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The first major activist movement in the US after independence were the Abolitionists & I wonder sometimes if they set the tone for US activism - it's peculiar characteristic puritanism - in ways we rarely acknowledge 1/
Most Abolitionists were puritans of some sort; I still remember a quote from a newly enslaved African when he first met a bunch of them - "they were all singing, which suggested a festivity, but none of them seemed to be having any fun. Actually they seemed rather depressed." 2/
puritanism is all about one's internal moral state, the inevitability of sinfulness, & competitiveness, where - to put it cynically - heroic white males compete over who's best because they are most aware of their fallen nature, their inevitable internal corruption 3/
the particularly US take on identity politics is basically puritan, in that involves endless awareness & contemplation of one or another sort of privilege, which is often (I hate to say this) prioritised over concrete action that might benefit those that don't have it 4/
I remember when I'd just come to UK being at an anarchist debate over violence/non-violence, & someone started saying "well there's the elephant in the room we're not talking about: we're all middle class & have been sheltered from violence as children" - & the room exploded 5/
everyone started going on & on about their middle class privilege, agonising, joking, theorising, seriously debating ... on and on. And I thought "oh so this must be what it's like to be the one Black guy in a white activist group in the US" 6/
because I'm not from a middle class background I'm from a working class background & got the shit kicked out of me all the time as a kid. And as such, I can't think of any topic I'm LESS interested in than how some middle class guy feels about his privilege. I don't care. 7/
the thought occurred to me, is there some way to neutralise this puritanical narcissism? Which also of course involves the urge to be wannabe cop & identify a sin in would-be allies one can use to condemn them & tacitly establish one's superiority, the uglier side of same 8/
one thought passed through my head, tho even saying it feels dangerous: what would happen if we redefined racism, sexism, class privilege, not in moral terms, as bad elements of your soul, but as some kind of external disease you need to be cured of to be your real self? 9/
it's inspired a bit by Kurdish revolutionary practice, where old Maoist self-criticism has been totally transformed into a collective process to show individuals how their actions are not really they're own, but caused by structures like patriarchy they're unaware of 10/
it's all framed as "you cannot be a truly free individual, doing what you really feel is right, until you understand those structural forces coercing you by, e.g., making you feel others will see you as less of a man... We need to free you of this so you can be yourself" 11/
when I described this to a lot of leftist friends & wondered about extending the logic their first reaction was instinctual rebellion against the idea they had a deep self that WASN'T guilty. I thought: wow. Christianity runs deep. 12/
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