It started with Sam Harris… Has the Guardian just published an excellent hoax parody?

alice-in-wonderlandThe Guardian has published what is either an unintentionally hilarious guilt-by-association stream of tortured consciousness, or else one of the best hoax parodies to be published by a mainstream publication. It is an anonymously written opinion piece titled ‘Alt-right’ online poison nearly turned me into a racist. The relieved author describes his lucky escape from a descent into racism, after considering various ideas that he describes, none of which are racist.

Skeptics are of course skeptical. Russell Blackford describes it as a brilliant anonymous parody of current self-censoring, identity-obsessed ‘liberalism’ before asking: ‘Who thinks that that piece in the Guardian might *really* be a hoax/parody? Everyone is assuming it is serious. I’m not sure.’ Miranda Hale thinks that it has to be parody and trolling, adding that it is important to confront the potential danger of actual ‘alt-right’ bigots, but that this article and its self-flagellating author lack all sense.

I know something of the formula of publishing hoax parodies, having written a bestselling book of prank letters in the 1990s. That was before the Internet gave everyone access to publishing without editorial gatekeepers, which is a good development, but also played havoc with the Overton window of social and political discourse, which is a bad development.

The essence of a good hoax is that it should be retrospectively obvious, but on first reading it has to sail as close to being silly as possible, while always slightly pulling back whenever it seems that it is going too far. On that basis this article might not be a hoax, because it sometimes goes too far into absolute silliness. But that has to be balanced with the Overton window shift that allows even mainstream publications to sincerely publish absolute silliness.

Another argument for it being a hoax is the author’s anonymity, which prevents readers from checking his authenticity. Against that, comments on the article are closed, and hoaxes are generally designed to elicit reaction. So is it a hoax or not? I think yes, but let’s examine it and see what you think. Even if it is an excellent hoax, it is worth countering the arguments for the benefit of those who may be taken in by it, and to admire the author’s mastery of his craft.

‘Alt-right’ online poison

We’ll start with the headline and the teaser paragraph, which in fairness were probably written by a Guardian editor and not by the anonymous author.

“Alt-right online poison nearly turned me into a racist. It started with Sam Harris, moved on to Milo Yiannopoulos and almost led to full-scale Islamophobia. If it can happen to a lifelong liberal, it could happen to anyone.”

‘Alt-right online poison’ is an effective start for a hoax. Anything poisonous is worrying, particularly if it is online, if few people understand what it means, and even more so if it can turn you into a racist. Then there are several good hooks in the scale that measures the spread of the author’s online poison.

Some people have already unjustly associated Sam Harris with racism, so why not start with him? Ignore the harm that will do to Sam’s good name. Then move from Sam to Milo Yiannopoulos. Ignore that Sam sees Milo as not being an ally, and as seeming to be trolling all of humanity. Linking together well-known people who disagree will get a reaction from readers of both.

Then end up almost at full-scale Islamophobia. That will link the word Islamophobia with the racism you have already mentioned, despite the fact that Islam is a religion and not a race, and that there are Muslims of many different races. Throw in the word ‘nearly’ before racist and ‘almost’ before Islamophobia. That should give you cover from defamation claims by Sam or Milo.

Finally, save the cat. Establish that the author is a lifelong liberal, who has just escaped a nasty fate. That will help your target readers to emotionally identify with him. Then warn the readers that they could also face this horrible fate, unless they… do what? Why, read your article! Oh, thank you for saving me!

A happily married, young white man

Brad and JanetWith that motivation established, let’s move on to the first paragraph.

“I am a happily married, young white man. I grew up in a happy, Conservative household. I’ve spent my entire life – save the last four months – as a progressive liberal. All of my friends are very liberal or left-leaning centrists. I have always voted Liberal Democrat or Green. I voted remain in the referendum. The thought of racism in any form has always been abhorrent to me. When leave won, I was devastated.”

Denton, the home of happiness, is where Brad proposed to Janet in the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Our anonymous author begins his own character arc in a metaphorical Denton, before his online breakdown leads him to Frank N. Furter’s castle. Also, let’s establish that our author is a white man. This is important because, later on, he will hold his whiteness and maleness responsible for his online radicalisation, which is of course a bad thing.

But does he also hold his whiteness and maleness responsible for good things, like being a happy, progressive liberal, remain-voting, anti-racist? He does not speculate on this, but we know that there are happy, progressive liberal, remain-voting, anti-racists of all races and genders. So we are forced to wonder on his behalf: is it possible that both his good and bad characteristics are shaped not by the whiteness of his skin or the Y-ness of his chromosomes, but by the content of his character?

Why did Brexit voters vote Leave?

Our anonymous author, devastated by the Brexit vote, then decides to examine the motives of the Leave voters.

“I was curious as to the motives of leave voters. Surely they were not all racist, bigoted or hateful? I watched some debates on YouTube.”

Admirably, he does this from a position of openness, assuming good faith in those who disagree with him. That establishes credibility with open-minded readers. It is of course easy to find articles that articulate an English nationalist approach to Brexit. But here are some other perspectives that such research might have also found online:

Why do some ethnic minority voters want to leave the EU? Telegraph, 1 June. This suggests that one third of black, Asian and ethnic minority voters will back Brexit, partly because an influx of cheap eastern European workers within the EU will further stretch resources in traditionally poor communities.

The Left Case for Brexit. Dissent Magazine, 6 June. This argues that the left is undermining itself seriously by focusing on concerted action within the EU, that Brexit will not hasten the break-up of the UK, and that the EU suffers from the same failings as multi-national trade agreements that are reshaping the global economic order.

How did UK end up voting to leave the European Union? Guardian, 24 June. This suggests that, rather than recent events, it was decades of Euro-skepticism and ministerial rebellion that led to Britain’s self-ejection from a union that voters never fully embraced.

Eight reasons Leave won the UK’s referendum on the EU. BBC, 24 June. This suggests the outcome was influenced by economics warnings backfiring, the 350m NHS claim getting traction, Nigel Farage highlighting immigration, the public stopping listening to PM David Cameron, Labour failing to connect with voters, the impact of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, older voters flocking to the polls, and Europe always seeming slightly alien.

How the United Kingdom voted and why. Lord Ashcroft Polls, 24 June. This suggests that the three most significant factors for Leave voters were 49% the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK, 33% control over immigration and borders, and 13% no control over how the EU expanded its membership or powers. The older the voters, the more likely they were to have voted to leave the EU. Most voters who were not working voted to leave. 53% of white voters, 33% of Asian voters and 27% of black voters voted to leave.

Think you know why people actually voted for Brexit? Think again. Independent, 17 July. This suggests the outcome was a combination of concerns about inequality, wages, jobs, de-industrialisation and immigration, rather than any one single cause.

Did our anonymous author read any of these analyses? He doesn’t tell us. Instead he simply says that he watched some debates on YouTube. Fair enough. So what videos on Brexit were online when he started his quest to discover what motivated Brexit voters? Again, it is easy to find videos that articulate an English nationalist approach to Brexit. Again, here are some other perspectives that he might have found on YouTube:

British-Pakistani writer Tariq Ali, of New Left Review, argues that Britain should leave the anti-democratic EU, because EU competition laws prevent Britain from taking decisions that are in its best interests, and the EU should be dismantled in oder to protect small countries like Greece.

Left wing pro-Muslim-rights George Galloway of Respect talks about his support for Brexit, largely for reasons of the economy, political accountability and anti-war sentiments. He is as far away as you can get from the alt-right, racism or ‘Islamophobia’, however you define those ideas.

George Galloway of Respect and Nigel Farage of UKIP agree on their support for Brexit, from their very different left and right political perspectives, based on the need for democracy and the need for the British people to be in charge of their own political destiny.

Before he died in 2014, the late Tony Benn of the Labour Party argued that Britain should leave the EU, because it does not have to listen to the voice of the British people, and that MPS have no right to give away the powers that the electorate has lent to them.

Let’s ask someone with no opinion about Brexit

Did our author examine any of these sources, in which Brexit supporters from the left and right express concerns about the economy, democracy, political accountability, immigration, the NHS, Euro-skepticism, and opposition to war? Again, he does not say. Instead he says that:

“Obvious points of concern about terrorism were brought up. A leaver cited Sam Harris as a source. I looked him up: this ‘intellectual, free-thinker’ was very critical of Islam. Naturally my liberal kneejerk reaction was to be shocked, but I listened to his concerns and some of his debates.”

As a hoax alert, the first point to note here is that his ‘obvious points of concern about terrorism’ are not at all obvious to if you objectively examine the evidence. There is certainly concern about terrorism, and particularly Islamist terrorism, in the wider context of world politics. But there is no evidence that this concern was central to the Brexit debate.

The second point is that Sam Harris has said: ‘I actually have no opinion about Brexit. Is there a social network for people with no opinions?’ But Sam does have opinions on an issue that our author later compares to Brexit, which is the support in America for Donald Trump. That opinion is that Sam has consistently been one of the most vocal critics of Donald Trump.

Despite this, our anonymous author, based on a recommendation from another anonymous person on the Internet, chooses an American writer on philosophy and religion, who has no opinion on Brexit but strongly opposes Donald Trump, as the starting point of his analysis about the motives of pro-Brexit voters in Britain. That is a very strange choice for a serious article, and an excellent choice for a hoax.

Having looked up Sam Harris, our author was shocked that this ‘intellectual, free-thinker’ was very critical of Islam. But why on earth would a lifelong liberal such as our author be shocked that somebody would be critical of Islam? There is much in Islam to be critical of. We cannot pretend that we are living in a world of peaceful and tolerant Ahmadiyya Muslims.

In the practical real-world in which we live, Islam is not merely a religion. It is an ideological combination of an integrated religious, judicial and political ideology and system of social governance, enforced through violence and infringing on the human rights of women Muslims, gay Muslims, dissident Muslims, Ahmadiyya Muslims, and non-Muslims.

As an aside, our anonymous author says that he has always voted for the Liberal Democrats or the Green Party. Maajid Nawaz, a former Islamist radical, was a Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate in 2015. He is now strongly critical of Islam, and has co-authored a book on Islam and the Future of Tolerance with Sam Harris.

Leading you down a rabbit hole

down the rabbit hole Our anonymous author then seems to forget the purpose of his research, which was to find out the motives of Leave voters, to confirm that they were not all racist, bigoted or hateful.

“This, I think, is where YouTube’s ‘suggested videos’ can lead you down a rabbit hole. Moving on from Harris, I unlocked the Pandora’s box of ‘It’s not racist to criticise Islam!’ content.”

He says that he unlocked the Pandora’s box of ‘It’s not racist to criticise Islam!’. But of course in reality, the opposite is the case. If there is any Pandora’s box, it contains the claim that it is racist to criticise Islam. This claim conflates religious ideology and race, and it even conflates Muslims with race.

Faisal Saeed Al Mutar is an Iraqi-born human rights activist and writer who founded the Global Secular Humanist Movement. Here is what he says about genuine critics of Islam:

“Genuine critics of Islam are mainly liberal democrats, some of them atheists, who think that there is a connection between some interpretations of the religion and bad or violent behaviour. They share many agreements with Muslim Reformers. Some tend to think that Islam in the twenty-first century represents a special case, and some do not.

They care about issues such as women’s rights and LGBT rights. They are acutely aware of extremist groups in the Muslim world and around the globe and see a clear link between violence and some interpretations of the fundamentals of Islam.

They view Islam itself as a major reason human rights are poorly upheld in most majority-Muslim countries. Most are also very critical of Christianity but are likely to argue that the Enlightenment has had a ‘buffering’ effect on Christianity that Islam has yet to undergo, leaving Islam in need of enlightenment or reformation.

They tend to differentiate between Islam as a set of ideas and interpretations and Muslims as people. Often, they mostly rely on statistics from organisations such as Pew and Gallup to resist making generalisations about Muslims as a whole.”

Further down the rabbit hole

Let’s go further down our author’s rabbit hole.

“Eventually I was introduced, by YouTube algorithms, to Milo Yiannopoulos and various “anti-SJW” videos (SJW, or social justice warrior, is a pejorative directed at progressives).

As a hoax alert, let’s remind ourselves of the teaser paragraph for this article. It reads: “Alt-right online poison nearly turned me into a racist. It started with Sam Harris, moved on to Milo Yiannopoulos and almost led to full-scale Islamophobia.”

Let’s then notice that we haven’t yet encountered any evidence of ‘alt-right poison’, never mind any starting with Sam Harris, and the supposed link between Sam and Milo is now revealed to be through YouTube algorithms!

YouTube algorithms do not provide meaningful links between the views of people in the relevant videos. They provide links to videos that may be about the same topics, or may feature some of the same people, or may include one or more similar keywords. They do not connect videos on the basis that they convey the same political views.

Indeed, the only place that YouTube algorithms can lead you is wherever you want to go yourself. If our author eventually (eventually! how many degrees of separation is that?) found himself watching a Milo Yiannopoulos video, that reflects the interests of the author himself and not the views of Sam Harris.

For what it is worth, here is what Sam has said about Milo:

“I can’t say I have followed what Milo has said or written to any great degree. I agree with him on a few things, and I disagree with him on others. The points of disagreement are probably unsurprising. He is a huge Trump supporter. He is religious, and given to defending a belief in God in terms that are no more impressive than those you have heard a thousand times or more. And I find in someone who is obviously smart and articulate, these arguments are even more annoying. Our minds don’t quite meet there.

My basic gripe with Milo, and again this is based on only a few interviews and a couple of his articles, is that he strikes me as fairly insincere. He seems to be trolling all of humanity at this point, and having a lot of fun doing it. And half of what he says about Social Justice Warriors and political correctness and Islamophobia is very incisive and amusing. But he seems to approach everything as a performance, and this leaves me wondering what he actually believes. So I don’t see him as a natural ally for what I am doing.”

Now let’s look at the second half of that sentence. The author refers to various anti-SJW videos and says that SJW, or social justice warrior, is a pejorative directed at progressives.

SJW is not a pejorative term directed at progressives. It is a pejorative term aimed at people who portray themselves as supporters of social justice, but who in reality do nothing to promote social justice in the real world. Instead they confine themselves to making defamatory allegations online, often about people who actually do work for social justice in the real world.

SJW is an evolution of the term ‘Keyboard Warrior’, with ‘Social Justice’ replacing ‘Keyboard.’ If our anonymous author were to genuinely misunderstand what SJW means, it might explain the lack of coherence of the article as a whole. If the author does understand what SJW means, then it increases my suspicion that the article is an excellent hoax parody.

Three months down the rabbit hole

Our anonymous author has now spent three months in his own self-constructed rabbit hole.

“For three months I watched this stuff grow steadily more fearful of Islam. “Not Muslims,” they would usually say, “individual Muslims are fine.” But Islam was presented as a “threat to western civilisation”. Fear-mongering content was presented in a compelling way by charismatic people who would distance themselves from the very movement of which they were a part.”

The argument in support of individual Muslims but against Islam is perfectly reasonable. In fact, most of the victims of human rights abuses by islamist regimes are Muslims. So criticism of Islam is not only not anti-Muslim, but is very much pro-Muslim. As with much of his analysis, our anonymous author has things exactly the wrong way around. There is indeed fear-mongering, but it comes from people who unjustly label human rights activists as racist and ‘Islamophobic’.

“They were shocking at first, but always presented as innocuous criticism from people claiming to be liberals themselves, or centrists, sometimes “just a regular conservative” – but never, ever identifying as the dreaded ‘alt-right’.”

This raises two obvious questions: how were the arguments shocking, if they were presented as innocuous criticism? And maybe the people were claiming to be liberals, or centrists, and not part of the alt-right, because those people are in fact liberals, or centrists, and not part of the alt-right? These questions are even more relevant given that the author says that his purpose was to examine the motivations of Brexit voters in good faith.

“At the same time, the anti-SJW stuff also moved on to anti-feminism, men’s rights activists – all that stuff. I followed a lot of these people on Twitter, but never shared any of it. I just passively consumed it, because, deep down, I knew I was ashamed of what I was doing. I’d started to roll my eyes when my friends talked about liberal, progressive things. What was wrong with them? Did they not understand what being a real liberal was? All my friends were just SJWs. They didn’t know that free speech was under threat and that politically correct culture and censorship were the true problem.”

This is impossible to analyse, because we don’t know which Twitter accounts the author is talking about. We have already established that he was led to these by YouTube algorithms, which means that they reflect his own views and not those of Sam Harris or Milo Yiannopoulos, but that is literally all that we know of them. If he could come out from behind his anonymity, and tell us who it was that he was following on Twitter, then we might be able to respond to him. But if the article is a hoax, he cannot do this.

Alice wakes up

Alice waking upThen comes the moment that, more than any other, leads me to believe that article is a hoax parody. Our author explains, in almost sit-com terms, a bizarre interaction with his wife.

“On one occasion I even, I am ashamed to admit, very diplomatically expressed negative sentiments on Islam to my wife. Nothing ‘overtly racist’, just some of the ‘innocuous’ type of things the YouTubers had presented: ‘Islam isn’t compatible with western civilisation.’ She was taken aback: ‘Isn’t that a bit… rightwing?’

I justified it: ‘Well, I’m more a left-leaning centrist. PC culture has gone too far, we should be able to discuss these things without shutting down the conversation by calling people racist, or bigots.’ The indoctrination was complete.”

I hope that I don’t even have to analyse how comical this exchange is. It is a risky move within a hoax parody, as it crosses the line of credibility for even very credulous people. The melodramatic pause, as his wife choose the best admonishment, is perfect, with its implication that there is something inherently wrong with being right wing.

So too is the despondent finality of ‘the indoctrination was complete,’ even though this conclusion is retrospective. He doesn’t seem to realise that he had been indoctrinated until a week before the US election:

“About a week before the US election, I heard one of these YouTubers use the phrase ‘red-pilled’ – a term from the film The Matrix – in reference to people being awakened to the truth about the world and SJWs. Suddenly I thought: This is exactly like a cult. What am I doing? I’m turning into an arsehole.

I unsubscribed and unfollowed from everything, and told myself outright: “You’re becoming a racist. What you’re doing is turning you into a terrible, hateful person.” Until that moment I hadn’t even realised that “alt-right” was what I was becoming; I just thought I was a more open-minded person for tolerating these views.

It would take every swearword under the sun to describe how I now feel about tolerating such content and gradually accepting it as truth. I’ve spent every day since feeling shameful for being so blind and so easily coerced.”

This then is his equally comical moment of truth. He has decided that he was becoming a racist and a terrible hateful person, even though he has not shared with us anything that could be reasonably described as racist or hateful.

The Election of Donald Trump

Our author’s journey concludes with the election of Donald Trump.

“US election day rolled around, and I was filled with dread. Trump’s win felt like EU referendum morning all over again – magnified by a hundred. Although I never shared any of this rubbish with anybody, I feel partly responsible. It’s clear this terrible ideology has now gone mainstream.”

We may be confused why our author in Britain feels partly responsible for Donald Trump being elected in America, but we can only assume that is something to do with his imaginary journey from listening to Sam Harris to nearly becoming a racist. But this would be a strange reason for feeling responsible for the election of Donald Trump, given that Sam Harris was one of the most outspoken critics of Donald Trump.

“It hit me like a ton of bricks. Online radicalisation of young white men. It’s here, it’s serious, and I was lucky to be able to snap out of it when I did. And if it can get somebody like me to swallow it – a lifelong liberal – I can’t imagine the damage it is doing overall.”

Our author is here introducing here something which, if true, would certainly be an important issue. But he is simply presenting it as an assertion, unsupported by anything that we know about the success of Brexit or the election of Donald Trump. Both elections seem to have been decided by older voters, and more on nationalist or class lines than race or gender lines.

In the Brexit vote:

  • Young voters under 25 voted to Remain by 73% to 27%
  • Young voters between 25 and 34 voted to Remain by 62% to 38%.
  • Male and female voters split evenly at 48% Remain 52% Leave.
  • Voters who considered themselves more British than English voted to Remain by 63% to 37%.
  • Voters who considered themselves more English than British voted to Leave by 66% to 34%.
  • Those who said they paid a great deal of attention to politics were evenly divided between Leave and Remain.
  • Those who said they paid little or no attention to politics voted to Leave by 58% to 42%.

In the US Presidential Election:

  • More young people voted for Clinton, but more older people voted overall.
  • 58% of white people voted for Trump, but he also got 30% of the Asian and Hispanic vote. He got only 8% of the black vote.
  • More men voted for Trump, but Trump also got 42% of the female vote.
  • More voters with income under $50,000 voted for Clinton, and more with higher income voted for Trump.
  • More urban people voted for Clinton, and more rural and suburban people voted for Trump.
  • More people who were not college graduates voted for Trump.

The Forbes analysis of the Election gives this analysis of the class dimension:

“America is a nation of many economies, but those that produce real, tangible things — food, fiber, energy and manufactured goods — went overwhelmingly for Trump. He won virtually every state from Appalachia to the Rockies, with the exceptions of heavily Hispanic Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico, and President Obama’s home base of Illinois.

Class has been a bigger factor in this election than in any election since the New Deal era. Trump’s insurgency rode largely on middle- and working-class fears about globalization, immigration and the cultural arrogance of the ‘progressive’ cultural elite. This is something Bill Clinton understands better than his wife.

Trump owes his election to what one writer has called ‘the leftover people.’ These may be ‘deplorables’ to the pundits but their grievances are real – their incomes and their lifespans have been decreasing.

Many of these voters were once Democrats, and feel they have been betrayed. And they include a large swath of the middle class, whose fury explains much of what happened tonight. Trump has connected better with these voters than Romney.”

The mind boggles

Now back to our anonymous author

“It seemed so subtle – at no point did I think my casual and growing Islamophobia was genuine racism. The good news for me is that my journey toward the alt-right was mercifully brief: I never wanted to harm or abuse anybody verbally, it was all very low level – a creeping fear and bigotry that I won’t let infest me again. But I suspect you could, if you don’t catch it quickly, be guided into a much more overt and sinister hatred.”

What? Suddenly we have jumped from radicalisation of young white males in the American Election, into casual and growing Islamophobia and racism inside our anonymous author’s head. He seems not to understand the problems with the term ‘Islamophobia’, which conflates bigotry against Muslims, which is bad, with criticism of Islam, which is necessary and good.

And even if he did understand that, his conclusion is not supported by the story that he has told us. He has not told us how he has harmed or abused anybody verbally, other than Sam Harris, Milo Yiannopoulos, and other anonymous people who he is quite happy to abuse verbally because they defend Muslims and non-Muslims alike from the human rights abuses of Islamist regimes.

“I haven’t yet told my wife that this happened, and I honestly don’t know how to. I need to apologise for what I said and tell her that I certainly don’t believe it. It is going to be a tough conversation and I’m not looking forward to it. I didn’t think this could happen to me. But it did and it will haunt me for a long time to come.”

Seriously, this is hard to believe. You would wonder how this man makes it past breakfast every morning. Unless his conversation with his wife included much more content than he has shared with us here. Or, of course, much less.

The author was not paid a fee for this piece

The mind boggles.


Let’s put aside whether or not we share the opinions of our anonymous author. Here is what seems to have happened, if we take his own account at face value. How credible do you think this is?

  • Our author began as a happily married young white male progressive anti-racist liberal.
  • He was devastated by the Brexit result, and decided to examine in good faith why so many people voted to Leave.
  • Despite any amount of available resources, he either forgot this mission, or else decided not to tell us anything about it.
  • Instead he got distracted by YouTube algorithms and, based on his own personal preferences, he led himself to ’eventually’ watching other YouTube videos.
  • These videos presented what he described as innocuous arguments about Islam and free speech that, based on what he has shared here, seem to be reasonable arguments.
  • He also started following anti-SJW Twitter accounts, but he doesn’t share with us which Twitter accounts these were.
  • He reluctantly defended a tame version of his newly-forming beliefs to his wife, despite her concern that his beliefs might be a bit… right wing.
  • Some time later he heard someone on YouTube using the the term ‘red-pill’, and he suddenly thought that he was ‘turning into an arsehole.’
  • He then told himself that he was becoming a racist and a terrible hateful person, even though he has not shared with us anything that could be reasonably described as racist or hateful.
  • He has now become the metaphorical equivalent of the Monty Python monks who walk around their courtyard slapping themselves on the forehead with wooden boards.
  • He feels partly responsible for the election of Donald Trump in America, because of the radicalisation of young white men, despite there being no evidence for young white men being responsible for Trump’s victory.
  • He is worried that the rest of us, if we follow his journey, could be guided into overt and sinister hatred, that he constantly refers to but never gives examples of.
  • He is dreading telling his wife about his story.
  • He was not paid a fee for telling us about his story.

A word of caution: it is of course possible that our anonymous author was indeed watching racist and hateful videos and Twitter accounts. There is no doubt that these exist on the Internet, and that some people are watching them, if not the author of this piece. And it is of course possible that our author had indeed become racist and hateful. If that is the case, it is a good thing that he snapped out of it. But he has not presented in this article the slightest shred of evidence that any of the people or arguments that he has cited are racist or hateful.

If he knows of genuinely racist and hateful YouTube or Twitter accounts, then he should challenge those accounts directly, citing the actual racist and hateful content, and putting the responsibility on the actual authors. And he should stop throwing around guilt-by-association nonsense against Sam Harris and others, who genuinely campaign for human rights of Muslims and others, against the vicious human rights infringements of Islamist regimes around the world.

Until that happens, I believe that the article is an excellent hoax. And yes, I am aware of the irony of me responding to a hoax as the author wanted, by taking it seriously enough to analyse it. But it is worth countering the arguments for the benefit of those who may be taken in by it, and also to admire the author’s mastery of his craft. Sometimes life is complicated!

It started with Sam Harris… Has the Guardian just published an excellent hoax parody?

13 thoughts on “It started with Sam Harris… Has the Guardian just published an excellent hoax parody?

  1. If this is one of the Godfrey Elfwicks – there have been at least two – then it is the best hoax since Sokal.

    Please let it be true.

    And even if it isn’t a hoax, the suspicion that it might be (and maybe The Guardian shares that suspicion, hence the disabled comments) turns the article into satire whether the author intended that or not.

  2. When I first read that, pretty much as soon as it was posted, my spidey-sense was tingling. I also noted the comments were switched off, although an increasing amount of articles have comments switched off, because posters BTL are trashing the ATL writers and exposing their BS.

    It was either written as a hoax, and the Guardian fell for it.


    It was written by one of the batch of anti “new atheist” thugs or a member of CAGE, etc. It could have been written by CJ Werleman, PZ Myers, Ashgar Bukhari, or some other anti-Semitic/regressive left/Islamist troll.

    The way in which the article exists simply to crow-bar Sam Harris into it, is very suspicious.

  3. It could be a hoax, or satire. But I’ve seen this kind of reasoning far too often, and in my experience, such people don’t care whether their ideas make any sense. The “everybody I don’t like is X” where X is always something opposite of what the author thinks of themselves is commonplace. Read a few RationalWiki articles and you’ll see they consider all sorts of people as reactionary, neocon, right wing etcetera who neither see themselves as such, nor generally fit into the category.

    Part of that radical restructuring of the political landscape comes from anti SJW themselves, who have taken up the idea of a “culture war” or began to use “cultural marxism” to describe the identitarian SJW opponents, thereby they unwittingly took a right wing side. But the most of the restructuring is done by the SJWs, who completely see everybody and everyone who disagrees with their politics as “alt right” by now. This new idea was fashioned, in good postmodernist tradition, with two separate meanings. The bailey version means a large number of people, as you can tell from the Wikipedia article. But when pressed, there’s a motte version, which means white supremacist of the Spencer type.

    It’s also true that according to YouTube algorithm, there is a “corner” that is anti SJW and which at presents indeed goes from Sam Harris to InfoWars, as odd it may seem. The SJW phenomenon seems to have such a draw and demand at the moment so that it suspends classic political divisions. But this kind of terrforming is also what SJWs wanted to have, early on, and where their posturing pays off. Everybody who is critical of them, but doesn’t spend enough time to announce their leftist, feminist or progressive creds is typically losing that ground, which is part of how the game works.

  4. PZ Meyeres swallows the bait:

    Connect the dots, and look at ourselves

    By which he means, of course, look at people other than himself:

    Sam Harris, Dave Rubin, Thunderf00t, Christopher Hitchens…these guys are gateways to the normalization of hatred.

  5. A day in the life of Glenn Greenwald…

    Retweets about “one of the year’s worst journalist/pundit practices on Twitter.” In a nutshell, the practice of pushing people into opposing tribes by retweeting the most extreme view with a quote on top suggesting “this is what you are up against.”

    Hours later retweets op-ed with extreme view that Sam Harris is turning people into racists, complete with exaggerated headline “A liberal writes in @Guardian how he was radicalized by @SamHarrisOrg into full-scale hatemongering against Muslims.”

    Sticks to his guns after it turns out article was a hoax mocking the very view Greenwald himself holds.

    Spends rest of the day blasting the media for mindlessly repeating fake news, points out the irony that “the people on the loudest crusade against Fake News are most aggressively spreading it.”

    You couldn’t make this stuff up…

  6. SJW is not a pejorative term directed at progressives. It is a pejorative term aimed at people who portray themselves as supporters of social justice, but who in reality do nothing to promote social justice in the real world. Instead they confine themselves to making defamatory allegations online, often about people who actually do work for social justice in the real world.

    SJW is an evolution of the term ‘Keyboard Warrior’, with ‘Social Justice’ replacing ‘Keyboard.’

    Near as I can tell, this isn’t completely true. From what I can tell, SJW seems to have two meanings. The older meaning is the one to which you referred, basically keyboard “warriors” doing a botch job of advocating social justice. However, more right-wing people have been using “SJW” as a perjorative for progressives, and in turn, there are liberals and progressives who have responded by self-identifying as SJWs.

  7. “And even if it isn’t a hoax, the suspicion that it might be (and maybe The Guardian shares that suspicion, hence the disabled comments) turns the article into satire whether the author intended that or not.”

    It is not uncommon for mainstream press to disable comments on articles that tell people what they should be thinking and other non-trivial subjects.

  8. J.J. Ramsey

    Yes. Some of the alt-right use the term “progressives” to refer to the people I (and I suspect most posting here) would call the “regressive left” or the SJWs. It is rather ironic that while we have recognised that genuine liberals stand for progressive values, the regressive left deserted them, and the alt-right don’t understand them.

  9. Paul Coddington.

    Indeed. The Guardian is not enabling comments, or switching off comments early, because of 3 primary reasons. Not including the obvious on on Israel/Palestine threads which always turn nasty very quickly.

    1. They are losing money and don’t have as many resources as in the past. They have fewer “mods” these days, I believe.

    2. They are finding that they are unable to control the narrative they try and build ATL (above the line), and are wary of BTL commentators completely trashing and exposing the articles. This is happening on any “pay gap” article, for example. The “pathway to alt-right” article would be trashed and ridiculed BTL. The Graun knows this.

    3. There is an increasing problem of “Putinbots” and other troll factory-type teams spamming in propaganda.

  10. I can not tell you how encouraged I am to know someone “out there” is diligent and motivated enough to methodically break this down into its constituent parts. As we start more and more feedback loops through social media without really thinking about what is happening to us, the inevitable “screech” is coming more often and with more volume. I sometimes wonder though if we are becoming so accustomed to the sound that we don’t even hear it after a while. Thanks for this effort!

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