Dissecting The Rhetorical Strategies Of The Alt-Right
February 5, 2019 9:20 AM   Subscribe

Youtube channel Innuendo Studios (previously) has been running a semi-regular series of videos in which a certain rhetorical strategy employed by the alt-right is dissected and contexualized in order to better understand how they work. The latest, The Card Says "Moops", is an analysis of how chan culture has informed a rhetorical strategy of using whatever argument works, and the subsequent genesis of "Schrodinger's Douchebag".

Previous videos in the series:

  • Control The Conversation: Discusses the strategies used to control the flow of discussions to manipulate the framing.

  • Never Play Defense: An analysis of strategies used to prevent falling back into defense to pressure the opposition.

  • Mainstreaming: Looking at how fringe views are brought into the mainstream to legitimize extremists.

  • The Ship Of Theseus: Using the famous thought exercise to discuss a form of lying through reduction.

  • The Death Of An Euphemism: Continuing with the discussion in Mainstreaming above, this goes more into how extremist rhetoric is normalized.

  • You Go High, We Go Low: A discussion of why "elevating the discourse" doesn't work as a counter.

  • What I Mean By "The Right" : A clarification by the author on what they mean by "The Right".

  • White Fascism: A further elaboration on the meaning of the term.

  • posted by NoxAeternum (22 comments total) 91 users marked this as a favorite
     
    Thanks for posting these - I stumbled across them recently too and really appreciated the straightforward way he lays out the strategies/argument tricks... They're the kind of things I see all the time, and always feel that they're wrong or cheap or manipulative, but never could put my finger on why. It's immensely helpful to see them explained.
    posted by Gordafarin at 9:26 AM on February 5 [2 favorites]


    Well that's just great if those f*ckers ruin the Ship of Theseus metaphor like they pollute everything else onto which they ooze their slime. Grrrr..
    posted by Nerd of the North at 9:30 AM on February 5 [1 favorite]


    Going to watch all of these; thanks!

    Just saw the "Never play defense" video - great deconstruction of how alt-right tactics exploit the left's desire to explain (and bravo for bringing up the West Wing). Wish it had concluded with a recommendation other than "don't play" - but perhaps that's the best advice.
    posted by borborygmi at 9:58 AM on February 5 [1 favorite]


    Nthing that these are well done and worth watching. Looking forward to watching the new one.
    posted by escape from the potato planet at 10:01 AM on February 5


    If it's just me, I'll point, laugh, and get on with my day. If it's in a public forum it's worth going a round (and one round only) just to come out on the side of justice for the audience so there's a breath of fresh air in the thread, then i'll point, laugh, and get on with my day.

    Pretty good videos for folks who may not be able to walk away so easily when Someone is Wrong on the Internet.
    posted by seanmpuckett at 10:13 AM on February 5 [2 favorites]


    "*siiiigh*... it also means Jews"

    Legit LOLed. I am enjoying this presentation style.
    posted by hanov3r at 10:17 AM on February 5 [4 favorites]


    In the "White Fascism" video I was really not expecting to see the removal of rights in the reverse of the order that they were granted compared to the plot of Final Destination 2...Way to meet me at my exact level of pop-culture knowledge!
    posted by doctornecessiter at 10:32 AM on February 5 [3 favorites]


    The Never Play Defense one is golden. I need to rewatch that at the beginning of every semester to remind me of why it's best not to spend lots of time rebutting the fucking idiotic statements my alt-right students make, because it detracts from the cogent points I'm making. God, do we teachers ever fall into the "love to explain" category. And we all think, but it's my job to explain! Well, yes and no. Yes if you're teaching a concept, no if you're just arguing with some derailing troll in your classroom.
    posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:34 AM on February 5 [14 favorites]


    In the "Moops" video he talks about mis-using "rationality" and treating it as an innate quality.

    I think another thing is they've decided that "rationality" is just whether you're less angry than your opponent. Literally, feelings are more important than facts.
    posted by RobotHero at 11:59 AM on February 5 [10 favorites]


    I think another thing is they've decided that "rationality" is always be less angry than your opponent. Literally, feelings are more important than facts.

    It's because someone calm appears to be more "authoritative" than someone who is emotional, even when they're lying.
    posted by NoxAeternum at 12:31 PM on February 5 [4 favorites]


    The fascism one in particular was a revelation for me. Also it made me feel slow. Like, I've been stuck on that old phrase "Fascism should more properly be called corporatism, since it is the merger of state and corporate power", the vague idea that growth and merger of authoritarian manifestations across institutions is involved.

    But comparing fascism with fuedalism and capitalism as organized around the answer to the the question "how do we judge merit and organize our hierarchy" seems to have a lot of power to explain the things that seem to fall out of fascism. And maybe even explains why some of the current crop can't approach the question of their own relationship to the quintessential nazi fascism ("no no, see, they were for *them*, but we're for *us*").

    I like the rest in terms of providing insight but when I'm done, I don't feel like I have much in terms of ideas for what to do, just what not to do because we're learning certain things aren't effective and may even exacerbate the situation.
    posted by wildblueyonder at 2:12 PM on February 5 [1 favorite]


    Erberus linked, a few months ago, to this August 2018 Ian Danskin talk at Indivisible Somerville about how and when to talk to people on the Right. I wrote a quick transcript for friends, of what I considered to be the most important bits:

    5:30 Two biases of average viewer watching a debate: 1. assumes if it's being debated, it's worth debating , 2. status quo bias: majority of audience sides with Bill Nigh, but creationist gains a few more people & Bill Nigh gains nothing. This is part of the long term goal of mainstreaming a fringe belief. Vs "are trans women women?", status quo is "No" so person arguing Yes will need to get more out of it than handful of converts & some legitimacy, 7:00 cuz difference btw a trans activist and a creationist is, creationists don't get murdered for being creationists. When those are the stakes, a debate where a few people swing to your side, but everyone else feels even more strongly, this isn't really a net gain. Only time I recommend a debate is damage control when debate will happen anyway & u know you'll do less damage than the next person on the list.
    12:20 There is this pervasive sense among some liberals that racism is just a big misunderstanding and I just want to sit people down and ask them, "What lesson do you think white supremacy needs to learn . .. What language do you think you're going to find that hasn't . already been articulated by Oluo, Coates, Hooks, Lorde, King, Douglas, Tubman . . . ? If on some level you feel that racism still exists just because black people haven't found the right words to advocate for themselves, . . . ya might be white?
    13:00 Empathy: not something u owe to strangers & many people will treat empathy as validation. If you don't treat their belief in Jewish conspiracy with your belief in.... NOT-that, they'll call u cold & condescending. Don't expect empathy to do all the work & don't let them define empathy.
    15:00 Are u trying to debunk, or persuade? Different things.
    19:00 Standard etiquette on the far right is to say things in such a way that people have different reads on the silence. They want the people who disagree with them to think that they're just being edgy; for the people who agree, they want them to think that they're serious . . . & self-evidently true.
    22:33 Is this person a danger to anyone? Something that had to be explained to me is that a common way for people to vent their frustrations online is to harass [people who they think symbolize the Opposition,] usually women and people of color, & if you get this person all riled up, they may not go after you... but they're going to go after someone.
    posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 2:40 PM on February 5 [9 favorites]


    The claims in "The Card Says Moops" about the unexamined core beliefs of the alt-right apply across the political spectrum. Almost nobody says, "I'm not sure how I feel about (issue X), I don't understand it well enough yet". They (we) mostly use the handy mental shortcut of referring to our tribe's consensus about that topic and defending it with the retorts we've heard others use. Original, consistent thinking is scarce, and humans are extremely bad at dealing with challenges to our worldview / belief systems, since they recontextualize our past into a reality where we were enthusiastically wrong, and reaping that harvest of uncertainty and disorientation really sucks.
    posted by closetphilosopher at 3:31 PM on February 5


    The claims in "The Card Says Moops" about the unexamined core beliefs of the alt-right apply across the political spectrum. Almost nobody says, "I'm not sure how I feel about (issue X), I don't understand it well enough yet". They (we) mostly use the handy mental shortcut of referring to our tribe's consensus about that topic and defending it with the retorts we've heard others use. Original, consistent thinking is scarce, and humans are extremely bad at dealing with challenges to our worldview / belief systems, since they recontextualize our past into a reality where we were enthusiastically wrong, and reaping that harvest of uncertainty and disorientation really sucks.

    And yet only one half of that spectrum is consistently producing nazis.

    (You're not wrong, it's just disingenuous to "but what about the liberals" in a thread specifically talking about the rhetorical strategies of FUCKING NAZIS)
    posted by Mayor West at 4:11 PM on February 5 [9 favorites]


    Almost nobody says, "I'm not sure how I feel about (issue X), I don't understand it well enough yet".
    Don't they? In my experience, it's a pretty common rhetorical trick used by certain (usually alt-Right) types to start wedging/derailing discussion.

    For example, one the other day where the post subject was Jordan Peterson:
    - Disingenuous alt-righter: "Who?"
    - (various people give background on JP)
    - D a-r: "Thank you. Anyone wish to counter that comment so I can establish a POV. I'm being serious, I don't know know this dude outside of the meme."
    - (someone suggests that if they really want to establish their own PoV, they should dig themselves & not rely on other people's opinions)
    - D a-r: "Having the opinions of others can be used as companion pieces to further research. I like to hear two sides to every story. But thank you for your concern."
    - (another person suggests that this site is biased, so d a-r really should do their own research)
    - D a-r: "Fair point. But I don't operate in silence. I force those on either side to share their views in open discussion or I get them to show their true colours through debate. Either way, goes a long way to forming an opinion."

    Disingenuous alt-righter & friends then proceed to bring up various JP talking points throughout the thread, while complaining loudly that everyone else's bias won't let them discuss his ideas reasonably…
    posted by Pinback at 5:24 PM on February 5 [5 favorites]


    I spent hours watching this channel. Great, great stuff.
    posted by DirtyOldTown at 5:46 PM on February 5


    it's just disingenuous to "but what about the liberals" in a thread specifically talking about the rhetorical strategies of FUCKING NAZIS

    Tankies (I wouldn't call them liberals) do rhetoric like this, but fascists do rhetoric like this.
    posted by Joe in Australia at 7:44 PM on February 5 [1 favorite]


    (You're not wrong, it's just disingenuous to "but what about the liberals" in a thread specifically talking about the rhetorical strategies of FUCKING NAZIS)

    No, I'd argue that he is wrong, because I've seen people acknowledge their lack of knowledge on an issue, as well as admit it myself. The argument demonstrates why "tribalism" is such a poor frame - it's an attempt to argue that its membership that primarily informs the views of the members of the group, rather than the other way around. Or in other words, I'm liberal because I hold liberal values - I don't hold liberal values because I'm liberal.

    Now, the argument is made that the alt-right is, to a large degree, has their views driven by membership - but as the video in the OP points out, this is not due to "tribalism", but rather specific environmental aspects of the movement (in particular, the base of chan culture, where individual identity is subsumed by the group by design.) But that's a specific group dynamic, not something that's common to groups.

    In short, "tribalism" as it gets applied to politics is a bad idea that is too often used to put people in boxes so they don't have to be listened to.
    posted by NoxAeternum at 6:32 AM on February 6 [2 favorites]


    Saw the moops video recently, it's very well explained and pretty funny. The last couple of years have really clarified to me how much of what people like the "alt-right" say is just chaff. Not even specific to political arguments, but just in every day life, it's just noise plucked from a box to win whatever is happening right now. It's like children play fighting "oh yeah well I've got bullet proof skin!" but, for everything.
    posted by lucidium at 4:50 AM on February 7 [1 favorite]


    I think the White Fascism video is the best explanation of fascism I've ever seen. It's more specific, and more useful, than Orwell's attempts to grapple with it, and incorporates more of what we know that Umberto Eco's description.
    posted by Merus at 5:17 AM on February 7 [2 favorites]


    I have been arguing on the Internet for ¾ of my life. Since the 80s. Yes, I was young and early on that, but a BBS in my area became what we would later call an "ISP" and I got hooked up to UseNet and IRC and flame wars and oohhhh my.

    I was pretty bad at it as a teenager. I took great delight in point-scoring with "Ha ha sorry, card says moops!" type technicalities. I thought the whole purpose of this ritual was to shame the other side into seeing just how fantastic and clever I was, and admit they were wrong. Or perhaps to get everyone else to join me in a "ha ha look at this guy!" mocking session once it was clear I had Won At Conversation.

    I now argue on Twitter with far greater stakes (literally part of shaping the city I live in), and I long understood the role of a lot of this stuff instinctively in a way that leads me to having earnest private arguments with my allies in back channels. Some key themes are:
    • Your latest reply is a bad look.
      • The person you're arguing with is not the audience!
      • I know you're just having a bit of fun, but you're alienating bystanders into associating your claims with this unappealing thing you said.
    • You're tagging in the wrong people, here.
      • Manage your distribution list. Did you want to say what you just did to each person in there?
      • Start a new post instead of a reply when you want to leave that distribution list and aim the conversation back at your more sympathetic followers.
    • Let them have the last word if it was a bad one!
    • Just keep it short and sweet, and say "No, they were not called The Moops." without embellishing or appearing to take the claim seriously. No detail is worth debating, on that one.
    Striving to affect a calm confidence, and refusing to treat the argument as a rational debate to uncover truth (while simultaneously criticising the other side for breaking the rules of rational debate) is just the way arguments are done on the Internet. Do so few people really understand this?
    posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 6:20 AM on February 13 [1 favorite]


    The Magical Thinking Of The Guys Who Love Logic
    Irrationality, bad faith, and the Alt-Right (The Outline)
    posted by The Whelk at 12:30 AM on February 16 [2 favorites]


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