I’m not going to talk about the factual side of the recent terrorist attacks in the States. Everyone knows the details at this point, down to the most gruesome and heart-wrenching details about illegal immigrants being injured and still not going to the hospital in fear of being apprehended by ICE agents while receiving treatment. You don’t need to hear all this for the umpteenth time, and if you’re not emotionally affected by it yet, than I doubt my own contribution would go a long way in provoking such a response anyway.
What I do want to do is take a brief look at why this recent surge in so-called “right-wing extremism” is becoming a menace to society and pushing people into a state of paranoia that is threatening to reach post-9/11 levels of hysteria, at least in terms of public discourse both online and off.
What the mainstream media, and indeed most political and social commentators, fail to grasp is the very nature of these shootings. In order to understand them, you need to delve into the psyche of these radicalized young people resorting to acts that would only be (somewhat) justifiable during a war of attrition against a foreign invader. The truth is, this isn’t a mental health crisis, or at least not in the sense that most people view that particular topic. It’s not a strictly political and ideological issue wherein the blame can fall squarely on news sources like Breitbart of left-reddit. What we are seeing is the outward expression of a disastrous crisis of faith among young Western men.
Imagine, if you will, a generation of kids that grew up shortly before or just after the events of 9/11, an event that shattered all illusions of safety and invincibility that the West had woven around itself in its quest to completely discard the significance of the outside world. And just as the memory of both the collapsing towers and the consequent wars that were waged on behalf of a bumbling idiot like Bush begin to fade, this generation of kids is thrust into yet another crisis, this time of a wholly different nature. The 2008 financial collapse that left millions of Americans bankrupt, homeless and hopeless. These same Americans were forced to watch as Wallstreet was given unfathomable bailouts, while the very people who gambled with the ordinary Joe’s money in the pursuit of short-term profit were pardoned and excused. Only one person was held accountable for the entire financial collapse, some unfortunate sod who turned into a scapegoat for what was in reality an entire economic system that was rotting from the inside out and could no longer sustain itself without resorting to shadiness, bribery, trickery and deceit.
And then, lest we forget, the cherry on top – the looming disaster, the ever-present threat of climate change that is slowly but surely manifesting itself and changing the already unstable world that we were brought up in.
These are all just the major beats of our story, the story of late millenials and, more importantly, Gen Z. We were thrust into a world constantly teetering on the brink of collapse. By no fault of our own. We were forced to watch as billionaires lobbied and bribed their way to a blissful existence as they concealed their fortunes in offshore bank accounts and laundered their dirty proceeds through shady shell corporations and faux charitable foundations. All the while we watched on as automation slowly chipped away at job availability. We watched artificial scarcity drive up prices. We stomached planned obsoletion, fearfully observed the steady growth of modern police states that rely heavily on technology in order to curtail our right to privacy. And so on and so on, as Zizek says.
The point of this ramble was to illustrate the world that we all inherited. Most of us can deal with it, be it through ignorance, or acceptance, or activism and the hope of incremental change. But what about those who didn’t come to the conclusion that individual responsibility is the key to change? What of those who suffered directly from the fracturing of society, the destruction of communal space, the constant march of alienation? Where do they end up?
They end up on the internet, the last place where people can meet, and talk, and share, and find kindred spirits. The last place where the broken souls yearning for freedom and connection can go to seek something akin to actual understanding. Forum culture has been suffocated by corporations seeking to make a buck off personalized ads. So what do the most dower and hopeless of us turn to? Spaces that are radical in their support of free speech and expression. Places like 4chan, 8chan, the depths of reddit. Places where those who’ve turned their backs on society just as society turned its back on them go to seek direction. And in their shared hatred towards the world that failed them, they found the fuel that would heat the fire of their disappointment into a blaze of anger. Why should they help better society when it kicked them out and turned its back on them? Why should they help perpetuate a status quo that displayed nothing but contempt towards them?
This is the mindset of a radicalized alt-righter. To them, the world is a degenerate cesspool that has failed its constituent parts – the people. They see degeneracy on every street corner, apocalyptic signs in every piece of news. This is all brought on by very real economic factors; the completely abdication of workers’ movements and union organizations, the disregard that the corporate world shows toward anything that does not contain a clear path to profit, the disdain that the elites display towards the plebiscite. In the view of someone who grew up knowing nothing but this, this is a world that deserves to burn. To burn so that it may be rebuilt anew. Let me be clear, this is in no way an endorsement of this view. It is merely an attempt to explain it, from the standpoint of someone who spent a considerable chunk of their life frequenting the very same forums and online spaces that today are being painted as the spawning points of all modern evil. To turn a forum into a literal manifestation of all evil is to turn a blind eye to the systemic and material conditions that brought about the existence of said manifestation. And in doing so, we stray further and further from the possibility of rooting out the true cause of our current woes. This is not a mere mental health epidemic. This is the malaise of the modern man, devoid of meaning, lacking clear direction, seeking absolution. And until we turn to a system that allows man to experience an authentic life and to exist in harmony with the world that we’re slowly but surely destroying, things will only slide further and further into chaos.