Ancient source of regression
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.