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Sad Radicals


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sad-radicals

Conor Barnes

Dec. 11 2018

When I became an anarchist I was 18, depressed, anxious, and ready to save the world. I moved in with other anarchists and worked at a vegetarian co-op cafe. I protested against student tuition, prison privatization, and pipeline extensions. I had lawyer’s numbers sharpied on my ankle and I assisted friends who were pepper-sprayed at demos. I tabled zines, lived with my “chosen family,” and performed slam poems about the end of the world. While my radical community was deconstructing gender, monogamy, and mental health, we lived and breathed concepts and tools like call-outs, intersectionality, cultural appropriation, trigger warnings, safe spaces, privilege theory, and rape culture.

What is a radical community? For the purposes of this article, I will define it as a community that shares both an ideology of complete dissatisfaction with existing society due to its oppressive nature and a desire to radically alter or destroy that society because it cannot be redeemed by its own means. I eventually fell out with my own radical community. The ideology and the people within it had left me a burned and disillusioned wreck. As I deprogrammed, I watched a diluted version of my radical ideology explode out of academia and become fashionable: I watched the Left become woke.

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Most of all, radicals should learn to abandon false truths. The only way to escape dogmatism is to resist the calcification and sanctification of values, and to learn from the wisdom of different perspectives. As Haidt argues, there are grains of truth in opposing political positions. Radicals do themselves a disservice by seeing the world of thought outside the radical monoculture as tainted with reaction and evil. There is a rich diversity of thought awaiting them if they would only open their minds to it. One of the achievements of liberalism has been a norm of free speech wherein individuals can both share and consume that spectrum of thought. Every new and challenging school of thought I discovered after anarchism rocked my worldview, as somebody who formerly thought that wisdom could only be found through “the struggle” or in esoteric French theory. Even if opposing views are not assimilated, the ability to contend with them on the intellectual field instead of silencing them is a sign of a seeker of the truth, not a guardian.

Young adults often become radicals after they realize the immensity of the cruelty and malevolence in the world. They reject a society that tolerates such suffering. They sanctify justice as their telos. But without truth to orient justice, seekers of justice will crash and crash again into reality, and will craft increasingly nightmarish and paranoid ideological analyses, burning out activists, destroying lives through jail or abuse, and leaving the world an uglier, more painful place. To paraphrase Alice Dreger, there is no justice without wisdom, and no wisdom without surrender to uncertainty in the pursuit of truth.

 

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