Excerpted from “Sad Radicals” by Conor Barnes (Quillette Dec 2018)
…The ideology and norms of radicalism have evolved to produce toxic, paranoid, depressed subjects. What follows is a picture of what happens in communities that are passionately, sincerely, radically woke, as seen from the perspective of an apostate.
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.
… Deep and sincere engagement with opposing points of view is out of the question. Radicalism is like a clan too suspicious of outsiders to abandon cousin marriage, and, like incestuous offspring, radicalism’s intellectual offspring accumulate genetic load. Narrow theories must perform increasingly convoluted explanations of the world. For example, Montgomery and Bergman describe Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s use of the term “Empire,” in their book of the same name, as both a miasma that “accumulates and spreads sadness” and an anthropomorphized figure that “works to usher its subjects into flimsy relationships where nothing is at stake and to infuse intimacy with violence and domination.”
… As radicals, we lived in what I call a paradigm of suspicion, one of the malignant ideas that emerge as a result of intellectual in-breeding. We inherited familial neuroses and saw insidious oppression and exploitation in all social relationships, stifling our ability to relate to others or ourselves without cynicism. Activists anxiously pore over interactions, looking for ways in which the mundane conceals domination. To see every interaction as containing hidden violence is to become a permanent victim, because if all you are is a nail, everything looks like a hammer.
… Abusers thrive in radical communities because radical norms are fragile and exploitable. A culture of freewheeling drug and alcohol use creates situations predators are waiting to exploit. A cultural fetishization of violence provides cover for violent and unstable people. The practice of public “call-outs” is used for power-plays far more often than for constructive feedback. Radicals value responding to claims of harm with compassion and belief. But abusers exploit this the way children exploit parents and teachers—crybullying becomes a way of punishing opponents or prey. While norms such as “believe claimed victims” are important in families and close friendships where trust and accountability are real, they become weapons in amorphous communities.
… 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.
Conor Barnes is a student, writer, and poet. His writing has also appeared in Areo Magazine and the Mantle. You can follow him on Twitter @ideopunk
The phenomenon of the “sad radical,” or the “inbred intellectual” of modern times, is worth studying and learning about. It points to the only genuine and demonstrable doom that modern human societies face today — a self-immolation of the western world from the academy outward.
Every high school student should be allowed to read this article and other broad perspective views on modern inbred radicalism long before going away to college. The parents of high school students and college students should also inform themselves about the culture which dominates college campuses.
When universities bankrupt hundreds of thousands of families without providing value for cost, it is a tragedy. When universities lobotomise millions of young minds without providing intellectual value to compensate, it is a crime.
It is never too late to have a Dangerous Childhood © .
One antidote to inbred intellectualism: Heterodox Academy
Brief note on “ideological possession:” Jordan Peterson often uses the term “ideological possession” to refer to people who have been so caught up in a particular ideology as to have lost their individual identity and judgment in certain situations. It is analogous to “demon possession” in the sense of having been taken over by an outside malevolent intellect (or pseudo-intellect). The outside force acts and speaks from within the person’s body and voice, taking complete control. “The person may as well not even be there, only the ideology.”