Fallacious bravery

By Colby Klaus A recent Vox article attempted to explain the composition of Milo Yiannopoulos, writer for Breitbart.

The summary can be given as:

Milo’s existence is founded on provoking a reaction and any views he claims to hold can be explained as necessary in pursuit of that reaction. If being racist will give him attention, he will be racist. If treating women as unintelligent animals will give him attention, he’ll treat them like animals. If talking about powerful men having sex with young, drugged boys will get him attention, he’ll tell Joe Rogan he doesn’t want to name any names because it could be “destructive”. The only true certainty of Milo is that he wants us to pay attention and will say whatever he can to get it.

But one line provided to Vox by Milo stands out:

“I appreciate their fearlessness,” he said of the alt-right in our email chain. “People are such pussies these days.”

And therein lies the heart of all the inconsistency with internet cowards.

See, Milo and his Breitbart Tech crew are at least brave enough to put their own names and faces out there to ensure they’ll never be hired by any organization that gets more than a few lines on Wikipedia once the bart inevitably shuts down. They’re willing to sacrifice their future livelihoods in the name of ego boosts from racists, sexists, phobes, and middle-aged, cisgender, heterosexual white men who maybe had some bad luck in life but place their anger and blame for that luck — and their own personal failings— in anyone who deviates from their arbitrary “norm”.

Stupid, yes. But brave nonetheless.

However, the people boosting egos for the barts are so rarely willing to make this sacrifice, so rarely willing to publicly associate their name with their anonymously-expressed ideals. They live vicariously through the barts and abuse anonymity because they are cowardice manifest.

What I mean to say is these are not self-loving racists, sexists, phobes, and assholes. They claim to hold these ideals in highest regard yet refuse to stand up and own it with their true identity. Instead, they hide in their dark corners, safe from reproach while they abuse the vulnerable. You’ll see them claim they do it for “lulz” and hate indiscriminately, but a simple glance at which targets get the most attention betrays the narrative.

There are certainly reasons people require anonymity. You may have a stalker threatening your safety, for example. Maybe you live in a state with an oppressive government that will undoubtedly retaliate with physical force when those in power are spoken against. Or you’re trying to understand your gender identity or sexuality but don’t want to risk that information being public because someone Milo says is just an edgy kid might try to kill you.

We can be sure that there are people with these justifiable reasons who pledge loyalty to Milo’s “alt-right” movement. At the least, it’s certain to be a non-zero number.

What we can also be sure of are a large number who believe their reason is justifiable despite evidence to the contrary. The majority of their rhetoric is nothing new in western society, and has even been ruled by the Supreme Court of the United States to be protected at all costs. Politicians and judges have been re-elected with campaigns founded on that rhetoric. The most-watched news network in the United States will imply or outright exude that rhetoric. It’s become so commonplace that most people don’t even notice it anymore.

Other than the minority of Milo adherents who could face potential jail time for hate speech in the UK, an even smaller minority who might have actionable threats the FBI will care to investigate, and the non-zero number outlined earlier, the remainder are without a justifiable reason to not own their precious ideas publicly.

They are not the fearless champions of anti-leftist-fascistic-authoritarian-PC culture Milo outlined to the Vox reporter. 

They are cowards with less bravery than the average Facebook commenter.

That’s right. Go look at almost any trending story on Facebook regarding politics. You’re almost guaranteed to find someone spouting racist bile while their profile picture is from their wedding or with their kids. They might be retired, or they might have their employer proudly displayed in their bio. They’ll even tell you where they’re from most of the time.

And they possess more bravery than nearly every one of Milo’s soldiers. They’re willing to own their precious hate and put their future livelihood on the line. It’s not even that big of a risk, because 99% of people won’t try to get someone fired, and 99% of employers won’t give a care what hateful garbage their employee said on Facebook. (That last one is probably due to their boss agreeing with the garbage.)

I can respect someone so willing to be right about marginalising people that they’re not afraid to say it without a fake name and an avatar pulled from whatever media they consume. They’re certainly terrible, but they’re willing to let their terribleness be tied to their name for the historical record. They’re sometimes worth debating because someone with that certainty might even change their mind when someone they’re marginalising shows they’re people just like them.

But these are not Milo’s kin. Milo’s “alt-right” movement is nothing more than a conglomerate of cowards characterized as canker sores in the collective conversation, likely caused by an unhealthy binge on salt and wanting to hurt us whenever we open our mouths but ultimately ignorable with little to no effect on the content of the conversation.

They’re less fearless than the old man screaming on Facebook that Obama’s bringing sharia law to America. They’re full of more fear than the people they’re driving out of their homes with false police reports and SWAT deployments. They’re more reliant on a safe space where their cowardice isn’t questioned than any of the minorities whose necessary safe spaces they’ve petitioned against with false names and meme-laden comments.

Fallacious bravery defines the “alt-right” and the root of their described fearlessness:

Expressions of hateful rhetoric espoused by cowards believing in themselves so little, they hide behind anonymity and the man who praises their useful idiocy as standing up to the overreach of power.

They will stand with the police when they murder an unarmed black man but call for indictments when the victim is a white male. They will stand with the rapist when it’s a white man but call for their head when they’re any other color and gender. They will stand with the state when they bar transgender women from using the women’s restroom but cry foul when a bar holds a ladies’ night.

They will stand with the status quo until the status quo affects them.

They will gleefully accept the title of oppressor simultaneously with the title of fearless warrior against oppression.

They will do it in public but with a paper bag over their head.

They will deny association when hate is no longer in vogue.

There is no fearlessness in the “alt-right” and the other abusive cowards in the dark.

There is only fallacious bravery.

The immediate reaction will be, “Why do you not debate the idea on its own merit? Why does it matter if the other person is anonymous?”

But why should we be required to debate on the terms of an anonymous person who may be approaching us in bad faith, to waste our time? Why engage with someone who has the luxury of making threats behind a veil without accountability?

And why engage with an anonymous entity who can call for backup from other anonymous abusers to attempt endless campaigns of defamation and libel against those of us willing to put ourselves out there?

Again, anonymity is not inherently a negative state; not all who remain anonymous are abusers and approaching conversation in bad faith.

Those who use anonymity appropriately have never been the issue, and you’ll generally be able to tell if someone is approaching with an honest intention.

Those who do not, however, are the epitome of cowardice. They will use anonymity as a free pass to bring others down to their level. Their hope is to bait us into engaging in the same harmful actions as themselves — terrify, isolate, and drive to oblivion any who will not follow the status quo.

This is not unique to a specific political ideology, of course. It’s just that the scale tips heavily towards those who have benefited from things staying the way they are, who lash out in fear of having others join them at the mountaintop.

Some will even claim their actions are merely mindless fun and exploitation of people who care too much, with nothing political driving their actions. But, again, merely look at who they target and a pattern arises. They may claim the pattern is simply caused by those who fit it being most likely to have exploitable characterstics.

The claim doesn’t negate the pattern; in fact, it reinforces that there is more driving their “mindless fun” than they may be willing to admit.

So what’s the solution? How do we deal with the “alt-right” and similar factions of fallacious bravery in our online communities?

Share your thoughts with me on Twitter, WordPress, Medium, or drop me an email and we’ll discuss what can be done.

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