In morning thread comments, we discussed a HuffPo article that exposes a racist, misogynist, right-wing creep who used to write pseudonymously for white supremacist sites and now dispenses a hastily varnished version of the same toxic garbage at elite institutions. It’s possible that particular creep’s academic career will be derailed by the revelation, though I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.
But he’s just one example of an enormous problem that arguably manifests in every aspect of our society. A disturbing number of mass shooters have a similar origin story — they’re disaffected because they don’t automatically receive the female attention and commercial success they feel entitled to, and they fall down rabbit holes online that reinforce their grievances and channel it into eruptions of apocalyptic rage.
Misogyny seems to be a gateway drug. In the morning thread, valued commenter Suzanne shared a theory about why that is:
I genuinely think misogyny is the very seed of the problems we are dealing with, because it is really part of the politics of the home, and that is where these terrible dudes are acculturated first. That is not to say that racism, homophobia, ableism, anti-Semitism, etc. are not equally toxic and harmful. Just that one of the very first things these terrible men come to believe is that women exist for their service and comfort. And they are taught that beginning the day they are born.
I agree. These angry, entitled young men don’t all become mass shooters — or disgraced academics. Many become white supremacists, fascists and/or religious fanatics. Maybe they storm the U.S. Capitol, make Nazi-adjacent memes for Repub presidential candidates or steal state secrets to make themselves look cool to other members on their Discord channels. I collectively think of them as “Trump Youth.”
In an Atlantic article published today, Hillary Clinton (aka America’s Cassandra) addresses the phenomenon:
There have always been angry young men alienated from mainstream society and susceptible to the appeal of demagogues and hate-mongers. But modern technology has taken the danger to another level. This was Steve Bannon’s key insight.
Long before Bannon ran Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, he was involved in the world of online gaming. He discovered an army of what he later described as “rootless white males,” disconnected from the real world but highly engaged online and often quick to resort to sexist and racist attacks. When Bannon took over the hard-right website Breitbart News, he was determined to turn these socially isolated gamers into the shock troops of the alt-right, pumping them full of conspiracy theories and hate speech. Bannon pursued the same project as a senior executive at Cambridge Analytica, the notorious data-mining and online-influence company largely owned by the right-wing billionaire Robert Mercer. According to a former Cambridge Analytica engineer turned whistleblower, Bannon targeted “incels,” or involuntarily celibate men, because they were easy to manipulate and prone to believing conspiracy theories. “You can activate that army,” Bannon told the Bloomberg journalist Joshua Green. “They come in through Gamergate or whatever and then get turned onto politics and Trump.”
We’ve seen the destructive role these dopes play at micro and macro levels, and thanks to deft exploitation by depraved right-wing oligarchs, here we are with a massive national problem that has metastasized beyond any single demographic.
In the Atlantic article, Clinton cites Surgeon General Vivek Murthy’s recent advisories on a “growing ‘epidemic of loneliness and isolation’ threatens Americans’ personal health and also the health of our democracy.” As usual, there are no easy fixes.
Clinton cites hopeful signs, including parents showing up at school board meetings to push back against right-wing book-bans, a revived union movement, people showing up to vote, etc. Her conclusion: “It still takes a village.” She’s usually right.