An­cient source of re­gres­sion

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Bee­jay Sil­cox Justine Hyde

In rig­or­ous de­tail, Zucker­berg shows how Red Pill fo­rums have cher­ryp­icked from Stoic philoso­phers to pro­mul­gate the view that men have su­pe­rior emo­tional con­trol.

Their ap­proach con­ve­niently di­min­ishes women, dis­misses pro­gres­sive ac­tivism as psy­cho­log­i­cal weak­ness, and val­orises white pa­tri­archy. It also ig­nores an enor­mous pachy­derm: “Few out­side the com­mu­nity agree that these men are rea­son­able, calm, emo­tion­ally con­trolled in­di­vid­u­als.”

More con­fronting is the cul­ture of pick-up artists: men who are ‘‘gam­i­fy­ing’’ (and com­mer­cial­is­ing) se­duc­tion by con­cep­tu­al­is­ing women as flesh locks that can be prised open with a tool­kit of be­havioural scripts. PUAs find an an­cient ally in Ovid, whose ironic yet dis­con- con­fus­ing, tak­ing the jokes at face value. Freiman is court­ing the reader who is likely to shud­der with recog­ni­tion at Ziggy’s well-in­ten­tioned but mis­fired pol­i­tics and shift un­com­fort­ably as they laugh at the hu­mour in the novel, which is ul­ti­mately at their ex­pense. It is re­fresh­ing to read smart satire from an Aus­tralian au­thor. Freiman joins writ­ers such as Ryan O’Neill and Julie Koh, us­ing irony and ex­ag­ger­a­tion as sav­agely ef­fec­tive sto­ry­telling de­vices.

For all of its sear­ing satire, the novel cap­tures the re­lat­able awk­ward­ness of be­ing a teenager. This alien­ation is time­less; how­ever, Freiman frames it in the spe­cific ex­pe­ri­ence of grow­ing up in the shiny-con­fus­ing world cu­rated via In­sta­gram. Her pro­tag­o­nist re­flects: “In­sta­gram seems specif­i­cally de­signed for a crisp, WASP aes­thetic. Ziggy can’t imagine what she could share. The way a ra­di­ant sun­set catches the down on her side-face? An af­ter-school snack of white­fish salad?”

She gar­ners our em­pa­thy through her earnest­ness and sin­cer­ity. And while Ziggy is the tar­get of many of the jokes in the novel, Freiman treats her pro­tag­o­nist gen­tly. She sur­rounds Ziggy with mostly two-di­men­sional char­ac­ters, who be­lieve a pussy-grab­bing US pres­i­dent is on their side.

“It would be an ex­ag­ger­a­tion to say that the men of the Red Pill com­mu­nity are writ­ing na­tional pol­icy,” Zucker­berg ex­plains. “How­ever, on some level, they seem to be­lieve they’re in­flu­enc­ing pol­icy, and that be­lief has em­pow­ered them.” Be­fore the 2016 elec­tion, Red Pill fo­rums boasted 138,000 mem­bers; that fig­ure has in­creased to 230,000.

Not All Dead White Men is an un­easy chimera — part aca­demic anal­y­sis, part ur­gent cul­tural com­men­tary, part call to arms — and haunted by ques­tions of pur­pose.

Zucker­berg paints a vi­tal and vivid por­trait of “ag­grieved en­ti­tle­ment” that is si­mul­ta­ne­ously pitiable and ter­ri­fy­ing. She has a nu­anced un­der­stand­ing of the ho­moso­cial dy­nam­ics of Red Pill com­mu­ni­ties: how the de­sire for self­im­prove­ment, val­i­da­tion and con­nec­tion lurks un­der­neath the bravado and ha­tred.

But while she ar­gues that un­der­stand­ing Red Pill ide­olo­gies can help re­duce the im­pact of their abuse, how is un­clear.

It is not pos­si­ble to ra­tio­nally ar­gue with a com­mu­nity that be­lieves half of hu­mankind is an ir­ra­tional col­lec­tion of ori­fices. And as Zucker­berg ad­mits, “nit­pick­ing the flaws and er­rors in Red Pill read­ings … is a fairly point­less project”. But what else can you do as you watch your dis­ci­pline hi­jacked?

Such are the dilem­mas that tor­ment our out­raged age. How can we de-ven­omise pub­lic dis­course? How can we counter ha­tred with­out fan­ning its flames?

“No­body de­nies that our so­ci­ety owes a debt to the Greeks,” Zucker­berg writes. “The ques­tion is how that debt should be treated.”

She ar­gues that we should be pro­foundly wary of those who claim to be the gate­keep­ers of Western val­ues, but also re­sist the far-left coun­ter­move­ment to re­move such texts from study, a move that tac­itly cedes the point that clas­si­cal texts speak only to (and for) those who ad­vo­cate for ex­clu­sion.

“Fu­ture read­ers de­serve a bet­ter kind of dis­course about the an­cient world,” she writes, “one that is free of elitism and nei­ther un­crit­i­cally ad­mir­ing not rashly dis­mis­sive.”

Af­ter decades of wil­ful ne­glect, Not All Dead White Men speaks most force­fully to the need for ro­bust hu­man­i­ties pro­grams. Our an­cient philoso­phers may be cen­turies dead, but their de­bates are live. And bloody. is a writer and critic. who blaze with su­per­fi­cial­ity and who high­light the di­men­sions that Ziggy is at­tempt­ing to de­fine in her­self. Through ir­rev­er­ence, Freiman dis­sects the sa­cred cow of left­ist ide­olo­gies. She raises in­ter­est­ing ques­tions about the pre­req­ui­sites for claim­ing an iden­tity, and does this through the con­fla­tion of hu­mour and per­sonal pain. It is a kind of comedic coun­ter­point to Han­nah Gadsby’s re­cent show Nanette. In an in­ter­view with The Paris Re­view, Freiman says: “Hu­mour helps us to see the ab­sur­dity and to take our­selves less se­ri­ously. In that way, my project might be sort of obliquely op­posed to Gadsby’s. But where she op­poses the one-two punch of the joke and reveres the arc and depth of the story, I think we are aligned.”

The pace of Inap­pro­pri­a­tion shifts gear to­wards the end. Freiman takes her foot off the ac­cel­er­a­tor, smooth­ing the sharp edges off her hu­mour, to steer the nar­ra­tive to an emo­tion­ally sat­is­fy­ing res­o­lu­tion.

While this feels a lit­tle like a trade-off, it un­der­lines the es­sen­tial mes­sage of Freiman’s novel: we all must be wary of ab­so­lutes. is a writer and critic.

Donna Zucker­berg

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