DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I found you through a series of posts on social media, and I feel like you might be able to help me with my problem. I’m really concerned about my 13 year old brother (A)’s recent behavior, and I hope you can tell me what I can do about it.
A’s always been a pain, but he was mostly a good guy. He was a little awkward, especially once he hit puberty, but we all thought he’d grow out of it as he got older. Lately, however, A has been making derogatory comments about women, referring to them in really offensive ways and saying that they shouldn’t be allowed to vote or have jobs. Normally I would write this off as his trying to be edgy and shocking, especially online, except he’s not confining it to his online behavior. He’s become increasingly hostile towards girls, he’s always talking about how to control and manipulate them and he gets insulting, aggressive and angry when people refuse to comply with his requests. I’ve noticed that he has become more aggressive in his behavior towards women, making them feel uncomfortable and violated. This has led to him getting detention because he told one of his teachers to shut up because she’s stupid, poor and “a dumb bitch who needs a man to control her”.
This last incident is what made our parents realize that this was a serious problem. Mom and Dad had to do a lot of work to try to keep him from getting suspended or even kicked out, and it sent all of us in a frenzy trying to figure out why he’s acting out like this.
I think the only reason they didn’t expel him on the spot is how big of a change this has been. He’s been an annoying brat at times, like any little brother I guess, but this has been so over the top that it hardly seems real.
After I did some sleuthing around online and checking his computer, I discovered that he’s been watching a lot of Andrew Tate and even signed up for some Discord/class/subscription of his, and A’s been treating him like a role model and life coach. As a result, he’s has been deeply influenced by his ideology, and this is causing significant damage to his relationships and behavior.
Moreover, A’s views are impacting his social life. He is isolating himself from friends because he thinks that they are not ‘manly’ enough. He’s tried to scam or trick our parents into giving him money to set up his “business” – which as far as I can tell is just some form of online grifting – and he’s constantly trying to recruit other kids at school. Talking about it with him ends up being a dead end; he doesn’t listen to any discussions about what’s going on when I try to talk to him and just shuts down when I point out why what he’s doing isn’t working like he thinks it should. He’s weirdly obsessed about being rich and tall and working out and getting a lot of girlfriends that he’s going to “make work for him” and other weird stuff that only made sense after I watched some of the videos he was sharing.
I’ve looked through your website, so I know you’ve written about incels and others, so I hope you can help. I know he’s kind of a shit under normal circumstances, but he’s my brother and I really hate seeing what he’s doing to himself here. I don’t know how to get through to him that what he’s doing is really just hurting himself. Do you have any advice for how I (or my parents) could get through to him?
We Have Many Concerns
DEAR WHMC: Here’s the thing about Andrew Tate: he’s very good at tapping into the generalized anxiety and feelings of loss and confusion that a lot of young men feel. If I have to give him any credit at all, it’s in that he’s recognized an area where people are looking for guidance and direction and has preyed upon it ruthlessly, and in a way that I think a lot of other would be “masculinity influencers” haven’t been able to. Certainly not to the same degree or level of success – much of which comes down to his learning how to exploit social media in order to become ubiquitous.
Right now, we’re living through an incredibly chaotic period of history. The economy is nominally thriving, but only in such a way that the divide between the rich and everyone else is increasing at an exponential level. Fascism is on the rise, openly aided and abetted by political figures who either are fascists themselves or are willing to be fellow travelers if they think it will help their careers, basic access to health care has become harder and harder to come by and not wanting to die from a highly contagious virus is seen as an overtly political stance. The costs of living are skyrocketing, while wages have remained stagnant, Russia seems on the brink of igniting World War III over its expansionist attempt to conquer and colonize Ukraine and rights for women and LGBTQ individuals are under attack.
To add to this, social norms have changed as we’ve begun to fully recognize just how much horrible behavior was normalized as being just “how things were”, and while people are generally trying to do and be better, a lot of folks feel lost and confused as what was previously acceptable… isn’t. Add in years of isolation due to the pandemic causing a degradation in social skills and an increasing awareness of how toxic and damaging the narrow and coercive ideas about masculinity have been and we have multiple generations of young men who feel pulled in multiple directions at once.
Someone coming along and saying “ok, here’s how to Be A Real Man” in a suitably loud and authoritative voice, especially when you see his message over and over again, is going to come across like a lighthouse beacon through fog-shrouded seas, leading people safely through stormy waters and rocky shores.
Except in this case, it’s leading them to the very reefs that’ll destroy them. That light is less a beacon of hope and more of an angler fish’s lure.
Tate himself and his ideas aren’t particularly new or novel; he hasn’t had an original idea or insight in his entire career except in his self-promotion. He’s a grifter, a Tyler Durden wannabe who’s peddling the same toxic bullshit that we’ve seen show up like the shittiest game of whack-a-mole. He’s not unique or special, he’s just the latest and loudest. It’s the ubiquity of social media that expands his reach and his marketing himself to teens and tweens that makes his bullshit so damaging to people.
Part of what makes dealing with his bullshit is that – like every successful grifter and con artist – he is focused on the very real and very understandable anxieties that people have. Young men who feel adrift, who get conflicting messages about how to behave and how to act are looking for someone, anyone to give them direction. Tate purports to provide that. And, also like every successful grifter and would-be cult leader, he starts with just enough truth mixed in with things that seem true to ease people into the grift. When Tate talks about “The Matrix” and how the game is rigged against the average person, he’s accurately describing what a lot of people feel. Most of us feel stuck in a Red Queen’s race of running as fast as they can just to stay in one place, and with reason. You only have to look at the way health care and home ownership have been priced out of most people’s reach to understand why it all feels so hopeless.
Similarly, it doesn’t exactly take an economic genius to point just how much the middle class has shrunk and how the working class is increasingly screwed by corporations and moneyed interests.
It’s telling, then, that Tate’s “classes” involve doing multi-level marketing for him – affiliate links, drop-shipping and sharing clips of his videos in exchange for credit to his courses. He’s getting his followers to do exactly what they’re trying to avoid – working as hard as they can for another person, giving back most of what they earn and only keeping a percentage. Tate’s own behavior demonstrates a fundamental truth. He’s not Morpheus, showing people how deep the rabbit hole goes. He’s Cypher, a willing tool of “The Matrix”, cynically selling out his supposed friends to the powers that be, all in the name of a cushy life where he gets to pretend he’s important.
But he relies on people not stopping long enough to notice this. The next step – besides telling people what they already know – is that he focuses on things that people feel is true, by playing to their confirmation bias. His schtick about being “tall, rich and swole” to get women and social status are things that many disaffected, unsuccessful young men already think of as gospel truths. He’s playing to people’s preexisting biases, playing the teller of hard truths by pretending to be the voice of authority, confirming what they already think and thus making himself seem more “legit”. And if you do a cursory glimpse… well, you’d be forgiven for thinking that maybe he’s on to something. After all, look at the women in his videos, all his expensive cars, and so on. Surely this means that he made it, right?
Except… not really. It’s all performance, a pantomime. He’s play-acting, a poor man’s idea of a rich person, a weak man’s image of what a strong man looks and acts like. It’s smoke and mirrors, exaggeration, misdirection and outright lies, relying on aggression and insults to silence disagreement. It’s why the common response to pointing out his bullshit is “well, if you’re so smart, where’s YOUR Bugatti?”; after all, if you’re right and Tate’s wrong, shouldn’t you be successful like he is?
(More on this in a bit.)
He also relies on psychological quirks to keep his hold on his audience, which is what makes helping your brother so tricky. Here’s the thing: your brother is precisely the sort of person that grifters like Tate love to find. He’s young, he’s inexperienced, he’s extremely online, he’s awkward and he’s isolated and feels lost and adrift. At 13, your brother’s right in the middle of the maelstrom of puberty, when he’s feeling a thousand different weird desires and anxieties and has precisely zero idea how to handle any of it. So when someone who loudly claims authority, backed up with the apparent trappings of success says “Young man, I’ll help you be rich and powerful and desired”, it’s not surprising that he buys into it. It’s everything that other guys tell him he’s supposed to want and supposed to be.
But while that’s what gets the mark to sign up, what keeps him there is shame and ego. It sounds like your brother signed up for whatever version of Tate’s “Hustler’s U” is happening now, which means he’s paying a monthly fee to be told he’s part of the ”in crowd”, getting information that’s going to separate him from the average frustrated chump. This gets mixed with a non-stop litany of negging and insults, constantly being told that people who can’t afford to keep paying the subscription fees are losers who “don’t want it enough” and being shamed in front of their peers.
This creates a psychological state of dependence. To start with, he’s wrapped his ego and identity in trying to be a “top g” or whatever; anything that may be damaging to his identity is to be ignored or rejected, even if it’s absolutely true. He’ll disregard obvious truths or create rationalizations as to why it’s not valid or accurate, because he’s ultimately trying to defend his sense of self and identity, rather than accept that he’s been had. If he accepts that Tate is a grifter who only sees him as a mark, then he has to accept that he’s someone who could be tricked by a con man. That goes against his desire to be a big, strong man, loved by women and admired by men, and so he will resist it.
The fact that he’s a paying member of the community means that he’s also dealing with the “sunk cost fallacy”. That is, it’s very difficult to accept that the money he’s invested thus far will never actually come back. He’s never going to “break out” of “the Matrix” through drop-shipping scams and trying to arbitrage cryptocurrencies – especially the scam coins that Tate’s followers tend to shill, and he’s never going to actually have the desire of women or the respect of his peers. But because admitting that would mean admitting he’s wasted absurd amounts of money, which, again, damages his ego and sense of identity. It’s less psychologically painful to decide that he has to keep paying in and try to at least earn back what he’s already lost, than to accept that it’s all gone for good.
And then there’s the negging and insults. As odd as it sounds, the insults and shaming from Tate and his employees and reinforcement from the other members is a fucked up sort of bonding that creates a toxic dependency and makes it very difficult to pull away. It’s classic cult shit that’s been used since the days of groups like Synanon.
Now, none of this is to say that it’s hopeless. It’s just that you and your parents are going to have to approach this carefully and deliberately, especially since he’ll have a number of pre-scripted responses to most of what you’ll say to him.
Here’s the thing you’ll need to understand: you can’t reason someone out of something that they didn’t reason themselves into in the first place, and you can’t argue someone into changing their mind. Even if you could demolish literally everything he believes with charts and graphs, provide evidence so overwhelming that even the most resistant mind couldn’t continue to believe it… this is very much about his sense of self, not logic. He’ll resent you for being right and he’ll double down rather than admit it.
Your parents can start the process by restricting his access to Tate’s bullshit as best they can. Without the constant reinforcement, the hold that Tate and other similar grifters maintain is weakened. But this is going to be an uphill battle under the best of circumstances. Even if they monitor his online activities constantly, he’ll still have access to computers and the Internet at his friends’, at school and elsewhere.
What you can do – as someone who’s his near-peer – is guide him to change his mind. But this must be done carefully. He is going to have to think that this was his choice, and he’s naturally going to be resistant since you’re a woman and women are supposed to be dumb and weak and to be controlled in his idol’s teachings.
What you’re going to have to do is plant seeds of doubt and let them grow – not by arguing about Tate’s bullshit, but by functionally Jedi mind-tricking A into thinking it himself. So what you’re going to have to do is lean into the stereotype your brother’s primed to believe and play dumb. You are going to start “just asking questions”, trying to understand and, in the process, pointing out the obvious inconsistencies, lies and so on.
Take, for example, Tate’s claims of wealth and prosperity. He’s supposed to be rich… but he’s busy dressing like he’s cosplaying as Emperor Ming of Mongo. You can ask, “are you sure he’s rich? Because really rich people don’t dress like that; real rich people tend to dress down. Steve Jobs didn’t prance about in silk caftans and ostentatiously smoke cigars; he wore nothing but jeans and turtlenecks. Bill Gates dresses like The Gap exploded on him, as does Zuckerberg.
So it is with the way he acts. I mean, if A saw someone swanning about insisting that he’s the biggest of the big and the baddest of the bad and making a big performance of ‘look at me, look at me’, what’s the first thing that A would say about him? Probably that he’s a poser and he’s trying to compensate for something. It’s weird, then, that this is exactly what Tate’s doing.
And like, if Tate’s women are so in love with him and dependent on him and can’t live without him… why are there so many things they’re not allowed to do? Why would Tate be worried about them going off and partying without him or having nights out with friends? If he’s really “Top G”, then shouldn’t he not give a damn what they do since how could they possibly want anyone else? If he has to keep them under constant surveillance and dictate what they’re doing at all times, then doesn’t that mean that they don’t like him that much? Wouldn’t that mean that someone else could just come by with a shinier car or better line of patter and snatch them up?
(You can even point out that your boyfriend – assuming you have one – knows that you love him and is confident in how you feel about him and so he’s cool with you going out and doing your own thing, so why isn’t Tate that confident in his girlfriends?)
And then there’s the hustle side of things. Tate’s whole thing is about how The Matrix is keeping people trapped. But as I said: most of what he teaches and the “opportunities” that his “coaches” offer are either to be their downline in the MLM – usually by being an affiliate marketer for Tate and his people – or investing in other people’s crypto schemes. If they’re only getting a percentage of what they earn and their coaches get the rest, isn’t that just recreating the same dynamic as working for a corporation?
If The Matrix is so bad and holding people down, then why isn’t he actually attacking the structures of The Matrix itself, instead of just trying to make your own business – something that would make you part of the Matrix, too. And if you’re making your own business and exploiting others… what does that say about you as a person? Is it cool to be an exploitive force, ruining other people as long as you’re the one doing it? If someone else being willing to be scammed means they’re a sheep, then what would happen if you got scammed or someone tricked you out of your hard-earned wealth? Wouldn’t that mean you’re really just another sheep from the herd? Ok sure, it wouldn’t happen to you, A, you’re clearly too smart for that… but what would it say if it did?
And there’s also the ‘business advice’ he gives, most of which involves lying, fraud and breaking the law. This isn’t hyperbole; you can find his videos all over the place where he talks about how you should trick family or friends to work for you for free, make sure that other people do the work that you get paid for and not tell them how much you’re actually bringing in, to not pay your taxes or file the paperwork to be a legal business and so on.
If lying and defrauding people is all part of the hustle, all part of how you break out of the Matrix, and it’s something that Tate himself has bragged proudly about doing… what makes A believe that Tate isn’t conning him? Why Tate be willing to defraud everyone else, but not the erstwhile students who are running up, eager to give him their money? What, precisely, makes him different?
And what about The Matrix, anyway? Ok, so they fear Tate and so they had him arrested because he was being so powerful. But if that’s the case… why did they have him arrested? If they thought he was a threat, wouldn’t they just kill him or arrange his death and make it look like an accident? Sure, they’re worried that it might prove they were afraid of him… but why arrest him instead of arranging for him to be found in some incredibly compromising and humiliating scenario that would make him look like a hypocrite and liar? Surely an all-encompassing, omnipresent system would be able to arrange that? And if arresting him was the only thing they could do, why would they wait so long, arresting him in Romania instead of the UK?
And while we’re on the subject of the Matrix… isn’t the whole point that nobody actually escaped The Matrix? The Matrix itself, in the form of the Architect, specifically said that they let the malcontents and rebels “escape” to Zion and created “The Ones” specifically to keep the rest under control. Then they all get wiped out and they restart the cycle.
So wouldn’t that imply that Tate’s really just an agent of the Matrix after all?
Now, will any of this change A’s mind? Probably not, and certainly not immediately. He’ll have a lot of responses, many of which he can (and likely will) rattle off without even thinking. The most common response will likely be “well what color’s YOUR Bugatti?” or something similar.
Now, you can throw him off his game by asking “why would I want one?” and responding to every explanation with “so?” and otherwise acting confused as to why you’d want a car that’s expensive to buy, even more expensive to maintain, incredibly inconvenient for daily life and one you can’t even drive at its’ full potential on city streets. But that’s not really the point – as fun as it may be to watch him squirm as he tries to explain.
You’re not trying to win arguments. You aren’t trying to deprogram him, you’re planting seeds. Any one seed may fail to find purchase in fertile ground – he might ignore you on how Tate’s a pimp and human trafficker, even if you pointed out that your brother’s idol would want you to be a camgirl – but by spreading several, you increase the likelihood that doubt will grow. By “just asking questions” and never taking any answer at face value or as final, you are setting up thoughts that will start to spread on their own… and that will feel like they come from him, not from you. You, after all, didn’t tell your brother that A’s a grifter, you were just trying to understand. But the more critically A has to think in order to justify his beliefs, the more likely he’ll be unable to ignore the glaring and obvious truths.
However, there’s one more thing that you and your parents will have to keep in mind. And to be sure, this will be the hardest part, so I want you to remember this above all else: if and when A starts to have doubts or leave Tate’s bullshit behind, do not mock him, insult him or judge him for having bought into it. The single biggest reason why people fall for cons, why they won’t leave cults or, for that matter, why they won’t leave abusive relationships is because of shame. They don’t want to face the shame and humiliation of being someone who could be conned or of having wasted their money and time. The moment you or your parents make any sort of joke or snide comment about his being gulled by Tate is the moment you’re going to push him right back into his waiting arms.
This doesn’t mean that you have to act like this is all fine, but it does mean that you need to show compassion and concern, not judgement. You want to express relief and joy that he’s left, not “oh thank God it’s about goddamn time” or “I can’t believe it took you so long to come to your senses”. The more judgement or opprobrium he feels, the less likely he’ll continue to question. He’ll fall back to blind faith to drown those doubts and the longer he’ll be stuck in Tate’s orbit until he’s forced out… and by that point, the damage will be that much worse and take that much longer to recover from.
None of this is easy, and I’m sorry you and your family are going through it. This is a difficult needle to thread and a lot of folks are unprepared to handle it. Hopefully you can guide your brother back to the light before too long.
This post was previously published on doctornerdlove.com and is republished on Medium.
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