The Young Radicals: A Symposium

The Young Radicals: A Symposium

1.) I am a radical because as a child I found myself in a world of lies. The three lies which, put together, make the biggest lie, are the lies of sex, money and authority. We were taught by conscious threats and unconscious fear: sex is evil, money brings happiness, authority equals moral superiority. I was pressured to submit to these lies; time and time again it was demonstrated how easy it would be not to be hated. In fact, that lesson constituted almost the whole of my education, both at home and at school. But I found I could not submit. My recalcitrance was not a decision; it was only a circumstance. I simply knew that I could not be happy unless the world around me were drastically changed— specifically, I wished that others could yearn for truth as I yearned. When I said this, or showed it, I was bitterly attacked, punished, humiliated. By my continued stubbornness, I knew myself a radical.

As for old socialists, I feel strongly about them because they were the first grown-up respectables I met who shared some of my dissatisfaction. I learned from them to think hard, to pay attention to history, and to love and use irony. But their limitations as people seem disastrous, and frustrate me insofar as they are my own. They appear to be tedious, tired of themselves, full of self-hate, and chained to an idealism so abstract that it precludes all love of life. If you don’t love life, why be alive? Not only do you miss the world’s incredible luxuriance of textures, colors, personalities, but you are blind to the infinite visions of possibility which distinguish men from beasts. Man is the only animal who becomes, but when he insists too narrowly on the path of his becoming, his emotions get constipated and he makes life a drag.

Now I admire their idealism and many of their ideals. But they are so pathetically limited (one might even say conservative) when it comes to imagining new existential modes and relations and sequences which might make some of these ideals possible! For example, I assent with all my heart to the notion that economic democracy is a necessary part of man’s becoming free and healthy and creative. But why insist on the Marxist order of things? Given such democracy as we already have, perhaps we must find some means to make ourselves more free and healthy and creative first. The history of our century does not fulfill the prophecy that the discontent of exploited masses leads them to establish democratic governments and creative modes of living—all they want is a share of the spoils. Political reform imposed from the top only leads to political regression and the need for new authority … and new scapegoats, new violence. So it is boorish and stupid and inhuman to insist that human problems can be solved solely through politics. That is why I don’t find it much use to think of myself as a socialist, because it is my experience that a socialist politics does not get to the roo...

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