When Your Radical Goals Become Self-Defeating

From yesteryear’s anti-war movement to today’s social justice movement, college campuses have served as some of the biggest hot zones for social upheaval. Today’s upheaval, just like yesteryear’s, is being played out by conservatives who want things to remain as they are, radicals who want to change things, and everybody caught between them.

Both extremes have an unfortunate habit of becoming extremely authoritarian. For the radicals this authoritarianism can quickly become self-defeating though:

At Western Washington University, a public institution with roughly 15,000 students, a group of leftist activists calling itself the Student Assembly for Power and Liberation has issued a sweeping list of demands that would radically reshape its school.


The petition goes on to call for $45,000 annually to compensate “students and faculty doing de-colonial work on campus” and the creation of a 15-member student panel, dubbed the Office for Social Transformation, “to monitor, document, and archive all racist, anti-black, transphobic, cissexist, misogynistic, ablest, homophobic, Islamophobic, xenophobic, anti-semitic, and otherwise oppressive behavior.” This panel would have the power to investigate and discipline students and faculty members and to fire even tenured faculty members.

Surveillance always favors those already in power. Conservatives, as proponents of the current system, favor the current individuals in power. That means any surveillance system will necessarily favor conservatives.

Herein lies the moment when radicalism can become self-defeating. Surveillance sounds like a very attractive tool to both sides because it allows them to identify and take out their opposition. Given an excuse the established power will gladly implement a surveillance system. By demanding such a surveillance system the radicals are giving the conservatives a convenient excuse to implement a surveillance system while justifying it as a compromise. Once implemented though the surveillance system remains in their control and they can use it to identify and take out radicals.

The current social justice movement isn’t unique in this. Many radical movements throughout history have provided the rope needed to hang them with to their conservative opposition. If you’re a radical any authoritarian system will be used against you so don’t volunteer your support for its implementation.

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