Sad radicals

There is an overdeveloped muscle in radicalism: the critical reflex. It is able to find oppression behind any mundanity. Where does this critical reflex come from? French philosopher Paul Ricœur famously coined the term “school of suspicion” to describe Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud’s drive to uncover repressed meaning in text and society. Today’s radicals have inherited this drive by way of Foucault and other Marxo-Nietzscheans.

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.

The paradigm of suspicion leaves the radical exhausted and misanthropic, because any action or statement can be shown with sufficient effort to hide privilege, a microaggression, or unconscious bias. Quoted in JM, the anarchist professor Richard Day proposes “infinite responsibility”: “we can never allow ourselves to think that we are ‘done,’ that we have identified all of the sites, structures, and processes of oppression ‘out there’ or ‘in here,’ inside our own individual and group identities.” Infinite responsibility means infinite guilt, a kind of Christianity without salvation: to see power in every interaction is to see sin in every interaction. All that the activist can offer to absolve herself is Sisyphean effort until burnout. Eady’s summarization is simpler: “Everything is problematic.”