I often deride postmodernism but as much as I deride it, I am very grateful for it. In terms of social deconstructionism, of course, I have absolutely no use for its approach to hard science or morality and ethics. I may no longer be the nascent adolescent I was marching with Occupy Wall Street, reading Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, I very much am glad I started off with Marxist analysis of history. I would march with Occupy Wall Street, today, as well, although I would not align myself with its core membership. In any case, it is an experience that breaks one of intellectual reliance on one’s surrounding culture. I came into radical leftist politics, mostly, owing to an abstract sense of moral duty although experiencing and witnessing the deprivation, marginalization, and forms of poverty growing up in the Deep South with regard to racial, sexual, disability, and purely economic minorities certainly pushed me. Being Asperger’s, in the eighth grade, my guidance counselor explicitly told me to conform to “social norms”. A tragic joke in a middle school that had formerly been the White high school for Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. The message she sent was to obey society’s rules merely because they exist.
There is nothing like growing up in the shadow of plantations where the biting echelons of human misery and darkness still haunt the highways in the form of malnourished janitors and hotel maids to induce one to stop believing in the moral authority of anyone in power. Especially, when the powerful preach personal responsibility and hard work while they snort cocaine working white-collar jobs on the backs of the desperate and the tired working sixteen hours per day. A Marxist analysis of society is borne of a complete cynicism of the social structure and the logic that it is only ignoble ambition and greed that could cause humans to behave in such a way. Surprisingly, few people who witnessed the same things that I did came to the same conclusions or, if not, were equally horrified to the point of believing apathy or complacency were very grave crimes. While I don’t currently hold the same analytical positions, I will forever remain horrified by what I saw. The critical theory I subscribed to was the first in a multi-step process to breaking into an intellectual independence.
Radical politics is usually a form of moral absolutism and puritanical ethics. That’s ironically what would break me of critical theory because a large portion of fellow critical theorists were moral postmodernists which was so deeply offensive to me I basically left in a raving fit. Still, before I sparred with the moral relativists and moral deconstructivists and left, the circles of radical thought were places where my moral absolutism could be practiced and indulged. It was a place where one did not accept the world as it was and believed a utopia was possible. Where the romantic idea of human siblinghood may dominate a discussion rather than some technical policy change. It is the eschatological thinking of the radicals that can allow for an earnest attempt to forge a world that not only lacks extreme poverty or environmental destruction but also overcomes the human follies of hatred and division. The critical theory gives one revolutionary ideas and a revolution, in theory, is a blank slate on which to build a new society.
With those ideals comes a moral responsibility best summarized by Immanuel Kant, that every action should be taken as if it set a precedent for all posterity. Being a revolutionary, one believed one could participate in changing the world and so it was of paramount importance to be the change you wished to see. Critical theory as applied to ethics is moral nihilism but without that application, it lends itself to the exact opposite. It is a moral hope often arising from a puritanically zealous moral belief. It was a religion. It was a religion that one gave one’s life to. It was an epic battle between light and dark. Marxist analysis is also called “conflict theory”, a conflict between an oppressed mass of people and the symptoms of the innate human corruptions of lust for power and greed. That all is why I am glad that I got into radical politics. I had already had the strong moral beliefs but it gave me the hope that something could be done with them, something major and significant. A moral hope for a change in human nature.
I am much more pessimistic about human nature, now, than I was then. I believe humans are fundamentally evil. Still, despite that, I carry the irrational emotion that they’re fundamentally good. As I’ve said in an earlier article, the Mother Emmanuel Survivors forgave Dylann Roof after a week but Taylor Swift still hasn’t forgiven Kanye West. I truly believe the former is the exception and the latter is the rule. In any case, it is important to pretend that humans have more soul to salvage than they actually do because not pretending that will lead to the quarks there are to salvage going unsalvaged. That is, more than anything else, why I am grateful to my more radical past. It gave me a moral fantasy that has never left me and that I need to keep fighting in politics as hard as I do.