By Jonathon Van Maren
Back in 2017, I wrote a column explaining why the media’s attempt to smear Dr. Jordan Peterson and other members of the so-called Intellectual Dark Web as “alt-right” was so insidious: Because in fact, intellectuals and pundits like Peterson, Shapiro, and others were actually robbing the alt-right of followers and providing a solution to the growing problem of young men becoming radicalized online. Here’s what I wrote at the time:
Calling Jordan Peterson “alt-right” is also asinine because ironically, he is actually a very effective antidote to the alt-right. The ideologues of the alt-right essentially prey on young white men who are often frustrated, unsuccessful, and upset with a society that has purged many of the jobs that men once performed. The alt-right tells these young men that their failures are not their fault—rather, these failures can be laid at the feet of the Chinese globalists, or brown immigrants, or Jewish capitalists. The alt-right takes frustration and turns it into toxic, racially-charged resentment.
Dr. Jordan B. Peterson does precisely the opposite. Rather than feeding into the resentment of men who feel like useless failures, he tells them to grow up and become men. He tells them to quit porn, to date with the intention to marry, to control their impulses, get skills, and get a job. He tells them to stop whining and make something of themselves, and by the tens of thousands, they are actually listening to him. He has become, as one writer put it over at the National Review, “YouTube’s Father Figure”—a generation of young men who grew up without fathers in the home to tell them how to sort themselves out are now going to Peterson for the guidance they craved.
Now, as it turns out, there is data to back my theory. From The Daily Caller:
A study from Penn State University’s Political Science Department published October 1 found that, in spite of the “gateway” theory, online conservative content leads to de-radicalization among its viewers. Titled “A Supply and Demand Framework for YouTube Politics,” the study finds that “contrary to the ‘gateway drug’ narrative,” the Intellectual Dark Web, consisting of such personalities as Ben Shapiro, Joe Rogan, Jordan Peterson, and Dave Rubin, is de-radicalizing potential alt-right viewers.
The study’s authors, Kevin Munger and Joseph Phillips divide the Alternative Influence Network (AIN), the online commentators who have risen to rival the mainstream media, into 5 categories: “the liberals,” such as Joe Rogan; “the skeptics,” such as Jordan Peterson and Dave Rubin; “the conservatives,” such as Steven Crowder, Ben Shapiro, and PragerU; the alt-light, who exist to antagonize the left; and “the alt-right,” which is “firmly committed to a far-right ideology” and often express “strong anti-semitism and the belief that white people are are genetically superior.”
The study found that even though both conservative content and alt-lite/alt-right content online has increased, the total views of conservative content continued to climb while the latter decreased. The researchers concluded that the proliferation of conservative content by personalities like Shapiro and Crowder has more likely helped de-radicalize viewers than radicalize them:
Between 2013 and 2016, all segments of the AIN, including the Alt-Lite and Alt-Right, rose in viewership. However, since the middle of 2017, both of these ideological segments of the AIN have seen a steep decline in viewership. By contrast, Conservative and Liberal content creators who have much more in common with mainstream discourse than other segments of the AIN have either continued to grow or plateaued in viewership. These patterns are inconsistent with radicalization happening at a major scale; indeed, from these data alone, de-radicalization seems a more plausible baseline hypothesis. This does not rule out the possibility that some people are making the ideological journey from Liberals to Skeptics to the far-right, but this is certainly not the dominant trend.
The study’s conclusion read, “alternative voices on YouTube discuss topics mainstream media fails to touch, which may help them feature more prominently in search results and recommendations… Since 2017, viewership of the furthest-right content has declined despite increases in the supply of such content. In its place has been the rise of more mainstream-adjacent conservative and liberal creators, consistent with a large share of users finding ideological communities that best fit their ideal points.”
Thus far I have seen this study reported on primarily by conservative-leaning outlets, and I’m not particularly hopeful that the media hacks who see commentators like Shapiro as competition will decide to stop lying about conservative media figures (the Boston Globe referred to Shapiro’s Daily Wire as an “alt-right outpost” over a week after this study was released). But if anything, this study has proven that common-sense, traditional conservatives and intellectuals are necessary in the public square. It is the pathological far-Left that is radicalizing young men, as the alt-right takes advantage of progressivism’s increasing insanity to recruit.
It is conservative commentators who are doing the hard work of de-radicalization, and the Left should be relieved that we are cleaning up their mess.