Recently, I was surprised to discover that an “edgy gamer” streamer I was familiar with from a decade ago had transformed into a notable left-wing figure on YouTube. Steven Bonnell II, known to the internet as “Destiny,” got his start with StarCraft II and gradually becoming a prominent personality with a loyal following and detractors alike. He would argue against policing language, and that the common slurs gamers use were no big deal. And yet, here he is now, not only arguing against using such language, but also being noticeably effective at debating alt-right YouTubers who have risen to prominence on the wings of racism and intolerance.
It’s not just that he makes good points or that he knows how to dissect arguments, but that he hits right-wing figures where it hurts most: in their desire to appear strong to their followers. Regularly, he reveals that the emperor has no clothes, and I think it in part comes from him being so familiar with gamer culture and the things that leave it so vulnerable to alt-right personalities. When others on the left retreat, he’s willing to confront while also not falling prey to their debate traps. It’s something the left needs to learn.
This is also why I was not caught off guard by seeing his name listed in a New York Times article discussing the growing strength of left-wing YouTube as an answer to the hatred spewed by alt-right and manosphere personalities. Like ContraPoints, another major left-wing YouTuber, Destiny addresses the other side’s use of memes, pop culture, and opportunistic arguments head on, exposing their tools and often disarming their tactics without resorting to them. The key is that Destiny, ContraPoints, and the main subject of the article, Faraday, know how the alt-right thinks, and they aren’t afraid to use that knowledge to their advantage.
If I have any criticism for progressives online, it’s that people’s radars are often overtuned. Any slight whiff of conservative political views seemingly sets off alarm sirens in their heads, and there’s an annoying tendency to cannibalize potential allies because they’re not right at the vanguard of progress. Of course, it’s impossible to have a perfect radar, and people I thought to be more moderate in their views have turned out to be disturbingly right-wing. But I truly believe that residing in a left bubble, while good in some ways, can often fail to inoculate people against the disingenuous tactics of the alt-right. It’s important that Destiny and ContraPoints don’t have beliefs that overlap 100% yet are still able to see accomplish similar things.
De-platforming harmful individuals—taking away their ability to communicate en masse—is often a good thing because such people usually hide behind free speech without acknowledging that they’re doing the political equivalent of shouting “FIRE!” in a crowded theater. At the same time, I increasingly wonder if “avoid the other side entirely” is creating a kind of frailty in the left that plays right into the goals of the alt-right. Destiny, Natalie, and others like them provide examples of what can be done to avoid that fate: to engage and to understand the other’s goals, and to win the debate in a way that makes the other side look bad to their followers both real and potential.