Update (22/09/2020): Remembering and coming back to this post is somewhat embarrassing. When the below was written, it felt like there was something of a catch-22 between how the left deals with dissenting thinkers. That may remain true, to an extent, but this blog has regrettably fallen into a trap along with many others, defending someone who doesn’t need and warrant defending. I’d direct people to the three posts below instead:
I had no intention of wading into this weird swamp where everyone is continuing to talk about Nina Power as if she’s not online here with us. (Hi, Nina!) However, that being said, this new article on The White Pube by Linda Stupart finds itself in some peculiar territory, unwittingly capturing the main thing that I find uncomfortable about all of this.
Stupart writes at one point:
I absolutely do not want to suggest that there is an intrinsic link between trauma and a move towards the right. Most of the people I know who have been victims of major traumas, particularly at the hands of the state, have been politicised via these experiences. The holes or wounds or gaps that trauma punctuates can make space for a radical and powerful empathy.
This is very true, and I assume this is also an underhand way of acknowledging Nina’s well-documented and traumatic history of struggle against state persecution. Nina’s history in this regard is very important but the elephant in the room here remains unengaged with, and it is an issue that is not unique to this latest scandal.
If there is an intrinsic link between trauma and a move towards the right here, surely it is the recursive trauma of persecution that the left repeats within itself.
The question left unanswered is this: What does it say about the left when it deals with its disagreements by replicating the same predatory and persecutory nature of the state within its own ranks?
After Mark Fisher died, I spent the rest of 2017 trying desperately to get to grips with a sense of ethics, compassion, communication, community, and communism that could be held up in the face of that event and withstand it. It wasn’t easy — and remains not easy — but it was important to me that this was a collective endeavour in itself.
Thankfully, this desire was shared. You can read about all this here. Whilst I’m occasionally ridiculed for my perhaps excessive attachment to Mark’s thought, it will always remain central to my being because he was the puncture that opened up this space of radical empathy in my life. That was “The Fisher-Function” — the extension of Mark’s thought and desire for a newly collective subjectivity out into our immediate future when things were at their most bleak.
Unfortunately, as 2017 turned into 2018, it became clear that this wasn’t something as fundamentally shared as was first thought. Whilst the vast majority of my friends from that time remain friends who I have so much love and respect for, some of the people I was closest to revealed themselves to be not so much “principled” as toxic. Things didn’t work out. The less said about those involved the better, but suffice it to say that paranoia, cynicism and bullying was rife.
Perhaps this was all a direct result of grief and trauma, and I know that I wasn’t perfect during that year either, being woefully self-destructive, but I only lashed out at myself. Too many people did the opposite whilst living under the illusion of a shared “radical empathy.”
Even worse, it later transpired that these were not isolated cases. Over the two years since Mark’s death, I have heard about so much bullying. The left is riddled with toxic people who are always around to fuel this kind of paranoid fire that spreads to the more rational concerns of the internet. (Lest we forget that, when this all started with Nina, many — myself included — assumed it was a hoax because the “open letter” was so embarrassing and thin as to surely be a parody.)
“Radical empathy” is not an easy thing to channel grief or trauma into — getting any sort of control over those emotions is more than half the battle as it is — but let’s not assume that the left and radical empathy are natural bedfellows. There are many behind the scenes of this latest scandal who have no interest in the ideals other commentators think they are now defending. This sense of empathy eludes the left as frequently as it does the right, and hounding people who supposedly chose to abandon your club house as a result contributes nothing towards getting that house in order.
This is not to say we shouldn’t challenge those we disagree with, but more attention must be given to the frequency with which the popular left is losing people and why.
Personally, I remain a leftist and a communist but my view is clear:
All cops are bastards — including leftists with cops in their heads.
For what it’s worth — because this is a game of layered caveats after all and you have to have your own back ‘cos no one else will — I supposed I should add that I do not agree with everything Nina has said and been accused of saying. As someone who really loves and supports their trans friends, I’ve felt really saddened by some of what has come out in recent weeks, but that doesn’t mean I want to see Nina be the latest person trampled by a moralising op-ed culture, having her life dismantled for her refusal to jump on a bandwagon and through processes which I find repulsive irrespective of the issue being protested against.
If we can even still call it “protest” — so concerned, as it is, with civil obedience.