more than data points, more than pawns in the game of global politics. To describe the policy that harmed them as a “head fake,” to imply it is a distraction, is to minimize their experience.

Closing the Empathy Gap

The world is big, and data analysis can reveal illustrative trends that are useful to governance and policy. When we let that data stand in for actual lived experience, however, we initiate a kind of cognitive dissonance that sews distrust and disdain for government.

This was likely one of President Obama’s greatest shortcomings. Time and again we watched our President stand at a podium and tell us what a success the ACA was, or how job growth figures revealed the strength of our economic recovery. And those things were certainly true, from a macro-analytic scale. The trouble is, it wasn’t the whole story.

For those people whose premiums were skyrocketing out of reach, or those in communities folding up for lack of industry, macroeconomic trends are at best meaningless. At worst, they sound like outright lies.

Imagine living in a bombed out Rust Belt town, surrounded every day by the signs of industrial collapse and economic ruin. Every time the President talks about the economy, he’s touting job growth numbers, and record GDP. Contrast that with your lived experience, and of course you are going to feel passed over. Of course you are going to feel resentful.

To be clear, I’m not joining the ranks claiming we need to “listen more to the White Working Class,” which is most often code for endorsing white supremacy. What I am saying is that macroeconomic analysis has its utility, but that a government is obligated to also understand the human stories behind the figures.

A Product of the Shrinking News Media

I suspect that the movement toward macro-analysis is, like many of the issues that plague our current political discourse, a result of the reduction in staff and scope of the modern news media.

It comes down to simple math: With fewer beat reporters available to meet and interview individuals, it’s easier and more cost-effective for editors and anchors to rely on data analysis. Why send reporters to talk with laid off workers, when you can cut together a serviceable story from the Bureau of Labor Statistics web site?

This is not to suggest there aren’t dedicated journalists out there doing the hard work of speaking with actual humans. Trump’s Muslim Ban yielded a particular outpouring of real human stories, possibly because those victimized were condensed into major city airports, convenient for networks and newspapers. This is one thing that makes Fuentes’s “head fake” argument so wrong-headed; for once, the human cost of a bad policy was readily visible.

That said, there are reporters working to get those stories every day — there just aren’t nearly as many as there used to be.

It’s increasingly questionable whether Americans really know our country at all. The tendency to substitute broad demographic statistics for individual engagement lies at the heart of many recent narratives —the Democrats’ failure to recognize Rust Belt disenchantment, liberal America’s shock at the power and prevalence of white supremacy, White astonishment and denial at the abuse of Black communities by police… The list goes on.

We have an obligation, as a society, to focus not only on the big picture but on the millions of small pieces that make it up. Humans are not data points. Families are not clusters. Trends are not universal.

We need to take more time to pay attention to one another, to recognize and value the lived experience and inherent value of each individual human. We are, after all, a government of the people, for the people, by the people — not “a statistically significant sample” of the people.

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Anti-Trump Images for Free Use Everywhere

January 31, 2017 Artwork, Featured, Politics / Religion Comments (0) 1522

I am making these anti-Trump images available for free use anywhere and everywhere. Commercial or non-commercial use, with or without attribution or modification. The original images are public domain, and the adaptation is mine, so there are no rights issues.

I’ve set up a Redbubble shop where you can buy these as vinyl stickers — but feel free to make your own if you prefer.

Share, share share.

(Click an image in the gallery to get the high-resolution version)

Creative Commons LicenseThis work by Christopher Keelty is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://christopherkeelty.com.

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