Nothing Changes If Nothing Changes
On grace, service, and solidarity
I used to drink wildly and continuously, like I would never get a chance to drink again. As is always the case, keeping this up for years resulted in plenty of wreckage and chaos. People around me wound up extremely hurt and confused, I had a couple of very stupid experiences in which I could easily have died, there was a lot of pointless pain and disappointment. Watching things fall apart around me and being unable to stop drinking was crushing for my spirit. It’s an awful feeling, like being a prisoner in your own head. It’s like being cursed by the kind of vengeful Olympian god who likes to make people push boulders up hills forever or get their livers pecked out every day by giant eagles. The days became repetitive, a grinding recital of the same story: excruciating hangover and a churning empty gut, waves of terror and shame as I explored the brutal memories slowly coming back and the horrible gaps where they didn’t, a hopeless resolution to stay dry for the day, the treacherous voice telling me I would drink anyway, the inevitable drink in the early afternoon, the mounting urgency of the thirst, the tall boy, the six-pack, the 40, the trip to the bar. I withdrew into myself, coming to identify with my addiction and serve it. I was filled with self-loathing, shutting parts of myself away in order to feel less pain, living in a strobing alternation of fear and oblivion.
I dried out on a cot in my sister’s basement, shaking and sweating and crying, because someone took me to an AA meeting and somehow it clicked. I didn’t know if I could do it, because every time I’d tried to sober up I’d gotten drunk again within a few days or at most a few weeks, but I knew that I wanted to, desperately. But I saw that the people at that meeting were people like me, really truly like me, who felt the way I felt, the way I thought nobody else felt, and they were apparently managing to put together completely impossible amounts of sober time. Somebody at my first meeting said they had been sober for months. I didn’t realize that there were dozens of people present who hadn’t had a drink in years. If I could put together two months, I thought, I would be set. I could do anything. I’d be able to fix all my problems, make a bunch of money, repair my relationships, maybe rescue the degree that had imploded in front of me. I’d be able to get around to some of the things on my to-do list, which at that point was so long it was practically in orbit.
As it happens I’m still sober, nine years later. It turned out that two months was not enough to fix my life. It wasn’t even enough to find a job. But it was enough for me to realize that whatever this sobriety stuff was, I wanted more, and that for whatever reason, AA was working for me where nothing else had. I committed myself, as well as I could commit myself to anything in those days, to being a reasonably good member of AA and listening to what I was told.
Alcoholics Anonymous gets a bad rap. I understand why. It’s a funny thing. It has a churchy vibe sometimes, but it’s populated by total degenerates. It’s completely by-and-for alcoholics, which also means it’s totally non-professional. It claims that the most important ingredient in turning your life around as an alcoholic is a spiritual experience, described in somewhat mystical and woolly language, a stance which is at odds with the dominant scientism and possibly, depending on who you ask, evidence. Many of its slogans and sayings seem simplistic and naive, though some would say that they are possessed of a depth not apparent at first glance.
Personally, I love AA a lot. I like to remind people that it’s kind of an astonishing organization: it has millions of members while having almost no formal leadership or bureaucratic structure, and it gets by with no more than a dozen rules. It’s completely independent of church, state, academia, and the NGO-industrial complex, conferring an autonomy which is increasingly rare in the world. I’ve written about the lessons the Left can learn from AA’s organizational structure elsewhere and I plan to write more about that in the future. But the philosophical outlook of AA is what I want to talk about here.
One of the most important things AA gave me was a bottomless reservoir of knowledge to tap into. This knowledge concerns how to live a good and meaningful life, and it was worked out by the identity group I trust the most: really fucked up people who managed to get their shit together. If I go to any meeting I will hear really fucked up people who managed to get their shit together talking about some of the ways they got their shit together and continue to keep it together. And the way I see it, at the end of the day, it all boils down to grace, service and solidarity.
If I want to live a good life, I need to be forgiving, helpful and, as we say in French, solidaire, ‘in solidarity’. If I want to have a good day, I need to wake up and consider how I can be of service, and how to be freed of self-obsession, resentment, controlling thinking, small-mindedness and the thousand other little tics of the mind with which we can successfully make our own lives so unbearable. It’s easy to forget this, and I do, frequently, sometimes for long stretches at a time, but I always come back to it. This outlook is the basis of the spiritual transformation which 12 Steps groups gave me. That spiritual transformation didn’t directly transform anything about the external world – it transforms the way I perceive the world.
Say I pray for my life to improve so that I can be more helpful to others, and then take a shower. When I get out of the shower, I see that I have a new text message – a job opportunity from an old friend who was thinking of me. My spiritual transformation, my prayer, didn’t cause that job to come into existence or my friend to text me. Instead, my spiritual transformation simply allowed me to see that text as a gift, to acknowledge it as a special and important happening, rather than seeing it as evidence that my friend is a busy-body who needs to get off my back, or just another thing on my to-do list to be stressed out about, or maybe something that I don’t even register at all because I’m too deep in depression or self-obsession. Like anything else, maintaining this outlook takes practice, but it’s been deeply worth it for me.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about wanting to find my voice as a writer. I can write with a biting, aggressive streak, I can write more academically, and I’ve got a poetic side; these are all fine, but I’ve been feeling more and more that what I have to offer that’s distinct from many of the other lefty writers on the internet is actually just the synthesis of my socialist thinking with the accumulated wisdom of drunks and fuckups. To a certain extent, this requires that I always bring myself back to a place of earnest goodwill, that place of grace, service and solidarity. I realized while thinking about this that not only do I immediately feel better about my writing when I remind myself of this but also that that stance, that sort of cheerfully constructive attitude, is extremely generative for me intellectually. One of the reasons it is so productive is that it’s a stance that is basically completely missing from much of the online Left. When I get myself into that mindset, practically anything I write feels sharp and new and doors start opening in my mind.
This realization also dovetailed neatly with a topic I have been meaning to write about for a while now. For years – and the feeling has been intensifying steadily – I’ve felt alienated from a lot of the Left. For anyone who knows my work, this should come as no surprise. I have a podcast and a social media presence sharply criticizing the tenderqueer Left, that hopeless nexus of breathless identitarians and blood-thirsty cancel kids holding sway over a lot of the internet. I’ve written a bunch of articles trying to dissect the phenomenon of the cancellation spectacle and pushing back against what I see as the fruitless fetishization of identity in that world. But that isn’t the only part of the Left I’ve found disillusioning and depressing. I’ve felt boxed in, crushed in a three-pronged pincer. One the one side is the aforementioned nexus. These are the kinds of people who will send you a ‘gentle reminder’ and then doxx you to a hundred thousand people and e-mail your boss to get you fired for contradicting their ever-shifting dogma. But there are also these two other sides, which I’ll call, for simplicity’s sake, ‘contrarians’ and ‘tankies’. Contrarians delight in holding edgy views, like to say shocking things for the sake of being shocking, and seem to generate a lot of their opinions by just repeating the exact opposite of whatever the Instagram queers are saying. Tankies are members of tiny Leninist or Maoist sects, do things like make ‘liquidation lists’ of their enemies, and spend a lot of time ‘correcting’ the ‘lines’ of their ‘comrades’ in newspapers that no one reads. All this would be frustrating enough, but what’s doubly annoying is that I’m often assumed, by virtue of my criticism of the social ‘justice’ crowd, to be myself either a contrarian or a tankie.
And here’s the thing: I’m really not. I find the bitter, irony-poisoned and often openly mean-spirited take-machine of the contrarian crowd to be dismal and depressing. As for the tankies, I’m hugely turned off by the cultiness of their groups, with their own upside-down versions of cancel culture, the casual way I’ve seen them discuss plans for violent extrajudicial reprisals, and the yawning disconnect between the way they talk and the reality I see around me. And, maybe most of all, I can't help but find these groupings to be spiritually bankrupt, each in their own ways – the contrarians cultivating shallow and cruel personas that I can’t imagine ever feeling fulfilling to inhabit, the tankies adhering slavishly to whatever dogma their ‘democratic centralism’ has handed down to them and pouring their energy into what seems like fruitless millenarian posturing, and the woke kids locked into their frightening ideological panopticon. When I started writing this article, it was actually going to be a scathing takedown of all three factions.
But as I wrote the first draft, I was overcome by depression and writer’s block. What’s the point of even writing this, I wondered? I’m just reproducing the same cycle of recrimination, factionalism, and squabbling that I find so irritating in everybody else. I was also feeling so gloomy about my own political life that I was uneasy trying to pass advice down to anyone else. What do I know? Who am I to tell other people what to do? As I often do when I start feeling that way, I went to a 12 Step meeting to try to get back to a balanced place, and had a series of realizations that led to the weird way this article is turning out now.
I had writer’s block because I didn’t feel like I was being of service. I felt depressed about my article because it was couched in resentment. I felt uncomfortable about my writing because it was unforgiving and it lacked any path toward solidarity. I started wondering what it would look like to rewrite the article in the spirit of service and grace, in line with my spiritual principles; what it would feel like to feel good about where I’m at instead of bitter.
When I was in my mid-twenties and freshly sober I lived in this ‘collective house’ in the Plateau-Mont-Royal with like seven other people. It was this tall, skinny apartment with three floors, with these tiny bedrooms with loft beds to maximize space. When we started it, we’d wanted to build a shared living situation that was communal in its major expenses, including food, and where chores and so on were shared equally, and where the vibe was specifically ‘rad’, whatever that was supposed to mean exactly. Most of us were students, though at the time we began it I was just working, miserably, at a call centre, while trying to get my shit together. This was around 2013, and we were at the bleeding edge of the social justice culture of which I’ve become such a critic. At the time, telling people your pronouns still felt transgressive, and to most people, ‘privileged’ still just meant ‘rich’. We were among the cohort of young millennials in hyper-progressive North American cities hammering out the modern interpretation of intersectionality, aggressively championing the new wave of transgender identity politics and adding nonbinary identity to the mix, and cultivating a studied disgust with ‘manarchists’ and ‘brosocialists’, which is what we called men who cared about class politics. Unlike today, nobody was really teaching most of this stuff at university yet, though the components of our synthesis were coming from the academy. It seems to me that we were coming up with a lot of it as we went along.
In the preceding years my political outlook had come more and more under the sway of this way of thinking, which at the time we called ‘anti-O’ (for anti-oppressive) or just ‘rad’. My political awakening as a teenager had been in the context of Chomsky and Choking Victim and the Communist Manifesto, stuff about capitalism and empire and hating cops; but in the lefty student and punk circles I found myself in as a young adult, it was becoming more and more a simple item of faith that identity was central to all political struggle, to the exclusion of almost everything else. It’s interesting because I’m told that in Toronto at this stage, anarchism was quite peripheral to things, but in Montreal where I was, a lot of anti-O ideas were presented to me through an anarchist lens. Anarchists were supposed to be against all illegitimate authority and all forms of domination. This meant they had to be against all forms of oppression equally, and so couldn’t just focus on capitalism and the state; they had to actively ‘struggle’ against all the bad -isms, and ‘unlearn’ the ways they themselves enact them. The tools for doing this were Facebook callouts and a detailed command of privilege theory, mostly.
I was at my wokest ever in that period, keen to feel better about myself after years of steadily more and more wretched drinking, and ready to do my unlearning, check my privilege, and build the new world now. I remember sitting in my room with a sketchpad drawing detailed charts of all my identities and characteristics and how they intersected, and tallying up esoteric forms of ‘privilege’ and ‘oppression’ (does being an English-speaker in a Francophone province make me an Anglo imperialist or a beleaguered minority? What if my mom's family is originally French-Canadian, but got assimilated in the mining towns of Northern Ontario? Where do my distant Indigenous ancestors fit in to all this?). I was a believer. I didn’t want to oppress anyone, and I wanted a world where people weren’t treated cruelly for no reason. But even so, I could never quite square my materialist, anti-capitalist and above all inquisitive worldview with the 'rad' politics I was trying so hard to embody. There were always things that bothered me, things I couldn’t quite force to make sense, things that I felt compelled to try to talk through in order to work out logical gaps. People in my life were mystified by it, too. I remember showing my AA sponsor the chart of my privileges and oppressions. He told me that it looked insane, refused to let me use it as part of my step work, and said my time would be a lot better spent volunteering to make coffee at meetings more often.
In the end I had a falling out with my roommates. It began with an argument over whether a white man could ever be more oppressed than, say, a woman of colour. To me, even as an extremely avid anti-O kid, this was an insane thing to even ask; I’d known brown girls with chauffeurs and cooks, and you just need to walk down any downtown street to see destitute white guys begging for change. I was informed that I had made a housemate feel ‘unsafe’ during the exchange, and my subsequent clumsy attempts to make it up to them resulted in the house electing to evict me with no notice. This was my first real brush with the weird, painful ways that conflict is often mismanaged in scenes like these. I spent a long time nursing a lot of deep resentment about that situation.
The resentment only deepened over the years, as did the rift between me and many of the people in that scene. I could literally write a book about it. I’ve analyzed it to death: the psychological mechanisms involved in sidelining people, the intellectual lineages of the ideas we were weaponizing, the many faults and flaws in the reasoning we were using. That kind of analysis feels good in the same way that picking a scab feels good, or getting revenge feels good. But it never gave me much healing, nor, I think, would it give much healing to anyone else. In terms of my own catharsis, one thing that’s always been missing in all my analyzing and intellectualizing is just the simple fact of my hurt and sadness and sense of loss and abandonment.
The truth is, I miss being a part of that scene. I miss big groups of young people who felt like they had a shared vision. I miss getting stick and poke tattoos from people with dumb haircuts. I miss dumpster-diving on our bikes, and feeling like being queer was exciting, and going to protests together. I miss feeling welcome in Montreal’s constellations of sprawling old collective apartments inhabited by punk-adjacent weirdos, forever having bilingual conversations around their kitchen tables about the farms they were going to work on or the drama at the co-op bike shop. The sense of collectivity – even shot through as it was by the spectre of what we then called callout culture – was a salve for my loneliness and lack of direction.
I wouldn’t go back. I think I should have been seeking connection in healthier circles. The disposability culture and ideological conformity in that scene was and is absolutely toxic. But in considering my own feeling of hurt and betrayal, I’m forced to consider my own participation in that world; and to consider my own participation, in a way which treats my past self with compassion and understanding, I’m invited to extend that same compassion and understanding to the people by whom I feel hurt and betrayed.
A lot of the ‘heterodox’ lefty crowd write about the woke identitarians as if they’re scarcely more than depraved charlatans, totally committed to destroying the Left by any means necessary. I’ve absolutely talked and written like that before. It comes from a place of bitterness for me, and a desire to push back aggressively against the moral absolutism so often employed by identitarians and cancel queens. But also I think for many commentators it comes from being outside of that world and looking in. I remember being on the inside looking out. I still have a lot of love for a lot of those people.
I remember how it felt, as a denizen of that anarchist-inflected version of early wokeworld, to see myself as being engaged in a multi-fronted, open-ended struggle with no real vision of victory and no real hope of success, part of a tiny group of enlightened people surrounded by implacable enemies and vast reactionary forces, fighting against enormous systems so embedded in the world that only total and complete revolution could hope to budge them, systems so deep-seated that we even needed to find and destroy them within our own selves, and so evil that nothing less than their immediate obliteration could be tolerated. I believed this with a sense of certainty bordering on the religious. It’s a dark and hopeless place to be in. I used to flirt with the idea of going out with a bang; violent action seemed like the only morally defensible path forward, given the stakes, and life in prison sounded shitty. I spent a lot of time trying to blot it out in various ways, too, dissociating from what I believed. But one way to keep from going insane, one which I remember doing, is to cultivate an affect that is sufficiently outraged to fit the monumental scope of the evil you are up against, and to focus on the only instances of that evil that are within your reach. Since we were powerless kids with no real organizations and no way to project force against real targets even if we could organize anything, which we couldn’t, that inevitably meant each other. We turned our scopes on our peers and, rage already dialed up to eleven, blasted away.
That, I know for certain, is not something we invented. It’s a pattern that repeats itself throughout history, and particularly in scenes and subcultures predicated on high-stakes transformative ideas, like new religious movements and radical political groups. What we did was bring our new identitarian lens to bear, but we were reenacting a dynamic as old as organized political existence. We bear responsibility for what we did to each other, and what we taught the kids to be doing to each other now. But I can’t help but wonder if things would have been different if there had been any real organized left to speak of in our lives. Because the thing is – there wasn’t. Young North Americans interested in the Left were absolutely adrift. Very few of us were in unions, there were no real left-wing parties on the federal level, there were no working-class institutions, there was almost no class consciousness in general. The social democrats of our parents’ generation had retreated completely into tepid centrism in the 90s, and the communists were (and are) were fractured into a myriad of completely ineffectual sects. Left-wing ideas were absolutely never reflected back to us in any mainstream media or by any politician. We had practically no elders, nobody to tell us what worked and what didn’t, nobody who spoke our language to tell us of the victories they’d had or question our judgment, no vision of what it would even look like to win. Lacking any sort of genealogy of class politics, all we could do was flail at each other on the basis of identity.
I’ve spent a long time thinking back on that period with a mixture of resentment and betrayal. I told myself I had done the hard work of pushing through the woolly thinking and cultishness to try to arrive at a political synthesis that actually made sense, while everyone else had just doubled down on virtue signalling and abandoned socialist ideas altogether. I felt that my reward for trying to be logically consistent and to live in reality was exile and unpersoning. I felt like I had tried to remain true to the spirit of our radical politics, the spirit of emancipation and egalitarianism and democracy and solidarity, while seemingly everybody else around me had decided to fixate on the letter of the law, scanning the feeds endlessly for ideological infractions and calling that praxis, each one a little cop “content to judge and judge and judge and never stop judging,” to borrow a turn of phrase from Freddie DeBoer. I was burning with bitterness about it. Over the years the rift widened, and the little mini-call-outs came more frequently until they converged and came to a head in the extreme social rupture of a high-profile cancellation. My community had been taken from me, the meaning stripped from my life, and what was left of my faith in the existing Left was utterly shattered. I sank even deeper into a caustic despair.
Luckily (or unluckily), as an alcoholic, I’m no stranger to wretched self-pity and resentment so corrosive it feels like it’s burning a hole in your gut. I might not like doing what I need to do (I don’t), but eventually the fact that I do know what to do about it creeps up on me. I look for my part in situations that have hurt me. I direct my outlook such that I become aware of the gifts I am being given. I change my actions. I wish good things for people I fucking hate.
I need to remind myself that I was there too, for years, snitching and ‘calling out’ and being insufferable and condescending to everyone around me, and maybe I still would be, if it wasn’t for the fact that that woke subculture chews people up and spits them out with such disturbing regularity. I questioned some things, but I also trained myself never to think about certain logical inconsistencies. I tried to push for a consistent set of ideas, but I reacted with anger or derision to perfectly valid questions from outsiders trying to understand what I was talking about. I talked a big game about solidarity, but I was scene-obsessed and sneered at normies. I thought we needed a politics that was accessible and appealing to ordinary people, but everything I did was subcultural and everything I said was extreme. For all that I was one foot in, one foot out, I was very much part of the genesis of the identitarian turn on the Left, and it was never a sure thing that I would leave that world. “There but for the grace of God go I,” as they say. I’m also indebted to another old sponsor of mine for pointing out that in every instance of me being called in, called out, sniped at, ordered to show up to mediation sessions to be accountable for comments I made about astrology, and otherwise generally harangued and harassed by tenderqueers and wokelords, I bear responsibility, at the very least, for constantly surrounding myself with the kind of people who do that kind of thing. Cancel me once, shame on you. Cancel me twice, I’ve been ignoring red flags for a decade and some of them were put there by me.
Where is the gift in all of this? What am I being offered? In a lot of ways it actually feels similar to giving up drinking. Finally surrendering, accepting the fact that I’ve never been able to drink normally and I have no reason to believe I’ll ever be able to in the future, set me free. I could stop obsessing about alcohol. There was a huge and wild grief there, too, heartache like after a divorce or the death of a loved one, as I accepted that the one thing that had ever made me feel happy had stopped working and had become a chain around my neck. But it was freedom, finally, and it allowed me to start finding other ways to be happy. Being cut out of wokeworld was a similar experience. It gave me the freedom to confront some of the last remnants of cultishness lurking in my head, the protocols that kept me from thinking certain ‘problematic’ thoughts, the little bits of programming that coded for an endless low-grade self-loathing on the basis of my skin colour or my masculinity, the emergency abort procedures that kicked in when I read things I wasn’t supposed to. It allowed me to start over, in a sense. I ditched my anarchist puritanism and joined Québec Solidaire, a social-democratic party, because why not. I started writing and speaking much more openly about what I believe. I started supporting people who were going through what I’d gone through instead of treating them like lepers. The weight of fear has been lifted: I am no longer obsessed with mitigating the effects of potential cancellation. I have been called everything you can think of and more, and more accusations are just more background noise. In AA they say that “no matter how far down the scale we have gone, we see that our experiences can benefit others”. I’m being shown that my experiences, as painful as they were for me, can serve to illuminate things for others who are searching for a path through their own painful lives, and the opportunity to be of service in this way is a great gift.
I’m being shown that I have a lot to be grateful for. I was in something resembling a cult, and my 12 Steps fellowship – ironically, often accused of being a cult by people who don’t know much about it – is what gave me the tools to slowly deprogram myself. It became harder and harder to maintain the 24/7 outrage of wokeworld as I tried more and more to cultivate something like serenity. I couldn’t ‘accept the things I cannot change’ while holding myself in a mental state of permanent total war against the entirety of Western civilization. It became impossible to piously ‘hold folks accountable’ while also looking for my part in conflict, focusing on my own side of the street, treating other people with the respect I wish they’d give me, reflecting on what I don’t know about the motives of others, and remembering that most of us are profoundly sick and alienated. It became obvious that real ‘transformative justice’, which I saw taking place in dim church basements and YMCA back rooms all the time, is only achieved when a person is offered support, resources, fellowship, understanding and unconditional love, the precise opposite of the grisly trainwrecks we were constantly carrying out in wokeworld. The frantic alternating between victimhood and dictatorialism that characterizes so much of the affect of the North American leftyverse is totally at odds with the attitude of calm self-respect and unwillingness to control others that my 12 Step program sought to instill in me. The AA injunction to ‘look for the similarities not the differences’ between yourself and others is incompatible with the neo-segregationist impulses of identitarianism. The wildly diverse membership of 12 Steps groups, which are comprised of people of literally all walks of life to an extent I have never encountered in any other setting, served to illustrate the extreme conformity and homogeneity of the supposedly radical and ‘inclusive’ scenes I was in. Trying to be woke and sober is practically impossible, and eventually (and happily), sobriety won out. For the second time, 12 Steps had given me my life back.
I don’t think 12 Steps is magic, nor do I think it works for everyone, and I’m not interested in telling anyone to do what I did. I just think I’m very lucky to have had something like a 12 Step fellowship to help me deprogram. I’m also very lucky to have had it to fall back on after my connection to wokeworld was severed. A lot of people don’t have anything like that. In many ways alienation is at its height, and hundreds of millions of us are more adrift than ever before, without clubs, clans, unions, parties, assemblies, churches, or even functional families to give us structure, help us work through our thoughts, and impart to us truths about adulthood and a good life. We are separated from our fellows and then float alone, bathed in an incomprehensible and unprecedented volume of media and information, with no way to make sense of it and no way to tell truth from fiction or artifice from authenticity.
It’s no wonder that some people leave the Left and begin to call themselves ‘politically homeless’. It’s no wonder that some people retreat further and further into snark and irony. It’s no wonder that people join ineffectual Trotskyist cults and feverishly dedicate themselves to the sale of competing polemical newspapers. And it’s no wonder that people get caught in the mainstream identitarian left, glassy-eyed and numb, endlessly refreshing their feeds and policing their mutuals. We’re lonely, and confused, and we want to belong and to have answers and feel like we are good people. We’re just doing what people do. What people have always done.
If I let myself, I feel happy and grateful to be where I am. I don’t feel politically homeless. I know – more or less – exactly where I stand. And I know that I’m not alone. Nor do I need to be a contrarian. The values that I want to see embodied in our politics are values which crop up again and again in human belief systems, values which most people can come to on their own if they are thoughtful, values which are alien to no one. They are not contrarian values. They are the first values we teach to our children: the need to be kindly and helpful, to not take more than you need, to offer freely of what you have, to consider the needs of others as carefully as you consider your own. As twisted up and nightmarish as the social world can often appear, it is threaded through and underlain by a humming layer of kindness into which we can always dip, reciprocity which is always ready to explode out into our social relations if given half a chance, solidarity from which we can always draw strength and inspiration. The sickness and alienation manifested everywhere around us is loud and jarring and sucks all the air out of the room, but it is never the whole picture.
I think we can look for the similarities instead of the differences. So many people stuck in wokeworld are actually calm, kind and reasonable, even if they are often drowned out by the deeply unwell. The majority of people browsing r/stupidpol and listening to dirtbag podcasts are totally opposed to dehumanization and casual cruelty, and roll their eyes at edgy excess. The young people who end up flogging broadsheets for ‘revolutionary’ cults are usually just trying to find a way to be involved in socialist organizing and drift out of these ineffectual groups within a year. The majority of people interested in left-wing politics share a huge amount of ideological and ethical common ground but find it difficult to find one another through the chaff and chatter of the internet. Those of us feeling stuck in the middle, those of us who want ‘Socialism With Normal Characteristics and Freaky Options’, are not actually stuck anywhere: we make up most of the Left and we can begin saying so any time. We are appealing to regular workers. We are relatively easy to get along with. We don’t mind answering questions about our beliefs. We aren’t going to threaten to ‘liquidate’ anyone. We don’t sound insane and we talk like normal people. Far from being an isolated minority, we make up the majority position. We need to start thinking of ourselves not as politically homeless but as the future of the Left.
In the end, nobody really knows what's going on, and none of us individually can control much about the world around us. But the values that animate the best parts of the Left and the best traditions of human spirituality can help guide us forward, and give us meaning, and show us how to bridge the chasms we have created between ourselves and our fellows. More than anything else it is this ability to form connections with people we see as antagonists that we must cultivate if we are to have any hope of a mass movement or indeed any hope of lives that are not defined by loneliness and atomization. We can and will make this change, as individuals and as organizations and as political communities. But change only comes if we are willing. As the old guys in AA say, sipping bitter coffee from tiny styrofoam cups and squinting at the newcomer from under their bushy white brows, "nothing changes if nothing changes."
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