What the Alt-Right and Regressive Left Have in Common

Here: “I swear I left her by the river,
I swear I left her safe and sound
I need to make it to the river,
and read some more based Ezra Pound”

Jonny Anomaly writes:

On the alt-right, it has become fashionable over the last few years to recycle a trope from 1930s Germany: “The Jewish Question” (to which the Holocaust was supposed to be “The Final Solution”). The contemporary version of the question concerns why Jews have so much influence in cognitively demanding occupations, including science, medicine, law, and politics. Although the “JQ” (as alt-righters call it) has a mundane answer, many subscribe to elaborate theories to account for the fact that most Jews don’t conform to the stereotype alt-righters expect them to.

For example, when a scholar documents the fact that 4 out of the 10 speakers at an inaugural white nationalist conference were Jewish, along with a vast array of other evidence that conflicts with alt-right dogma, the predictable response by people in the grip of an ideology is that Jews do this to create a smokescreen: it provides cover for all of the other Jews who plot against white nationalists.

To take a related example, many alt-righters blame the Iraq war on Jews. Rather than focus on the fact that the architects of the Iraq War who had the most political power were not Jewish – President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, John Bolton, Colin Powell, and most members of Congress – alt-righters focus on those Presidential advisers who were Jewish – Paul Wolfowitz, for instance. Similarly, rather than attributing responsibility to Swedish and German leaders for encouraging the mass migration of Africans and Arabs into Europe over the past few years, many alt-righters find a way to blame Jews who barely exist in those countries, and who are not in positions of political power…

Neither the “Jews cause all my problems” claim nor the “racial/gender oppression is everywhere” claim is a literal conspiracy theory. Most people who buy into them don’t think Jews or white men (respectively) secretly meet in smoke-filled rooms and devise sophisticated strategies for dominating the world. Instead, these theories resemble traditional conspiracy theories in sealing themselves off from any possible counterevidence.

The philosopher Walter Sinnott-Armstrong calls theories like this “self-sealing” to indicate that although they are internally coherent, they are essentially immune to refutation, and therefore non-scientific. Self-sealing theories typically invoke ad hoc hypotheses to show that any evidence against them can easily be dealt with by the theory itself, no matter how baroque or counterintuitive the assumptions become. In extreme cases, self-sealing theories reinterpret all apparent evidence against the theory as evidence in favor of the theory. The more damning the counterevidence appears to be, the stronger the theory! What looks like counterevidence is really just evidence of how clever white men are at oppressing women and Muslims, or just how clever Jews are at subverting Western societies.

In the case of misogyny, if a radical feminist is shown survey evidence that most men favor equality of opportunity, she might respond that they are fooling themselves, and that deep down most men are unconsciously motivated by misogyny, or participate in a society that has institutionalized misogyny. For example, when James Damore said he supported mild efforts at diversity in the workplace, but that average differences between the sexes probably explain why Google programmers are mostly men, he was dismissed as a misogynist by radical “progressives.”

Similar explanations occur in the case of race, where persistent gaps are blamed on our participation in a system of “white supremacy” – a system that paradoxically includes (in the United States and much of Europe) aggressive affirmative action programs for non-whites, extra tutoring support in many colleges for minorities, and free English-language classes for recent immigrants. As Nathan Cofnas has demonstrated, when political radicals in the grip of ideology are presented with evidence for heritable group differences, they typically find ways to dismiss that evidence on moral grounds, rather than confronting it and thinking through the consequences.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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