I’m a big fan of the podcast Lovett of Leave it, brought to us by the chaps and dames at Crooked Media.
A weekly round up of the American political situation, packed into 40 minutes of hilarity as well as experienced insight into Washington’s machinations. The panel varies from political leaders, grassroots activists and organisers, writers and comics, and an impressive representation of identities. On this episode, John speaks to author, screenwriter and journalist Laurie Penny.
As the most amateur of hacks, capable only really of repetition, I thought I’d transcribe a few bits and pieces. Re-listening and typing these prose out was a joy in itself.
Gays Against Equinox, 10 August 2019
How much is the internet, in your mind, to blame for someone like the El Paso shooter’s radicalisation?
It’s very difficult to say how much the internet, as a sort of total entity, is involved in any phenomenon because there’s barely any phenomenon in our lives – for example, buying shoes – where the internet is not, in some way, involved.
One of my favourite quotes on this is by Melvin Kranzberg, who says, ‘technology is neither good nor bad, nor is it neutral’. You can’t say of any situation, “the internet is bad for young men” or “the internet is good for young men” because the same internet where this culture of white supremacy is fostering is also the same internet where young, queer and trans teenagers are able to find each other and explore their identities and find support groups; this is all happening on the same forum. It’s not just about the technology, it’s about the mood.
But one thing I think is important, when people talk about white supremacists and Nazis, what a lot of people I know are still imagining in their heads is people with uniforms, people marching, people with one manifesto; and they say, “when those people turn up, I’ll be ready”. But the thing is that those people are already here and the nature of the network, the nature of the internet, means that they don’t need a party anymore. Why would you join a party when you can be involved in that kind of community, you can be welcomed into a story that says you’re big and powerful and heroic, and you can be part of this grand narrative? You don’t need to join a party for that anymore. It’s distributed fascism. A sort of gig economy fascism. The real Nazis are already here and that’s what the internet does, it allows that to be networked.
So, we’ve just seen one company refuse to work with 8chan – 8chan quickly found another home. What role does government regulation have in trying to cordon this part of the internet off or make it harder for these communities to form?
‘Cos there are, you know, speech implications, right? That’s one of the great defences that’s offered. Ya know, people have a right to their First Amendment expression.
Yeah, well, that’s one of the things that’s always confused me about America, to be honest.
Umm, sorry, you’re looking at me like I’ve just hit your baby. I don’t know if you have a baby, I’m really sorry.
I don’t – other than the First Amendment. (and a dog, a very sweet dog)
But honestly, the idea that “free speech” is an absolute defence to incitement of violence, I think absolutely needs to be challenged.
So, we have now this metastasising, contagious idea that spread amongst people looking for this community, right? This idea that this glorious way of killing yourself, killing others, going out in this big way, right?
There’s research that shows that there is this social contagion aspect, that these happen in clusters. This is something that Zeynep Tufecki writes about that this spreading idea is hard to contain. What do you see as the ways to contain it? Obviously, in the media, it’s about not sensationalising and glorifying what these people do – not elevating their manifestos, not using their names – but what do you do about these online communities?
Well, I think it’s beyond time 8chan was shut down, to be honest. I mean people who make this decision to publish this sort of disgusting nonsense and to host these kinds of disgusting communities ought to be held accountable, they should. Just because they’re technically allowed to do it doesn’t mean that it should be considered morally decent or morally good. I don’t believe, correct me if I’m wrong, but those sights weren’t taken offline because new laws were made or implemented; they were taken off line because the people who ran them were shamed into doing so, right – because they don’t want to be involved in that stuff. I think it’s a good way forward. It’s a change in ethics rather than a change in laws. It’s not just about implementing laws, it’s about implementing social norms.
I don’t think that’s a way of chickening out, to be honest. I think we should have been asking long, long ago. It shouldn’t have taken three manifestos, posted on 8chan, for people to think, “Mmm, maybe we should really shut this down” and “who knows who runs that sight anyway, maybe we should talk to him”. It’s a bit late.
We’re in a debate that often talks about masculinity and I think we hear a lot about toxic masculinity. We hear a lot about the ways in which masculinity manifests itself in harmful ways but it does seem like part of what is going on here is people who are unmoored in some way, seeking out a kind of masculinity that makes them feel strong, that makes them feel powerful. What role do you think that is playing in what’s happening/in what’s radicalising these boys?
It has everything to do with it. It’s the thing that links together white supremacists, links together Islamic extremists from the so called Islamic state, it links together the two shooters from this week. They came from different places in terms of everything politically apart form the fact that they agreed that they hated women and misogyny is really often the gateway, it’s the gateway to everything. I mean, women were raising the alarm on the internet in 2014/2013. We were saying, “We are being harassed. We’re getting waves of rape and death threats and these people are serious. It is this gamified, disgusting, commodified, objectifying cult. A cult of modern misogyny.” And people said to us, “Oh, nono nonono, you’ve got to grow a thick skin. It’s these young men in their parents’ basements. They don’t mean it”.
Now firstly, I want to stand up for young men in their parents’ basements cos I know a lot of young men who literally live in their parents’ basements and play video games and rarely get laid and do not go on shooting sprees and are very gentle, kind people.
Yeah, like some of them are just there cos its prom night and its time to play Mario Kart. Cos what else are they gonna do… but play Mario Kart… on Prom night.
Come to ‘Lovett or Leave It, Radio City’, September 13
I’m really happy things worked out for you.
So far, yeah.
You turned out alright, see.
But, umm, the idea that men are entitled to own women and that young men are entitled to a certain kind of sex with a certain kind of woman and, if they don’t get it, they’re entitled to take revenge on the entire world and on the female sex in particular, that’s universal across these little cesspools of radicalisation, whatever the other politics. That’s often a sort of gateway drug to the other hardcore stuff for white supremacy because, you know, when people are recruiting young men to become Nazis, they don’t just wonder up and say, “Would you like to be a Nazi, today?”, because everybody knows, well most people now know, that Nazis are the bad guys – that’s why people don’t like to be called Nazis still. But what they say, instead, is, “Do you ever think women whinge too much? Ya know, do you ever think… I mean… look at what she’s wearing. Don’t you think like a guy like you should be having a better kind of life?” That’s what they say. I’ve been to their rallies and that’s what they lead with. They lead with this weird parochial idea of what women are and what men are entitled to be and do to them and that violence is not exclusive to the alt-Right or the far Right. That undercurrent of misogyny is everywhere in American culture, it’s everywhere in British culture, and one of the reasons people haven’t taken it to task earlier is because what these young men are saying is a more extreme version of what people are saying in non-Nazi communities and that attitude has become normalised and I think that’s very frightening. I think the trouble is that analysing that current forces all of us to look at ourselves and to look at the men in our lives and people we love and that is very, very uncomfortable.
It’s also about guns.
One final question, AOC gave a speech talking about these issues and one thing she said that I thought I hadn’t heard anyone else really say is she spoke directly to those who are becoming radicalised, who maybe do feel, whether they know they feel lost or not, are in a sense lost and she said we’re here and we love you and you can come back.
Do you think there’s value to a kind of openness to seeing people who have been lost to these communities as retrievable and loveable and people who need to be brought back, if only to protect us from how these communities are festering?
That is a really interesting and important question. I think there is value in offering people a dignified bridge and it is very smart what AOC’s doing there but it can’t be the only answer. You have to have both. You have to have the combination of somebody saying, “If you want to step back into decency and common sense, then we’ll be here, we’ll let you do that”, but you’ve also got to have people saying, “this behaviour is not acceptable, you get one chance”.
We treat all men like children, let’s be honest. In terms of their emotions. We don’t expect them to take any kind of emotional responsibility and this is an entire movement founded on the basis that people are too cowardly to handle their emotions like adults.
They experience their feelings as facts.
I think if there’s one thing we could change in terms of how we discuss the undercurrents of emotion and isolation a in this society, it’s to just tell these young men again and again that, just because they feel that every woman in the world is out to get them, doesn’t mean that its true.
One of the things they say again and again is, “Fuck your feelings!”, but their feelings are unassailable. It’s the most astonishing act of projection. They experience every feeling as god’s honest truth.
It’s very odd.
Thank you so much, Laurie Penny.
Laurie used to write for the Guardian and was recommended to me by a friend several years ago. I disagreed with the article I read so didn’t bother reading her again. The extraordinary disquisition above has certainly given me cause to reflect upon my over-confident judgement and pretentiously zealous purity.
Europe is facing insidious soft-coercion from hostile foreign agents. The greatest irony being that this threat to national sovereignty is distilling through the politics of “globalised” nationalist movements.
A truly brilliant article, shining a light upon our darkest threats.