Recently one of my favorite YouTubers made a series of videos that went full on Redpill. I’ve been watching his videos here and there for a while now, and though I didn’t always agree with his point of view, I always enjoyed watching him tackle a variety of subjects with charm, honesty, if not a bit of naivete. But his most recent series of videos fully, angrily embraced some very dangerous ideas that are quite common amongst the alt-right crowd.
I was shocked.
My first instinct was to send him a message, or write a comment in the hopes of enlightening him about the flaws in his arguments. I wanted my old friend back. The guy who showed me the world through the eyes of an open hearted, unassuming, curious guy from another part of the globe was not this shouting, angry, jerk.
How could a decent human being from half way around the world get swept up into white nationalist rhetoric and pseudo science? How could a curious, unassuming guy turn into an angry jerk yelling at people he’s never met about wrongs that have nver happened to him? But most importantly…
How can we get people like him, back into the land of the civil and the sane?
If you don’t know what redpill is, it’s taken from a scene from the Matrix when Morpeus offers Neo two pills. The red pill will set him free and show him what the Matrix really is. The blue pill will put him to sleep and he will wake up in bed the next day as if nothing ever happened. The idea here being that the red pill offers the truth, regardless of how jarring and horrible it may be. People who subscribe to the redpill ideology beleive that they are rejecting social conventions in favor of some greater truth.
The actual truth is that mostly they are a collection of far right wing enthusiasts who favor ideas such as
- the creation of ethno-states (cause that always works out sooo well)
- the biological superiority of some “races” above others
- the cultural inferiority of some “peoples” compared to others
- the subjugation of men by women (particularly feminists)
- everything they’ve been told about gender, race, and politics is a lie
Often, they start as anti-feminists. Mostly, they are men who are struggling with a shifting world where the norms and sense of place that they grew up with no longer apply. They feel betrayed and angry at reality and they are looking for ways to put things back the way they were. You know, before the feminists, race baiters, immigrants, liberals, elitists, etc. took over.
But let me begin by saying this, YOU CANNOT REASON PEOPLE OUT OF THIS MINDSET.
You can’t use facts to change their minds because facts don’t change minds.
“But, Safura, I change my mind when I get new information.”
No, you don’t. You change your mind because your ethical compass pulls towards fairness and “do no harm”. You are looking for new information and ways of being better. You don’t accept information that seems to stray away from those two values. But what if your ethical compass valued something else over fairness or doing no harm? Something like respect for authority, or belonging to a group, or even preserving tradition. If that was what you valued most, you’d be looking for information that reenforced those ideas.
So how do you cure somebody who has slipped down the rabbit hole and landed in a world where the most vile ideas about race, gender, and politics are tauted as “the truth”?
- Don’t argue. Deconstructing their arguments or confronting them with facts won’t change their minds. Statistically speaking, its more likely to make them cling to their assertions. In many cases what they are experiencing is a sense that what you are attacking is them, and like any animal, their sense of self preservation will win the day. Simply put, they aren’t ready to hear you. Any definitive facts that you could bring to bear in the argument would only be dismissed. I once heard a man call slavery, systemic racism, and colorism “fake news” and “bullshit”.
- Appeal to their skepticism. My mother once called me, paniced because her friend showed her “proof” that people were injecting fruit with HIV positive blood. I wanted to laugh, but I knew that she would just get angry. So instead I appealed to her skeptism. How long can HIV live in blood outside of the body? Is it susceptible to changes in temperature? What about PH? How long ago did we buy fruit? In the end, I promised her they I would cut open my fruit before eating it just in case there was blood inside because “nobody wants to eat blood”. It wasn’t facts that changed her mind. It was skepticism.
- This one is going to sound silly, but studies show that people who read fiction, especially literary fiction, are more empathetic. I remember reading When We Were Puerto Rican in high school. It was my first real look into the hispanic experience in America. It changed the way I viewed not only my hispanic neighbors, but recent immigrants from all over the world. Literary fiction is about examining the human experieince and finding some level of truth. The truth, that we are more alike and more connected than we think, is often missed by people who swallow the red pill. Like my friend, the anger, isolation, and vitriol can prove too difficult for any one person to break through. But, books have a transformative power that boggles the mind. A well written book might be jut what your friend needs to help overcome some of the issues that led them to this dark place in the first place.
- Get them out into the world. Remember that nothing changes people like experience. Meet new people. Hear their stories. Share a meal with friends. Honestly, many of these people are looking for community and they find it online with people who are just as upset as they are. But more than that, meeting the people who they think of as the source of their problems will help them realize that the problem is really within.
- Encourage them to take responsibility. Many times a series of failures precipitates the journey into this alt-right space. The same way that young men who fail in school are more likely to get involved with crime, the people who fail at life (or so they think) are easy pickings for the alt-right. Its easier to say you can’t get a job because of immigrants than to admit that the jobs that you thought you wanted are in a disappearing sector, or that you didn’t equip yourself with the necessary tools to tackle a changing economy. It’s easier to blame women for your disappointing love life than to reflect on how your own issues make it hard to maintian a solid relationship. But the moment you do those things, the arguments held by the alt-right begin to crumble.
- Admit that life isn’t fair. Sometimes you try hard and still fail. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. That’s life. Its nobody’s fault. But if its nobody’s fault then its all of our responsibility to make life a little easier for each other. Once your infected friend embraces that idea, you are home free.