Dave Rubin: what is the alt-right?

I was going to refer you in this post to a 52-minute conversation that Dave Rubin had with Roseanne Barr, but it was so painful to listen to (Barr was all over the place and at times sounded almost insane) that I can’t recommend it at all. Listen at your own peril.

However, Rubin by himself is fine. If you’ve been baffled by the new term “alt-right,” as I have, here’s Rubin discussing it in an 8-minute video.

Short take:  The alt-right is a diverse group of powerless “keyboard warriors and professional trolls vying for attention for people in power.” The key is the use of the Internet to amplify one’s views. Rubin claims that it’s generally associated with fascists, anti-Semites, racists, neo-Nazis, or extreme conservatives, which he despises, but of course he’s a free-speech advocate and doesn’t feel they should be censored. And he thinks the group, such as it is, is a mixture of serious wackos and those who simply want to get attention.

Rubin adds that he sees the Regressive Left as far more of a societal danger than the alt-right, and the former, he claims, gave rise to the latter. I’m not sure to what extent Trumpism and alt-rightism is truly a reaction to Regressive Leftism, for I think most of the chowderheads who support Trump don’t follow the shenanigans of regressive leftists. How many Trump supporters or neo-Nazis, for instance, even know about Brandeis’s withdrawal of an honorary degree for Ayaan Hirsi Ali, or about the Great Halloween Costume Fracas at Yale?

At any rate, Rubin names only one alt-rightist, and that’s Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic strip and apparently a fan of Trump. He’s had a conversation with Adams, which you can hear here (I haven’t yet listened).

I’m scheduled to do a show with Rubin in January, and I’m excited.


  1. Stephen Barrett
    Posted September 3, 2016 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    Tried to listen to Rubin’s podcast last week. Maddening trying to listen to Barr. I think I lasted ten minutes.

  2. James Lindsay
    Posted September 3, 2016 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    I feel I need to correct your impression that the chowderheads who support don’t follow the antics of the Regressive Left. First, let me admit that you’re right about that: they don’t follow the antics in specific, and they are unlikely to be able to cite those specific examples or others like them. They are, after all, chowderheads.

    What they are keenly aware of is impressions and mockable themes. I live in a very heavily Trump-supporting area, and I can assure you that one of the favorite jokes of the Trump-supporting masses runs along the lines of “If you don’t like it, go get in a safe space! Har har har!” The get the concept of their moral enemies wanting to hide in “safe spaces” away from “politically incorrect” ideas that might “hurt their feelings, boo-hoo.” The slightly more savvy among them will tack on a joke about trigger warnings, like, “Trigger warning: you’re a [explitive]” or “Trigger warning: nobody cares about your feelings” or “Trigger warning: this isn’t a safe space, crybaby.” I hear these kinds of things often enough *in person* to where it’s a losing battle to try to inject anything like nuance into the discussions. I just don’t have the time. Mockery of safe spaces, trigger warnings, college kids, political correctness, and so on (even sometimes microaggressions) is the joke d’jour among many of Trump’s supporters, whether alt-right or not.

    Rubin is right that the Regressive Left has a lot more influence and is a lot bigger problem, despite the fact that the alt-right is vastly more anti-social and anti-liberal, in the broad sense (and anti-Enlightenment, for that matter). The reason is influence. The Regressive Left has decades of academic puffery behind it. It has decades of hypersensitivity training ground into the contemporary meaning of “decency,” and it’s absolutely viral among younger people who bend Progressive and haven’t come to full maturation of their ideas — these being precisely the quickest people to turn to social media to amplify their views. Even among expressly anti-Social-Justice-Warrior Millennials, many parrot or embrace Motte-and-Bailey values and tactics held by the Regressive Left, such as “what’s wrong with political correctness? It just means being respectful!”

    • Posted September 3, 2016 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      In my view, the alt-Right and the ctrl-Left (h/t Gary Edwards) are like a couple in a abusive relationship. One feeds off the other in a perpetual cycle of outrage and fear politics. They are the two ends of the horseshoe {1} who are often times very close in manners and talking points.

      Perhaps anecdotical, many proponents of the ctrl-Left used to be edgelords or outright abusive themselves, until they “saw the light”. Shanley or Sarah Nyberg {2} used to propagate nazi views. The latter claimed later they did it from a 4chan background in order to schock. The cartoon toad above is a symbol of that 4chan culture, apparently now associated with the alt-Right.

      Freethought Blogs in particular was famous for its “rude” comment section. Users threw death wishes at newbies. Sexually-charged and rape-based shock insults were commonplace {3}. Even a co-blogger of PZ Myers, Chris Clarke, threw the towel. And yet, in a snap, these people flipped side and from then on thought they were on the moral high ground with seemingly no awareness of their past (the most extreme case is Greta Christina who appears to have wiped her memory). Stories like these give the ctrl-Left an air of the religious, as they are almost “born again”. Of course, they continued to be abusive, only that now it appears even worse, perhaps due to self-licensing {4}. Hence, I don’t think they are less anti-social.

      Also, the Anti-Enlightenment core of the so-called Regressive Left is consistently underestimated, or perhaps not even known. When I hunted down their academical roots, I always come across Critical Race Theory. One of its main advocates, Richard Delgado, was also in a dispute with Steven Gey over matters of Free Speech.

      Since the middle of the 1990s, there have been a series of thrilling academic debates about hate speech between the “crits” (scholars of postmodern deconstructionism) and the “absolutists, or libertarians” (their opponents), with perhaps the most exemplary of the discussions being that between Richard Delgado and Steven Gey, in which the latter blames critical scholars for advocating censorship and the former demonstrates that racial insults invite no discourse. — Uladzislau Belavusau (2013)

      Some of that exchange is online. Doesn’t this sound eerily familiar? Delgado (with his spouse Stefancic) wrote into their introduction of Critical Race Theory:

      The critical race theory (CRT) movement is a collection of activists and scholars interested in studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism, and power. The movement considers many of the same issues that conventional civil rights and ethnic studies discourses take up, but places them in a broader perspective that includes economics, history, context, group- and self-interest, and even feelings and the unconscious. Unlike traditional civil rights, which embraces incrementalism and step-by-step progress, critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.

      Although CRT began as a movement in the law, it has rapidly spread beyond that discipline. […] Unlike some academic disciplines, critical race theory contains an activist dimension. It not only tries to understand our social situation, but to change it; it sets out not only to ascertain how society organizes itself along racial lines and hierarchies, but to transform it for the better.

      Take note, “questions the very foundations of […] Enlightenment rationalism”. {5}

      I came to the conclusion that Regressive Leftism, or Social Justice Warriorism is the Critical Race Theory movement, but in a vulgar tumblrized mutation.

      This has the curious plot twist that Richard Dawkins’ “Dear Muslima” was in a sense more intersectional than his detractors who derided his sarcastic letter, yet who subscribe to intersectionality, but appear to have no clue what it is about.

      This has a possibly hilarious implication that the intersectional atheist movement is not only built on postmodernist sand, but that many (e.g. Matt Dillahunty or Aron Ra etc) will not be too fond of what they have — in fact — promoted. Most people were roped in with the promise of ascent into a higher state of better-person-on-the-internet and will not take lightly when it’s shown to them that they are, demonstrably, enemies of reason.

      _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

      • Posted September 3, 2016 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

        How did Greta Christina change?

        • Posted September 3, 2016 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

          Greta Christina wrote an open letter to the atheist community, then on Freethought Blogs. In it, she denounces “graphic, brutal rape threats” made by the Amazing Atheist. I agree that such behaviour is inacceptable, however, Greta Christina’s community and her co-signers did these things too, and far more casually and often than Amazing Atheist. And unlike him, they never apologized, never made a point how their behaviour contributed to the bad situation. Ironically, the most abusive of the famous atheist, PZ Myers himself, replies first with “He has over 580,000 subscribers — half a million people want to see that kind of atheism.” PZ Myers was busy banhammering measured responses and criticism, but left death wishes and rape-based-insults standing on his blog.


          • Posted September 3, 2016 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

            Small correction: with the exception of PZM, the opinion leaders usually didn’t write extreme rhetoric themselves, but they all tacitly endorsed it, and often times defended it, or at the very least ignored it, while pointing fingers elsewhere.

      • gluonspring
        Posted September 3, 2016 at 3:42 pm | Permalink


        That is a great term as it both plays with the alt-Right and has “control” built into it.

        I suppose I’d be hard pressed to say which is a bigger danger. The alt-right may be out-of-power, as it were, but their sympathizers are legion. OTOH, nothing ever seems quite as dangerous to me as utopian zealotry which is much more of a ctrl-Left thing. Once you are convinced you are a warrior for righteousness and that your opponents are blocking the way to a utopia you can justify an awful lot of awfulness in an ends-justify-the-means sort of way.

    • Posted September 3, 2016 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

      “Rubin is right that the Regressive Left has a lot more influence and is a lot bigger problem, despite the fact that the alt-right is vastly more anti-social and anti-liberal, in the broad sense (and anti-Enlightenment, for that matter).”

      Yes to what you said previously, and yes to this. I believe we’re currently on board a freight train that is inexorably headed left, one that will ultimately roll over opposition like the alt-right. The question is only whether that future is one that you, or I, or Dave, or PCC would approve of, or one resembling 1984. That in my opinion is where the real battle lines need to be drawn.

  3. Historian
    Posted September 3, 2016 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    I watched the Rubin video and it infuriated me because it is astonishing how wrong he is. Rubin’s understanding of the alt right seems to be that it is largely composed of slightly demented people posting ugly pictures on the internet. He seems not to have noticed that Trump’s current campaign manager, Steve Bannon, is a leading figure in the alt right movement and heads the odious Breitbart website. The alt right is in fact white nationalist, anti-Semitic, and xenophobic. If Trump wins, the regressive left will be like a pimple on your ass compared to a cancer eating you away from the inside out. Under the influence of people like Bannon, Trump represents a threat to democracy itself.

    This article explains in depth exactly what Breitbart and Steve Bannon are. Of course, Rubin is entitled to his views, but I have no obligation to respect them. He has not demonstrated to me that he has any great understanding of the current state of American politics.

    As Ben Shapiro, former employee of Breitbart and a conservative has put it:
    On Thursday, in the Washington Post, Shapiro upped the ante, describing the alt-right as a “movement shot through with racism and anti-Semitism,” and Breitbart News as “a party organ, a pathetic cog in the Trump-Media Complex and a gathering place for white nationalists.”


    • BobTerrace
      Posted September 3, 2016 at 10:57 am | Permalink

      Historian is correct, Rubin is so rong! The now-labeled “alt-right” are the brown shirts of 1930s Germany. They show up at Trump rallys by the thousands and beat up anyone who is not completely white looking. These are extremely dangerous people who have always been around but were hiding from society for 6-7 decades. Trump has emboldened them.

      • Posted September 3, 2016 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

        I agree. I think Rubin has fallen for Milo’s schtick…that the alt-Right is just a bunch of jokers in their moms’ basements playing on the Internet for the LULZ. That may be partly true for Milo himself, but not for the majority of alt-Right members. Milo, whom I find to be a truly repulsive individual, (in)famously went by the Twitter handle @Nero, before he was banned from Twitter. I believe Milo really does want to pour out the kerosene, light the match, and then sit back and fiddle while he watches the world burn. All for the LULZ. But make no mistake about this – the fire he’s stoking is real. Rubin seems to think it’s harmless and well contained. I think Rubin is dangerously naive.

    • Marta
      Posted September 3, 2016 at 12:46 pm | Permalink


      Because you know who we should all be afraid of? The crybabies on the “left” who want their safe spaces and their trigger warnings.

      The racist, anti-semitic, neo-nazi knuckle draggers who make up the “alt-right”? Nah. No need to be afraid of them.

      One of these is not like the other, and if Dave Rubin doesn’t get that, he is not a person from whom I can learn more.

    • bluemaas
      Posted September 3, 2016 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

      True, Historian: “has any great understanding of the current state of American politics.” True of so, so many who, daily, surround me (TO the point of my keeping silent in their midst because of warranted, of quite justified fears for my physical safety = your “threat to [my] democracy itself” actually.

      And exactly why I placed a wager with Dr Coyne as to the outcome of this presidential election.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alt-right =s wikipedia’s take on the Alt – Right.


  4. Posted September 3, 2016 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    It seems unfair and wrong to name Scott Adams as a member of a group defined as racist, anti-semitic xenophobes. Adams is iconoclastic and libertarian, but hardly that nasty.

    • Posted September 3, 2016 at 11:19 am | Permalink

      I agree. Folks might skip the Roseanne show and watch the Adams interview Jerry linked. Scott’s intelligent and informed about cognitive process from a layman’s point of view. He freely admits to confirmation bias and at the same time fails to recognize the depth of his own particularly when it comes to Trump. He implies a method and genius to Trump’s persuasion, I think he gives him far too much credit. It’s much more likely he’s bumbled his way using a learned native cunning and that’s as far as it goes. He’s breathtakingly incurious and anti intellectual over the arc of his life and career.

      • Ken Elliott
        Posted September 4, 2016 at 12:41 am | Permalink

        Thank you. That was my take as well, but I could never have expressed it as clearly as you have. I’m glad it’s at least been expressed somewhere.

    • rickflick
      Posted September 3, 2016 at 11:26 am | Permalink

      I listened to part of the Scott Adams interview. He is very admiring of Trump’s skill as a persuader and cleverness at developing his campaign. He confesses to being rather more centrist/liberal in his own views. He thinks Trump will win in a landslide and hopes/things Trump will end up being much more reasonable as president. Trump is using his skills to build a following. Once they are in his hands, he will turn them. One example is his stand on LGBTX which the party now endorses. Good interview.

      • Filippo
        Posted September 3, 2016 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

        “He is very admiring of Trump’s skill as a persuader . . . .”

        Some people are easily persuaded. I see an ad on TV and I wonder, “What kind of mind is persuaded by this ad? Who talks like this in real life?” If not a sufficient number could be persuaded, they’d never run it.

        I wonder if Trump ever washes his own drawers.

        • rickflick
          Posted September 3, 2016 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

          “I wonder if Trump ever washes his own drawers.”

          Not likely. A quick sniff and toss ’em would be my guess.

  5. dabertini
    Posted September 3, 2016 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    “I’m schedule to do a show with Rubin in January, and I’m excited.”

    Not half as excited as i am. Can’t wait!!

  6. peltonrandy
    Posted September 3, 2016 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    Here is one interesting description of the alt-right from In These Times. http://inthesetimes.com/article/19417/trumps-new-campaign-ceos-website-wants-to-introduce-you-to-the-alt-right

  7. Cindy
    Posted September 3, 2016 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    Good lord, there’s just no limit to what progressive-hating neoliberals like Rubin will try to pin on the boogeyman of the “Regressive Left”. A term whose very usage is an assault on progressive values, by the way, and almost as artfully crafted for propaganda purposes and intentional misuse as “Islamophobia”.

    • Posted September 3, 2016 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

      I disagree. I have a friend who lives in Britain. She said that not only cannot she write a blog like mine, but she wouldn’t even open it in her lunch break, because there might be consequences for her. My blog is fairly Islamophobic, so what? To me, the Regressive Left are those who have created this situation; those who after the Charlie Hebdo attack ordered police to identify its readers.

      • Ken Elliott
        Posted September 4, 2016 at 12:46 am | Permalink

        What? Have the police been ordered in such a way? Have people been questioned for sites they visit? Or am I misinterpreting what you are saying?

        • Posted September 4, 2016 at 1:12 am | Permalink

          She fears she could be fired.

        • Posted September 5, 2016 at 6:22 am | Permalink

          British police were eventually forced to apologize for spying on Charlie Hebdo buyers.

          “A British police force has apologised after an officer told a newsagent to hand over details of customers who purchased copies of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in the wake of the Paris terror attacks.
          Wiltshire police confirmed that one of their officers visited a newsagent in Corsham, Wiltshire, to ask for the names of four customers who ordered the commemorative “survivors’ issue” of the magazine.
          The incident came to light when Anne Keat, 77, who bought the special issue from that newsagent, wrote a letter to the Guardian to warn people that wearing badges emblazoned with je suis Charlie may attract police interest.”

          However, I don’t think the general attitude has changed. Last year, a search was launched for a bus passenger who ranted against Islam:

          “In this week the British newspapers accused the police of covering up a campaign of abuse, threats and violence aimed at Islamicizing an area of London.
          Victims say that officers in the borough of Tower Hamlets ignored or downplayed outbreaks of hate crime, and suppressed evidence implicating Muslims in them, because they feared being accused of racism.
          However, when a man riding a public bus murmured something disrespectful of Islam, the police got into action. They immediately published his picture asking the public to identify this man whose slur is deemed to be more dangerous than the rapes, grooming of children and violence perpetrated by the followers of the religion of peace…”

          • Ken Elliott
            Posted September 7, 2016 at 6:00 am | Permalink

            What the hell? That’s Regressive Leftism at its worst. Fear paves the way for such cowardice, does it not? Thank you for sharing these.

  8. Randall Schenck
    Posted September 3, 2016 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    I can see another party in our history that might show signs similar to this alt right movement that supports Trump. Back in the 1850s there was the Know-Nothing Party. Very much an anti-immigrant and anti-catholic bunch. They seemed to come from out of no particular place but suddenly had some political power and actually put many representative in congress. The life of this party was short due to a split that happened with the slavery issue.

    For those of us who do believe in history – it has a way of repeating itself.

  9. Diana MacPherson
    Posted September 3, 2016 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    Such tumultuous times when it comes to ideology. I fear we are going to regress to a new Cold War of sorts. How that will look, I’m not sure. Perhaps, it will be a Civil Cold War in America.

  10. Ken Kukec
    Posted September 3, 2016 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    … a 52-minute conversation that Dave Rubin had with Roseanne Barr, but it was so painful to listen to …

    Could be worse — could be Roseanne belting out a 52-minute cover of the Star-Spangled Banner. (Trigger Warning for those with perfect pitch.)

    Re: the “alt-right” — The Regressive Left didn’t “give rise” to it, but — with every snit from the kids at Oberlin, or other new outrage — it provides grist for the alt-right outrage mill.

    • Posted September 3, 2016 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

      “The Regressive Left didn’t “give rise” to it, but — with every snit from the kids at Oberlin, or other new outrage — it provides grist for the alt-right outrage mill.”

      Well put.

  11. Filippo
    Posted September 3, 2016 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

    “At any rate, Rubin names only one alt-rightist, and that’s Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic strip and apparently a fan of Trump.”

    I’m a bit surprised at that, inasmuch as he rails against private corporate tyranny functionaries in his strip. If Trump is not a private corporate tyrant, no one is.

  12. Posted September 3, 2016 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

    The “Dilbert” cartoonist is “alt-right”…? Gee, I’d heard that he got his inspirations for his cartoon strip from working for Southern Bell.

    • rickflick
      Posted September 3, 2016 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

      It certainly could have been IBM from my own experience, or about 10,000 other organizations that pay people to work for a living.

  13. Posted September 5, 2016 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    Scott Adams is not alt-right. Not even close. Don’t think Rubin could even think that after interviewing him. Adams is not even conventional right, much less “alt”. His politics seem kind of middle road.

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