7 Reasons The World Is Full Of Hate Groups And Cults
Some of you lucky bastards just recently heard the term "incel" for the first time, after somebody who apparently identified as such killed ten goddamned people in Toronto. Incel, for you even luckier people who still haven't heard, is short for "involuntarily celibate." It's the adopted label for a group of enraged young males who believe the women of the world conspire to deny them the sex and intimacy they require to live a normal life.
The community is so toxic that their subreddit got shut down (and that takes a LOT, trust me). The Toronto attacker was apparently a fan of Elliot Rodger (another incel who went on a killing spree in 2014).
What the shit? Am I crazy, or does every little thing spawn a weird hate group these days?
YES, IT DOES. We need to get a grip on why.
Suddenly, Everything Is A Cult
So a person you love has become a huge fan of ... a thing. A YouTube personality, or a podcaster, or a show, whatever, it's fine. But soon, they start getting really angry at anyone who criticizes the object of their fandom -- like, weirdly angry. Then they begin mindlessly repeating catchphrases, jargon, and slogans. They change their everyday habits and dress, apparently to conform to guidelines they've been issued. Finally they start making broad, strident statements about how the modern world has gone wrong.
At some point, you cock your head and think, "Wait, are they in a cult?"
For example, right now, my social media is full of references/rebuttals to a guy named Jordan Peterson, a self-help guru who wrote a runaway bestseller called 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote To Chaos, which is massively popular among a certain set of young dudes these days. (Hint: He thinks young males are suffering due to the evils of modern feminism.) Here's the best video about him on YouTube.
I'm using him as my example of "Wait, is this a cult?" fandom because Peterson himself believes that humans have been designed by evolution to need the stuff that religion provides, that we seek out an authority who will create order from the chaos of life. Oddly enough, his own success is almost proof of this -- as soon as an articulate person comes along with a compelling message, millions flock to hang on their every word. That message can be anything from "Western culture must be defended" to "Feminists are ruining Star Wars" to "Pizza restaurants are a front for child trafficking."
Another example: Infowars. From the outside, it just seems like a goofball conservative conspiracy site and YouTube channel. But dig into it, and you see that it's promoting an entire framework of belief about religion, politics, diet, and fitness ...
... and the promise of a waiting community of like-minded people:
At their core, they usually have one common denominator: The idea that society used to be beautiful centuries ago, but powerful, shady people have turned it all to shit.
It Starts With A Void That Needs Filling
I hate when people call anything they don't like a "cult." Apparently, Apple users are a cult, and gun nuts are a cult, as is cryptocurrency, and feminism. It's another word rendered useless for anything but bland insults. So it would be sensationalist to say that the internet is now a collection of cults competing to indoctrinate our teens. They're not all cults, and they're not all "hate groups" -- some of them are just teenagers who really like Rick And Morty. Or rather, they really like identifying as Rick And Morty fans.
What we do have is an explosion in the number of, let's say, tight-knit groups that each push a specific worldview, and which recruit by playing on people's fears and insecurities. They always promise to fill a specific hole that is very common in the lives of 21st-century young people by offering them:
A) An explanation for how the world works, and by extension, why you should bother waking up in the morning -- it's usually framed as some sort of battle you must join;
B) Instructions for how to live your day-to-day life;
C) A social group you can hang out with and be proud of.
These aren't just fandoms or shared interests. They may start that way, but I'm specifically talking about the ones that turn their cause into an identity and lifestyle, to the point where eventually the tribe exists primarily to protect itself against the normies who would destroy it. Some are destined to end in blood, but most are harmless and their members will grow out of it after college. (I don't expect Joe Rogan's fans to try to blow up a building or anything.)
Now, there are plenty of stories in the news media about how sites like Reddit are being used to radicalize young white men, or how Facebook is still an ISIS recruitment tool. And there was just an article about the sudden explosion of right-wing YouTube personalities (they referred to it as "The Intellectual Dark Web"). But I think they're all missing the larger issue, which is that there are certain recruitment techniques that are now pervasive because they're proven to work. The internet has become a vast ocean of groups, causes, and personality cults, all of them trying to profit by filling a societal void.
What void? Well, for much of American history, people were generally forced into a faith as children and told not to question it. Then, around the 1960s, church attendance started to drop, and with that came an explosion in alternative belief systems (if you watch movies from that era, this is why you see lots of jokes about Hare Krishnas trying to recruit people at airports). You got yoga, Transcendental Meditation, palm readers, 900 people drinking poison at a goddamned jungle compound. Some think the UFO craze was just another one of these, another way to fill the natural desire for a "higher power."
It also marked the rise of the self-help guru -- guys like Peterson, usually pushing books with list titles like The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People. All trying to fill the hole which old-style Christianity left behind. (NOTE: I am not advocating going back to that, holy shit.) Some of the replacements were great, others merely harmless, but some were poison, based entirely on fictional villains and inflamed grievances. They're the ones the headlines would grant the "cult" or "hate group" tag.
Well, the era of social media has accelerated this process a thousand times over. The methods for indoctrinating insecure teens and adrift adults have been refined into a universal sales tactic to push everything from racism to hoodies. Everything is framed as a lifestyle, a guiding principle. I realize this is getting heavy, so let's take a break for this lighthearted music video in which a child raps about how Logan Paul's merch line helped him change his life.
The system has gotten great at indoctrination; the methods for teaching kids to resist it have not kept up.
And hey, maybe the worst that happens to this kid is that he buys a couple of T-shirts and embarrasses himself in a video. Or maybe he'll get sucked into something so toxic that it ruins his ability to have normal relationships. One way or another, we need to be paying attention.
You Can't Just Shut Them Down
Every word written prior to the year 2005 on this subject is utterly fucking worthless. None of that is going to help you now.
Yet within my social media bubble of mostly good-hearted leftists, the answer to "How do we stop kids from getting sucked into weird hate groups" is the same as it was 70 years ago: Physically stop groups from recruiting in real life, shut down their rallies with baseball bats, block them from sharing their ideas in public. So when you get a guy like Charles Murray (the Bell Curve guy) speaking on a college campus about why black people are genetically inferior, they show up en masse to physically stop him from talking.
This is a source of utter panic on the right, with talk of the death of free speech on college campuses (please note that Murray went right back on the public speaking circuit afterward without issue), while the left pushes even harder to "de-platform" hate speech. But all I can ask is ... do you think this is how the indoctrination happens? A boring old fart droning at 50 people on a college campus?
That's like a mother in 2018 boasting that her 17-year-old son has never seen porn.
"Oh no, he tried to go to an adult movie theater once, but I took his car keys."
"But what about his computer? Or phone?"
"Phone? Can you call pornography now?"
Here's the deal: Four years ago, I followed a tweet about a video game controversy back to a gaming message board, and within 30 seconds saw posters with this in their forum signatures:
They were talking about how video game feminism was one more example of the International Jew destabilizing the West via Cultural Marxism. They didn't get that shit from a rally in the park. A bunch of 15-year-olds can be hanging around talking about anime and effortlessly segue into a discussion of how Western women should be submissive like the Japanese supposedly are, or how Japan is the model of a racially pure ethnostate. You think you can stop those discussions at the source? How?
And yeah, I'm fine with Reddit shutting down the incels subreddit, along with all of the other hate subreddits they killed. I wouldn't want to host that stuff in my place of business either. But thinking that actually stopped those movements is like declaring the car fixed because you taped over the "Check Engine" light.
Teens Automatically Assume Censored Speech Is Both Truthful And Compelling
If a member of Congress took to the floor, held up a copy of my last book, and said, "I implore Americans to stop buying and reading this filth. It features depravity I cannot describe in public, and at one point there's a river of disembodied butts," Amazon's stock of it would be sold out in minutes. Convince Amazon to drop the book, and readers would get it from indie bookstores. Convince the publisher to stop printing it, and bootleg copies would appear. Seize those and burn them, and illicit online downloads would thrive. "It's the book They don't want you to read!"
In this environment, in which all of these voices are clamoring to be heard, censorship is the best advertising. Hell, I had no idea Charles Murray was even still alive until that protest made headlines. I wonder how much his book sales spiked that week?
For the first time in human history, there are no gatekeepers on information. I mean, there is a gate, and you're free to close it if it makes you feel better, but it's like thinking a barbed wire fence can keep the humidity out of your yard. Your gatekeeping is therefore purely symbolic, an effort to send a message. And whether you like it or not, the message you're sending is "These ideas are super cool and interesting."
Remember, the human brain craves novelty, new experiences that push the envelope. Young people crave rebellion, to do the opposite of whatever their teachers and grown-ups demand. Tell them that a book/video/ideology has taken things "too far," and their ears perk up. That's why most of these groups -- especially the toxic, cultish ones -- sell themselves as a rebellion. It's why every single shitty one, from racists to pick-up artists, boast that their worldview is the "red pill" from The Matrix, showing you the real world They don't want you to see. "They try to shut us down, because they know we threaten their power structure!"
And ask yourself: In a sci-fi movie, when someone powerful is trying to block someone else from spreading a message, which one is usually the hero, and which is the villain?
Alright, so if we can't shut it down from the speaker's end, we have to go to work on their audience. But that also isn't so easy ...
Public Shaming Doesn't Work
For most of human history, you could control an idea from the audience end, not by convincing them it was incorrect, but by convincing them it was shameful to believe it. "A good boy does not ask such questions."
This is still our knee-jerk response. If some public figure starts ranting about how maybe women are genetically programmed to be prostitutes or housewives, we just try to get them fired from their job. When columnist Ross Douthat wrote an almost magically ill-conceived New York Times column about how we may need to arrange sex for incels, the response on Twitter was a whole lot of demands that he be fired or replaced, that the column shouldn't be allowed, or that he shouldn't be giving those ideas a platform. You know, because clearly that's where incels are getting recruited. The Opinions section of The New York Times.
But look, I get it. Hate groups don't argue in good faith. If you're talking to a member one on one, there's a minuscule chance that you're not just wasting your time. There's a famous quote from Sartre that keeps going viral about why it's pointless to argue with anti-Semites:
"Never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly ... they delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert."
That kind of wisdom is why I follow Sartre's Twitch stream, but that speech does not apply to the teenager who just binge-watched a bunch of "alt-right" videos and says to his mom, "Why aren't you doing more to defend Europa from the Cultural Marxists?" The kid isn't playing a trick. He legitimately doesn't know. He's a teenager. Still, Mom's answer will almost certainly boil down to "You should be ashamed to say something like that, because that is the kind of thing Hitler used to say, and Hitler was a monster. You don't want to be a monster, do you?"
That may be very effective at preventing him from bringing up those topics with his mother in the room, but it won't do shit to stop him from getting sucked in. Let's say you hold some unpopular opinion. To avoid being inflammatory, we'll pick something low-stakes, like you thought The Last Jedi was a good movie. Which of these three are most likely to change your mind:
A) A logical breakdown of why the plot and character arcs make no sense;
B) A snide, mocking commentary highlighting all of the film's most ridiculous flaws;
C) Telling you that only bad people like this movie, and that you will be punished if you continue to say you liked it.
The first two may or may not work, but the third one is only going to make you double down.
"So we actually have to have a discussion on why there's no worldwide Jewish conspiracy to control the media?!?! Really?!?"
YES, BECAUSE THE DISCUSSION WILL OCCUR WITH OR WITHOUT YOU, AND IT IS PHYSICALLY IMPOSSIBLE TO STOP IT. ALL THAT IS TO BE DECIDED IS WHETHER OR NOT WE ADD OUR VOICES.
The world has changed. Everything is on the table. Whether or not vaccines are good, whether or not the Earth is flat, whether or not genes determine morality, whether or not communism is bad. All of the frustrating stuff we can't believe we still have to deal with.
In Fact, Insults Just Play Into Their Victim Complex
"OK, but why negotiate with terrorists? The next time we see an incel quoting Elliot Rodger and asking where to get pipe bomb supplies, are we supposed to act like what he's saying isn't the most loathsome garbage imaginable? What's wrong with just continuing to mock him for being a virgin loser asshole? Won't that convince other people to stay away from the movement by making them embarrassed to be a part of it?"
Well, it depends on what you're insulting them for. If their movement is based on how being a white nationalist proves their superior masculinity and genes, then yeah, maybe it works to point out that most of their leaders look like somebody accidentally dropped a half-eaten hot dog into the Aryan super soldier cloning vat. But if you think incels are going to be deterred by calling them ugly sad virgins on Twitter, please stop and think about how you've just admitted they're right.
You're reinforcing the idea that A) virginity/celibacy is shameful, B) that whether or not women have sex with them is up to the incels themselves ("Fix your behavior, and you'll get laid!"), and C) that women are therefore society's reward for good behavior. If they're not owed sex regardless of what they do, then why should they be ashamed for not getting it? If no amount of sex or type of sexual performance is shameful, then why are we still mocking them as bitter, lonely neckbeards, or suggesting they're impotent? It reinforces their belief that internet feminism is just a bunch of former homecoming queens kicking the nerds for being gross and fat and weird.
Likewise, if we try to shut down discussion of any subject on the grounds that it's "extreme" or "dangerous," well goddamn, those are two words you use any time you want to sell something to a teenager. It's like warning that they shouldn't click on a porn video because it's far, far too erotic for their tender genitalia. Most of our attempts at social control are a blinking neon sign pointing at our enemy's door.
So what the hell do we do?
We Now Have A Burden To Know What We're Talking About
We are now in a world in which we each have to learn to how to explain our side in a positive, convincing way. It was a skill that didn't used to be necessary. It's not like we're all pundits, right? But we ... kind of are now? Everyone has a platform, and with it comes the burden of using it for good. What would you say to an incel who happened to be someone you care about?
I keep using porn as my example because I personally think that's a case where we as a society already dropped the ball. We unleashed an ocean of pornography without also unleashing an ocean of lessons for teens about objectification, exploitation, and consent, about not expecting the world to always cater to those desires on command. That failure may even be part of what gave us incels. But the answer isn't to somehow make the porn go away.
So far, we're doing an even worse job of mentally arming kids against all of these vectors of indoctrination that most parents don't even realize is a thing. Remember, it's not just the wayward, isolated kids who are vulnerable. It takes an incredibly strong foundation to resist a perfectly tailored sales pitch, one carefully crafted to fill a universal need. They must be equipped to know manipulation when they see it, to be able to think critically. And that's tough, considering most of their parents can't even do that, because the system saw no benefit in teaching them.
But first and foremost, we have to kill this knee-jerk impulse to just silence the bad guys, to think that denying them a platform is even a thing. I admit that would be much simpler, in the sense that democracy would be much simpler if I was the only one allowed to vote. Since that option isn't on the table, it looks like we buckle down and do this the hard way.
David Wong is the Executive Editor at Cracked. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook or on YouTube or on Instagram.
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For more, check out 5 Ways The MRA Indoctrinates New Members With Cult Tactics and 5 Ways Modern Men Are Trained To Hate Women: Update.
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