The Hazards of Full-Bore Snowflake-Melting

To own the libs, or to not own the libs, that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to sit and take the abuse
The slinged insults and the pointed ire of outrageous liberals,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubled contradictions...

Apologies for the poor Bard imitation (too many syllables).  But there's been a question floating around conservative internet commentary circles of late: how much of right-wing advocacy focuses on triggering leftists over making substantive philosophical points?

In a profile piece for the The Atlantic on White House senior adviser Stephen Miller, reporter McKay Coppins recounts the rise of President Trump's wonky mischief-maker.  "Miller represents a rising generation of conservatives for whom 'melting the snowflakes' and 'triggering the libs' are first principles," Coppins writes.  "What happens when those right-wing trolls grow up to run the world?" he asks, almost hesitantly.

Miller, the son of two Jewish Democrats who grew up in prosperous Santa Monica, is no Russell Kirk-quoting intellectual.  Rather, his conservative education came predominantly from talk radio and pop political treatises.  Instead of debating the "permanent things" with friends, Miller played politically minded pranks in high school, like running for student government by cheekily pledging to increase janitor workload, wringing the last bit of efficiency from custodial staff.

The rabble-rousing only increased at Duke University, where Miller narced on his liberal professors, organized an "Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week," and invited known Islam skeptic David Horowitz to speak on campus.  The latter was so controversial that it drew C-SPAN cameras.

From Miller, Coppins traces the rise of other trigger warriors like guerrilla activist James O'Keefe and social media personality Milo Yiannopoulos.  The big kahuna of controversy is the President himself, who can send millions into spasms of rage with just one tweet.  These all filter down into an army of MAGA hat-wearing college students who deploy ample doses of irony against unsuspecting campus liberals.

Now even Grandma shares memes about melting sensitive snowflakes on Facebook.

The image of a conservative provocateur has, in the past, been similar to that of the jock savant, acing calculus while doling out concussions on the football field.  It was a walking contradiction: a young man wearing khakis and a blue blazer with a copy of Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France stuffed in a back pocket next to a pack of Marlboros.

Not anymore.  Replace Burke with a #socialismsucks lapel pin and cigarettes with Tupperware full of affirmative action brownies priced differently depending on the buyer's race, and you have today's merrymaking "America First" champion.  The notion of conservative rebellion is only reinforced by leftists, especially the young, who have become so tongue-tied by political correctness that they resemble schoolmarms, policing correct pronoun usage.

While it's refreshing that the right has discovered its inner troublemaker, Coppins warns that the focus on getting liberals riled up with theatrics and hyperbole may end up having the opposite effect as designed.

You start out with the goal of provoking the left – and, well, what's more provocative than posting a racist meme on the internet?  But with each new like and upvote, an incentive structure forms, a community coalesces, an identity hardens.  Before long, the line between performance and principle is blurred beyond recognition, your 'true' beliefs buried under so many layers of irony that they've been rendered irrelevant.

Coppins is correct that the philosophical underpinnings of right-wing thought can be lost in irony-soaked goading.  But is there a use in triggering others as an end in itself?  Can getting a rise out of your intellectual opponents by challenging the core of their priors really alter their worldview?

Yes, to a point.  Ideologies are not pliable things.  They're slabs of concrete dug in deep within the ground, hard to move.  Gently nudging a set-in-stone mindset with careful arguments doesn't always work.  Sometimes a sledgehammer is needed to loosen things up.

That's where the provocation comes in.  Karl Marx had a phrase for it: "sharpen the contradiction."  To effect the proletariat revolution, Marx wanted to shock workers into realizing that the holders of capital were not on their side.  Once epistemologically shaken, they would be more open to countervailing ideas, like the immorality of exploiting surplus labor.

There is something to having your beliefs challenged so mercilessly.  As a liberal Democrat in college, I attended a philosophy club full of anarcho-capitalist libertarians.  Believing myself to be well read and informed on current events, I engaged with their radical free-market philosophy only to have my ego beaten and bruised.  It was an intellectual hazing, as my rudimentary arguments toppled before their systematic thinking.

The experience pushed me to discover economists like Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek.  I would have never studied a heterodox branch of political thought had it not been for the brutal assault on my weltanschauung.

Few Americans are able to pick up a book by Adam Smith and learns the ins and outs of a free society overnight.  Thanks to decades of Hollywood and academia propagating liberal cultural assumptions, many can't begin to think about society in any other way.

The first step to conversion is often shocking a person into questioning his own presumptions.  The hard task of teaching comes next.  Perhaps the method could be called "troll first, teach next."

To own the libs, or to not own the libs, that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to sit and take the abuse
The slinged insults and the pointed ire of outrageous liberals,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubled contradictions...

Apologies for the poor Bard imitation (too many syllables).  But there's been a question floating around conservative internet commentary circles of late: how much of right-wing advocacy focuses on triggering leftists over making substantive philosophical points?

In a profile piece for the The Atlantic on White House senior adviser Stephen Miller, reporter McKay Coppins recounts the rise of President Trump's wonky mischief-maker.  "Miller represents a rising generation of conservatives for whom 'melting the snowflakes' and 'triggering the libs' are first principles," Coppins writes.  "What happens when those right-wing trolls grow up to run the world?" he asks, almost hesitantly.

Miller, the son of two Jewish Democrats who grew up in prosperous Santa Monica, is no Russell Kirk-quoting intellectual.  Rather, his conservative education came predominantly from talk radio and pop political treatises.  Instead of debating the "permanent things" with friends, Miller played politically minded pranks in high school, like running for student government by cheekily pledging to increase janitor workload, wringing the last bit of efficiency from custodial staff.

The rabble-rousing only increased at Duke University, where Miller narced on his liberal professors, organized an "Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week," and invited known Islam skeptic David Horowitz to speak on campus.  The latter was so controversial that it drew C-SPAN cameras.

From Miller, Coppins traces the rise of other trigger warriors like guerrilla activist James O'Keefe and social media personality Milo Yiannopoulos.  The big kahuna of controversy is the President himself, who can send millions into spasms of rage with just one tweet.  These all filter down into an army of MAGA hat-wearing college students who deploy ample doses of irony against unsuspecting campus liberals.

Now even Grandma shares memes about melting sensitive snowflakes on Facebook.

The image of a conservative provocateur has, in the past, been similar to that of the jock savant, acing calculus while doling out concussions on the football field.  It was a walking contradiction: a young man wearing khakis and a blue blazer with a copy of Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France stuffed in a back pocket next to a pack of Marlboros.

Not anymore.  Replace Burke with a #socialismsucks lapel pin and cigarettes with Tupperware full of affirmative action brownies priced differently depending on the buyer's race, and you have today's merrymaking "America First" champion.  The notion of conservative rebellion is only reinforced by leftists, especially the young, who have become so tongue-tied by political correctness that they resemble schoolmarms, policing correct pronoun usage.

While it's refreshing that the right has discovered its inner troublemaker, Coppins warns that the focus on getting liberals riled up with theatrics and hyperbole may end up having the opposite effect as designed.

You start out with the goal of provoking the left – and, well, what's more provocative than posting a racist meme on the internet?  But with each new like and upvote, an incentive structure forms, a community coalesces, an identity hardens.  Before long, the line between performance and principle is blurred beyond recognition, your 'true' beliefs buried under so many layers of irony that they've been rendered irrelevant.

Coppins is correct that the philosophical underpinnings of right-wing thought can be lost in irony-soaked goading.  But is there a use in triggering others as an end in itself?  Can getting a rise out of your intellectual opponents by challenging the core of their priors really alter their worldview?

Yes, to a point.  Ideologies are not pliable things.  They're slabs of concrete dug in deep within the ground, hard to move.  Gently nudging a set-in-stone mindset with careful arguments doesn't always work.  Sometimes a sledgehammer is needed to loosen things up.

That's where the provocation comes in.  Karl Marx had a phrase for it: "sharpen the contradiction."  To effect the proletariat revolution, Marx wanted to shock workers into realizing that the holders of capital were not on their side.  Once epistemologically shaken, they would be more open to countervailing ideas, like the immorality of exploiting surplus labor.

There is something to having your beliefs challenged so mercilessly.  As a liberal Democrat in college, I attended a philosophy club full of anarcho-capitalist libertarians.  Believing myself to be well read and informed on current events, I engaged with their radical free-market philosophy only to have my ego beaten and bruised.  It was an intellectual hazing, as my rudimentary arguments toppled before their systematic thinking.

The experience pushed me to discover economists like Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek.  I would have never studied a heterodox branch of political thought had it not been for the brutal assault on my weltanschauung.

Few Americans are able to pick up a book by Adam Smith and learns the ins and outs of a free society overnight.  Thanks to decades of Hollywood and academia propagating liberal cultural assumptions, many can't begin to think about society in any other way.

The first step to conversion is often shocking a person into questioning his own presumptions.  The hard task of teaching comes next.  Perhaps the method could be called "troll first, teach next."