Whatever you might think of the Alt-right, it’s hard to deny its risen to a surprising degree of influence in the West. You need only notice the way this past election has transformed it from something self-serious people refused to even acknowledge to a kind of bogey man being talked about in hushed tones by frightened commentators wondering whether the sun will ever rise again.
How did it happen? The Guardian unintentionally illustrates it though an anonymous piece entitled ‘Alt-right’ online poison nearly turned me into a racist. The author describes a process that begins with some simple curiosity about the motives of the opposition leading into a rabbit-hole of consuming their YouTube and Twitter content. This went on for four months before he finally snapped back to progressivism.
He paints his brief conversion as something akin to contracting an illness after exposure to a pathogen and then being cured upon eliminating that exposure. Accordingly, his experience seems to recommend quarantine as the solution: beware suggested YouTube videos, don’t follow Milo Yiannopoulos on Twitter, and so forth. The views of the alt-right are simply too virulent to tolerate.
But here’s the unintentional part: What actually happened to the author? He experienced a rare phenomenon known as intellectual curiosity and actually took a look at the arguments of his opponents—unusual in the age of the mental bubble. This lead to finding more and more arguments and critiques, and finding them rationally compelling to the point where he began to tentatively voice them to others as a way of testing them out. In contrast, his route back to progressivism was sudden shame after his wife noted that he sounded “a bit right wing” and he began leveling accusations of ‘racism’ and ‘islamophobia’ against himself.
TL;DR version: The Alt Right gave him argument while the Left gave him the feels.
The Alt Right has been successful because their only real opposition is furious name-calling. They raise shocking and impolite arguments, but the reaction is always against their audacity rather than rationally addressing the content of what they say. That’s the kind of opposition that works for a while, but eventually loses its effectiveness. The stigma of ‘racism’ is already fading away because any intellectual underpinnings it once had have eroded. Once that happens, shaming is only sufficient for corralling the weak-minded. To so many others, the Alt Right gains a certain credibility precisely because the opposition is so vapid.
So if you don’t like the alt-right and what it represents, I highly recommend dropping the “r” word altogether when offering your critique. After all, if you can’t make your case without resorting to accusations of racism (or any other form of ism/phobia) then you probably don’t have one.