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. The anti‐Semites have the right to play.
— Jean-Paul Sartre, Anti-Semite and Jew
I think part of my problem is comedy has suspended me in a perpetual state of adolescence. The way I’ve been telling that story is through jokes. And stories, unlike jokes, need three parts: a beginning, a middle, and an end. Jokes only need two parts: a beginning and a middle.
— Hannah Gadsby, Nanette
The left can't meme.
— Old gypsy saying
The alt-right is kind of weird. Not the people in it; the thing itself. What could possibly bring together internet trolls, Christian fundamentalists, renegade intellectuals, conspiracy theorists, anti-feminists, neo-nazis, gamers, comedians, authoritarians, libertarians, techno-utopians and archconservatives?
When you try to analyse it in terms of shared goals or values, the whole thing seems completely nonsensical. But I don't think it's those things at all. The alt-right isn't a movement so much as it is a shared pattern of behaviour.
Comedy is tragedy plus time, so the saying goes, but I would say it's tragedy plus distance. Distance applied to tragedy. Tragedy distanced. Have you ever laughed out loud at a painful memory? Ever made a joke to smooth over an uncomfortable situation? Ever fallen over and laughed on your way back up? Tragedy distanced.
Why do bullies laugh? There's no wit in what they do. No surprise. No dissonance. Just the strong inflicting suffering on the weak. If your theory of comedy can't account for how funny it is to hurt people, then it's only half a theory. Consider slapstick. You laugh because the hurt isn't real. Or the hurt isn't real because you laugh. Tragedy distanced.
The experience of playing a video game where you kill people by the thousands isn't abject horror, it's... well, nothing in particular. Fun, hopefully, if the killing is well-designed. Annoyance if it isn't. Curiosity about how well you can kill and whether there are ways to do so more effectively. But this display of rarefied psychopathy is fine, because they're not real people and they're not really hurt.
Concerned Parents of a certain era were concerned that these games would unlock violent tendencies in their children like some kind of psychopath DLC, but they had it totally backwards: we're all psychopaths when the people aren't real and the harm doesn't count. The difference is where we draw that line. Virtual people? Animals? Long-dead real people? People on the other side of the world? People you don't like?
The alt-right shares an empathy problem: not that they lack empathy, but that their empathy is incompatible with their beliefs. This requires careful management. Daryl Davis famously met with hundreds of KKK members to ask them "how can you hate me when you don't even know me?" Of course, that's exactly how. You can only hate them because they aren't real. They're caricatures. Painted faces on a stage who sing and dance and fall but never truly hurt.
And so too the whole sorry cast: the Welfare Queens, the Feminazis, the Fake Transgender Attention Whores, the Crybaby Minorities Who Act Hurt For Sympathy, the Hooknosed Conspirators Whose Dark Rituals Control Global Finance, the Kids These Days And Oh My God Karen Did You Hear What They Do At Parties Now, the Ones Who Kick Up A Fuss About Things That Aren't Serious.
Because that's the core of it in the end: not serious. The levity inherent in any ideology that demands indifference to suffering. Tragedy distanced, be it through the indirection of the internet, the depersonalisation of crowds, or the jovial denial of consequence.
So lighten up, buddy. We're all having fun here. Well, I'm having fun. But you have to admit it's pretty funny that you're not.