Right Wing Snowflakes & The Anti-Intellectual Dark Web
In the last few days, two revealing events occurred on the stage of what you might call the digital sphere of American politics. When I mention the digital sphere in this context, I’m referring to online platforms through which a number of figures from “commentators” to “cultural critics” have become prominent and influential in framing American political discourse. This digital sphere here is crucial now in politics, especially on the right.
There’s a lot to be said for how these online spaces do indeed provide fertile ground for long form conversations that broach topics otherwise left undissected in the mainstream media. A lot of these conversations should take place, and shutting them down is often a misguided endeavour, and just flat out wrong in certain cases.
Having the temerity to broach taboo subjects is one thing, but it’s never really that simple. If you’re going to base discussions about critiquing feminism, religion and race baiting, you will inevitably attract some of the worst, most bitter and hateful people on the cesspool that is the modern internet. It should come as no surprise then that a lot of the topics attract a following of odious audiences who want more controversial discussions to take place, and eventually it’s hard to discern whether they themselves actually believe in a lot of the controversial views as opposed to (as they often claim) merely wanting the views to get a fair hearing. Irrespective of any of that, the influence and ability for these “alternative influencers” to escalate a YouTube career into a political career is rather alarming. Two YouTubers from the U.K have now graduated to running for UKIP MEP seats, so don’t underestimate how online narratives can generate mass followers happy to transfer their subscriptions to electoral votes. Many figures have gained traction online, a number of which have been included under the collective and indeed cringe inducing rubric of the so called “intellectual dark web”. Here I’m going to talk about two specific figures of the “IDW”, as the two events this week involve them directly and are indicative of the stunning hypocrisy that permeates the behaviour of people who have now made a career out of “DESTROYING” whiny snowflakes who can’t handle disagreement nor can effectively and calmly have “rational” discussions with “opposing” points of view.
The Growth of the Rubin Report- from “Big Ideas” to Right Wing Gatekeeping
Firstly, YouTube talk show host Dave Rubin of the Rubin Report broke through the coveted milestone of 1 million YouTube subscribers. This is a culmination of years where Rubin has amassed a large following online since leaving the progressive Young Turks network. When he left the network and decided to create his own show, Rubin proclaimed that he would be basing his show around “ideas”, not people. It would promote free speech, not censorship. Good will, not bad intentions. It was in short, the antithesis of everything that drove Dave to say that he “left the left”.
As an atheist and liberal free thinker, he hosted a number of guests who talked about the importance of “ideas” and free speech. Deliberately positioning himself as having “come from the left”, Rubin decided that the unique selling point that would grow his show would be an enthusiastic thirst for rigorous discussion with people who he ostensibly disagreed with vehemently on political topics. So he had a number of far right figures like Milo Yiannopoulos (3 times total) and Tommy Robinson (1 time) on. Also engaging with secular thinkers like Sam Harris, a lot of the discussion excoriated the tendency in contemporary academia and media to avoid difficult and “dangerous discussions”.
They framed the normal “mainstream media” paradigm as abdicating its responsibility to embrace free speech, while expressing disbelief at the “lunacy” of some of the behaviour of college students in some of the most prestigious educational institutions in the world. They had some legitimate claims, pointing to preening narcissistic college students making an embarressment out of themselves in trying to pass themselves off as activists on campus. However, Rubin and co. took what were in reality isolated and extreme examples and painted this as a worrying sign of how the left in its entirety had shifted from caring about poor people and gay marriage to caring about the silencing of all white cis men.
This got followers. It cultivated a thirst for live events, content creator collaborations and even formal political action. Hosting platforms like YouTube and Twitter were influential in spreading content. Crowd funding platforms like Patreon helped the people who watched the content pay to keep it going. This became even more important after algorithms and policy enforcement changes on these platforms demonetized the content of many of these independent creators who essentially made day jobs out of their YouTube videos. Incidentally, it is important to note that many of these creators who were known for standing against “political correctness” and “modern feminism” as well as “black lives matter”, used the demonetization to point out a structural bias that these platforms had against conservative thinkers. Essentially, the argument was that the liberal overlords in Silicon Valley, whether influenced by George Soros or their own smug self-righteousness, were clamping down on free thinkers, at the disproportionate disposal of anyone leaning to the right of Trotsky. It was an appealing narrative, and fed into a new wave of anyone who had felt like their views had been marginalized, especially for taking a stance contrary to the PC dogma that now littered workplaces and college campuses across the Western world.
It was also a highly profitable claim. In January 2017, Dave Rubin was averaging over $25,000 per month on Patreon alone. This is aside from the endowments that he had been given from collaborations with Libertarian think tanks like Learn Liberty. This is an organisation with links to the Institute of Humane Studies, in part funded by the highly influential, George Soros antichrist Charles Koch. This collaboration is what prompted numerous opponents and critics of Dave Rubin to suggest that he was now under the financial influence of the Koch brothers, with some YouTube commentators mockingly suggesting he was “high on Koch”. This is a claim that Rubin repudiated on a Sky News interview recently, saying that he wasn’t in fact funded by the Koch brothers, although he wishes he was. As Dave bizarrely pointed out, he “wouldn’t be wearing H&M boxers” if he had access to such a sugar daddy.
Of course, political and ideological movements are often fluid and become factional. It’s perhaps no surprise then that a lot of the followers in the digital sphere of anti – pc commentators, Rubin being one of them, split into various factions. Some who saw themselves as disaffected leftists reverted back to their old tribe. Some who were crusty establishment conservatives got a little turned off by the fact that Rubin was a liberal on some social issues (he repeatedly points out that he is gay married and “begrudingly pro choice” to keep his liberal cred).
Others weren’t happy at the fact that shows like the Rubin Report hadn’t graduated to platform more extreme, ethno nationalist narratives. The group that went in this direction is the group that can be ascribed the commonly misused term “Alt-Right”. However, the Rubin Report never overtly went in that direction. Instead, it became a platform that mainstreamed and intellectualised a mixture of traditional and new right wing ideas. Using a number of young and hip personalities, these shows served a dual function. Firstly, they ushered in consumers of political news who had never voted before, using extreme examples of crazy behaviour to paint a false picture of the “left” more generally. Through this, they could get these young voters in on what became social wedge issues and then play on their malleable and untainted political minds to inculcate Republican Party orthodoxy into this young population of voters.
The attractiveness was sold in spite of some worn out right wing ideas, because it was all made palatable through the use of repeated buzzwords like freedom, diversity of thought, and a free exchange of ideas. The people who began to have these conversations framed the language as if everthing that they were doing was subversive. It appealed to people in part because we do indeed now live in an age where people don’t get away with what they used to be able to say. This is for a number of reasons, but the way that this phenomenon was marketed was to paint a a picture of Soviet style left wing radicals controlling everything that people say in a style not dissimilar from Orwell’s 1984. Words like “decency”, “rational” and “intellectual diversity” were used to conjure up feelings to audiences that the current envirvonment persecuted free thinkers. This was used to drum up the idea that many far right figures had long been misconstrued as hateful, when really they were just decent people who happened to disagree on some policy solutions. This was the essence of the pernicious creep that led to the mainstreaming of increasingly harmful ideas. By selling itself on intellectual curiosity, shows like the Rubin Report naturally catered to increasingly extreme audiences who wanted to see their more extreme views mirrored in the only shows that would conceivably platform such ideas in a cordial, unquestioning manner.
Rubin has consistently prided himself on the false premise that his line up of guests came from different sides of the political spectrum. This is in spite of the fact that he has had on mostly right wing guests. When challenged on this, Rubin will point to isolated incidents where he has hosted progressive of left wing guests.
While this is partly true, the instances pale in significance when compared to those on the right. Also omitted by Rubin is the fact that when he has left wing guests on the show, they are often on specifically to critique and ridicule of left wing and Democratic Party orthodoxy, as well as college campus SJWs, feminism and Islam. As Dave Rubin is an interviewer who shares a lot of these beliefs himself, he was able to craft these anti left wing and de facto right wing narratives by framing his talking points as being critical only of the marginal and extreme ends of the left.
Rubin is also an interviewer who exudes a style of milquetoast passivity. In reality, this is intellectual cowardice, but even playing on his own terms, he doesn’t question his guests near frequently enough. He rarely ever challenges his guests. He has indulged many people who have in some cases raised “questionable” ideas on his show, sitting by laughing and nodding while these guests said whatever they wanted to say, without being fact checked or interrogated on the harm that their hateful and debunked content could spread.
A systematic way in which Rubin did this was to craft a fallacious, bastardised new political spectrum, calling virtually all people who opposed “cultural Marxism” as being on what he called the “new center”. This included, in Rubin’s own words, people like Paul Joseph Watson (a collaborator with conspiracy theorist Alex Jones at Infowars), and Stefan Molyneux, who spends an unusual amount of time delineating the IQ averages between different races. At no point were either of these guests questioned on their contentious beliefs or statements even when Molyneux started talking about racial IQ differences on Rubin’s show. He also had Katie Hopkins on his show. This came after Hopkins made comments about sending out boats with guns to meet migrants in the Mediterranean, and compared Muslim immigrants to cockroaches, even at one point on Twitter calling for a “final solution”. While it still wouldn’t be excusable for Rubin to claim that he was simply unaware of these statements, Rubin made direct reference to the article which prompted the police investigation of Hopkins in his interview with her. He seemed perplexed at how such an innocuous article could elicit such a response. Even the most staunch defenders of free speech would be hard pressed to defend such rhetoric. More than being merely a direct incitement to violence, this is to any person with half a brain, genocidal language.
Well then how did Rubin do all of this and still maintain an image of an objective rational journalist? Put simply- by deception. This is the second part of how Rubin mainstreamed and intellectualised right wing ideas into the American discourse. Rubin’s show and his own ideas have gradually creeped to the right over recent years. This is often done by sanitizing right wing ideas as rational and entirely reasonable talking points. These arguments come to alternative shows because they’re routinely supressed by mainstream gatekeepers. Many people in this space sell the false narrative of left wing dogma in order to squeeze in right wing dogma into public policy. In this way, Rubin not only entices young people into right wing dogma but offers a way for more seasoned voters to repackage their old bigotry under a more palatable sounding set of “new” ideas.
The style here is pre planned and systematic. Rubin has constantly prefaced his discussions with statements that make it seem like the interviewee is considered dangerous by the mainstream while subsequently painting them as entirely reasonable in the interview after. He will say things like “I have a feeling that I’m going to get in a lot of trouble” for doing a certain interview, yet go on to present the interviewee as someone who no rational person would take issue with. Rubin often also comes across as cordial and friendly with his guests. Whether or not you view this as an understandable personal technique rather than a concerted and strategic effort to mainstream bad ideas, the effect is the same. That is, the appearance of good will and palatability allows the controversial person to come across as a misunderstood and unjustifiably deplatformed martyr.
This paves a way for the person to regain credibility and re enter the public debate, often taking along some of Rubin’s audience with them after being unchallenged in the interview. This started off with guests such as Milo Yiannopoulos and Ben Shapiro, but has recently taken a more disturbing turn. For reasons that are too numerous to summarise in one blog post, Rubin himself has become more right wing over the years. This is hardly surprising given the complexion of his guest list. However, in a recent livestream Q+A, he was asked about now President of Brazil Jair Bolsonaro. In a response that somehow came across as both reluctant and enthusiastic, Rubin exhibited the pernicious effects of how the obsession over “anti-pc” commentary poisons contemporary democracy. Rubin mistakenly refers to Bolsonaro as the “Prime Minister” of Brazil, while also attempting a horrendous pronunciation of Bolsonaro’s last name. He then proclaims that while he doesn’t know “a ton about him”, he is impressed at the fact that he “hates Marxism” is getting a lot of the “sjw stuff “ out of the school system. If Rubin does not realize that this commentary is tantamount to a political endorsement, he is either willfully and malignantly dishonest or stunningly ignorant.
These are vituperative and perhaps smug criticisms of the interviewer, but accurate ones. While claiming to loathe the use of “identity politics” Rubin routinely labours the point that is a gay man. Jair Bolsonaro has previously said that he would rather his son die in a car crash than be gay. In addition, he told a congresswoman that she didn’t deserve to be raped by him. His reference to Bolsonaro exorcising the SJW demons out of the public education system is one that played out grimly in a way that illustrates the major misconception here. You see, Bolsonaro recently slashed federal funding for sociology and philosophy departments in public universities. In Rubin’s dumb, Libertarian Kochaine fuelled interpretation of this, this represents taking action to end the “postmodern and intersectional craziness” that he and people like him routinely excoriate. However, what this really represents is an attack on free thought and a reversion to right wing orthodoxy instigated by a leader who openly fetishizes the era of military dictatorship in Brazil. A fascist, all things considered.
Sanitisation and Fear
Rubin will often also supplement this sanitisation with the portrayl of an Orwellian counterpart in the form of what is often called the “regressive left”. This emboldens a scaremongering technique that is all too common in American right wing discourse. It’s precisely the same scare tactic that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney employed to attract a coalition of people that rallied behind the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He will lament that the left have “no willingness to agree to disagree”, and point to a “a fear of saying” what one thinks. In the current “culture of fear” he warns that “this regressive movement will come for all of us”. Rubin postulates that this is simply because “all of the mainstream everything is all being controlled by this horrific ideology that I truly belief could alter and destroy this country” and “all of the freedoms that we have”. This is despite the glaring oversight that in the most recent general election, the Republican Party won both congressional and the senate majorities, while also sending one of the most anti-pc Presidential candidates into the White House. It’s also not to mention that the Trump administration has led to two and possibly three new Justices on the Supreme Court, both conservative, with one successfully resisting a targeted campaign to stop his confirmation. Aside from any and all of the subsequent policies that run contrary to what the social justice lefties want, Rubin’s narrative that the left have all of the institutional power is deconstructed with only the most basic level of policy awareness.
It was mentioned above that Rubin is gay. This shouldn’t be of any significance. In fact, you probably shouldn’t even know this about the man if you ever watch one of his videos. Why? Because Dave Rubin and people like him are united against one thing more than anything. That is, the dreaded ‘identity politics’. Rubin, and people like Jordan Peterson, Sam Harris, Milo Yiannopoulos and Ben Shapiro (who we will come to next), routinely argue against what they consider a toxic trend of identity politics. In the context of political discussions, what they essentially mean is that you shouldn’t weaponise your ethnicity, gender, religion or sexual orientation to argue for something in public policy or to advance some intellectual movement. This has previously culminated with Rubin quoting Martin Luther King Junior’s famous denunciation of racism, arguing that if he were alive now, King would probably be a conservative. The false equvilence between misguided faux activism on college campuses and the legitimate civil rights movements is one of the many instances that point to the terminal ignorance of many paid right wing talking heads.
Of course this is because the crazy lefties only care about identity, vilifying white men and fetishising the furthest thing away from it, in spite of the “ideas”. When responding to claims that he’s a right wing shill, he routinely brings up that he’s a gay married man, as if this somehow negates his right wing beliefs. In any event, someone so vehemently opposed to identity politics shouldn’t be using their sexuality as a means of explaining or justifying their political and ideological stance. Returning to the previously mentioned deception the he employs, he also points to how he is an advocate of single payer health care while simultaneously doing everything he can to advance free markets and complain about anything remotely resembling a socialist policy.
Perhaps the most hypocritical aspect of Rubin is that he is extremely defensive and sensitive when questioned about his editorial choices. On a recent interview he angrily denied equating right wing “race realist” Stefan Molyneux with the aforementioned “new center”. This is despite the fact that there is video evidence of him doing so on multiple YouTube clips. Rubin also routinely labels is critics as “trolls”, who want to just smear his good name in lieu of any sincere criticism. In addition, he habitually turns down opportunities to talk to people on the left who criticise him, such as Ezra Klein of Vox, who Rubin dismisses as a “bad actor”. This is yet another way in which right wing commentators like him can maintain the integrity and influence of their ideas. That is, they will smear people who disagree with them as being dishonest and malicious trolls, in order to avoid having the validity of their ideas challenged in a way that might make them look bad. Rubin has been challenged to debates again and again by prominent Majority Report host Sam Seder, but Rubin refuses this challenge on the basis that Seder’s producer called him an idiot and insulted his ideas. This is coming from the person who makes a career of talking about how sensitive college snowflakes are when challenged by people with whom they disagree.
This is pathetic nonsense. College students are young, and their ideas are often largely inconsequential in the context of shaping electoral outcomes. Rubin is a fully grown man whose content influences the ideas of millions of people. This kind of influence means that you cannot afford to be this thin skinned. If you are involved on such a large scale in the promotion and discussion of important ideas, you will be challenged, and in some cases insulted derisively. This is unfortunate, but a reality of life. A reality of life that people like Rubin can’t seem to live by when it comes to their own thoughts, their own ideas, and their own accountability being taken to task.
Ben Shapiro: From “Facts Don’t Care About Your Feelings” to Feelings Before Facts
This leads us to the other piece of news in the last few days that merits the same kind of attention, and yields the similar observations. Andrew Neil of the BBC interviewed another intellectual dark web member, Ben Shapiro. The YouTube clip has now been viewed millions of times online. The link here between our friend Dave Rubin and Ben Shapiro is that they have collaborated multiple times. Shapiro has been on Rubin’s show at least seven times in total, eclipsing any other guest apart from perhaps Jordan Peterson who Rubin is seemingly obsessed with in what can only be described as a religious cult of personality that Peterson has developed in such circles.
Shapiro, an orthodox follower of Judaism, has told Rubin multiple times that he wouldn’t attend his gay wedding, nor go along to any event which in any way “glorified” his homosexuality. A sentiment that Rubin seems not too bothered by, given the importance of the “battle of ideas” and the need to “agree to disagree”. This is despite the brief oversight that if people like Shapiro had it his way, Rubin wouldn’t have the civil rights as a homosexual man that his left wing enemies fought so hard for. It’s ok though, because Shapiro assuaged his concerns by telling him that he also wouldn’t go to a wedding where a Jew married a non-Jew. This is the modern repackaging of traditional bigotry in action.
Unlike Rubin, Shapiro has been seen as a far more forceful and prominent actor in the American right. Despite many people thinking of him as a right wing loon, few people have the credibility to deny that Shaprio has intellectual firepower. He was a nationally syndicated columnist since the age of 17, and attended both UCLA and Harvard University, graduating early in both cases. His older work is littered with Zionist extremism, advocating for the physical expulsion of Palestinians out of the West Bank, and at one point referring to “Arabs” as “living in sewage”. However, insofar as he could, Shapiro remodelled himself as a tamer figure. That is until you google his name. Look up his name on YouTube and you will no doubt be met with titles such as “Ben Shapiro DESTROYS FEMINIST”, and “BEN SHAPRIO UTTERLY DEMOLISHES MARXIST STUDENT”. The message is clear here, Shapiro owns the libs. He markets himself on a brand that quite literally embodies the slogan “facts don’t care about your feelings”. In other words, let’s have a serious discussion and leave your emotions at the door.
Cue Andrew Neil. By anyone’s estimates, a centre-right leaning political interviewer and journalist. He’s a bit shy of the archetypal toffee nosed Jacob Rees-Mogg Tory, but certainly no leftie. He was heavily involved in the founding of the Spectator magazine, which is probably the British answer to William F. Buckley’s National Review in the States. He regularly has right leaning pundits on his show and has had a number of segments that have made Labour lefties like Diane Abbott look rather foolish.
Neil on his BBC show made the decision to host Ben Shapiro for what was presumably meant to be a half hour segment. The more I reflect on it, the more I realise that this was one of the most important parts of Shapiro’s career. This was the first major exposure to a British and European audience. In the same way that Jordan Peterson raked in the views when he “SAVAGED” Cathy Newman on Channel 4, this was Shapiro’s signature interview to further broaden his already impressive audience numbers.
What ensued was complete, unmitigated right wing snowflakery. Andrew Neil, as he does with many guests, put reasonable but challenging questions to the conservative pundit. He asked Shapiro whether the Trump element within the Republican Party had essentially taken over Shaprio’s wing of the G.O.P. Ben essentially conceded this, but passed it off as a temporary measure and said that the damage to the fabric of the United States that Trump caused had already taken effect anyway. A cynical, but perhaps understandable perspective given how ideologically driven the former Breitbart Editor has proven himself to be.
The moment where the interview got tetchy is when Neil essentially dismissed Shapiro’s assertion that any new ideas are coming from the right in American politics. While conservatism is indeed often based on an ideology that preserves policy ideas rather than synthesise new ones, the point failed to appreciate that there is some diversity within at least the Republican Party, including a younger generation that do seem to have less in common with the type of philsophy that Shapiro adheres to. So in some ways, it’s a question framed by a narrow-minded view of the American right. But Shapiro made his first critical error here. He let his emotions drive his response based on the false (and very ignorant) assumption that the interviewer was a far left wing loon who hated him simply because he was on the right. He responded by saying “to suggest that the right is bereft of ideas” was “intellectual sneering of the highest order”. “Triggered” by any chance?
Shapiro cited “A hunger for different ideas” in explaining why he has accumulated such a large following, but where the real trouble began is when Neil makes a perfectly reasonbale transition into dissecting some of the contemporary ideas that have come out of the Republican Party recently.
Neil referred to new abortion laws brought into Georgia at the state level which seeks to impose severe prison time for women who solicit abortions. This is a common theme across many red state legislatures in the U.S at the moment, in the hope that an increasingly stacked conservative Supreme Court will give a ruling which effectively overturns the seminal Roe v Wade case. In probing Shapiro’s take on the issue. Neil calls these “extreme hard policies” capable of taking us ‘back to the dark ages”. Shaprio’s immediate response is to attack the interviewer. He flat out asks Neil if he’s an objective journalist. He then asserts that Neil is a “supposedly objective journalist” implying that Neil is lying about his political leanings. He then fails to address any of the substance of the question that was put to him and expresses his indignant disbelief at how Neil could be so egregious as to call ideas he disagrees with “barbaric”. When asked again about his stance on the abortion legislation, Shapiro responds simply by saying that ” my answer is science, life begins at conception and human life ought to be protected.” No fleshing out, no willingness to articulate his position. Instead, Shapiro responds with the kind of childish, narcisstic, ad hominem riddled diatribe that he has made a career out of bashing.
It all culminates with Shapiro cutting the interview short, leaving a bitter taste and perhaps fatal tale of his venture into audiences and interviews beyond the United States. After refuting the allegation that he himself is part of the “coarsening” of the American political discourse, Shapiro goes on to prove Neil’s thesis by poisining the interview with an astoundingly pathetic and immature retort. Not before he asserts to Neil that the only reason for his aggressive questioning is that “I’m popular and nobody has heard of you”. This is, as Trump would say, “WRONG”. But even at that, it’s a laughable thing to say in what was supposed to be a serious interview.
It’s important to mention that Dave Rubin in the last week has spent his time tweeting at different journalists who he perceives to be far left wing smear merchants. He has called people like congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez dumb, and yet simulatenously he has simultaneously explained his lack of hosting any progressive interviewees on his show on account of such people being mean to him and lying about him. Although Rubin won’t find time to bring on any left wing guests who might hurt his feelings by challenging his “ideas”, he has however found time to invite back on the show conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich. Google his comments about rape and women, and remind yourself that many of the same commentators who are preaching about the need for civil discourse, are still insisting on the need for people like this to be given platforms online.
There could be an entire series on the hypocrisy of these individuals. There’s a lot to be said for digging in to the effects of these online echo chambers on democracy, but perhaps that’s for another day. The important thing to remember here is that when you look at leading “intellectual dark web” figures like Rubin and Shapiro, the narrative that they spread is deceptive by design. They will claim to be about spreading ideas, diversity of thought and civil conservation. This is not the case. These individuals are very often either motivated by big financial endowments from right wing funders, or repackaging old bigotry to new audiences. These are the people that are about rational discussion, no silly feelings and serious intellectual debate. They are against echo chambers, group think, and for political and intellectual diversity. They are also liars. They are, the right wing snowflakes.