Exposing Radical Ideas

“Imagine there’s some guy, who we’ll call Joe. Now, Joe has had a shitty, rough life – his father is abusive and rarely employed, his mother is an alcoholic, he lives in a rough area with high immigration. He’s lived in poverty all his life yet, despite the world seeming to go against him, has achieved good grades at his school. Otherwise, Joe lives a relatively miserable, disempowered existence and is bullied at school for his background. Now, one day Joe goes online and finds a Nazi forum. He knows they’re evil, because he’s been taught that at school, and it’s part of his moral compass. However, when he goes on these forums, he doesn’t find the hatred he expects; instead, he finds jokes about how shit the world is and relatively comprehensive information on how to become disciplined. Something in the notion of responsibility and discipline appeals to Joe, who’s had very little structure in his life, so he starts to read more about working out – which he finds out is widely lauded online – and subsequently, reads more of the Nazi forum. He reads information he’s never been given; rather than race being some non-discrete arbitrary bandings, the site says, you can use clustering algorithms to group genetically similar people, and that happens to highly resemble races. He sees that there’s evidence that these groups have different IQs, quite substantially by mean, and wonders why this isn’t debated anywhere. So, he asks – why isn’t this talked about when the evidence is so clear? And he’s told that it’s because leftists are pushing an agenda where they have to conceal evidence which goes against their word. All of a sudden, the Nazis don’t sound so evil – they’re the arbiter of truth, and the only person who’s shown Joe how to feel good about himself, and have seemingly been open and honest about their views. Joe now feels empowered by this, and starts reading more into Nazism – the "Jewish problem", the "problem of Islam" – and sees that every time immigration is mentioned in the media, it’s hushed up. Facts are hidden, races are only shown for white perpetrators and the net result is that this leaves Joe furious. How dare they try to degrade society? And so, bit by bit, Joe becomes more and more radicalised. When people insult Nazis, that’s a personal attack – Joe knows he holds the truth, knows the reality of the situation, because only one group ever gave it to him. People arguing against Nazis are no longer evil to Joe, they’re trying to remove his sole source of empowerment. They’re not just stupid and ignorant about the world, but cruel and malicious to him, personally. So, Joe, the gifted student, has left moderate positions behind and turned into an extremist, with arguments against his position reformed in his mind to attacks on his person.

The reason I’ve given that example is I knew someone at university for whom that could have been a biography, and I’ve talked to other white nationalists who have been through very similar experiences. There’s a clear and ever present danger created by this current culture of refusal to even talk about this stuff; if he’d had any contextualisation of the matter, for example that genetic clustering is also quite arbitrary and not all that useful as an analytical tool, then he probably wouldn’t have radicalised. And yeah, of course it’s right to say that if we allow greater freedom to such proponents, more people might radicalise from it. The basic question, then, is do you think it’s better to allow this sort of thing to affect all disempowered people online, but give them less access, or to actually debate it publicly, give context and stem the flow at the roots, with the proviso that more people are exposed? My view is that the latter is almost always preferable – I don’t believe we can ever stop people being radicalised in totality, and I would rather see the danger coming as it happens that wait for it to manifest in, say, large voting swings to the far right.

I mean, if nothing else, if you don’t understand someone’s true motivation behind their beliefs, and only hear the ex post facto arguments they’ve formed as to why they hold their views, how can you possibly ever win that argument? How can you ever deradicalise them, or convince them that they’re wrong?”

(From https://www.reddit.com/r/europe/comments/8gnimv/crackdown_on_students_silencing_free_speech/dydm9sl/?context=3)