Image from NPR
And neither rational arguments nor censorship will make it do so.
The recent furore (not Fuhrer) in Charlottesville and other US flash points has triggered a global wave of discussion, encouraging many people to express opinions about race who have not done so before, particularly white people. This is long overdue. Here is my view – both appreciative and critical comments below would be most welcome.
Point One: Arguments based on facts are not going to work.
As with global warming, we have already seen the dismal failure of science/fact-based arguments to successfully inspire personal, corporate and government action to produce change. If many of the scientists studying global warming do little to change their behaviour, what can we expect from the rest of the population? Knowing, or even believing, the facts alone does not always change behaviour. And it certainly won’t work here.
As we move to the messier world of human interaction, the facts are even harder to pin down and therefore, harder to use to show those interested in “ethnic purity” the shortcomings of their arguments. The videos from recent events, particularly Vice’s “Race and Terror” documentary, reveal some convenient omissions of history by the alt-right to justify their racial hatred – both recent (declining wages) and older (wealth from slavery).
And with google, it doesn’t take long to find omissions or just ignore facts presented by those with differing views. (This argument can also be thrown at the left). As they themselves profess, the alt-right’s position is not about “facts”, it is about safety, having a voice and power (or loss of it) – just listen to Trump.
Their voices are, for the most part, emotionally driven grievances that are as much about being heard, wanting justice and the reduction of personal threat, both real and perceived. It is a point of irony that, like their nemesis “SJWs,” the alt-right want social justice! And like their rivals, they sound more like desperate teenagers than the superior race they claim to be.
The point here is that emotional vitriol rarely listens to facts alone, if at all. Note to the left: Stop using facts alone to shut down the alt-right! Instead adopt the language they understand, like Jobs, Safety and Freedom of the Individual as these things are not only crucial, they are supported by a fair and egalitarian society.
Point Two: Censorship is not the answer
Shutting down rallies, exclusion from debates and firing of individuals (unless because of their competence) will not work either. Here are a couple of reasons why:
- The internet (still fairly open) will allow discussions to continue, but drive it underground. And like most online discussions, it will continue inside an echo-chamber of re-enforcing beliefs. As an experiment, I recommend spending time on a website dedicated to a value system different to your own and look at how little contrary evidence is presented. Then reflect on what this will do for people looking for surety in a complex world? You may also like to apply such analysis personally… To counter this, I believe the grievances of the alt-right need to be understood, and for that to happen they need to be heard. This will:
- Release some of the pressure that leads to violence,
- Meet their need to be heard and
- Show up the many flaws in their logic.
- Exclusion from public discourse will add fuel to the belief that the left and liberals are “brain-washing communists that seek to stupefy the public” and turn us all into “docile sheep” at best, and “enslaved in a gulag” at worst. While sanctioning of abusive behaviour ought not be tolerated, ostracizing the alt-right from debate will further convince them that they have a legitimate cause. That said, any violence condoned by either side should be shut down.
What needs to be understood is that the audiences of the alt-right positions are already feeling marginalised. Radical voices that are shut down will create a further affinity with those already feeling excluded, and actually increase their appeal. Not only that, it encourages the need for an extreme response as their voices are further pushed from the public discourse. And this is why the alt-right will not go away.
Another reason why it will not go away is that most of the possible futures currently presented, both hopeful and apocalyptic, show less of a place for white men than they did in the past. While logically correct, this will ultimately feel threatening. (The rebukes to an all-female cast of the recent Ghostbusters film is one of many examples where anger rises when the role of white men is being questioned.) This is inevitably being felt by the population to a degree they have never felt before. There is not a place at the table as there once was. And although many would agree that this may be a good thing, it’s hard to see that as a white man right now.
Of course, this experience is familiar territory to women and people of colour before that, and still is. However, the challenge of unquestioned assumptions of power that go to the heart of white male identity is not only disorienting, it is destabilising. In order to find redress to this threat to power some blame Islam for the deterioration of Christian insights (even though its far more likely that science is to blame for that); Or “gender fluidity” for destabilising the role of the family as the back bone of society (which again may find its cause in the economics of western nations that require the ideal worker to be on 24/7), the list goes on.
All of these moments are asking men (and mostly white men) to find out who they are without their position and self-worth being handed to them by the machinations of white history. It is an important question that men need to start asking – who are they without power? Without their god-given/biological-given/socially-given place at the head of the table?
This is the question that the alt-right proposes to answer to, or rather seeks to avoid by changing the conversation to force things back how they were “when things were good/safe/clear” – MAGA! Maybe you deserve to be there, and maybe like many others, it is not your place, let’s see what happens…
This truly is an uncomfortable pill to swallow. Unfortunately, aggression will often follow and we still live in a world where access to violence is more available to men. In fact, the dogma of the alt-right is that if you don’t have a place, you can have your role fulfilled by becoming a fighter, whether that be for traditions or social justice. What better way to channel frustration than through violence and anger – after all, it makes you feel like a man! (or should I say human?) And like feminism or BLM, the alt-right demands will not go away until they get a seat at the table.
For me, part of the answer is about recognising the positive role of men in the world and not just the negative stereotypes that are often perpetuated by both sides of the argument. People who are kind, clear, strong and supportive – no matter what your background.
Another step is to understand the position of those feeling excluded – a point Hillary Clinton missed so abysmally in her “deplorables” statement. Without either of these things happening, the alt-right’s cause and following will remain on a fuse.