Want to counter Andrew Tate? Reclaim the BMW (basic moral wisdom)
It’s every liberal parent’s nightmare. One day they happen to glance at their 14-year-old son’s laptop, and they see he is watching videos by Andrew Tate, the mullah of misogyny. They start to notice red flags in their son’s conversation: ‘bitches’, ‘choke-holds’, ‘feminism is cancer’, ‘Hitler wasn’t all bad’. Could their sweet little Quentin have been radicalized by the online far-right manosphere?
Andrew Tate, in case your teenage son hasn’t told you, is a British-American online influencer with millions of followers. A former chess prodigy turned kick-boxer and ‘top G’, he found notoriety by becoming a preacher of a certain type of masculinity: fast cars, abs, cigars, bags of cash, and obedient women desperate to do your bidding. In his case, he persuaded girlfriends to perform sex online to make them (and him) money. He’s a 21st century pimp, in other words. Earlier this year, he and his brother were arrested in Romania for sex trafficking.
The liberal twittersphere laughed at Tate for his failed attempt to mock Greta Thunberg (Thunberg accused him of having a small penis) and sighed with relief when he was arrested. But Tate is still extremely popular and his ‘martyrdom’ to the ‘matrix’ has only increased his allure in some followers’ eyes. Schools are now apparently scrambling to introduce courses on ‘toxic masculinity’ to try and counter his influence, according to one teacher who (ahem) sells courses on how to counter toxic masculinity.
To counter Tate’s influence, we need to understand his appeal. We live in a moment where an easy way to achieve influence online is to affirm masculinity. Some of the most popular online influencers do just that: Joe Rogan, Jordan Peterson, Andrew Tate all affirm masculinity, in a culture where masculinity is increasingly seen as pathological, especially CIS white masculinity.
And there’s no doubt that masculinity is in trouble and prone to disorder. Boys are doing worse than girls in schools, and no group performs worse in British schools than white boys. They’re brought up in schools where 75% of the teachers are women. If they behave badly, they’re sent to therapists, 70% of whom are female. 30% don’t live with their biological father. And their culture (‘mainstream liberal culture’) loves to portray CIS white men as either villains or fools.
So there is a gaping market opportunity for a certain type of alternative media influencer to cater to the millions of young men desperate for positive role models.
When the mainstream culture misses a trick, alternative media flourishes. Look at the coverage of video games, for example. Mainstream media never really took gaming seriously, never covered it properly, while the gaming industry became more valuable than the music, film and book industries combined. That incredible failure of the mainstream culture created a massive opportunity for alternative media. PewDiePie made $40 million last year just from streaming himself playing computer games on Twitch — and he probably made more from his YouTube channel and merchandise. So he earned more than the highest paid TV presenter (Ellen Degeneres, who earned $50 million).
Gaming, martial arts, body-building, how to pick up girls, psychedelics, men’s self-improvement, and celebrating masculinity in general — none of it was really taken seriously by mainstream culture, and that created a massive opportunity for alternative male influencers. Some of those influencers were fairly benign, but many of them do not fit within the Overton window of mainstream liberal acceptability — they might promote conspiracy theories, or anti-Semitism, or misogyny or bullshit wellness (100% meat diet anyone?) or far-right extremist politics. The more they torch the idols of mainstream liberal culture, the more their young followers will cheer and dance around the bonfire.
From the videos I’ve watched and the articles I’ve read, Andrew Tate seems to be a toxic influencer, or rather, a pimp, who makes women fall in love with him and then exploits them for money. It seems worthwhile to try and counter his influence. So we need to understand his appeal. Why do young men like him?
His pitch is simple. He begins with a very obvious piece of moral advice: stop complaining and take responsibility for your life. Work on yourself, on your mind, your emotions, your body, your career. Then maybe good things will start happening to you.
That is the Basic Moral Wisdom (BMW) you find in Stoicism — stop projecting all your emotional problems onto external things or people, and recognize that you are to some extent causing your suffering with your beliefs. Take responsibility for your mindset and your actions. Work on yourself. And over time your life will get better.
It’s the same BMW you find in Buddhism, and in the wisdom literature of other religions. It’s what you find repackaged in every successful self-help teacher, from Dale Carnegie to Steven Covey to Tony Robbins to Landmark Education to Jordan Peterson.
Stop complaining and blaming external circumstances for your problems. Take responsibility for your mind, your body, your work, your life. Make your bed. Tidy your room. Go to the gym. Eat healthily. Set your goals. Face your fears. It’s really basic stuff.
It’s just that somehow, mainstream liberal culture has allowed this 2500-year-old BMW to become counter-cultural. They’ve left it to delinquent pimps like Andrew Tate to sell. Impressionable young men desperate for some fatherly advice come across Tate’s videos and access the BMW for the first time, and it changes their life. You can find young men online saying Andrew Tate or Jordan Peterson saved their life, because they taught them the value of taking responsibility for their thoughts, their body, their work, their life. Really basic stuff.
Once you’ve hooked them on the BMW, you can take your loyal followers anywhere — how to choke women, how to be a pimp, why you should only eat meat, why western civilization is collapsing, why democracy is bullshit, why Putin is a hero, why you should give all your money to Landmark or Scientology, why woke culture is an existential threat to humanity, why fascism isn’t so bad and Hitler had some interesting things to say.
To counter toxic influencers, liberal democratic culture needs to reclaim the hijacked BMW.
Why is the BMW so counter-cultural to mainstream liberal culture today? Because the mainstream discourse has moved quite far to the left, and to a focus on external circumstances as the source of all your ills: white supremacy, patriarchy, ableism, capitalism, the climate crisis. Mainstream liberal culture at the moment has a tendency to promote victim narratives: I am a victim of oppression, check out what happened to me, can you believe it? Such narratives will get you some likes on social media, but they don’t really translate into a strong life-philosophy for coping with adversity. It used to be said that history was written by the victors. Now it’s only written by the losers: I was oppressed, my people were oppressed. The more you were victimized, the purer you are.
It’s the equivalent of running to teacher when something bad happens to you in the playground. ‘They called me a name! They took my ball! Teacher!’ You retweet the offence, get the soothing sympathy of the tut-tutting liberal community, and the pleasure of getting the blamed person in trouble. But then every time something bad happens to you, you’re running to teacher to blame someone else.
That sucks as a philosophy to teach young people. It’s not your fault, it’s society. Blame society. Complain online. Then what? Complain some more!
Imagine you’re a young man really struggling with life, with mental illness or poverty or loneliness or sexual frustration or other forms of failure, and you meet three influencers at a crossroads. The first influencer says ‘you’re right to be so unhappy, that’s because of capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy, CIS heteronormativity and other forms of systemic oppression. I offer you solidarity — let’s be unhappy together, online. Let’s complain about the bad people’. The second influencer says ‘stop whining and take responsibility for your life. Then good things will happen. Look at me, I was a whining p*ssy just like you, now I have a six-pack, millions of dollars, fast cars and a harem of hot girlfriends’. And the third says ‘you’re a white man? Sit down and STFU.’ Which one are you going to follow? Whose life do you want to imitate? You’re going to follow the pimp with the BMW and the cigar.
The progressive argument against the BMW is that it’s over-individualised, neo-liberal, and ignores environmental conditions and collective responses to them. This can be true — the BMW can be over-individualized and can ignore environmental conditions and collective responses to them. But the opposite is also true — the progressive left has a serious problem with encouraging people to take responsibility for their lives. It tends to collectivize and socialize everything, and only offers people the solidarity of resistance to the unfair regime, without offering them a way to improve their life now. That’s fine if you’re already a well-off graduate, and can afford to complain about the unfair regime online. But if you’re really at a low ebb, you want a way to improve your life now. Jordan Peterson is going to help you a hell of a lot more than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, because for all his histrionics and prejudice, at least he offers you the BMW.
And the ‘manosphere’ does offer young men community and solidarity — the solidarity of the martial arts club, where you’re included not because you are from an oppressed minority, but because you can display certain virtues like taking pain without complaining. I know, that sounds toxic, but that’s how it is. Young men, or at least, some young men, will be drawn to forms of male community that require them to earn their place through the performance of certain virtues, like physical courage and the uncomplaining endurance of pain, virtues which have also somehow become vices in mainstream liberal culture.
If you want to counter toxic influencers, break their monopoly over the BMW. Reclaim basic moral wisdom, reclaim commonsense philosophy. The left in the 19th century offered workers both self-improvement and collective action. Samuel Smiles’ book Self-Help was a workers’ classic (indeed its original title was The Education of the Working Classes). Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations was hugely popular in working men’s libraries. The labour movement preached self-reliance, self-improvement, dealing with your shit, and working to change society. The affluent, graduate Left now only offers people a way to complain online. It’s no surprise people turn to pimps and half-cracked prophets offering them the basic moral wisdom.