Shallow Woke-Scolding Won’t Save White Boys From the Alt-Right

Shallow Woke-Scolding Won’t Save White Boys From the Alt-Right October 15, 2019
Image source: 123rf

In a recent article, the newspaper formerly known as the New York Times offers an eye-catching headline: “Racists Are Recruiting. Watch Your White Sons.” The image is an inspired piece of pop art: a blond-haired, gangly boy disappearing into a giant iPhone made of writhing snakes. One shoe is still outside the phone, the shoelaces untied. The tag on his shirt sticks out against his neck. It’s a perfect visual encapsulation of vulnerability entrapped by evil.

The author, Joanna Schroeder, is a mommy blogger with bylines at the Huffington Post and other outlets who frequently writes about raising sons. In recent months, she has become especially vocal about the alt-right, white nationalist gamer culture, and the vulnerability of boys to online Nazi recruitment. This article is a summary of what she’s learned and wants to pass on to other moms like her.

So far, so good. Alt-right online culture is indeed toxic, callous and dangerous, and it is indeed perilously easy these days for disillusioned young men to fall down a rabbit hole and wander into some very dark places. I’ve spent years warning friends to educate themselves and take the alt-right phenomenon seriously, learning to recognize the kinds of memes and linguistic “tells” that typify the right-wing fringe. When young people no longer get what they need from the mainstream, they will wander to the edges, and there they will encounter the sort of ideological static cling that makes for very strange bedfellows. I speak from experience as someone who has been politically homeless for my entire adult life.

All of which is to say, we could use a smart, thoughtful op-ed clearly outlining what the alt-right actually is, the actual dangers it poses to our boys, and the actual best ways for parents to become informed and preempt its influence.

Unfortunately, Ms. Schroeder’s piece is not that op-ed.

Schroeder bursts out of the gate with what is meant to be a darkly ominous opening anecdote about a car ride with her sons. She overhears them in the back seat with friends crowing “Triggered!” over a meme on their phones, whereupon she tells us with an absolutely straight face, “I almost lost control of the car.” If the reader here begins to wonder whether Ms. Schroeder is quite up to the task of calmly navigating land transportation, the rest of the article won’t set his mind at rest.

In another anecdote, delivered in ponderous blow-by-blow, she recalls catching a Hitler meme on her son’s phone out of the corner of her eye and snatching it to have a closer look: “Hold on a minute. Was that Hitler?” I have been unable to track down the original meme, but if Ms. Schroeder’s interpretation is accurate, the gist of it seems to be the kind of elaborately unsavory joke that can in fact find its ultimate origins in alt-right troll dens. As Schroeder tells the story, her son hadn’t even been aware of the meaning of the meme and “liked” it assuming it was innocuous.

It may be worth interjecting here that alt-right memery can indeed turn very ugly very fast, uglier even than the rather clumsily veiled meme Ms. Schroeder seems to be describing. In general outline, the idea of noting the earmarks of an alt-right meme and teaching your son to practice caution isn’t unreasonable. Dramatically snatching away your son’s phone the moment an image of Hitler flickers on the screen, then writing a New York Times op-ed advertising for the whole world that he accidentally “liked” the wrong kind of meme on Instagram: slightly less reasonable.

It would be far more constructive for Schroeder to introduce her sons to figures like David French and Ben Shapiro, who have been on the receiving end of alt-right hate mail. There was, for instance, the ugly incident when alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos tweeted a picture of a black baby at Shapiro upon the birth of his son. (This is part of a running viciously racist meme involving what black men might do to white men’s wives.)

However, Ms. Schroeder is apparently incapable of computing the idea that the alt-right wouldn’t be Ben Shapiro’s biggest fans. While rattling off her list of “extremist” media, she careens breathlessly from 4chan to PragerU to The Daily Stormer to Jordan Peterson, barely pausing to note that some of these things might not be exactly like some of these other things.

But of course, such an article wouldn’t be complete without an obligatory Jordan Peterson reference. While conceding that Peterson and other IDW figures are “more mainstream,” Schroeder casually wedges the clinical psychologist in between paragraphs about white supremacist outlets and gaming forums. She writes that Peterson’s “conservative perspectives on feminism and gender are very popular among young men and often are a path to more extreme content and ideologies.”

This, from the advice columnist who offers tips on “ethical sexting” and writes open letters to her sons telling them that love and sex needn’t have anything to do with each other, or that she will be proud if they can become “cool” enough to bed multiple girls (or boys). Meanwhile, Jordan Peterson tells boys that casual sex is an oxymoron and offers practical advice on how to quit pornography, something Schroeder should appreciate. Here he is chatting with a fan who came to a healthier understanding of sex and sexuality by taking Peterson’s wisdom to heart. A clinical psychologist right in my own town also shared a story with me about a young man who was the archetypal aggressively foul-mouthed, female-objectifying, porn-addicted high school jock, until he encountered Peterson. The difference before and after, she said, was as night to day.

But naturally, as someone whose idea of researching Jordan Peterson appears to be copy-pasting whatever Vox has to say about him, Schroeder is blissfully oblivious to these sorts of awkward data points.

I also note that in the course of her research, Schroeder found an author who conjectures that young men are drawn to toxic online communities because they want to feel as if they’re part of a “heroic struggle.” All the more reason why she should be a fan of someone like Jordan Peterson, who also understands this deep need in young men but encourages them to channel it towards personal improvement, costly relational investment (like maybe marrying the girlfriend Ms. Schroeder would say they could just go on bedding without marriage if they feel like it), and taking on family and community responsibility. Yes I know, I’m hopelessly naive.

But clearly, Ms. Schroeder doesn’t need my advice. Her game plan is all mapped out. In a column entitled “18 Ways to Raise Feminist Boys,” Schroeder suggests such helpful tips as buying dollies for your boy toddler, or playing house and asking him “if he’d like to be the mommy.” She has guides to media consumption too, including lists of female-centric book and TV series to make sure your boys read/watch, plus invaluable tips on how to handle old media (“Have your teens brainstorm the ways in which James Bond should’ve shown more respect”).

Ms. Schroeder also shares her secret sauce for “deconstructing” terms like “snowflake.” Who’s more of a snowflake, she asks her son with relish, the person who “wants people to stop using racial slurs and mocking of gay people,” or someone who complains about the phrase “Happy Holidays” at Christmastime? (A bit that would no doubt have been very cutting-edge in 1991.)

She also has a game plan for teaching her sons how to think about race, particularly recommending Shelly Tochluk’s Witnessing Whiteness as a how-to guide. One blurber gives this taste of the book: “Shelly Tochluk brings to light the most important book about race in a generation. Is ‘whiteness’ bad in itself? When is it just part of the social, historical and cultural legacy of a people? And what is the prison/poison that this legacy bequeaths us?” Tochluk herself informs her readers that “Our first step is to identify the ways our whiteness emerges. Our first step is to become witnesses to our whiteness.” (p. xvii)

If Ms. Schroeder sincerely believes any of this is going to have any measurable, helpful, useful effect on her white sons, I don’t know what to tell her. Truly, I don’t.

Some might say I am being too harsh with someone who, for all her foolish and ineffectual finger-wagging, at the end of the day is still a mom of boys who is genuinely scared of at least some things she should be scared of. I confess, the sort of person who instructs teenage boys that their sex lives and their love lives can run on parallel tracks does not awaken my better angels. But the tiny grain of truth buried in Schroeder’s smarmy fluff is that there is a real threat on the right-wing fringe that can have an attraction for boys and young men who are bored, aimless, and looking for a transgressive thrill.

Ironically, her brand of woke-scolding could not have been better calculated to put off the sort of young man who already feels he is being constantly scolded and doesn’t understand why. In other words, exactly the sort who wanders into alt-right Internet forums. But by sweeping all non-conforming right-of-center commentary outside the Overton window with one grand gesture, Schroeder cuts them off from the antidote. In fact, she should be so lucky if she “catches” her sons watching a Jordan Peterson lecture on YouTube. They might have actually learned something about manhood. They might have actually learned something about human nature. They might have learned something about what makes evil men do evil things. And in the process, they might have learned something about their own hearts.

But hey, at least she’ll make sure they learn about ethical sexting. So there’s that.

 

"I don’t doubt your observation and experience. My point was that adults are using thischild ..."

Greta Thunberg’s Meaning Crisis
"The Jewish problem has always been a problem. And it will always be a problem. ..."

Shallow Woke-Scolding Won’t Save White Boys ..."
"I like the way you put that, Jesse. It explains on the one hand why ..."

Shallow Woke-Scolding Won’t Save White Boys ..."
"Antisemitism appears to truly be a litmus test. Because Jews are a culture that adamantly ..."

Shallow Woke-Scolding Won’t Save White Boys ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Evangelical
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Mark Fitzgerald (Fundamental E

    There is so much ignorance when dealing with the generic term “alt-right” which has come to categorize anyone that the left disagrees with at this point. If you truly care about those vulnerable to becoming radicalized start by connecting with them and understanding what is actually going on, learn about trolling culture online and understand that for the most part these young people are simply breaking taboos, with that said sure there is a risk of getting caught up in the wrong crowd. Maybe teach kids to value the world outside of the internet let’s start there, I miss that world.

  • Joslyn Renfrey

    “It would be far more constructive for Schroeder to introduce her sons to figures like David French and Ben Shapiro”

    The same Shapiro that threatened to shoot Beto O’rourke?

  • I always appreciate your work.

  • Is that actually what he said? No. He spoke to a specific context, which you should probably dig into before you want to make accusations.

  • Joslyn Renfrey

    It did not surprise me how quickly he went to the idea of armed violence just from Beto considering defunding homoph0b1c schools.

  • ILR

    When my sons were about 20 and 21 I, like a fool, asked how they would describe my ‘parenting technique’ when they were growing up. They stopped what they were doing (they were watching tv and the question came about from an episode of Malcom in the Middle) and stared at me like Id taken leave of my senses. After a short pause, younger son said it was a combination of unconditional love and the wrath of god and they learned early on to encourage one, and do their best to avoid the other. In this case, I would suggest the mother lean towards ‘wrath of god’ and voice just how outrageous and offensive and horrific those Fascist attitudes truly are. But its a shame the kid wasnt raised to realize that on his own, long before he was exposed to such disgusting attitudes. Both of my hellions are even more liberal than I am, which is saying something.

  • ILR

    Shapiro needs to ooze back under his rotting log and stay there.

  • Joslyn Renfrey

    Please, slime moulds are honorable organisms, they would never wish to be associated with the likes of Shapiro.

  • ILR

    I was thinking more along the line of worms but yes, worms are useful and have value, Shapiro not so much

  • Joe M

    I don’t understand certain Christian’s fixation on Ben Shapiro and Jordan Peterson. Shapiro is a miserable and ill-tempered agent provocateur who equated speaking rapidly to being intelligent. Peterson is a pseudo-quasi-intellectual who equates hyper-verbose word salad to being intelligent. Neither would give you a satisfying explanation if you asked them to talk about Jesus.

    .

    Then there’s David French. I’ve heard interviews with him and he is a likeable guy, unlike the former two. He and his wife have adopted an orphaned girl from Ethiopia and he has been pilloried by racists for having the temerity for doing so. That’s about all the credit I’ll allot to him.
    .
    What all three of these men have in common is the part they have played in lending to the pugnacious atmosphere that has culminated in the rise of people like Donald Trump. Because of this alone they are not worth the listen.

  • swbarnes2

    younger son said it was a combination of unconditional love and the wrath of god and they learned early on to encourage one, and do their best to avoid the other.

    You tell this like you are pleased with this response. But unconditional love never ever has to be encouraged.

  • HamOnRye

    I regularly contend with young men out of the Alt-Right movement in an effort to pull them out of that sphere and into traditional Christianity.

    I can tell you right now Ms. Schroeders efforts are going to produce precisely the exact opposite effect that she wants.

    This is a reactionary movement we are contending with, and requires a different framework to understand. Probably the best book I have seen that can describe the phenomenon is War Of The Flea, by Wade Tabor an old 60s era communist.

    Don’t let that put you off. Take the dive read the book in full and the similarities will become apparent.

  • ILR

    A parents love should never be conditional. ‘I will only love you IF’ The very idea of it is abhorrent. If you have children then I feel sorry for them. Get over your delusions of significance.

  • Christiane Smith
  • durka durka

    “alt right milo”

    He is not alt right and ben shapiro and david french are giant neocon clowns that everyone on the right needs to reject.

    After this is stopped reading, it became apparent that the author is slightly less clueless than the person they criticize on the alt right and internet memes.

  • durka durka

    david french is a crazy loon with TDS. People like him must be booted from the right.

  • durka durka

    nonsense defunding religious schools not homophobic.

  • Joe M

    Crazy? How?

  • Radical alt-Right recruitment among young teens has been going on for decades. Already in the 1990s, long before the age of social media, as a social worker covering rural eastern Pennsylvania, I became aware of how deeply recruitment for youth auxiliary groups of the so-called Militia Movement had infiltrated the schools. There is a direct line from there to what is going on now. From what I have seen, it is almost 100% peer group driven, at least initially. I don’t think introducing young teen boys to Ben Shapiro or Jordan Peterson is going to be of much help, and given the YouTube recommendations algorithm might well be diametrically counterproductive. Regular attendance at a black or hispanic or Asian church, and regularly inviting those of differing race and religion into your home for meals and other socializing activities will be much more effective – and may even do us parents some good as well.

  • bill wald

    I was raised to “love God and be a good neighbor.” I never did any obviously foolish things, came out of college thinking that Castro was an agrarian reformer, but after a couple of years came to my senses and have never done anything foolish that cost me more than a couple hundred bucks. OK, couple thousand a couple of times but I turn 80 next year and “all’s well that ends well.” Raised our five kids the same way and they all turned out well. The 9 grand kids are on the same track.

    “Bring up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Seems to work.

  • durka durka

    did you read his articles?

  • Joe M

    I’ve read his articles and listened to interviews. I wouldn’t call him crazy but I think he’s wrong on many ways. Can you site an example of what you mean?

  • durka durka

    ok then check his twitter he is unhinged never trumper who goes on about civility while the left hates civility and will eat him for breakfast after they are done with the maga populists. This article makes a good point https://thefederalist.com/2019/05/30/the-cultural-white-walkers-have-descended/

    French is in the losing wing of the right

  • Joe M

    I don’t bother with the Federalist. Why should I go to a third party.? Shouldn’t I take what he says about himself? Why go on the testimony of people who don’t know him?

  • durka durka

    i did tell you to read his tweets the compare them with the article and see why david french belongs to the past.

  • Joe M

    I don’t read Twitter. It’s bad enough I have them embedded in everyone’s reporting. I have read his articles, though and have heard interviews. There’s plenty fore to disagree with from those sources alone. Still, I find him more reasonable than Shapiro and Peterson.

  • Joe M

    Sorry if there are misspellings. Can’t find my glasses.

  • fractal

    Teach your girls how to recognize these alt-right knuckle-draggers!
    And then pass the word.

    My daughter’s friends write the names of them on bathroom doors, so that other women KNOW they are a misoginist/racist pretending to be normal.

  • fractal

    AMEN!

  • durka durka

    more reasonable than peterson? How?

  • Pennybird

    Your last sentence is spot on. We could all use a little more F2F socializing, kids especially.

  • Pennybird

    Children come with their own personalities and brain wiring. It is amazing how radically opposed two siblings in the same family can be, with approximately the same parenting.

  • Pennybird

    Don’t discount the power of peer pressure. To wit, few parents encourage their children to take drugs or drink to excess, but look how many do.

  • I wish my name was Fred

    You have no clue what an ‘agent provocateur’ is, not like i couldn’t see your stupidity before that.

  • I wish my name was Fred

    There is no Alt-Right movement, this is just another new boogeyman to smear anyone who doesn’t agree with the lefties.

  • Joe M

    I’ve seen that term used in a figurative sense, that is one who incites opponents to act against their own interests. It is also a line of intimate undergarments. I also think he wears them when nobody’s looking.

  • I wish my name was Fred

    a·gent pro·vo·ca·teur
    /ˌäZHän(t) prəˌvôkəˈtər/
    noun
    a person who induces others to break the law so that they can be convicted.

    When did Shapiro do that?

  • Joe M

    A serious question. Just play along. No tricks…

    Do you believe in God?

  • durka durka

    never did nor did my family.

  • Joe M

    Okay. That’s a reasonable and cogent response. It’s a response I’d expect from just about anyone: yes or no.

    Jordan Peterson, do you believe in God?

    “I don’t know how to answer that question. Actually, I’m kinda insulted by that question… (+750 words until the next period).” At the end he hasn’t answered the question at all. You’re no clinical psychologist yet you answered the way I would have but Peterson is elliptical, vague and nebulous and when people don’t understand his answers he blames them for being unintelligent.

    Have you ever heard of Jaques Derida? You’re no better off if you had not but Peterson reminds me of him the way he “argues”? Reading one of his paragraphs is enough to turn you off to him forever.

  • durka durka

    actually id argue that Peterson is very specific in what he says and how he frames it, he doesnt give a yes no answer because he can be easily put in a ideological box, so he explains in details why he believes something and what he means by it. Saying do you believe in god or not is not enough, what if you believe in the existence of a divine form but not as it is presented or you claim that there is divine knowledge that wrote all those fables that civilizations shared so there is value in those fables.

    Its not a simplistic yes or no. The concepts that Peterson discusses are far more complex.

    “but you just said no”

    I am a nihilist i dont believe nor in god or in romantisizations of nationalism or socialism, i think reason is dead and we and the media killed it. Now its rampant tribalism and David French in his infinite self smuggery tries to pretend he is not a tribalistic partisan hack but a voice or reason. Its sad if you can see it and disgusting if you dont support him.

  • ILR

    I didnt drink or do drugs, so they didnt see that growing up. Drugs would be breaking the law, and totally against my value system. I didnt drink because I just dont like alcohol. All it does is make me sleepy. Good role models go a long way in teaching kids the ‘right way’ to behave

  • swbarnes2

    Yes, a parent’s love should not be conditional. A child should not have to encourage the love of a parent love to avoid wrath. Yet you seem proud that your children did this.

  • trumanshow

    I highly recommend “Leninthink” by Gary Saul Morson at the New Criterion website. Explains a lot about the thinking of the Left and how it corresponds to Leninism. The SJWs of the New York Times and anyone else who use the word “whiteness” pejoratively fits into that category. Yes, the extreme right is a “thing” but it has very little real power compared to the extreme Left which has infected every single institution in our country, including the media, the Universities, the schools, the judiciary, the alphabet agencies, corporations, and have taken over many mainstream churches. Yes, there is reason to be afraid, but you are looking in the wrong direction if you are looking to the right.

  • ILR

    You seem to have a profound problem with reading comprehension skills.

  • trumanshow

    your own bias is showing.

  • trumanshow

    My guess is most of those boys are not “alt-right” at all (whatever that means, and it tends to mean, to the SJWs, anyone who disagrees with them). I bet you would think it was very unfair if those same boys would name those girls as Communists in scribblings on their own bathroom walls.

  • trumanshow

    There is no “alt-right” movement because the alt-right doesn’t exist. Anyone the Leninist Left disagrees with is automatically smeared as “alt-right”. Read Leninthink on the New Criterion website to understand why. It’s in their DNA to lie.

  • trumanshow

    I don’t care for Milo’s brand of humor, but he is certainly not “alt-right” in the sense that the Left has smeared him to be. Of course they smear everyone with that label they disagree with. Free speech does not exist in the Leftist world.

  • fractal

    Says the coward who won’t even let others see his past comment history.
    One can only imagine what hideous things are on there…

  • fractal

    Which is why the FBI says the alt-right is our biggest terrorist worry today.

  • fractal

    Oh dear!

    They would be devastated to be called that on a bathroom wall and will collapse in a puddle of tears, waiting for a nice young 8chan boy to give them a roofie and make it all better…

  • Jesse H

    Actually we have direct evidence that watching Conservative youtube actually de-radicalizes youth. The libertarian and conservative “dark web” is actually an antidote to becoming alt right. https://osf.io/73jys/

  • Thanks Jesse, I’ll read this closely and follow out the references. This is potentially significant and very counter-intuitive.

  • Jesse H

    I would liken it to 5 different pathways. From alt-left, left, centrist, right and alt-right we have different ideologies. People can of course change pathways, but usually not completely across the spectrum. But since each pathway is quite diverse, the entrenchment in each of them is deep, and only on the edges does one really change pathways.

  • Jesse, in your view, what is the relative strength of racism and racial resentment playing out in each of these ideological stripes?

  • Jesse H

    Great question. I’ll try to give some thoughts but it’ll be more complex than I can present. On the left race is a category that can be transcended once we get beyond oppression. The idea of multiculturalism is that all races/cultures have equal meaning (seemingly). On the right there is more of an understanding that race/culture does fundamentally divide us but we need to understand cultural differences in light of ultimate truth. We of course treat all races equally as well as we can, but we need to recognize that all racial cultures are not all equally aligned with what is good and true.

  • All very valid points. As a gentile member of a Jewish congregation, I am regularly trying to navigate the ‘anti-semitism’ line on the left, trying to help espousers understand when and why they are coming across as antisemitic, and also trying to interpret and mitigate against the most negative understandings of anti-Israel remarks coming from the left to the Jewish people I converse with regularly.

  • Jesse H

    Antisemitism appears to truly be a litmus test. Because Jews are a culture that adamantly continues to exist within nations and cultures and demands recognition and tolerance. The degree to which one does this evidences acknowledgment with judeo-christian values or not. Hierarchy vs. progression, as well as meritocracy of cultures, and the acceptance of transcendental ideals, these are the sticking points.

  • I like the way you put that, Jesse. It explains on the one hand why lefties being critical of Israel don’t see this as antisemitic (since they level the criticism on the same plain they level criticism of any country’s political policies) and on the other hand why Jews find it very difficult to separate criticism of Israel specifically with criticism of Jews generally (because the Jewish state is so young, Jews aren’t very practiced in feeling that distinction at a gut level.)

  • Jesse H

    The Jewish problem has always been a problem. And it will always be a problem. I truly believe Jews as a people group give good evidence for God both in their continued existence and in their cultural distinction. Jews aren’t just a nation, nor just a religious affiliation, nor just a common culture, it all goes deeper than that.

    For the left part of their criticism of Jews boils over from their anti-authoritarian tendencies. They simply can’t allow for ultimate authority, their very nature is to dismantle hierarchy.

    Interesting take on Jews not feeling the distinction due to Israel being young. Jews run the gamut from “chosen-ness” leading to arrogance, condescension, confidence, assurance, stability, winsomeness and humility. Much like all humans we can take the good of something and turn it into both good and bad.