By saying unfair and intemperate things, activists are allowing themselves to be weaponised by their enemies. In paranoid moments, I wonder if they are government agents, paid to discredit us.
It is deeply important that we always remind people we are the good guys and we know our opponents are too, at heart. We will not change the world by destroying those who oppose us, but by persuading them. The activists seem to completely forget this in an internet scramble to express themselves and be heard.
In more thoughtful moments, I think these extremists are dupes: unpaid agents of the status quo, unaware of their complicity. Modern thinking is so saturated with consumerist individualism that it has infected even the radical left. They operate in the same intellectual framework. Behind their individual grievances and causes, their aspirations are almost identical to the capitalists’: the satisfaction of individual self-realisation and self-expression. Society, for them, is no longer what you are, it is the frame within which the individual grows. Community is the particular patch of an atomised society where you decide to root yourself because you hope it is the most likely to nourish your growth. It serves you as an individual and is home to your allies who are subordinate to you, more important for their number and power in the fight against others, than for any shared communion.
Outside our communities, we see our world as a series of faceless and inhuman systems, against which we set ourselves by courageously speaking our personal truth. This an exercise in lonely alienation. But we have been prepared to see the world in these terms by an internet, and even by governments, that provide us with what (they say) we need, through inexplicable means and algorithms, requiring no understanding or involvement from us and by contributing only other our money and our acquiescence.
In this way of thinking, to live well is to develop the solitary self. And developing, broadening, deepening the self is expansionist, imperialist. It means gaining something – experience, knowledge, political, philosophical and ethical theory, technological capacity and expertise: these are all forms of product, just as artefacts, fashion items, gadgets are. They all help to establish who you are.
Gaining all of these is consumption and is increasingly monetised: you pay money to get them. You literally buy the t-shirt, put your money where your mouth is, text to contribute, giving over responsibility for what is actually to be done to other people.
Modern activism is so vigorous because it is entirely compatible with modern markets. It surfs the crest of the tsunami of increasingly voracious capitalism as the forces that oppose it – collective identity and collaborative thinking; physical, real-world community; socialism; a sense of belonging – all dwindle. Activists are consumers. No wonder they unwittingly serve the markets.