I hate the expression “deep down”. Generally speaking, it sounds like the place where some asshat can project what they want for your life onto your subconscious. It’s acceptable if they’re well-meaning, but it feels like something that will stop a conversation dead, whether its political in nature, or if a friend is trying to tell you to do something that “you know deep down” is the right decision.
But, as I am learning, there is a defense mechanism there, in that some behaviors are so irrational, that you must wonder if they know it to be such when they’re not behaving this way. My best example for this is usually the terminally online (or perpetually marching, when it’s warm out) political activist. Their language never changes; if it doesn’t fit in a tweet (or on a sign, when it’s warm out), they don’t say it. it’s where we get the NPC meme from. Further, they begin from a position of fiery, self-righteous anger and only seem capable of getting angrier, but incapable of thinking with depth and complexity. A writer for Vox managed to distill this kind of activist in a long screed against how online discourse has become extremely tiresome, with emotion that stands vastly out of proportion with its actual impact on the world. And so, after 2 election cycles that were vitriolic, divisive, full of sound and fury and changed nothing, one has to wonder if the activist is getting tired and simply doesn’t know how to stop, or if they’re having fun being horrible as the Lockdown Cult did in 2020 and most of 2021?
In other words, can they be made to stop being cruel, or is that just who they are now?
I have learned, what they are probably learning. That cynics, which is what reddit’s self-described nihilists actually are, create rods for their own backs with their endlessly acerbic thoughts when light starts to shine through. For me, it was a more personal matter as I, a once somewhat misanthropic, politically obsessed hermit, started to see a circle of friends form around me that I grew to love (inasmuch as I know what that means and how to carry it out) and I doubt the terminally online or perpetually marching have the same community. But now with the uselessness of their scorched earth tactics being apparent to most with the last 6 years, it is clear that destruction doesn’t build anything. Therefore, progressives have become a people ideologically committed to something they know commits moral evil and is therefore incapable of bringing about a better world, and one assumes (hopes) they have the functional moral compass needed to wrestle with that paradox. I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to ascribe what, “deep down” is driving the online activist and what can be done about it. Knowing that I am now projecting my thoughts onto their troubled conscious.
The least charitable interpretation states the activist is not serious, but is instead crazy. They don’t care about the issue, but the emotion surrounding the issue, and the existence of an out-group has allowed themselves to give themselves license to treat anyone and anything that stands against them with contempt and cruelty. There is nothing in their morality saying they can’t march into a restaurant where people are selfishly enjoying a peaceful meal and start chanting and berating them. There’s nothing saying they can’t dox a person, harass their friends and family, try to get them fired and, if you’re in Portland or Seattle, shot, they can also burn down or firebomb anything because, as we’ve learned in Atlanta, “property destruction is not violence”.
And yet, not a single salient point is made, not one deep conversation is even allowed to take place, and the activist has the air of a petty, stupid, totalitarian psychopath.
A more charitable interpretation is the activist is severely depressed and alone. Driven to politics because politics is the secular god and is considered by the activist to be the only avenue for, as the phrase goes, “meaningful change”. Somewhere within politics is the issue around which the activist has made a core part of his identity. Thus he is merely a petty, stupid, totalitarian psychopath not because he is a true believer that has been MADE a nutcase, but that this toxic environment is the area through which he has found community and purpose. This community, however, is based on the superficial life on Twitter and Reddit, hunting down heretics and being excruciatingly careful NEVER saying the wrong thing yourself, as defined by vague but ever-changing and militantly enforced, rules that, if you fall afoul of them, God may not be able to help you. It is a shallow community, based on fear and never being allowed to rest, but it is a community. And it is a purpose that never goes away. “we will not rest until the problem we decry is gone forever” is the activist creed. Being that human nature bends towards evil, the problem will never go away. As we’ve learned with the rioters in Atlanta and the Critical Race Theorists, the activist is also keen to change the definition of words to make the problem seem even larger than it is, securing his purpose until the day he dies.
The most charitable interpretation is that they are well-meaning, “deep down”, underneath their pettiness, stupidity and totalitarian psychopathic tendencies. In other words, “they are evil because they are noble and just don’t know how to apply their nobility”. The lockdown cult tried to adopt this view near the end of last year, saying bad things were said “by both sides” and that “pandemic amnesty” was advisable. As if there’s a moral equivalent to saying “you’re not allowed to see family, friends, in-person (as is physiologically necessary) or work for a living. And nobody is coming to save you. I know it’s painful, but you must do it to save lives” and the natural response to such a seemingly interminable and thus deliberately cruel imposition from people who either did not impose the same restrictions on themselves, or live such lonely, yet comfortable lives that the impositions didn’t severely affect them. Because of what I saw and experienced from the lockdown cult, and having read more than enough of Critical Race Theory (from the likes of Kendi and Crenshaw), I do not believe that people adopting these ideologies are well-meaning because I cannot imagine anyone looking at even 6 months of their destructive work and assuming a good world will one day come out of their chaos.
Carl Benjamin of the Lotus Eaters however, noted years ago the exodus of many from that activist space because it is so toxic. He observed that in this community, “nothing is casual or experimental”, every utterance could be a political death sentence, noting the body language of Lindsey Ellis in an interview, looking “absolutely terrified” of her audience, an audience whose outrage eventually forced her off the platform. Sooner or later, some do realize that politics today is an arduous grind and they do not have nearly the power to affect change they thought they did, even if they are one part of a screaming, vacant horde.
In the physical realm, their views are not expressed in the slightly embarrassing way of the street evangelical with the sandwich board, but the shallow, empty groupthink of a protest already mentioned, or more individually in the destruction of property. Whether it’s painting on a Christian display, burning down a business, or assaulting someone with a MAGA hat, the secular evangelical, by himself, tends to be harder to ignore than their Christian sandwich board brethren by managing the neat trick of being considerably worse by saying considerably less.
I am regularly reminded of the promises made by the New Atheists who shaped my early thinking. When one ceases to be religious, the story goes, they will naturally lean towards rationalism, being able to deal with opposing viewpoints calmly and making a strong case for their side (2 Timothy 2:25 and 1 Peter 3:15 respectively serve to make what are dreams into obligations but remember we’re talking about secularism here). It’s the new formulation of John Stuart Mill’s belief that, when faced with intellectual and carnal pursuits, the individual will naturally lean toward the former. Neither belief, due to human nature, has proven true, but that doesn’t stop people from being optimistic for reasons known but to God. One can only hope, for their sake, that “deep down”, they know they’re wrong and that God may send someone to find them, freeing them from this toxic mindset and this road that leads only to destruction of the world around a person as well as their soul, and that they’re intelligent enough to take the invitation. The primary concern being that intelligence is the first thing the terminally online activist sacrifices to be accepted into the perpetual march in the first place.