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Beware the Devil’s Chadvocate

Opinions are like mixtapes: you hand them out for free, but nobody wants to listen. This does not deter an increasingly common male specimen: the Devil’s Chadvocate.

Are you a woman and/or minority? Did you post a joke on your social media account? Then you can expect to hear from the Devil’s Chadvocate, who interprets the whiff of any comedic viewpoint not his own as solicitation to interrogate the premise. You may wisely choose to ignore him, though a patient soul toiling in your mentions is sure to approach his prattle as good-faith engagement. It is not. The Devil’s Chadvocate is not there to be persuaded or defused, only to exhaust you. After he has irritated several people into muting him, he innocently protests that he was “just asking questions.”

Most of reasonable mind see little reward in joining a debate where they aren’t welcome, or creating one out of thin air. How else, though, can the Devil’s Chadvocate get some attention? Nobody follows his gamer podcast or shares his links to lectures on the neurological differences between the sexes. If he replies to a viral tweet with accusations of bias and “unfair generalizations,” he can count on roughly a dozen likes from those who take umbrage at any description of straight white dudes’ worst habits. The Devil’s Chadvocate used to say “Not all men,” defending themselves and select enlightened pals against the many charges. Now they insist that no men are guilty, that lived experience isn’t data, that you can’t call out patterns of inequality and abuse.

The Devil’s Chadvocate is toxic, yet stealthier than the obscene misogynist troll. He operates within Twitter’s terms of service even as he, in company parlance, “detracts from the conversation.” In fact, another of his telltale phrases — “I’m trying to start a conversation” — clumsily masks the intent to sidetrack or derail it. For despite harboring anti-feminist politics, the Devil’s Chadvocate rarely arrives proclaiming them; instead he endeavors to sound lost and naïve, in search of answers and broader context. He walks into a cluster of laughing partygoers and asks, “What’s so funny?” He then pretends to be shocked, offended at his own worst gloss on what he’s heard. It is he who decides which subjects are suitable for jest, and imagine if someone said that about women!

Yes, the Devil’s Chadvocate is well-practiced in the art of “whataboutism” and “both-sides-ism,” the sort of rhetoric that makes all participants appear at fault, meaning no one should face consequences for problematic or offensive ideas — least of all the DC, of course. This is in keeping with his style of caution, a mesh of plausible deniability that shrouds those ideas but allows them to soak through. The Devil’s Chadvocate is disgusted by rapists and harassers but hates dating in the era of #MeToo because “it’s tough for me to know where the line is.” He won’t say “witch hunt” but is always vaguely afraid of things “going too far,” spinning “out of control.” Whose control? His, I guess.

He’s a regular guy. Should he be “attacked” for that? He’s sensitive! How would you feel if you logged on every day to see women tweeting “men are trash”? He reads the frustrations of a country that, after hundreds of years, is sicker than ever of coddling and catering to him, electing him to office and installing him as CEO, assuring him that mythic prestige and wealth are his rights. Except, he complains, he wasn’t given this stuff. So he grabs frustration for himself: He came too late for his bite at the cookie. He is forced to atone for dead generations. He’s accountable for bad behavior, suddenly, and it has made him anxious. Why is he being “blamed” for slavery? For the pay gap? For mass shootings and war? Maybe I am the victim here, the Devil’s Chadvocate thinks.

Few will fall for this ruse, thankfully. The habitual devil’s advocate does not, contrary to definition, idly postulate that which he doesn’t really believe, and the Devil’s Chadvocate is no exception — rather he wants to advance his regressive agenda without first anteing up. Either he is dishonest to himself in regard to motive, or he’s actively looking for ways to say, over and over again, in a sadly limited range of terms: “I’m against any cultural shift that fails to flatter me.” This is why he can’t abide memes that subvert an ideal of masculine supremacy, and why he frets for powerful men dethroned by their anonymous victims. He and his kind have lost control of history, reduced to feebly policing content and a skeletal pride in that justly devalued identity. Don’t bother watching them die.