The Corner

Culture

When the Left Is Losing Its ‘Sexual Diversity Studies’ Students, Perhaps It’s Getting Too Shrill

Thanks to Rod Dreher, I ran across this this remarkable post by a self-described “queer activist” and former “sexual diversity studies” student at McGill. She describes her early days of activism, her eager participation in protests (“so many protests,” she says), and her burning rage against capitalism. But now, she’s changed:

I’ll be graduating soon, and I’ve been thinking about my years in Montreal with both nostalgia and regret. Something has been nagging at me for a long time. There’s something I need to say out loud, to everyone before I leave. It’s something that I’ve wanted to say for a long time, but I’ve struggled to find the right words. I need to tell people what was wrong with the activism I was engaged in, and why I bailed out. I have many fond memories from that time, but all in all, it was the darkest chapter of my life.

I used to endorse a particular brand of politics that is prevalent at McGill and in Montreal more widely. It is a fusion of a certain kind of anti-oppressive politics and a certain kind of radical leftist politics. This particular brand of politics begins with good intentions and noble causes, but metastasizes into a nightmare. In general, the activists involved are the nicest, most conscientious people you could hope to know. But at some point, they took a wrong turn, and their devotion to social justice led them down a dark path. Having been on both sides of the glass, I think I can bring some painful but necessary truth to light.

Her conclusion? That the fierce, angry leftism of her earlier years had become a virtual cult:

There is something dark and vaguely cultish about this particular brand of politics. I’ve thought a lot about what exactly that is. I’ve pinned down four core features that make it so disturbing: dogmatism, groupthink, a crusader mentality, and anti-intellectualism. I’ll go into detail about each one of these. The following is as much a confession as it is an admonishment. I will not mention a single sin that I have not been fully and damnably guilty of in my time.

I would encourage you to read the entire essay. Just as encouraging are many of the comments. Expecting to read one profane condemnation after another, I was surprised to see expressions of support and empathy — with others sharing the same experiences. One reason why I’ve been guardedly optimistic that our culture will weather the most recent season of omnipresent politically correct outrage is that it’s simply unsustainable even for many of its practitioners. 

To be clear, the writer hasn’t moved from radical leftism to conservatism, but her new prescription for political debate (which includes “embrace humility” and “treat people as individuals”) is a significant improvement over nihilistic rage. Just as Spinal Tap discovered there is a “fine line between stupid and clever,” some radicals may be realizing that when it comes to political rage, there is a fine line between intoxication and exhaustion. I agree with Rod Dreher: “The joylessness and zealotry will burn itself out, I imagine, but a lot of people are going to get hurt before it does.”

I found this essay more interesting than Jonathan Chait’s viral attack on political correctness. While Chait is a man of the Left — and has launched more than his share of shrill attacks at conservatives — he’s certainly not a member of the “rad” community and was thus still deemed an outsider by his P.C. critics. This essay, by contrast, stings just a bit more. It is evidence that radicals are alienating one of their own.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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