Further Thoughts: How Social Justice Ideology Fuels Racism and Sexism

The video above comes with a huge NSFW warning. However, it is a very important window into the deeply unsettling and unpleasant phenomenon of anti-social justice shamelessness, which has primarily arisen as an anarchic response to social justice’s overreach.

The remarks below follow from the argument of my previous post.

One of the most troubling features of the movement surrounding Trump has been the way in which explicitly and unapologetically racist and sexist voices have moved to the forefront of America’s conversation. The word ‘deplorable’ has been thrown around a lot over the last few months, but this phenomenon truly is deplorable and should openly be declared as such.

However, once again, it is crucial to appreciate the part that social justice and progressive ideology has played in this. In my earlier post, I remarked upon the strange phenomenon that social justice ideologues tend to prefer the notion that perhaps even the majority of the American population is irredeemably sexist and racist to the notion that they might often be well-meaning and intelligent people, with a measure of truth and reasonable concern on their side, people who need to be listened to and reasoned with, rather than merely condemned as hateful and stupid.

The question of why the former belief is the preferred one really needs to be reflected upon. Why are the austere lines of a Manichaean ideology preferred over a social reality that is more tractable to charitable persuasion, forging of common ground, maintenance of relations across ideological divides, and working together despite differences?

I suspect that the reason why has a great deal to do with the fact that it serves the maintenance of the comforting echo chambers of the privileged college students who tend to perpetuate it. Perhaps even more importantly, the Manichaeanism and the accumulation of the complex shibboleths of social justice terminology and ideology all serve to uphold the borders and the moral superiority of an enlightened elite academic, political, and social in-group. The oft-discussed phenomenon of ‘virtue signalling’ refers to the way in which deployment of social justice terminology, policing of other people’s language, expressions of outrage or approval, alignment with or adoption of particular causes, groups, or movements, can all have as its most immediate purpose, not deeply self-invested concrete involvement in ameliorative social action, but the establishment and maintenance of an elite and morally privileged group of enlightened right-thinking people. This phenomenon is especially pronounced in the world of social media.

Manichaean social justice ideology is ideal for the purpose of maintaining the pristine moral superiority of privileged groups on social media. However, most people have to live in the real world, with the very people that have been identified as vicious, evil, and ignorant. Progressives have prioritized their privileged politics of association in their social media cocoons over the politics of the actual relations of vulnerable groups in the real world.

Eavesdropping on social justice oriented groups on social media (Tumblr, blogs like Metafilter, Twitter, etc.), it seems to me that there are very important distinctions to be made between different members of these groups. In particular, there are a lot of very vulnerable and fearful people, who have a great deal of skin in the game. The social justice discourse heightens their sense of being hated and of being radically vulnerable to others who wish to destroy them. They cling to the discourse like fearful clients to a patron.

On the other hand, there are highly privileged people with very little personally invested, who nonetheless derive considerable social advantage from their employment of the discourse as social proof of moral superiority and group membership. There are those on the left who have been pointing out the toxicity of social justice discourse for some time (seriously, read people like Freddie deBoer). The problem here isn’t with the left in general, nor with liberalism in general. Both the left and liberalism have a great deal to offer the world right now. In fact, we need both more than ever. No, the problem is with the social justice ideology of the progressive left in particular.

Of course, hardly anyone in the real world is listening to what goes on in the bubbles of social media in which the progressive left function. Progressive social media is a sort of terrarium, filled with exotic and fragile plants, but sealed off from the wider world, where radically different environmental conditions pertain. Little penetrates into their bubbles from the wider world, and little escapes from them. However, the existence of these bubbles matter immensely because they form the values, associations, minds, and imaginations of the dominant social, political, and cultural classes. This is what occurs in their peer groups and it has become clear that the peer group dynamics of elite progressive liberals powerfully shape the way that they act towards and think of those outside of these peer groups.

It has never been more imperative to recognize that minority groups are used as pawns by the progressive left and weaponized against their ideological and political opponents. When the left is using women, racial minorities, immigrants, and LGBT persons as means to attack straight white Christian men, for instance, it is extremely easy to forget that these groups have never been the enemy. Women are our wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, colleagues, friends. Persons of colour are our neighbours, brothers and sisters in Christ, and family members. Immigrants are people we are knitting into our communities and churches. LGBT persons are our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, our companions, and our compatriots.

The progressive left operates using the politics of guilt and fear. On the one hand, it exploits a status of moral superiority to incite guilt in lower status groups, who must accept dhimmitude. Men must become emasculated and self-denunciatory, constantly apologizing for the fact of their masculinity. Lower status white people must condemn themselves for representing by their very existence all that is wrong with society. Christians must engage in frequent public expressions of contrition for their faith, its history, and tradition.

On the other hand, it incites and exploits fear in its pet minorities, causing them to cling ever closer to it, to attack its enemies while maintaining their own moral impunity. Its uncompromising liberal ideology must prevail over all, and minorities and vulnerable groups are used to enforce it.

Rather than adopting a gentle approach to navigating the differences between groups, seeking for ways for people with different values and beliefs to live together in peace, progressive liberalism pushes them into the fiercest of opposition. The idea, for instance, that transgender persons, a highly vulnerable group, are best served by imposing an extreme transgender ideology upon the whole population in a merciless manner seems radically misguided. Such an approach may serve the self-idealizing Manichaeanism of elite groups, but it just provokes profound antagonism to transgender persons on the ground. The same is the case with the treatment of bakers, florists, photographers, and registrars who, for reasons of conscience, do not feel able to participate in celebrating gay weddings. Liberal progressivism idealizes the extreme and absolute conflict, not countenancing the possibility that the two groups could coexist happily if only ad hoc arrangements or accommodations were made, if we strengthened the bonds of civil society, and learned how to make space for each other and our differing values. There are a great many LGBT persons who feel exactly the same way as Christians here: we should establish common cause with them against progressive liberalism’s Manichaeanism and collaborate to form strong communities and a robust and hospitable civil society.

The same is true in the discussion about immigration. Liberal progressivism consistently presses to make the immigration debate about white Americans’ hatred of outside groups, refusing to permit a conversation about the justice and prudence of certain radical and unchecked changes to communities and places in which people’s sense of self are powerfully invested.

Liberal progressivism has repeatedly attacked people, not just on account of their actions, ideas, or misplaced values, but on account of what they are. The venomous contempt directed towards ‘men’ or ‘white people’ (of course, coded to refer especially to rural populations) is pure sexism and racism and people often react to it as such. The fact that so few people accept feminism has much to do with its polarizing conspiracy theories, and the ways in which it can often perpetuate itself by practically essentializing a conflict and deep antagonism between the sexes. However, most men and women respect and care for each other enough to resist this framing: they love each other and are deeply invested in each other’s well-being.

When someone like Lena Dunham, so prominent a face of Clinton’s campaign that she was even given control of Clinton’s Instagram account at one point, celebrates the ‘extinction of white men’ it should be clear that Clinton’s campaign will probably be entirely irrelevant to Rust Belt working men concerned about their fate as they face renewed threats of migrating jobs and automation. While those Rust Belt men won’t follow Dunham on Twitter, Dunham’s video illustrates the ideologies of the sort of peer groups at the heart of the Clinton campaign. For such people, a world in which working white men are crushed is often celebrated with a deep schadenfreude, rather than regarded as something to be prevented at all costs for the good of whole communities. They don’t seem to be able to imagine or desire a world in which white men truly thrive and grow to their full stature as persons and members of society. They are so locked in atomizing identity politics that they fail to realize that the interests of working white men are also the interests of their wives, mothers, and daughters (and vice versa). Such ideologies shape policy visions and priorities, which is where the toxic waters of social justice ideology can result in the poisoning of actual communities downstream from the elites’ echo chambers. Or, as happened in the election, those communities will simply turn elsewhere for political patrons.

This racist and sexist social justice ideology has greatly empowered toxic reactionary movements in our national discourse. If white men of a lower social status are expected to adopt a position of cultural dhimmitude before culturally dominant moralizing ideologues, to consent to their cultural and economic obliteration, and to engage in a sort of self-loathing, there will come a time when they start to push back. The power of social justice elites rests heavily upon their supposed moral superiority and their authority in ideologically framing the world of the rest of the population.

As I argued in my previous post, the overreach of progressive liberals, who are chronically out of touch with social and natural reality, has played a prominent part in provoking the rise of a movement that is resistant to shame and guilt, as these had formerly been weaponized to control them. This has taken an especially pronounced form on social media, where a subterranean sewer of racism, misogyny, and hatred has overflowed and its vile contents slop into our conversational thoroughfare.

Once again, it is noteworthy that the leading figures in this are to be found in the abstract bubble of social media, among people who are close to the world of social justice ideology. This movement is one of people deeply ‘street smart’ in the ways of the online world, people who know how to spread hatred through memes and troll humour (most of it is initially provoked less by hatred than by the nihilistic delight of triggering the thin skinned for sport). Trolls don’t function in a vacuum. If you don’t feed them, they die. The trolls of the new racism succeed because they have a vast reservoir of social justice ideology to feed upon near at hand. They derive great pleasure from attacking it and from ridiculing the people who hold it. They purposefully go out of their way to trigger people from a movement that has used triggering as an instrument of ideological control. They have credibility among so many of their peers because they can see that they are attacking incontinent sacred cows. The credibility of the sanctimonious and shrill social justice ideology is utterly destroyed for an increasing number of white men, who have adopted a gleeful nihilism in reaction against it.

People like Milo Yiannopoulos are loved by these young men, not least because, in contrast to the self-flagellation of their social justice believing peers, Milo and his followers are clearly having a great deal of anarchic fun. Milo has credibility with them precisely because he is publicly ridiculing the emperor who has no clothes, directly resisting the social demand that we pretend that movements such as the prevailing form of feminism have deep intellectual integrity and moral authority.

In fact, Milo has public recognition and respect beyond this circle, precisely because he has been one of the leading early voices in exposing the ways in which social justice warriors have asphyxiated public discourse in the university and other fora. Milo goes to a campus, social justice warriors make themselves look like utter fools and lose ever more credibility, their childish tantrums are videoed, shared online, and endlessly remixed for the lulz, and a movement increasingly unchecked by and dismissive of even the many valid concerns within the social justice camp arises. It is essential to recognize that Milo would have no profile whatsoever were it not for the social justice ideologues. The anti-social justice movement has largely been created by the social justice movement. In an ideal world, nihilistic trolls like Milo wouldn’t be in the public conversation. However, in a country of social justice inflicted blindness, the man with one jaundiced eye will become king. Milo was a loud supporter of Donald Trump from early on, calling him ‘Daddy’, and being highly instrumental in the rise of Breitbart as a journalistic organ of the troll right. It is crucially important that we recognize how such forces are created.

The racism of the anti-social justice movement has credibility because so many white men of a lower social status rightly recognize that they have been suppressed by protected lies of social justice ideology. They delight in trolling the sensibilities of social justice ideologues and flaming them, in getting them to react in a way that reveals the impotence of the moral disapprobation that once held them in its thrall. However, this nasty yet seemingly abstract game in the detached world of social media has real world victims as it steadily legitimizes and emboldens some of the most unpleasant elements in society. When the sacred cows of ideology have become so identified with particular racial or minority groups, justifiable attacks on the former can easily be seen to legitimate attacks on the latter.

Against the ugly world created by social justice ideology, we must reject both the politics of guilt on the one side and the politics of fear on the other. We need to learn how to recognize, love, and no longer fear or hate our neighbours. We must turn away from social justice ideology, without dismissing genuine social justice. We must prioritize seeking peace and community in the concrete and real world over the abstract squabbles, status signalling, shibboleths, and group boundary policing. Withdrawn from the abstract context of the absolute and polarizing demands of detached ideologies, it is surprisingly easy by contrast to find common cause and seek a common good with people who differ from us when we relate to them in the concrete world of flesh and blood.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Culture, Ethics, Politics, Society. Bookmark the permalink.

44 Responses to Further Thoughts: How Social Justice Ideology Fuels Racism and Sexism

  1. Physiocrat1 says:

    What place, if any, does satire (or mockery) of opponents views have? Whilst I’m in agreement that almost all arguments have some grain of truth in them, I think if we keep the arguments and the people separate the ruthless satire (or mockery) is perfectly appropriate. Elijah and Isaiah certainly pulled no punches whilst savagely mocking their opponents. Whilst certainly vulgar in parts, the video above does hit some crucial issues in an amusing manner.

    Further the role of context is important- the appropriate way to produce a YouTube video is different to a public debate and to a private conversation. In general the more cordial and conciliatory your approach should be as you move towards the private conversation. This is crucial to prevent a hypersensitive concern antennae.

    Finally, your characterisation of Breitbart as part of the troll right is unfair. It is a genuine news outlet. It does have some trollish voices as commentary but it is first of fore-mostly a news site.

    • Yes, my representation of Breitbart may have been rather uncharitable. I do not hold them in high regard, but they are not devoid of merit (not least because they often report fairly accurately upon things that other news sites refuse to ‘notice’).

      On the satire point, listen to our podcast discussion with Karen Swallow Prior on the subject! She’s superb on the question. Satire can be very valuable. When malice and cruelty is involved, as I think it frequently is with Milo et al it isn’t so good.

      • Physiocrat1 says:

        I listened to that a while back (I think I’ve listened to every single episode you’ve produced in your Casting Across the Pond IIRC) which is why I put mockery in brackets in addition to satire so as to cover a wider range of basis.

        I’m in broad agreement with avoiding malice – this is where a lot of comedies go awry in which it’s, let’s just laugh at this character. Although malice (if that’s an appropriate usage) against an idea seems fair game especially when more straight forward reasoning fails (I’m not saying here you cannot rationally defend the position but that alternative methods of persuasion are necessary). In a similar area, though not entirely the same, is black comedy of which I’m a fan when it uses the macabre to reveal truth – the film In Bruges is an excellent example of this. A podcast on the appropriateness of black comedy would be an interesting podcast- I remember was Francis Schaeffer being dead against it.

      • Yes, a podcast on black comedy would be interesting!

  2. kpatton says:

    Alastair, have you written elsewhere on the distinction between social justice ideology and social justice? I would love some clarification there. Thanks, from a fairly new reader and great admirer of your writing.

    • Thank you, and thanks for commenting.

      No, I haven’t written about that. The latter is far more concrete and prudential in its focus, rather than abstract and absolutizing. Social justice ideology typically include many valid concerns of social justice: a commitment to addressing wrongs committed against a racial group, or the genuine abuses committed by men against women, or the more general social processes by which such groups are prevented from rising to their full stature. Social justice ideology typically develops around good causes, but grows unchecked.

      Social justice ideology turns social justice into absolute struggles between good and evil. Social justice minus the extreme ideology would be far, far less ready to demonize opponents and more concerned to seek common ground and common goods. Social justice ideology is also widely closed to discourse. It can presume that people who resist its proposed means reject its desired ends, or that admitting contrary voices is a denigration of its ends, rather than a means of honing itself.

    • casabeca says:

      I would also love to hear this. My life’s work has been with struggling families and children facing financial and other disadvantages. I’ve tried to help women see their equal worth and fitness for all kinds of work in and out of the home. I’ve worked with families who struggle to communicate, and I try to help jettison old learned discussion habits that may stifle real, loving & respectful talk between parents. I’ve worked to combat racial prejudice at home, school and the church. I got an advanced education to do well in small ministry jobs to help bring about social justice, quality education opportunities, better knowledge of good nutrition and info on how to keep children healthy and safe.
      Did I misunderstand your premise? Or do you find those who are earnest, faithful to these goals somehow ridiculous or even dangerous? You think we are drawing out those who practice the dark arts of wounded male pride, of solidly agressive self-interest and cynicism?
      None of us take this ministry jobs to make our own life easier, they are poorly paid and the main benefits are for other groups.
      If these really are the evils of an “SJW” then I do not get how we can live a life based on the love of Christ, helping the least of these, without risking demeaning ridicule from our brothers (& a few sisters).
      I am never aiming to put down white men or any other group, and my goal is to understand why life is hard for him too.
      I appreciate your depth and look forward to more ideas on how to mend broken relationship all around us.
      Peace be with you Alastair.

      • Thanks for the comment, casabeca. Thanks also for pushing for clarification on this point: it is extremely important to me that what I am and am not saying on this issue is properly understood. I haven’t the time to respond to the other comments on this thread right now, but I really want to make my position on this issue very clear.

        I have already given the beginning of a response to the questions that you raise in the comment above. Work for social justice is a central and necessary part of the calling of the people of God, a task to which all of us owe our labours. I really want to underline this point, as it could not be more important that it be understood.

        No, my issue here is entirely with social justice ideology, which is, I believe, a serious threat to actual social justice. While it is appropriate and important that we think rigorously about social justice—and not merely tactically, but also more systemically—social justice ideology has established a particular framework of thought and pattern of reasoning that creates some deeply unhelpful dynamics.

        Social justice, of the kind that we should be involved, calls us to be committed to the concrete work of providing for women and girls in positions of need, for single mothers, abused wives, girls with particular educational requirements, and to the work of ensuring the dignity and flourishing of every girl and woman in society. It is also essential to reflect carefully upon the structures and beliefs of our societies, and the ways in which they may lead us to mistreat or marginalize girls and women. Such study must be deeply receptive and attentive to the particular character of our reality.

        Social justice ideology—which I am challenging—takes a different character. For instance, as related to the interests of women in society, it can be seen in an approach that views the entirety of reality through the lens of concepts such as ‘the patriarchy’, ‘male privilege’, and various other concepts of gender theory. It can be seen in the ideological predetermination of reality, where we cease being attentive and receptive to reality (for instance, to the natural differences between the sexes in preferences and interests) and start to force the square peg of reality into the round hole of our theory. When this doesn’t have the results we desire, we just push harder and complain about how deeply embedded the structures of oppression are, how sexist and opposed to change men are, and how much women have internalized the patriarchy.

        Those who resist the theory and oppose the measures that are undertaken to put it into practice are pathologized, presented as hateful, evil, or ignorant, in need of censoring or some form of re-education. The theory encourages a radical suspicion of those outside of the favoured group. So, for instance, when I challenge feminism as a man, I am clearly doing so to reinforce my male privilege. My argument cannot be about truth, but only about pursuing power and cementing my social advantage. Because people who resist the theories or key dimensions of them are pathologized, the idea of finding and pursuing common cause, values, and goods with them is out of the question. They are a negative force in society to be marginalized or ostracized. As the theory closes itself off from challenge and criticism and pathologizes its opponents, it gradually takes over social and academic institutions.

        All of this, I believe, is profoundly and unavoidably at odds with a genuine commitment to the task of pursuing social justice. The actual work of social justice requires us to be deeply attentive and receptive to reality, even though it may threaten our theories. It calls us to recognize that people with ideological differences from us aren’t to be simply pathologized, and that we can often work with and alongside them in the cause of justice. It requires us to be closely attentive to the very concrete needs of our actual neighbours, rather than trying to force them into an ideological slot. For instance, if women, when given the choice and when provisions and a healthier work environment are ensured for them, still do not want to go into STEM subjects in large numbers, we should be more concerned to ensure that they flourish in those areas of society that they are involved in, rather than speaking about systemic discrimination against women in such fields. Our concern is not some ideologically predetermined ideal of equality (for instance, premised upon the notion that any difference in outcomes or representation in various areas must be a result of injustice and discrimination), but that our neighbours rise to their full stature as the particular people that they have been made to be in the image of God.

        This is what I mean when I claim to be firmly opposed to social justice ideology, yet resolutely in favour of social justice.

  3. Joe says:

    Where is Milo? Is he going to resurface in the White House? That would be major lulz.

  4. cal says:

    I find it interesting that the video ends with a bare-breasted woman chainsawing a crucifix and Milo is an overwhelmingly flamboyant, in your face, poof. And yet there are many reactionary white men lining up, men you might imagine being turned off by such things.

    I also wonder about the self-congratulatory tone Jerry Falwell Jr took with himself and the Trump movement. He seemed to sneer at the wide majority of “Evangelical” leaders who spoke against Trump. But is this actually true? I don’t doubt Evangelicals, at least those who might put something of the sort down on a census, voted that way, but then, what does the phrase even mean? I wonder if this is the eclipse of Evangelicalism, the subtle transposition of a traditional, essentially Pagan, Americana cult, prizing money, sex/hot girls, good job, house, success etc. This is not the Yuppies, because its grittier and rooted in the humdrum. This is not traditional Americana, where the Dream tactically ignored the seedier elements.

    American nationalist ideology, combined with a powerful resurgent corporate capitalism, will be this pseudo-Darwinian outlook, where someone who is “hurt” is just a c#$%. It’s a strange mix truly, and Donald Trump successfully harnessed it as a weapon to bash in the brains of the self-assured neo-liberals, both among the Democrats and the Republicans. It doesn’t have to make sense, it just has to work, and that seems to be most people’s approach to the state of the nation.

    From a critical historical eye, this is a very interesting time to live in.

    2 cents,

  5. Chris E says:

    “Why are the austere lines of a Manichaean ideology preferred over a social reality that is more tractable to charitable persuasion, forging of common ground, maintenance of relations across ideological divides, and working together despite differences?”

    Do you see much of a ‘social reality that is more tractable to charitable persuasion’ in the Rights historical response to feminism, the civil rights movement and the LGBT community, or even amongst Evangelicals? As opposed to the “austere lines of a Manichaean ideology”.

    • Yes, I do, to be honest. While there is a great deal of Manichaeanism, one can also see immense shifts in the discourse over the last few decades. Jonathan Haidt and others have researched and demonstrated the fact that conservatives much better understand liberals than liberals understand conservatives. The research suggests that conservatives are much more able and likely to intellectually sympathize with liberals and to view them as wrong but not evil or stupid. Manichaeanism exists on both sides, but by no means in the same measure.

      • Chris E says:

        So perhaps you could then point to one quality of life improvement/social advance, for any one of those groups, recognized as such by that group, that came about because the Right – unprompted – adopted the approach you suggest (being a “social reality that is more tractable to charitable persuasion”).

      • Compare the prevailing concrete and ideological responses to any of those issues on the Right to that which pertained twenty or thirty years ago. The Right has moved a long way through engagement, both external and internal.

      • Also, my claim here is definitely not that the Right doesn’t have a huge problem with Manichaeanism, just that it is much more prominent in the social justice left.

        This difference probably is less on account of some inherent virtue on the part of the Right than on account of the fact that the Right doesn’t have the choice but to listen and engage and so has engaged and (been) changed. The progressive left, however, is more closed off and unprepared to engage, more invested in the idea that it is on the right side of history and that opposing views are hateful.

        Note, this isn’t a problem that is shared with the Left more generally. In my experience (and that of several others I’ve talked to), traditional leftists, the older breed of liberals, and various other parts of the left are much more amenable to discourse and persuasion, more so than a great deal of the Right. You will find many of the arguments that I make here made by more traditional left wing liberals and leftists.

    • Chris E says:

      “Compare the prevailing concrete and ideological responses to any of those issues on the Right to that which pertained twenty or thirty years ago. The Right has moved a long way through engagement, both external and internal.”

      But again, that’s movement caused by necessity, rather than a ‘social reality that is more tractable to charitable persuasion’ – which as a phrase that doesn’t actually describe how these re-alignments came about at all.

      If you were right, then we would expect to see the reaction change over time – but when a new group has been in play they are always met with arguments which are rather starkly black or white (or to use the language or Moral Foundations Theory, the reactions are always along the Authority/Sanctity spectrum).

      • Whether it has about by necessity or not—sadly, I think it has primarily come about by necessity—it still is the case. A great many of us live and work in contexts that are hostile ideological territory and we need to be charitable and tractable. We have no other choice, and it has often been very good for us. Progressive liberalism does not face this pressure, so has ended up far more closed-minded and opposed to ideological exchange.

      • Once again, I want to stress that my ideal is not to valorize the Right as such over against the Left as such, but to arguing that the actually existing Right and Left represent rather different contexts of discourse in this regard. I don’t think we should rush to pat ourselves on the back, but it is important to bear in mind when assessing the possibilities of discourse.

  6. Thank you for linking to your fascinating work (I have come here via Psephizo).

    I’m largely in agreement with you, particularly the sister/parent post to this one. If I were confessing, I’d say that initially I found the presence of the ‘alt-right’ quite refreshing, and Milo in particular to be precisely the reactionary some people needed. I would never dream of linking to him or sharing any of his content in my own social media bubble (I work for a church, it’s be career suicide), but I did experience that same schadenfreude at the clear discomfort and embarrassment of his targets. I may not have supported him, but I was secretly happy at his existence. Does that make sense?

    However, over the months I have increasingly found Milo to be obnoxious and I now despair of him. The task of highlighting the hypocrisy and shattering the delusion(s) of the SJW-isms is important, and he does it very well, but I increasingly feel that his ultimate aim is not the calling to account of a false worldview, but supplanting it with his own, which I equally decline to accept.

    I feel a similar way, but less strongly, about Breitbart news, and the conservative Ben Shapiro. I would be interested to know your feelings on other, more….restrained…conservative outlets too (I’m thinking of people like Anne Coulter, or Praeger ‘University’*) and how they might best approach doing the good work of combating these ideas and providing a counter narritive without reversing it.

    Sincerely, a new reader.
    Mat Sheffield

    • cal says:

      Mat, I ask this out of sheer curiosity, not impugning your character in any way:

      What changed over the course of months that made Milo odious and cause despair? Was it him (whether his fan base, repetition of material/critiques etc.) or you? If the former, could you elaborate? If the latter, could you describe the kind of struggle you had without getting too personal or intimate about it? Was it emotional or intellectual? Was it sudden or gradual? Why could you stomach his world-view as long as you did?

      I’m curious of how you feel/what you think about your own self-censorship in light of your source of employment. Do you think this was a good thing? Before your revulsion, did you feel this was a private dirty pleasure or was it something that people ought to have dabbled in, at least to wake up to the supposed problem in America? Do you think your congregation’s implicit policy was helpful in the long run, for you and for others?

      I never knew of Milo before this post, but I find him a strange example of the perfect overlap of idolatrous Americana and folksier, mass-movement, Evangelicalism, wherein the power and lure of the former ends up eroding, slowly or quickly, any moral demand couched by the latter.

      I think it’s a strange, but not so strange, phenomenon that Falwell Jr. can say Christianity is about forgiveness and conversion, hence bracketing moral and character concerns about Trump, while simultaneously denouncing the crimes of Clinton as a seemingly immovable stain, with no expectation that her policies could change or that she’d have some sort of regenerating experience. How many people prayed for Clinton’s renewal, rather than her destruction, I wonder. I find this symptomatic of a kind of political nihilism, but that’s another thing.

      I’m not sure you’d agree with my assessments, but that’s regardless if you don’t mind me picking your brain on your own self-reflections.


      • cal says:

        I realized after I wrote this that you live in England (or are English). So, you can broaden my question out to the Western world more broadly, or analyze it as an outsider looking in across the Atlantic.

      • I know your question wasn’t directed to me, but for me the shift occurred as it became clear that Milo’s commitment was to the sport of triggering people, not to the truth. I saw him adopting positions he clearly did not truly believe in and purposefully bullshitting, purely in order to delight in offending people. It also became ever more clear that Milo was an extreme narcissist, who cared more about being idolized than he did about the moral and intellectual integrity of society.

        I have seen many Americans who take Milo seriously and I wonder whether the problem is in part a failure to recognize certain cues that clearly register in British culture and reveal Milo to be a narcissistic bullshitter.

      • Well, I’ll have a go. There’s a lot in there to answer and I risk making the comments section here longer than the already epic post.

        First off though, I don’t mind at all that you’re questioning me. I wouldn’t be putting my name and thoughts here at all if I wasn’t prepared to answer for them.

        I think the answer to your first question (RE my change of opinions) has three parts.

        The first is that I do feel Milo himself changed noticeably as the election drew ever nearer. The material of his that I first experienced was certainly reactionary, rude, and conducted in a superior, arrogant, confident manner designed to be as provocative as possible. But, as his influence and following has increased (which is has dramatically in the last 6 months), I’ve found that everything has become more extreme. Rather than put himself in a position where he can be reactive, conducting a kind of hyperconservative-apologetic, he has crossed a line into what I can only describe as being “incendiary”. For Milo now, it is not enough to shine a light on the folly of some forms of ‘leftism’, but the light needs to burn them, to hurt them, to cause conflagration to the point of violence. Milo doesn’t seem to get joy from winning the argument, but from defeating the person. I can countenance the former behavior on some level, but not what he’s become, gaining glory and fame from his ever increasing vitriol. His fan base exacerbates this problem by allowing him to feed off it, but I don’t think it’s the problem in itself.

        I think you’ll find that characters like Milo are so Alien to a British audience (seriously, I cannot think of anyone in England anything like him) that he’s very easily dismissed as a frothing manic not worth listening too. If hadn’t come to him through other outlets, I’d have probably dismissed him to.

        The second answer is that I have probably changed to, but this is harder to qualify and you’ll forgive me for being a bit rambly here. Personally, I am happy to take extreme measures and be provocative so long as I have a clear goal about doing so; I am prepared to be rude, or crude even, to make a point that needs to be made or to highlight hypocrisy and injustice. However, I do believe their are limits to this in terms of what my personal integrity can take. I like to think of the Hitchens brothers (Christoper, and to a lesser extent Peter) as prime examples of what to aim for in this regard. Caustic, cutting, offensive, direct, sometimes personal, but never gaining joy from it, or going it for self-aggrandizement. Disdain and contempt needs to be focused and purposeful. For me personally, Milo began as the former, but has walked away from those roots.

        I personally do not want to take the same risks (and on reflection am in danger of doing so), so I’m distancing myself from his material. I hope that’s clear? I was prepared to stomach his worldview so long as it was helpful and constructive, or serving a purpose, but it longer does. It’s become the second side of a valueless coin. I guess that I would say it’s a mix of emotional and intellectual then, but definitely gradual.

        The third part is the hardest to answer without writing a confessional.

        I have self-censored because I knew that without a significant disclaimer, or context-setting before sharing his material, people would draw very wild conclusions about what I believe as a result. In the wake of Brexit, a lot of my social media feed, especially among my peers, was simmering resentment and confusion, waiting to erupt. I was the minority of my friends, in that I wanted (I felt reasonably) to leave. Milo’s material, representing an extreme position, would be like pouring water on a chip pan fire, igniting that lingering anger into something that would hurt everyone involved. We don’t quite have the “culture wars” you do in the states, but the progressive liberal agenda does not like to be challenged just the same.

        As a last point, I would just say that I have never made the link between Milo and evangelical Christianity. I’ve never considered Milo to be anything more than rampant, individualistic secularism rebelling against itself.

      • I think you’ll find that characters like Milo are so Alien to a British audience (seriously, I cannot think of anyone in England anything like him) that he’s very easily dismissed as a frothing manic not worth listening too.

        I have to disagree with this. Milo is British and we have Katie Hopkins! 🙂

      • Touche.

        I was specific in referring to milo’s character, rather than his person, as I know he’s British. I hadn’t considered Hopkins though, but I’m not sure she’s a fair comparison: Hopkins is broadcastable, whereas most of milo isn’t.

      • Joe says:

        Milo is a very British drag queen – and gay humour alternates between silliness and viciousness. All of those gifs of eye-rolling black women that teenagers post in place of argument point to the triumph of drag memes.

        His college tour talks are mostly stand-up now (with patchy delivery). It is a very British form of humour – which (presumably) travels because mainstream American comedy has gotten more caustic in recent years.

    • Thanks for commenting, Matt, and welcome to the blog!

      I strongly agree with you here. The pleasure I once derived from seeing Milo et al skewering sacred cows has long since been replaced by concern about the ugliness and untruth that they have introduced into the conversation.

      The social justice left fetishized people’s feelings and distorted truth to accommodate those feelings. Milo and his followers don’t care about truth in the slightest. The value of truth to them lies in its power to be weaponized in the form of ‘hatefacts’ that traumatize SJWs. They are driven by a sadist sport in triggering others and it is important that we differentiate ourselves from them. We must speak the truth, but we should not weaponize it as they have done. The social justice left is full of bullshit, they aren’t operating in the realm of truth or falsehood. The reactionary right is full of bullshit too. Milo is one of the disingenuous bullshitters I know. He loves the drama, not the truth. He will adopt any position for its troll value.

      So much of the populist right today is predatory and sadistic, including the sources you mention. It has made political incorrectness a virtue, becoming the reversed image of the social justice left, rather than developing a discourse of principle. While they occasionally serve the ends of truth, they do so accidentally and in a poisonous way.

  7. Pingback: In Which A Man Explains Things | Alastair's Adversaria

  8. quinnjones2 says:

    I’d never even heard of Milo before I saw this link! I clicked on the video above and as soon as I saw the way he used the ‘c’ word, I switched off – this is one “lovely ‘c***’ ” who will not give him the time of day. We *do* have a choice about what we look at online and I think we have no good reason for feeling ‘victimized’ if we devote a second of our time to someone else’s online garbage!

    • Indeed. Although it is important that those who want to understand the phenomena expose themselves to this sort of thing from time to time, everyone else is best advised to stay away. It is exceedingly unedifying.

    • Joe says:

      In the mock movie rating context the c word is a term of endearment. It could even be argued that the video-game sniper and #c–tfirmedkill riffs (if you saw them) are more playful than hateful.

      Go to Scrbbler.com (greeting card company) and type f**k or b**ch or w*nk in the search box and see how many results come back. Scribbler sell birthday and Christmas cards – not insult cards. I know that evangelicals don’t use language in this way but a big chunk of (British) society does. It’s fine that Christians say “no thanks” to that form of cultural expression but it is unfair to misrepresent it. It isn’t meant to be genuinely offensive.

  9. Pingback: Things Glen Found Interesting – Election Edition (vol 75) – Glen Davis

  10. quinnjones2 says:

    Hi Jo,
    ‘…a term of endearment’ ? I’m sure that you are familiar, as I am, with far more endearing terms of endearment that the selection you gave above 🙂

    • Joe says:

      I am but I am also used to hearing the c word used in a friendly context. The best example of “offensive” words not being taken literally can be found in rap music. Does any white progressive really think that Jay Z is really calling a nigga a nigger? Any outrage over Clinton sharing a stage with Jay Z or Dave Chappelle’s skits on SNL is guaranteed to fall on deaf ears because… well… most people realise that their words cannot be taken at a racist/offensive face value.

  11. Pingback: Cracks in the Progressive Left—Part 1 | Alastair's Adversaria

  12. Tess says:

    Thanks for this helpful post, and the one that preceded it.

    I found these passages particularly helpful:-
    ” In particular, there are a lot of very vulnerable and fearful people, who have a great deal of skin in the game. The social justice discourse heightens their sense of being hated and of being radically vulnerable to others who wish to destroy them. They cling to the discourse like fearful clients to a patron.”
    “The idea, for instance, that transgender persons, a highly vulnerable group, are best served by imposing an extreme transgender ideology upon the whole population in a merciless manner seems radically misguided. Such an approach may serve the self-idealizing Manichaeanism of elite groups, but it just provokes profound antagonism to transgender persons on the ground.”

    I am myself trans. I transitioned 17 years ago since then I put the whole thing behind me and forgot about it, happy to be myself. These days however I seem to have been caught up unwillingly in a culture war, indeed I almost feel like the epicentre of it.

    So your post is helpful to me because it recognises that some of us have come to rely, willingly or unwillingly, on the protection or patronage of the social justice movement. In my day, we had no social protections. When I transitioned I was sidelined in my job and had abuse thrown at me every single evening by the local youths on my estate as I came home. I was afraid to go to the police because I was scared of them as well as the parents of the aforementioned youths. Over time however, culture shifted and anti-trans abuse and discrimination became socially and legally unacceptable. Wonderful for me, and surely no hardship for others?

    Subsequently however being trans or non-binary has become, one might say, almost popular, something to be applauded or even encouraged. I mean, I’m personally quite happy for people to declare themselves to be outside the gender binary – I know how much it sucks to be treated as if you embody all the stereotypes of manhood or womanhood when actually that’s not who you are as a human being at all. However, I’m also on edge about how much this is making us a target. I can hide because I look and sound feminine and I’ve lived in that role longer than I was an adult male, but that only means I hear what people say when they don’t know my background.

    So I find myself beholden to the progressive warriors, who defend me against the alt-right and religious conservatives with loudly disparaging and patronising mockery of the apparently ignorant. And this is all fine until people I thought were trusted friends suddenly come out as Brexit (and now Trump) fans. Don’t they realise I *need* EU law to protect me from the terrors of middle England? I’ve been mystified for a year as to what’s going on here. What is it about Brexit, Farage et al that trumps (sorry) their compassion for me their friend?

    The loss of culture is something I can understand. I am white, middle class, intelligent and English. I even used to be male and the shame I experienced in that back in the 80s played no small part in my fear and hatred of being seen as such and in my desire to embody a different role. I know what it’s like to discover yourself and your culture to be one of the primary sources of oppression in the world, to learn to hate yourself because of it. The pushback against that is long-overdue. But I don’t want to be the pawn on the front-line getting steamrollered as a result.

    I am caught between needing the social protections against discrimination we’ve gained in recent years, but also not wanting anyone to be controlled by the shaming and weaponised guilt highlighted effectively in this post. These things can always be used both ways. Trans-exclusive feminists and trans-exclusive complementarians both like to fight their battles over the bodies (sometimes literally bloodied) of trans people who just want to get on with being ourselves. I’m tired of having a big target on my forehead.

    I’m also not an enemy of those who are seeking stable values and meaning in their lives, families and communities. I too stand in the rain around the cenotaph and weep at the Last Post and hum ‘Jerusalem’ and feel an irrevocable kinship with those who still go to church because they need to be part of something great and more magnificent and enduring than themselves. I don’t see myself as this ‘liberal elite’ that apparently everyone now hates. I’ve never had the power to shut down views I disagree with, and barely had a few years of being able to be myself before suddenly I’m back at the heart of a maelstrom of opprobrium, unsought, unasked for.

    Articles like this one offer me hope, because here is an eirenic analysis of the situation that doesn’t immediately paint me as oppressed or oppressor. Like almost everyone, I’m both and neither. I long for a community to be proud of that is tender-hearted, creative, wise, disciplined, holy, generous, welcoming but with a clear unequivocal identity. I’m heartened that other people also seek something meaningful to be part of. I wish we could talk about that, what we hope for and long for and value, rather than constantly attack each other for (we think deliberately) sabotaging the others’ lives.

    I’m really interested to see how this new understanding of the failings of both sides to see any value in the other can inform the conversation from now on. Thanks again for your fascinating analysis and thankyou for allowing me this space to respond and work through my own thoughts.

  13. Pingback: Mere Fidelity: The Election and So Forth | Reformedish

  14. Pingback: Podcast: The Post-Election Show | Alastair's Adversaria

  15. Pingback: Retrospective on 2016 | Alastair's Adversaria

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.