LIKE most who know of him, I use to think anyone who’d escaped knowledge of Milo Yiannopoulos was blessed. Over the past few years, the 32-year-old has left such a trail of objectionable shit in his wake that anyone’s world would be a little nicer for not knowing he exists. The anti-PC provocateur and self-styled cultural libertarian gained notoriety for his views on feminism, Islam, free speech and social justice, becoming the poster boy for the alt-right in the process. In July 2016 he was permanently banned from Twitter for inciting the racial abuse of Leslie Jones. This month, following the leak of a video where he seems to make pro-paedophilia comments, his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference was cancelled, his book deal with Simon & Schuster was dropped, and subsequently he resigned from his senior editor role at right-wing propaganda mill Breitbart.

I no longer consider ignorance of Milo as a blessing to anyone, especially those on the left. There’s too much worthy of exploration and discussion here. Many have called his fall a win for the left. Is it though? It’s certainly appealing to luxuriate in a little schadenfreude when “good” appears to triumph over “bad”. But this is not a triumph. Milo hung himself by his own petard. He and his followers helped create conditions for his demise. The platform many on the left would have denied him is the very thing that allowed him to say the magic words that finally crossed a line for many. Self-destruction of the right cannot be claimed as a victory for the left here.

There are valuable lessons to be learned from the rise and fall of Milo. We cannot refuse to acknowledge that part the progressive left play in creating and maintaining the ecosystem that kept him around for so long. Milo is a mountebank. He’s selling snake oil, for sure. It’s important to ask why so many want the snake oil. What is the real problem it’s trying to cure?

The alt-right is dominated by young men, and right now many of them are frustrated. Since the 70s the driving force of the world has become increasingly economic. The paradigm of neoliberalism promised limitless opportunity, new ways of living, a chance for any man to make more of himself. As time has marched onwards, and we’ve increasingly put markets before society, we are bearing witness to the significant impacts on the lives of ordinary men. The changes in society have served capitalism over people, through the cutting of wages, the lowering of corporation taxes, the increase of privatisation and contracting-out of work, with far-reaching consequences. Less job security, greater competition for well-paying roles, less financial mobility and the impeded ability to attain the things we’ve previously defined masculinity through has caused an identity crisis for many.

Neoliberalism is the promise that didn’t deliver. It’s left many young men rudderless. It offered freedoms, but with that no path to follow, no clear map to the security of adulthood and no guarantees. Men no longer have the certainties they once had. Venting frustrations amorphously in the direction of a system doesn’t offer the release of anger or frustration of blaming “others” for the personal problems it’s caused you. Blame the immigrants. Blame the people of colour. Blame the women.

The rise of alt-right thought is a reaction to uncertainty. Until recently, the social, political and economic milieu of the day was leaning to left — but this has created the perfect conditions for conspiracy to flourish. The steady flow of power in the opposite direction creates suspicion. It creates a fear of the other and of the implications of their dominance. Civil rights. Gay rights. Marriage equality, social justice, feminism — each win for the progressive left fertilizes the soil for reactionary politics to grow. Conspiratorial thinking and blaming others are a result of that growing sense of losing control. It creates the right conditions for a sort of socio-political apophenia — the seeing of patterns in things that are unrelated.

The flipside of the freedoms offered by neoliberalism is that the accepted rubrics of masculinity have been disrupted. This has been contemporaneous with the steady emergence from an overt patriarchal society that has expressed masculinity in a narrow set of terms. This makes it easier to blame others who benefit from the change than the regime itself. We’re experiencing a significant cultural lag here. We’re still defining masculinity in a way the regime makes unobtainable for most. Instead of looking at the bigger picture, it’s easier to blame the demands of the feminists and so-called “social justice warriors”, and more immediately gratifying.

And then there’s the appeal of saying the unsayable – the vicarious enjoyment that comes from watching someone flirting with the danger of saying something vile. Young men are bored. Through sharing in this discourse, they can bond. There’s the warped sense of community that comes from revelling together in your own superiority over others. Politics don’t speak to them. Milo does, but he’s not really offering answers. He’s offering an ego massage to lost and troubled young men. It’s demagoguery in the guise of truth. Why would you question someone giving you answers on a plate that make you feel good?

Milo’s popularity is not thanks to some unique, mystical quality. He exists purely because the conditions were right for someone like him to thrive. Disaffected men failed by a regime they won’t acknowledge is failing them, conspiratorial thinking, white male grievance and resentment, the need for a sense of community and purpose, the blurring of real journalism and fake/inaccurate news, a disregard for political correctness and the rise of social media. These are what make a Milo. Though he’s no saviour. He is no antidote to problems caused by the left – he’s a bogeyman created from the frustrations of the right.

Milo represents the success many don’t have. He’s wealthy enough, popular, outspoken, imbued with the prestige of speaking on campuses and TV shows. He’s the embodiment of the new paths to success neoliberalism promised. He offers easy answers for the disillusioned.

I won’t lie – it’s been satisfying to watch Milo’s world crumble. We should take heart as those on the right denounce him, but we mustn’t kid ourselves he’s gone for good. Racist, xenophobic, sexist and homophobic views are being expressed openly again. This should be a warning to us all.

What’s more, we in the left are in a poor position to tug the discourse back sharply in our direction. By playing by the rules, we’ve inadvertently helped to create spaces for right-wing radicals to thrive.

We’re playing the same game, but with entirely different strategies. As with any game, it pays to assess your opponents to consider your next move. Never take your eyes off the right. There’s much to be learned from asking why people like Milo speak to so many.