Natalie Wynn is the renowned creator of ContraPoints. Current Affairs editors Nathan J. Robinson and Aisling McCrea recently spoke to Natalie on the Current Affairs podcast. A transcript follows. It has been lightly edited for grammar and readability.
NATHAN J. ROBINSON: Good evening. This is Current Affairs. I am Nathan J. Robinson, the editor of Current Affairs magazine. I am here with my co-editor Aisling McCrea, and we have with a guest that I have been looking forward to speaking with for a long time. Natalie Wynn is the proprietor and host of the ContraPoints channel on YouTube, which demolishes bad right wing arguments with wit and verve. She has been called the Oscar Wilde of YouTube. The New Yorker dubbed her “the stylish socialist who is trying to save YouTube from alt-right domination.” Vice has said, “…combining humor, drag, and philosophy, she is one of the most incisive and compelling video essayists on YouTube… ContraPoints is seemingly doing the impossible, making nuanced and controversial political debates both sexy and engaging.” Current Affairs Magazine has called her “…a national treasure.” There is nobody like her, she is doing stunningly original work, and it is the greatest possible privilege to have her with us here today. Hello, Natalie.
Natalie Wynn: What an intro. Hi, everyone.
NJR: Yeah, I worked hard on that.
NW: I don’t know if I could possibly live up to that.
NJR: Now you have to live up to it.
NW: I’ll put some of my divine energy in it, and do what I can.
NJR: Here’s what I want to start with: I was thinking, in an ideal world, there would be no ContraPoints YouTube channel, because the points that you are contra to are horrible bigoted arguments by incels, racists, and transphobes.
NW: Yeah, they’re very bad points.
NJR: They’re terrible points! We don’t want the points. So it’s a shame that there even has to be a ContraPoints.
NW: Yes. It would be a makeup channel, if it weren’t for all of the other stuff.
NJR: Exactly. You should be able to just be able to be doing makeup, and instead you’re having to dismantle all of these horrible arguments. So the thing I want to start with is: What the hell is going on that YouTube is so saturated with reactionaries? How has the right so successfully captured this medium?
NW: Well, I think part of it is that it’s sort of like AM radio 20 years ago: It’s a medium where there’s not a lot of traditional gate-keeping. In fact, there’s almost no gate-keeping at all. So, people who have ideas that traditional journalists would be like “Why don’t we not platform this?” well, you can build an audience sidestepping it. And in some ways, that’s very good. It sounds good, in fact, if you were to hear it as a prospective idea. Because in some ways it’s wonderful to be able to sidestep gatekeepers. It’s great for trans people, for instance. I find no one wants to give us a platform, but we can just make our own, on YouTube, and we can just find each other and build a community. The downside is racists can do the exact same thing, and they have. So there’s a good, and a bad side when it comes to being able to sidestep all the gatekeepers. And the bad side is that the racists can organize.
NJR: But why have the racists been winning? Does democracy naturally tend towards those people winning, and you need a set of elites to help bar the bad ideas?
NW: I’m not quite sure. I hope that’s not true. I think that there’s something about the kind of cultural moment that kind of lends itself toward this sort of thing. It’s pretty toilsome to be constantly making Third Reich comparisons, but I think that when you have a population that feels, in some way, that they’re humiliated, feels in some way that they’re not getting what they’re promised, and not getting what they deserve, feeling a lack of some kind of purpose, some kind of belonging to a cause that means anything… these are the conditions where these kinds of sinister techniques—scapegoating, resentment, in-group out-group thinking—this type of stuff can really thrive. And the alt-right, when they were at their peak, a couple years ago, they jumped on top of that.
I always go back to their use of the word “cuck,” which I thought was just sort of breathtaking in it’s directness. Like, oh, this is about sexual insecurity and the feeling of humiliation. Like, they may as well have just said that, and it’s almost sort of touchingly candid, I thought. But there’s sort of different levels of this. The alt-right gets a lot of press attention, but around the alt-right is this big cloud of stuff that’s not quite so sinister, but has a lot of the same causes, and some of the same effects. I’m talking about the sort of Jordan Peterson fandom, for example, which sort of recruits from the same audience, and the same demographic, and depends on a lot of the same feelings, and fears, and resentments.
AISLING MCCREA: One thing I think the right has always been very good at is taking the same ideas, and then dressing it up in the aesthetics and language for different demographics. How they appeal to some people who like the edgy meme 4chan thing, and so there are people who will be directed in that way. And there are people who are more serious “Yes, I like to talk about ‘ideas,’ and I like to talk about yes, the Enlightenment, and yes, the Greek forum, yes, very much.” There are a lot of people who find that more appealing. And a lot of it is based on the same ideas, but it’s just dressed up in different language. And you have, even in mainstream papers, people who will say “Oh, well, we just have some serious concerns about immigration, or trans people in bathrooms,” or whatever it is. That’s something that the left does fail at a little bit, is kind of remembering that different things appeal to different people, and you can’t just necessarily yell at people about the labor theory of value and expect everyone to respond to it.
NW: I think that’s a very wonderful way of putting it. I’ve actually never thought to say exactly what you just said, but I completely agree that one of the talents that the right has, at least on YouTube, is actually kind of an impressive diversity of rhetoric. Because I’ve tended to focus on this shitlord internet 4chan memeing style, but it’s true that it’s only one of the things that’s happening. That’s not what Stefan Molyneux appeals to, right? That’s not really what Jordan Peterson appeals to. There is that kind of pompous enlightenment rationalist kind of way of speaking, which, there’s no Pepe involved in that. There are no clown wigs, there are no memes. It’s about as self serious as a thing could possibly be. But there are a bunch of them, and they have this talent for adapting rhetoric for an audience. And that scares me, in a way, because I do think the left, on the whole, is quite bad at it. On the left, there’s just this lack of ability or intuition for how to publicly present an argument, and how to understand a group of people’s emotional base level and the heartstrings that you can tug at, in other words. Whereas I think there’s this frightening cleverness to the right-wing strategy of, for instance, appealing to gamers in the wake of Gamergate. That was very clever. I wish I had thought of that. It was a good move on their part, and that sort of scares me.
NJR: They do seem to know what they are doing in a way that we don’t. I wrote an article about Peterson a while back called “The Intellectual We Deserve,” and the “we deserve” aspect was a big part of it. Looking at his work, the arguments themselves are often incoherent, as you point out in your video on him. But that raised the weird question in my mind: If the arguments are so flimsy, and if he’s so inherently risible to me, if he’s just such an obvious charlatan to me, why isn’t he appearing that way to others? Why are there so many people for whom he is taken very seriously? When I look at Ben Shapiro, I look at someone who doesn’t even understand the basics of a logical argument, yet the New York Times called him “the cool kid’s philosopher?” So what is it that’s allowing transparent sophistry to pass as really deep and enlightened philosophy?
NW: Well, in the case of Peterson, and I mean this with 90 percent seriousness: The man is simply a daddy. He has presence, he’s paternal. And he has that kind of energy, and he’s a person who seems to me like he enjoys dispensing wisdom. This is a person whose self-help career started as a volunteer on Quora, answering hundreds of questions. And there’s a certain type of personality that likes to deliver life wisdom, and I think that’s him. And I think a lot of people who he talks to are sort of desperate for it. They genuinely do have problems with their life. Not like, problems of being oppressed, but problems of ennui, aimlessness. I would say disappointment, in terms of what they expected from the economy they’re in, or from their professional lives. I think Jordan Peterson offers, yes, advice and paternal guidance, and all that. But also he kind of encourages the finger-pointing, and the scapegoating of feminism, for example, or this sort of vague and sinister political “cultural Marxist intellectuals taking over the academy” kind of thing. On one hand, he’s saying it’s all about personal responsibility, here’s how to make your life better, you’re in control, but on the other hand he’s saying but also, all your problems are the fault of this sinister cabal of intellectuals. And so, that part is a little bit of a mystery. Why has he been able to get away with this two-sided, two-headed beast that’s tearing itself apart?
AM: I don’t want to call him a fundamentalist, I think that would be a little bit extreme, but a lot of these sort of slightly sinister people who get these kinds of followings, it’s often emotion-based, and it doesn’t have to be coherent. I know it’s a cliche thing to say, but Umberto Eco talked about how when far right movements have enemies, they’re always simultaneously strong and weak. So Antifa are simultaneously these super-strong thugs who are coming to get you, but they’re also soy boys. Women are really weak and stupid, but they’ve also simultaneously manipulated the entire world to revolve around them. Those contradictions work, somehow, in people’s minds, because it’s not really about having a coherent worldview.
NW: Yeah, I completely agree with that. Some of the the stuff that these people are admired for, like Ben Shapiro, I think in his case there’s a kind of performance that Ben Shapiro does as a debater, which basically mirrors the kind of thing I’d have seen on YouTube forever, which is this idea of destroying someone, owning, owning the libs. Ben Shapiro owning the libs. That’s why they think he’s cool, because an easy way to look cool, at least in a kind of petty, schoolyard kind of way, is to put someone else down. And that’s what Ben Shapiro basically does.
AM: It’s a branding thing. What I find quite interesting—I wrote a piece that mentioned this a while back— is that Ben Shapiro predates the Intellectual Dark Web a little bit, because in the 2000s, he was just a sort of Bush-era conservative, like standard religious conservative, and anti-gay, and then he kind of pivoted a little bit, so now he’s the “facts guy.” Now he’s the facts and logic guy, which is sort of a different strain from the religious conservative thing. And he’s still got all the same viewpoints, but he’s somehow managed to act as though his suppositions are inherently logical by having this aesthetic of Logic-Facts-Guy.
NW: Yes, that’s exactly how I think about it. An aesthetic of logic, that’s exactly what it is. It’s a kind of, to use their terminology, virtue signaling, right? You’ve draped your public persona, and your presentation style in this cloak of only caring about the facts—which of course, is it true that Ben Shapiro cares about the facts more than anyone else? Absolutely not. But it’s something that you constantly say, and it sort of works, interestingly, to constantly say that you only care about the facts, that you don’t care about anyone else’s feelings. It allows you to frame all objections as coming from some place of fundamental irrationality, which works especially well when the people you are arguing against are, for example, women, or for example, trans people—two groups of people who are sort of stereotyped in people’s minds as being irrational, or delusional.
NJR: You have this great quote in your video, “The Aesthetic,” where you say “reason is a very powerful aesthetic, if you’re a man.”
NW: Yes, that’s something that’s relied on very heavily. I always used to make fun of YouTube “skepticism” videos—this was back in like 2016-2017, when there were all of these clones of like, there was a cartoon animal in a suit or something, and they would speak, and there’s just this comically, I call it, like, whiskey voice, this gravely, low growl of a mannish voice, the implication being, somehow, speaking like Christian Bale made you more logical. That seemed to be sort of the aesthetic implication. And I think it’s hard for women to find the same kind of place, because that’s not what an audience expects from a woman, right? It’s kind of like the concept of genius, which I think is, in some ways, an inherently male-coded concept. When people think “What is a genius?” there’s a particular idea in mind of a tortured male person. And I think something that works against women is that women don’t get recognized for their talents, because they don’t fit the archetype of what a genius is supposed to be, in the same way they don’t necessarily get thought of as rational, because—and this is something I think about a lot as a trans person—even the speech patterns, the intonation of your voice, how assertive or aggressive, how hesitant or how questioning, whether you’re using language of like I think or I feel, or whether you’re just boldly asserting, you know what I mean? The same thing that from a man will come across as rational and confident, from a woman might come across as bitchy, or in a trans woman, could come across as mannish. So, it’s like this labyrinth of problems that I find myself having—it’s like a puzzle to be solved. Like, how do I speak, even?
NJR: Elon Musk has spent years saying things that are just often the dumbest things I’ve ever heard, and yet I see hordes of people online thinking he’s a genius. Ben Shapiro couldn’t have succeeded if he wasn’t a man. His whole brand necessitates him being a man, because he sounds like a Smart Person. But then, if you just start breaking down the arguments, and he’s like, “oh, a study says,” and you’re like, “I’m going to look up that study,” and then you find out that “wait, the study doesn’t say that.” Or, as you pointed out in your video on him, he really doesn’t understand the basics of language. His entire argument about trans people is based on a misunderstanding of what is going on with pronouns.
NW: That’s a perfect example of this, what we’re talking about as a facts and logic aesthetic. Or even, in this case, a science aesthetic, where he’s constantly saying oh, trans people are crazy, they’re delusional, they just won’t look at the biology, they’re just wrong about biology, when the fact of the matter is I go to get my hormones filled every month, and the last whole few years of my life have been kind of revolved around basically constantly talking to doctors about my biology, and dealing with the situation of my biology. I am very acquainted with my biology. So it’s just a total straw man to suggest that oh, what we’re really debating about in this pronouns debate is biology. No, we are not. It’s not a debate about biology, it’s a debate about language, but the language debate, your STEM-lord is not equipped to have that debate, most of the time.
And I think this biology thing works, because it’s like neuroscience in courtrooms: Defense attorneys love showing brain scans in courtrooms, because just showing the scan causes people to start thinking in deterministic ways, and there’s also an inherent authority. You see a medical image of a brain, of an MRI or something, and that seems like fact, because it has the aesthetic of authoritative science. Well, the same thing is true about saying chromosomes. You can’t argue with that, can you? You can’t argue with genetics, you can’t argue with biology. Well, but suppose that’s not what the argument is about in the first place? Well, it doesn’t matter, because people hear the talk of biology, and there seems to be a kind of authority that we give to the so-called “hard sciences.” And so, when you have a question about trans people where really there’s very little actual debate to be had by anyone about this biology, it is not actually a very interesting conversation in my opinion, but the question is all social, so that language is about politics. But Ben Shapiro is not interested in having that conversation. He constantly evades it.
AM: What I think is quite interesting about this movement is the gap between what it pretends to be and what it is. Because there’s no way to say this without sounding mean to them, but…
NJR: Be mean. You should be mean.
AM: …a lot of the people who follow these movements, if they get mad at you online, and they send you angry messages or they’re trying to debate you, it’s remarkable how 90 to 95 percent of them immediately have really gaping holes in their logic. Or they read your piece, and they literally don’t understand what the piece is about, or they draw a weird conclusion, or they think you’re saying something that you’re not saying, and sometimes you get one message, and you’re like “Okay, maybe I didn’t express myself that well.” But if you get 20 messages all from people who are massively failing to understand the basic structure of your argument… it’s like, if this were an intellectual movement… surely your fanbase tells you something about what you’re teaching. I think there is space for a sort of online intellectual movement. But I think what that would involve would be those very basic skills—like research skills, or someone said the name of the study, let’s just check the study, and maybe, you know, read the abstract. And your structure is you’ve got premise A, B, C, conclusion D, does that work? Can we construct this? It’s always this very surface-level aesthetic where, if you actually examine it, a lot of people in this movement, both the proprietors and the consumers, seem very, very ill-equipped to actually deal with these arguments. I think it’s kind of a depressing thing, really.
NW: Yeah, that’s my experience, too. people will come at me with this intense smugness, and just certainty that I’m basically a child that has no idea what I’m talking about with respect to anything. And then what’s amazing is that basically the opposite is revealed to be true within the conversation. They haven’t thought about any of this at all. But it’s weird—where do they get this confidence? Often it comes secondhand from smug YouTube personality A, who has kind of modeled for them this sense of certainty and confidence, and smugness about knowing better than the feminists, and then they carry that on to Twitter, and come at you in your mentions. It’s crazy.
NJR: The thing you said about kind of how trans people think more about biology than anybody else. I always think about how Julia Serano, the trans writer, is a PhD biologist, but Ben Shapiro can’t acknowledge the existence of a person like that. She instantly decimates the idea that trans people don’t understand basic biology. And he’s very selective about who he’ll have a debate with, and who he’ll have on his show. They’re all Dave Rubin. Aisling has written an article dissecting the Rubin show and the way in which it narrows the set of things that you can have conversations about. To the point where the entire range of politics is “What is going on on campus with free speech?” That’s the only interesting political question.
NW: Yeah, the only topic.
NJR: Do you think the left is correct in the assertion that you shouldn’t try and debate those people, because the game is rigged against you? You can’t go near them, because this idea of debate is false, it’s just not about facts and logic, so you need to just stay away from it. It’s worthless. You can only lose.
NW: I think that’s complicated, debating about which question is a good idea. I think that it’s important to understand, however you answer that question, that oftentimes debate is effectively a kind of performance. It’s a kind of public sparring. It’s not really a conversation, in other words. It’s not a way of interacting with someone over coffee, in private. It’s very different. It’s like a kind of game. And I think some people are very good at playing that game, and if you’re good at playing it, and you have good intentions, I think that people who are good, and have those skills, can be effective, in terms of being able to succeed in those public performances, and potentially sway an audience.
Now, I think there are other ways too. Like, what do we mean by debate? Because there are different ways of engaging in debate with people who disagree with you that don’t necessarily involve, say, the format of going on the Rubin Report, or the format of debating Ben Shapiro. And I think that in a way, when I make a YouTube video, I’m engaging. It’s not a live debate, but it’s a controlled kind of broadcast. In other words, I’m in control of what I’m saying, I’m in control of how I’m presenting myself, I’m in control of how I’m presenting my opponents. And in a way, I’m sort of debating with other ideas. But it’s not that kind of performance. Instead, I’ve just created a text, for other people to engage with, or take apart, or whatever they want to do with it.
Then there are also one-on-one interactions that you have with people, in say, YouTube comments, or on Twitter, or in person. I think those, sometimes, can make a difference. It really depends on what we’re talking about. Is it always the case that like, never engage with these people? No, I don’t think never engage. That’s taking things much too far. But it’s good to be cautious about how you engage, especially when it comes to these kind of public performance things. A lot of times what they want is to use you as a tool in the public performance they’re putting together. I do find it important to guard yourself against that.
AM: Yeah, there’s that Sartre quote that everyone always passes around about anti-Semites have these ridiculous ideas, but they don’t care. [“Never believe that anti-Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies… They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words… They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert.”]
One thing that I find really interesting is your choice of aesthetic, because obviously it’s really enjoyable, and that’s part of the reason why a lot of people love your channel so much. But it’s completely the opposite of the aesthetic that would usually take in those types of guys, like the IDW fans, or the people who might be skeptical towards you. Because you are very, very frivolous, and there’s lots of makeup and decadence, and it’s sort of what the alt-right would call degenerate, in their view. And it’s interesting that you are still quite persuasive even to people who would usually be very opposed to that type of aesthetic. So I’m wondering why you chose that, and what it’s impact is on people.
NW: So, the aesthetic of my channel is something that’s obviously changed a lot over the last two and a half years. But it’s a really complicated thing, because to me it involves this complicated intersection of my own personal identity, and my artistic interests, and also dealing with how it’s perceived, and how it’s going to affect an audience. I think that in some ways, the current aesthetic of my channel is sort of like a drag show, that’s essentially what it looks like. And that is something that you would think would be kind of a turnoff to conservatives. But on the other hand, in a way it represents some expectation that they have of me. It’s sort of been a complicated evolution for me, because before I transitioned, the presentation was like, oh, I’m like, this degenerate crossdresser, almost like, monster. Basically, I sort of knew how they were going to perceive me, and sort of pre-satirized it for them, just so that was off the table as a source of fun for them. Because I had already had the fun, so they don’t get to do it. They don’t get to call me a degenerate, because I’ve already called myself that. And then, I think, doing the drag aesthetic, now that I’ve transitioned, is kind of the same thing as like okay, call me a drag queen—if you’re going to call me a drag queen anyway, I’ll be the most extravagant drag queen on YouTube. And there’s that element of just, steering into the skid, I guess, and I think it projects a kind of confidence that I think is in itself attractive, even if the initial visual impact might be like, what the hell am I watching.
NJR: A theme that has come up repeatedly in your videos is that you kind of operate within the society that you’re given, or with the values that it has. There are those on the left who would say you don’t want to engage in self-deprecation, you’re allowing them to define the terms of the discussion. And even on gender… I just watched the video where you were having an argument with Tabby about whether you want to accept the set of social expectations of womanhood. And you seem to have come down on the side of “Well, look, we can’t create a genderless world, we can’t create a world of perfect reason where all we have are facts and arguments. We can’t overcome the fact that fascists succeed partially because they’re good at pageantry. If we want to win, this is what we have to do.”
NW: I may be being slightly coy when I’m presenting these kinds of arguments, because, on the one hand, I do sort of agree with that. But on the other hand, I personally enjoy and excel at pageantry, so the fact that I happen to like it anyway probably does play some role. But I think that whether I like it or not, is that true, is it true that fascism succeeds, in part, because of this pageantry? Yes, I think it is true. And I think that on YouTube, pageantry, entertainment, comedy, memeing—the reality of the situation is: Look at the 1960s. Why were young people so politically engaged? Well, it’s not just because they read a bunch of pamphlets, it’s because of rock ’n roll. It’s because of Woodstock. And in the world I was looking at in 2015, there were no SJW Jimi Hendrixes. Like, there need to be figures like that.
NJR: That’s what we need: SJW Jimi Hendrix.
NW: Because going to a protest sounds like a chore, but being entertained, that’s easy. So it’s a matter of the entertainment being fused with the politics in a way that people get excited about it, and that it gets a mass audience going. And I happen to like being an entertainer, so again, that worked out great for me. But I think that it’s not just that I like it. I think that there’s something useful about it. I think we definitely need intellectuals and pamphleteers, too. But the reality is also that there are a lot of people who are not going to be reached by that, but who could be reached by a YouTuber, for example, or a musician.
NJR: Has the left failed, then, to create a culture that people want to be a part of?
NW: In some sense. I mean, I just don’t know that that’s the kind of thing that can be orchestrated from the top down. I think a culture is something that has to emerge. It’s not something that has to be planned, necessarily, but it’s something that can be sort of harnessed. The cultural energy of artistic movements, definitely, is something that has always played a big role, especially in progressive politics. There’s no reason to expect that to change, and it’s something that we should all be aware of, that, for a lot of people, for decades, like I say, it was music. That was where political organizing for young people was happening. And it’s difficult to say how much of this is top-down manipulation, and how much of this is genuinely grassroots, but look at the way gaming, as a community, was a consumer identity. It was maybe a demographic that was considered in marketing, but I don’t think anyone ever thought to take gamers serious as a political community until Gamergate happened. Then, these, like, vultures, Milo Yiannopoulos and so on, found a way to take that gamer resentment, and basically funnel it into Breitbart.com. That’s kind of what I see as an important lesson for YouTube. There are these communities that you don’t expect to be political that can turn political, fast. I think that’s important knowledge to have.
AM: There’s been a sort of gap, because there hasn’t really been a visible economic left, so much, in the last couple of decades. And what you’ve had in replacement is this sort of phrase that gets used a lot, but this oh, we’re going to have a movie with a gay man, or whatever it is, so if you’re not engaged in or really enthusiastic about politics. Which most people aren’t, and it’s entirely fair, because it’s just an awful thing to get engaged with in many ways. But it’s easy if you just look at the culture, and what appears to be politics, apart from maybe the past couple years, it might seem like conservatism was counter-culture, because the last couple of big battles that were won, before 2016ish, were just things like gay marriage, or let’s have more representation of women and ethnic minorities in films and things, so it’s easy to see how you could start to see that as the hegemony, and if you’re in the situation where the liberal and the left are treated as the same, and there isn’t very much left visibility, it’s easy to see how people could start thinking the right was the cool one, or the outcasts that were rebelling, and so on.
NW: Oh, absolutely. I think part of this comes from, if you go to the university, you get your little sensitivity trainings and seminar at the beginning. And it’s a bunch of people telling you what not to say, and what not to do, and I think, to a lot of young men in that situation, it does feel a little bit like they’re being lectured. This is how I rebel, by saying racial slurs. And I think that kind of sentiment was really effectively exploited by the people who were sort of pushing that conservatism is the new counterculture, or punk rock narrative. One of the things that I’m proud of with my channel is that I feel like I’ve been sort of successful, at least within my own little limited domain, at refusing to let them get away with that. In other words, by just being way more punk rock. And you can see that I am aware of this. Like in the way I will frame the video with Jordan Peterson, or Ben Shapiro, from the way that the video is set up, it’s clear that I am the one that is rebelling, and not Jordan Peterson. And I think that turns out to be effective, because people actually like to feel like they’re siding with the underdog, and that’s one reason why, as much as they complain about the oppression olympics, or all that kind of thing, like, Jordan Peterson is playing that game as much as anyone. Oh, no, Bill 6…—this is how he got famous, remember, with all this scaremongering nonsense, now proven to be absolute nonsense, about how the pronoun police are going to be marching through the streets, throwing people in jail for not saying xe/xem. What is this, if not like oh, gosh, help me, I’m so oppressed, this is an Orwellian nightmare. Oh no, our speech is being poisoned.
NJR: I’m being silenced, and marginalized!
NW: Yeah, exactly, they’re being marginalized, they’re being silenced, is precisely what the argument was. So, to me, a lot of the goal, when it comes to making a video about Peterson, or someone, is showing first of all that piss victim posturing is completely laughable, and second, it’s actually in the service of doing damage to people who are much stronger.
NJR: What I like about what you do is that you don’t only thrash them on the logical front, where you systematically demolish every stupid thing they believe, but you have this belief in fun and joy that I think is all too rare. I realized a few years ago that I didn’t like consuming any left wing media. And I thought “That’s weird… I should be the audience for left wing media. Why is it that I don’t want to pick up a copy of the Nation? Why is it that I don’t want to turn on MSNBC?” That seems strange that it’s like a chore. It needs to not be a chore. I notice this because I review a lot of right wing books. And I tell you, they’re good, and they’re fun. If you pick up a Dinesh D’Souza book, you’re going to have fun, and there are going to be jokes in it, and it’s going to be very well-argued and organized. If you pick up an academic text, as you know, as an academic, you’re going to suffer.
NW: Yes, It’s something that’s extremely important to me. I think back on my time in grad school, and I just remember long, long afternoons of just absolute, soul-crushing boredom. And I was someone who was raised with the Internet: My attention span is short, I like to be amused. And when it comes to making leftist discourse, so much of what we’re talking about is so grim—it’s oppression, it’s trauma, it’s injustice, it’s bigotry, it’s self-loathing. And I want to extract from all that misery some kind of human joy and laughter. And that to me is one of the most rewarding things about what I do. Because what I do is difficult, it’s a job, it’s a chore, but at the end of it, there’s this product: the video, which is fun to watch. That’s the hope, anyway. And that to me is something that I wish that I had a long time ago, and it’s something that I feel good about putting out into the world, because it’s something that I sort of wish I had had myself.
NJR: Last question: Based on your experience now, having done this for a couple of years and seeing the responses, do you have confidence that socialism will win? Can we turn the tides, and deprogram all these guys? Or do you think we’re the last generation fighting a losing battle?
NW: I don’t think we can deprogram all these guys, but I do think the situation looks more optimistic to me than it did two years ago. Things on the internet… well, not just on the internet, because Trump won, but in the aftermath of that, I thought that things looked very, very grim. It’s hard to even remember, sometimes, how big the alt-right presence was online. I remember watching Trump’s inauguration on this livestream with a million viewers, and the live chat was just this wave after wave of swastikas and Pepes, and I was like what is happening? And that’s gone. Like, it’s not gone, but it’s much more controlled, it’s contained. That hard right fashy energy has kind of lost its momentum, and that’s very reassuring to me. I also am reassured by the emergence of all this new left media on YouTube, on social media. There’s a lot of new energy for progressivism that has kind of grown out of the horrible situation we were in two years ago. And that, I think, is something to hope for. So, I’m not hopeless. I’m cautiously optimistic.
NJR: Well, that’s great.All the fascists are going to realize that their heroes are actually dorks, and that you’re cool, and they’ll get hooked on ContraPoints, and socialism will win. Thank you, so much, Natalie, for joining us. I really, truly appreciate it.
NW: Thanks so much for having me.
Transcribed by Addison Kane.
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