Auntie SparkNotes: An Ex-Nazi Update!
For our first Auntie post of 2018, we're kicking the year off right: with an update from one of last year's most interesting letter-writers! Have you ever what happened to Mister "I Joined the Alt-Right 'Cause I Was Mad at My Ex"? Read on!
It's me, the ex-Nazi. I can't express how much it helped me to see how supportive people were, and to receive some tough love from others. An equal dose of both is always necessary.
At first, I ended up becoming really good friends with the members of that club. They supported me and spent time with me, and I began to confide in them. The thing with these clubs in college is that they pitch their image as being "patriotic" at first, but the deeper you get in, and the more they trust you, the more you realize just how unjustly racist and prejudiced they can be. When you first see it, it's just an "edgy meme", but eventually, after a few hundred times of seeing them and laughing at them… you start to believe it.
After I saw the response, it struck in a deeper place than they could reach, and I looked up my family history in a nihilistic bout of depression and idealism. Turns out my grandmother, who died before I was born, was a non-practicing Jew. Needless to say, I cried myself to sleep that night out of the weight of the guilt.
Since college ended, I cut off all contact with them after confiding in my mother. I became way more secure about my past relationships and where I was with my career as a student and perhaps future law enforcement officer. I am determined to make myself into a better person (still single though..."that's right ladies, an emotionally unstable ex-alt-right guy is now on the market").
The only problem is that the guys from the club still want to hang out with me from time to time. I avoid the particularly evil members, because they only make up about 5% of the club, but every time I feel down, I can feel the temptation of basking in simplistic extremist interpretations of philosophy and the world again. It's an active inner conflict. Almost an addiction, but I refuse to be any more melodramatic than I've already been in this message. Do you think I should completely cut ties with all the guys I met?
Pffffft. Come now, Sparkler—if you can't be melodramatic about wrestling yourself out of an unhealthy relationship with literal Nazis, what can you be melodramatic about? Ham it up! Cue the violins! And while we're at it, let's go ahead and get a sweeping zoom-out crane shot of some particularly loathsome white nationalist—Richard Spencer, perhaps—reading your letter and then falling to the ground, arms outstretched, and screaming "NOOOOOOOOOOO!" as a passing pigeon releases a perfectly-timed cascade of guano on his head.
...I'll go ahead and pre-accept my Oscar right now, thanks very much.
But in all seriousness, this is the kind of update we love to receive here at the secret underground lair of Auntie SparkNotes. Not because everything worked out to a state of happily-ever-after perfection, but because you, Sparkler, are continuing to make your best efforts even though it hasn't yet. You have the self-awareness to keep wrestling with your problems, even when it would be easier to turn off your brain and collapse back into a comfortable sense of aggrieved victimhood alongside your former compatriots.
And best of all, you're showing signs of having learned to think critically—not just about political tribes, but about the people in them. Like you said: 5% of the guys in your alt-right club are truly toxic and not worth the slimy feeling you'd get from engaging with them. But the remaining 95%? Some of them are there not because they genuinely and deeply believe in the ideas being promoted, but because they're immature edgelords, or curious anthropologists, or just lonely and willing to sacrifice a certain amount of dignity/decency not to be. Some of them are even there for the same reasons you were: because they felt dismissed and demonized by certain elements of the progressive discourse, and joining the alt-right felt like righteous revenge… at least until the moral compromises involved started sinking in.
And just as you were troubled enough by where you ended up to write to me about it, other guys in this group will eventually be unable to ignore the bad taste all those "edgy" Holocaust memes leave in their mouths. Maybe some of them already are. Maybe they've even talked to you about it—or maybe they're hoping you'll bring it up. The point is, you can end your affiliation with a given group but still maintain relationships with some of the people in it, particularly the ones with whom you have important values in common and who are on the fence about the group's more extreme (read: horrifying and indefensible) elements. In fact, you of all people are in a unique position to do some good by keeping the lines of dialogue open wherever there's hope for one. Reaching across boundaries and attempting to persuade is highly underrated in our polarized times, which makes it all the more important that some folks still be willing to do it—and the kind of tough love that made you rethink your choices might sway someone else, especially if it's coming from a friend. So keep on keeping on, kiddo. You're on the right track. And with a little luck, you might even end up bringing a couple good people along for the ride.
Got something to say? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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