What book should I give to an alt-righter?
November 12, 2017 8:44 AM   Subscribe

I have a longtime friend who has always been a political contrarian - whatever the political majority is within the environment he resides in, he reacts against it. Last year however, he became enamored with the alt-right (Milo, Vox Day tier writers included) and I have become increasingly worried about his ideological tunnel vision. This is a person who I think of as smart and intellectually curious - but very stubborn. Is there an ideal book out there that might help to expand his worldview?

Some details maybe for those who have dealt with similar types of individuals:
  • This person has a particular disdain for 'SJWs' and associated 'identity politics' type arguments.
  • They have, (and I think would admit to having) a somewhat misogynistic streak - they've been through an entire 'red pill' phase and while I think they did an okay job at taking the good from their time reading on that subject (self improvement, mindfulness) and discarding the worst (straight up sexual assault, objectification) he definitely retains some manosphere concepts as part of his outlook.
  • His media diet is a core part of the problem - everything he seems to read and believe about "the left" he gets through Facebook. The end result is that left leaning people he does interact with tend to be 'SJW' archetypes that he seeks out to confront, and that his understanding about the political landscape is shaped by whatever trickles into his sight-lines from the Daily Caller, Federalist or any other website that makes bashing 'SJW's' part of their mission.
I'm thinking that some kind of guide to skepticism or media criticism might be helpful - but I don't even know where to start. I'm definitely thinking of something in the vein of one of Michael Shermer's books - but geared specifically towards deprogramming alt-right disinformation. I think whatever it is, it has to be something that allows him to approach politics from dissenting or rebellious point of view, while still being more grounded in critical thinking and evidence. Thoughts? Input from people who have dealt with close friends or family who have been sucked in by alt-right ideology would be appreciated.

Note that I'm not interested in hearing from people who think I should end my friendship or otherwise disown this person.
posted by the_querulous_night to Human Relations (15 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
The first thing I thought of was Lies My Teacher Told Me. It's a bit orthogonal to the media disinformation question, as the original edition was from 1995 and it focuses on whitewashing of U.S. history textbooks, but it hits the "stuff THEY don't want you to know" angle square on.
posted by deludingmyself at 9:00 AM on November 12 [4 favorites]


I think that life experience will be more valuable than any book. I've had a hell of a few years, the worst years of my life (I hope), and I have had my formerly conservative world view crack in a million places. Note conservative, not alt-right... but I think it will hold true all the same.

So here's my suggestion, if you live in the same place with him - do some volunteer work with him. Putting in a shift at a community feeding program, and meeting actual humans that are hurting and need help can put a human face on things. And it can be done without him feeling like you are out to convert him. I think trying to convince him with a book, or anything that directly attacks his media sources is going to make him dig in. This is the kind of change that must come from within.
posted by machinecraig at 9:01 AM on November 12 [12 favorites]


Aa someone who leans right but rejects the alt-right, I'm going to suggest that any book by someone on the left will probably not so much to change his mind. Instead, I'm going to suggest attacking the problem a bit more obliquely, and from the right.

I'll suggest something like "The Road to Character" by David Brooks or "The Vanishing American Adult" by Ben Sasse, the senator from Nebraska. Brooks is a mainline conservative, which is to say he's now considered a RINO and not trustworthy anymore, so that might not work. But Sasse's right-wing credentials are impeccable, and his book illuminates a lot of problems behind the alt-right mindset while also being pretty critical of the SJWs that your friend detests. I know a lot of leftists don't care for the "both sides are wrong" thing when one side is so much more obviously wrong, but when you're dealing with someone on the other side, you have to meet them halfway.

Depending on your friend's background, it might also be helpful to introduce him to the Jim Wallis school of left-Christianity.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:20 AM on November 12 [19 favorites]


Seconding Sasse. Unlike Brooks (whom I don't mind, but many do), Sasse's bona fides are impeccable. Any critique from the left will be taken as what it is: a challenge. And, if the book is weak, it will be counterproductive. (for example, I read some old reviews of Lies My Teacher Told Me, and the metanarrative is not something you'd buy unless you've already bought it)
posted by jpe at 9:44 AM on November 12 [1 favorite]


It might help to offer to exchange books and read a book this person recommends. I would have little interest in reading a Rush Limbaugh book but might consider it if someone would read a book I thought was good.
posted by InkaLomax at 10:06 AM on November 12 [2 favorites]


Another writer who is a good transition from right-to-left is science fiction author and retired Navy Warrant Officer Jim Wright. He is the very definition of "contrarian." He blogs on Facebook and at his website Stonekettle Station. He is curmudgeonly enough that someone who likes Vox Day will recognize the style, and he never shys away from showing his credentials of being a three-decade serviceman and combat veteran. All of these things lend credibility to someone coming in from a lot of alt-right pundits. He is also a good writer-- which surprisingly a lot of these other "public intellectuals" are not. I don't agree with everything he says, but I never dismiss his words. Like I said-- a good transition essayist to ease or at lease start the change in world-view.
posted by seasparrow at 10:24 AM on November 12 [9 favorites]


To Kill a Mockingbird.
posted by Oyéah at 11:36 AM on November 12 [1 favorite]


The alt-right is the very essence of identity politics, no?

It's rare to change anyone's mind about something. I think your goal is to shape an "agree to disagree" area where you can discuss the two sides of a particular issue without either of you getting angry. You also want to keep away from fact-free name calling and get to authors with some substance. For example, Scott Greenfield (Simple Justice blog) is pretty tough on SJWs, but he does it from the point of view of a criminal defense lawyer trying to preserve an accused person's rights.
There is plenty of weak thinking on the left side of the aisle, too, so examine the sources of your own opinions.
posted by SemiSalt at 11:59 AM on November 12 [2 favorites]


My right-wing relative sometimes appreciates Cracked articles, because the irreverent humor makes them more palatable, I guess. Here is a goodreads list of books written by Cracked authors. Occam's Nightmare and the De-Textbook look like good options.
posted by Former Congressional Representative Lenny Lemming at 3:31 PM on November 12 [2 favorites]


Just because your friend likes some figures in the alt-right does not mean he himself is alt-right. I'm amused by Milo and agree with him on some issues and generally despise SJWs, but am not alt-right. Ben Shapiro, who was Breitbart's former editor in chief, is constantly and incorrectly described as alt-right, but is actually a huge target of the real, ethno-nationalist alt-right. I would suggest your friend listen to Shapiro's podcasts where he explains what the alt-right truly is and why it sucks. Shapiro is one of the few political commentators who discusses the logical inconsistencies in both the left and right and who often criticizes conservative viewpoints, Trump, and the alt-right. There is a real vagueness in your post, as well, since you don't identify which particular beliefs your friend has that you believe are "wrong" and must be deprogrammed.
posted by KatNips at 10:08 PM on November 12


This is not a book, but if you want a smart liberal who could expand a right-leaning person's worldview, while having a "dissenting or rebellious point of view," not spouting the usual talking points of leftist identity politics, and being able to have a respectful discussion with people like Milo and Ann Coulter, it sounds like you want Bill Maher. He has a TV show and a podcast. (OK, he has written books, but not recently.)
posted by John Cohen at 10:39 PM on November 12


I think kevinbelt got what I was looking for - a sound intellectual critique from within the right flank. I think The Vanishing American Adult is likely to end up being my pick - when I mentioned it to a friend they also mentioned Jeff Flake's recently published treatise but I suspect that's going to be too on the nose and not as compelling a read - also I respect Sasse far more than I do Flake.

I think trying to convince him with a book, or anything that directly attacks his media sources is going to make him dig in. This is the kind of change that must come from within.

I definitely don't expect a book to change his entire being - but I do think he needs a stronger intellectual framework to jump off from before he can find that inner change. A book seems a good a starting place as any. I'd definitely look into volunteering somewhere with him though.

Another writer who is a good transition from right-to-left is science fiction author and retired Navy Warrant Officer Jim Wright. He is the very definition of "contrarian."

I've read some Jim Wright essays before but I kind of forgot about him - I've put him back into my personal feed and may pass some of his better known work along to my friend. Occam's Nightmare looks like something I would enjoy, but appears too conspiracy culture focused rather than politically focused.
Just because your friend likes some figures in the alt-right does not mean he himself is alt-right. I'm amused by Milo and agree with him on some issues and generally despise SJWs, but am not alt-right. Ben Shapiro, who was Breitbart's former editor in chief, is constantly and incorrectly described as alt-right, but is actually a huge target of the real, ethno-nationalist alt-right. I would suggest your friend listen to Shapiro's podcasts where he explains what the alt-right truly is and why it sucks. Shapiro is one of the few political commentators who discusses the logical inconsistencies in both the left and right and who often criticizes conservative viewpoints, Trump, and the alt-right. There is a real vagueness in your post, as well, since you don't identify which particular beliefs your friend has that you believe are "wrong" and must be deprogrammed.
It's been over a year since he began his flirtation with alt-right ideology, and his posting on social media and conversations with me indicate that it's not merely something he's amused by - I avoided specifics for privacy reasons and to prevent the thread from going too off topic. He is an admirer of Shapiro - but has definitely been more taken with writers in the Bannon / Milo sphere of influence. As to particular beliefs that I think he needs to analyze more critically: belief that white Americans are being stripped of their heritage and cultural pride (he's teetered on the edge of saying "white genocide" in front of me), belief that social justice causes have 'captured' academic institutions making science and research untrustworthy, belief that social welfare programs have destroyed the American family unit etc etc. I'd rather not make this post a fact finding mission on what parts of the contemporary conservative movement are and are not alt-right.

[...] it sounds like you want Bill Maher.

As someone who leans left I find Bill Maher completely insufferable - but I'm open to the idea that my friend would enjoy watching him. Perhaps we could make that an activity one evening.

Thank you to all who responded - if anyone else is willing to provide input after this point I'll be checking back occasionally over the next week or so.
posted by the_querulous_night at 6:49 AM on November 13


I have a longtime friend who has always been a political contrarian - whatever the political majority is within the environment he resides in, he reacts against it. Last year however, he became enamored with the alt-right...

"That's weird, Fred. Never would have expected you to sound like a typical Trump sheep."
posted by flabdablet at 7:54 AM on November 13 [1 favorite]


Blogger Scott Alexander is not right-wing (or, well, a book), but is often critical of social-justice types and so has some right-wing credibility. He's published thorough and detailed takedowns of neo-reaction and some aspects of the manosphere. Neither of these things is precisely the alt-right, but they have a lot of overlap with the alt-right. He also wrote a good piece arguing against Donald Trump.
posted by breakin' the law at 8:13 AM on November 13 [1 favorite]


If he likes sociological analysis and journalism for a lay audience, this book might give him a sense of where the movement came from. It may or may not change his mind.

Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars From 4Chan And Tumblr To Trump And The Alt-Right, by Angela Nagle
posted by theorique at 6:07 AM on November 14 [1 favorite]


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