I spend an unduly large amount of time thinking about the ways in which Outrage Twitter and the Hot Take Left operate. (As you may have noticed.) So this passage in Francis Wheen's 2009 book, Strange Days Indeed: The 1970s: The Golden Age of Paranoia, jumped out at me. He's referring to and quoting from Geoffrey Jackson, the British ambassador to Uruguay who was kidnapped by a claque of leftist terrorists in 1971:
His release, in September, was as sudden and unexplained as his capture. During his eight months locked in a tiny cage in a Montevideo basement he studied his jailers closely, trying to fathom their aspirations. For all the Marxist slogans, he concluded that their motivating force was as much psychological as political. ‘Could it be,' he wondered, ‘that the violence, the ferocity of clandestinity have no intellectual let alone ethical component, but instead are just another symptom of a deranged body-chemistry, just another mechanistic function of mankind's alienation from a world and a society with which he is ever more incompatible?' [Emphasis mine.]
And I thought of Alyssa Rosenberg's post yesterday on the tensions between the hard, activist, jargon-wielding left and Hollywood liberals while reading this paragraph a few pages later, in which Wheen notes the situation on the ground in Mexico City following the failed student demonstrations of 1968:
whatever your political affiliation (so long as you were either a Maoist or a Fidelista) there was sure to be a battalion that suited you—the Armed Brigade of Workers' Struggle of Chihuahua, perhaps, or the Armed Forces of National Liberation, the Armed Commando of the People, the Revolutionary Action Movement, the Revolutionary National Civic Association, the 23 September Communist League, the Zapatista Urban Front, the People's Union, the Revolutionary Student Committee of Monterrey, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of the People, the Nuevo Leon Group, the Revolutionary Student Front of Guadalajara, or the Sparticist Leninist League. Much of their violence was directed against one another, the narcissism of small differences assuming far greater significance that such trifles as campaigning for democratic reform. [Emphasis mine]
What the angry left of today has in common with the angry left of yesteryear is a lot of rage and little cohesion. There's not an actual program being pursued, no series of demands. There's just vitriol and angst wrapped up in vaguely leftist sloganeering. They eat their own because it's easier. This is basic human psychology: When you attack an outsider, he's just as likely to give you the finger and tell you to get bent as he is to listen to your grievances. But when you attack one of your own—when you scream at someone who has professed a desire to be your ally, when you harp on and on how they have failed to hew to your orthodoxies—it is easier to cow them into submission and convince them to beg forgiveness for their heresies. Left-on-left spats in social media are common because these are fights the radicals can win. And it's always more psychically pleasing to win a fight than lose one.
More on this later, perhaps. I've got to run: I'm late for my RINO hunt. There are some cocktail parties in Georgetown that need cleaning out.