This is approximately how Pinks see radicals, except fatter.
You may have noticed lately that I’ve been writing a lot about a synthesis of all these positions I’m holding. What they all have in common, I’ve come to realize, is that they are based on systemic examinations of the issues. They all contrast themselves to the individualistic, voluntaryist approach. They look at the institutions in our society and evaluate them from an ethical standpoint (whatever that standpoint might be).
One good word for this is “radical.” “Radical” means going to the root of something. The root of the problems caused by religion, hierarchies, natalism or the Patriarchy is not the actions of the individuals living within that context, but religion, hierarchies, natalism and the Patriarchy themselves; not individual abuses but the rules and structures that abuse others by their very nature. To quote Octavio Paz:
The revolutionary is always a radical, that is, he is trying to correct the uses themselves rather than the mere abuses…
Or to quote Thoreau:
There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root, and it may be that he who bestows the largest amount of time and money on the needy is doing the most by his mode of life to produce that misery which he strives in vain to relieve.
Walden, Henry David Thoreau
Thoreau understood the dynamic of guilt cover-up that motivates much of charity in our society where people are not guaranteed their right to live. But most importantly, he understood that one has to examine the source of evil, not just try to mitigate it. Both activities are necessary in order to reduce suffering.
It is obvious to me now that systemic analysis is the best way to look at social issues. But why do people resist doing so? Why do people analyze actions as if they existed in a vacuum and completely ignore the context that molds our actions? There seems to be a few reasons for that.
1. Belief in a fixed idea, whether it be God, the State, the life-system, or the Patriarchy. Fixed ideas are totalizing and make it impossible for believers to grasp the existence of viable alternatives, let alone the fact that what they believe in is evil.
It may seem that these people make use of systemic analysis, but they are stuck in the reactionary stage, so their criticism of social issues is purely circular (X is good/bad because God/the Bible says it is, and God/the Bible is the standard of morality because I believe in God/the Bible).
Related to this is the weaker believer who believes that a systemic analysis neglects his position, e.g. a liberal Christian who rejects the anti-religious because they don’t criticize liberals like em. They don’t understand that a systemic feature is not necessarily reproduced by every subject of the system, but that by being part of the system, these subjects support the evils of the system. The liberal Christian is aiding and abetting the religion that makes fundamentalist evils possible.
2. Some people fear of discovering that they live in an evil society. Who wants to feel that their society is not only full of injustice, but that this injustice is part and parcel of the system and cannot be resolved by individualistic action? It’s much easier to keep believing in business as usual.
3. We’re all fed the mass media stereotype of radicals (no matter what the issue) as violent, strident, insane kooks. This discourages a lot of people from even examining radical ideology. Who wants to be a violent, strident, insane kook?
4. One may be committed to individualistic thinking or gradualism to the point that it becomes its own fixed idea. To such people, any individual instantiation of institutional evils can be explained away by the Bad Apple Syndrome, which means there can be no disproof. Even bad features of institutions themselves can be explained away by the actions of a few bad former leaders.
I don’t know if this is directly related, but it also seems that certain people can ignore the existence of any amount of injustice or error if it they do not perceive it as relevant to their own personal lives. It is not merely that they don’t care, but that they actively decide to ignore the very existence of the injustice. I have observed this bizarre phenomenon more than once.
5. The belief that radicalism is useless, and that radicals are not being reasonable. This is what Michael Albert (the parecon guy) calls “vision aversion.” Whether we like it or not, there are people who simply do not care about others and don’t care about any vision concerned with making a better society, or who don’t have the imagination necessary to be inspired by a vision of what could be, and those people are never going to be radicals no matter how much you argue.
6. It’s an uphill battle. It seems every other trend (in spirituality, literature, etc) or ideology (in philosophy, politics, ethics, economics, etc) serves a powerful role in getting people from not focusing on the big picture (many of which I have reviewed on this blog). The more a person is involved in the mass media or popular literature, the harder it is for such a person to understand radicalism. In the Western world, individualism and individualistic framing of issues is seen as modern and progressive, and anyone who’s a radical is intolerant, old-fashioned, culturally insensitive, and so on.
It’s also hard to connect the dots when confronted by institutional evils because we are blind to the institutions that surround us like a fish is blind to water. This is why philosophy leads itself naturally to radicalism, since, at its best, it’s supposed to help us expose our implicit premises and re-examine them. But philosophy also lends itself well to formalizing people’s prejudices and delusions.