There is little question that mankind’s track record is disheartening, to say the least, when it comes to averting the negative consequences of mass hysteria. From Solomon Asch’s famed experiments on groupthink to the ‘banality of evil’ that Hannah Arendt meditated on in her famous Eichmann in Jerusalem, our gleeful complicitness with evil shines through time and time again as more a rule than an exception. Its our hubris, our forgetfulness and our fear of ostracism, that causes the genteel among us to dig in our heels against even the mildest notion of dignifying our foe – our shadow – with an ounce of humanity. This is the bane of human history, and it is something we will sadly remain ignorant of except for once each nightmare has already ended. Full stop.
This is also the pattern we are sadly watching play out, here and now. As the war on racism wears on intractably, as it has our whole lives and with the mirage of success receding perpetually from view, the alt-right has descended onto the scene like a black swan. While for many of us it serves as a convenient scapegoat for the ongoing failure of the war on racism, it could just as well be interpreted as a by-product of that same war on racism, and a sign that we are at an historical crossroads and that there may well be more black swans to come. When an ideology, such as Antiracism, creates its own bogeyman, then it has entered into a negative feedback loop that ensures its own demise.
Efforts to suppress the alt-right as we have attempted heretofore, such as through censorship, de-platforming, exclusion and intimidation, are necessarily doomed to backfire. As long as their viewpoints and personal experiences are deemed automatically invalid – “They espouse race-realism and the like only because they’re consumed by racial hatred!” – then there will only be increased rates of disenfranchisement and radicalization among whites males. This hearkens to a 2015 op-ed by President Obama in which he argues, in this case regarding Jihadism, that “efforts to counter violent extremism will only succeed if citizens can address legitimate grievances through the democratic process and express themselves through strong civil societies. ” If we do not permit this timeless wisdom to enjoy universal applicability, instead refusing to parse the alt-right’s legitimate grievances from their illegitimate grievances, and de-humanizing all and everyone involved as ‘racist’, then this struggle may well evolve into a much wider conflict. Those who would dare to sympathize outwardly with the alt-right are merely the tip of an iceberg; believe it or not, this iceberg is human, and it is not wrought solely from irrational or baseless hatred.
The saddest turn of phrase in the whole of the English language is the post-war mantra, “Never again.” It’s the saddest phrase because it illustrates how we as a species keep making the same mistakes. By trying so forcefully to prevent something from happening again – from literally happening again – we fail to see the forest for the trees, and we hammer an old moral melodrama over the heads of people born into a starkly different social reality from the one that preceded it. The alt-right is certainly dreaming of a civil war, but they’re not the only ones.