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The virtuous and the jokerfied

On the one hand, you have well-intentioned white people, who want to be and appear as the most empathetic, radical, and having the right line, no matter what the circumstances. Oftentimes, these people are somewhere midway through their political evolution, politics hasn’t been the main thing in their lives, so they are open to all sorts of new ideas and approaches that they haven’t engaged with so much. When the Thing of the moment is “Stay home, fight COVID,” they change their profile pictures to “Stay home,” and they strive to isolate better than anyone else, some even refusing to go to the grocery store. Those that deviate or even question are scolded and punished. When the moment changes to #GeorgeFloyd and rioting, they change their profile picture to reflect that, and they begin explaining and scolding on that issue, being the best white allies they can possibly be. They surf on a wave of reacting to the present, as we all do, and at root they want to do the right thing. They deeply fear going against the grain or swimming against the current. For reasons of their worldview being one of being “allies” and “politically good”, they are the punishing foot-soldiers of any of those who deviate. Those that they follow are allowed a more heterodox ideology, they don’t so often get involved in the nitty-gritty of meting out punishment.

But then, on the other end of the spectrum, you have the Jokerfied, the contrarians, the dissident. These are people who, by dint of their independence, are very attached to thinking for themselves. They don’t follow the group. Often they’ll do the opposite of the group to provoke the group. Contrarians. On the left, examples of these people would be Malcom Kyeyune, Michael Tracey, Aimee Terese, Angela Nagle. When these people started their intellectual journey, they had already gone quite far in a political evolution and probably believed in free intellectual debate, in the good-faith exchange of ideas. They thought there was room for them on the left. But early in the game, they were disciplined and punished for thinking for themselves by the virtous. The first experience of discipline probably came as a big shock—they thought they were going to get an open hearing and open intellectual debate for their ideas, but instead they were severely reprimanded or told to just shut up and fall in line. This left a scar. The pain of being rejected or tossed out with the trash is something that everyone fears. But over time, the scars heals and people harden and feel a renewed sense of dedication to their original purpose, free and open debate, now coupled with a desire to continue to provoke those who caused the original pain. This becomes real contrarianism—these people begin to think of themselves as “bad” “heterodox” or “renegade” and after the initial pain of being an outsider fades, they might even come to enjoy this new image of themselves. They push the envelope even more, do more things that provoke. They now love nothing more than to provoke the virtuous, to be a real contrarian, it becomes an identity. But the difficult thing is that, they’ve positioned themselves against a certain type of “virtuous” liberal white person, and sometimes events and world developments happen that have absolutely nothing to do with those people, and the contrarian is left somewhat speechless. Everyone’s identity is set up to replicate itself, to intensify—the virtuous get addicted to appearing more and more virtuous because of the rewards they receive for appearing virtuous, the contrarian becomes more and more attached to the hate-fuel but also the applause they get from being contrarian, and each continues along their own track.

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Aaron Lake Smith