Why I Stopped Being A Leftist
Or any -ist for that matter
In the summer of 2013 I’m in the town of Luton, England, researching the terrorist network, al-Muhajiroun. While scouting the area, I see a stall at which known al-Muhajiroun members are handing out leaflets. Seeing an opportunity to gain valuable information on the group, I approach them.
One of the jihadists introduces himself, and hands me a leaflet detailing Assad’s war crimes against Sunni Muslims in Syria. He asks if I’m Muslim and, in order to not be dismissed by him, I claim I am. We get talking about Syria, and I nod in feigned agreement. But the more he talks, the more he gets the facts wrong, and I begin to develop an uncontrollable urge to correct him. When he says “The West has never helped our brothers and sisters when we needed it,” the urge within me becomes overwhelming, and I blurt out, “What about Kosovo? NATO saved many Muslims there.” The jihadist glares at me. Then his eyes narrow with suspicion. “Bruv, get the fuck outta here,” he says. “You ain't one of us.”
Flushing red with embarrassment, I half-smile, turn and walk away.
On the walk back to my apartment I’m furious at myself for mentioning Kosovo, as it cost me the chance for valuable information. My strange urge to “correct the record" has always caused me problems.
In summer 2016 I begin submitting my research on Luton’s jihadists to various publications. As an ardent leftist, I submit mainly to leftist publications, but the only interest I get is from rightist publications like The Spectator. Frustrated, I self-publish, and begin promoting my work on Twitter.
My work provokes some of my fellow leftists, who tell me that Islamic extremism is not a result of Islam but of Western colonialism and foreign policy. I try to point out that this is a common misconception, that jihadism predates Western colonialism by a thousand years, that jihadists want to destroy not just the West but the entire unbelieving world, and that even Isis themselves say in their magazine Dabiq that their hatred is not due to colonialism or Western foreign policy. My interlocutors dismiss all this and tell me I'm an Islamophobe.
I soon learn that criticizing Islam is largely forbidden on the left unless you’re a Muslim, because, I’m told, it increases hate crimes against Muslims. So I temper my critiques of Islam, and begin shifting the focus of my research away from the ideological roots of jihadism toward causes that can be blamed on the West, such as the CIA’s funding of Islamist groups in the 1980s and 1990s. But within me there begins to gestate a resentment toward the left.
In late 2016 everyone in my ideological bubble is discussing “systemic racism,” because it’s what the mainstream media are discussing. Statistics of police shootings published by the Guardian and New York Times paint a picture of racist cops routinely massacring black people. I’m horrified by what I read, and become convinced that racism is the most serious issue in the West. So when I see a girl named Chelsea ranting about “criminal” black people on Twitter, I confront her.
She claims that blacks are shot at a higher rate by police simply because they’re more violent. We debate, exchanging news articles and academic studies to bolster our respective points. I feel like I’m winning, but then she posts a link to Department of Justice official crime statistics, which shows that black people in the US comprise just 13% of the population but account for over 50% of all convicted murderers. However, the truth is even more alarming: it’s not really black people being convicted of 50% of crimes, but black men, who are just 7% of the population. 7% being convicted of over 50% of all homicides.
How to explain it? Years of reading the New York Times has conditioned me to believe that any racial disparity is evidence of discrimination, so I assume black men are simply being disproportionately convicted by a systemically racist justice system. This turns out to be an insufficient explanation, because I soon find that the DoJ’s figures are corroborated by violent crime rates provided by (disproportionately black) victims to the National Crime Victimization Survey.
Chelsea tells me that black crime rates are evidence that black people are inherently violent, but I see straight through this: even accounting for the fact that black people on average commit more murders, the proportion of blacks who murder is nevertheless vanishingly small (0.034% to be exact). And anyway, the crime disparities don't exist in an environmental vacuum; it’s well-established that blacks in Western countries are disproportionately poor and fatherless, two factors that influence the perpetration of violent crime.
Although the crime rates say little of certainty about black men themselves, I conclude that they’re important for a different reason; they may play a role in the racial disparities in police shootings. If violent crime is highly concentrated in black neighborhoods, then police responding to violent crime would disproportionately encounter black men, and shoot black men. This theory is disputed by one widely cited study, but it relies on an unverifiable data set and I don’t find it convincing.
The academic research into police shootings of black men is skewed by several factors, such as the bias against null results, which means that studies that find evidence of racism will be more likely to be published and cited than studies that don’t. The skewed research is seized on and sensationalized further by journalists to create a narrative of institutional genocide. The narrative outrages leftists, who become openly hostile to law enforcement, with many of them putting ACAB—All Cops Are Bastards—in their social media bios, and calling for the total abolishment of police.
I begin to feel like my fellow leftists should know about the racial disparities in crime rates, not only because it might help explain why black men are disproportionately killed by police, but also because leftism demands that I do what’s right for racial justice, and if black people are being killed by black men at a far higher rate than by police, then tackling that issue would save many more black lives than simply trying to dismantle the police (which would likely cost more black lives).
But when I try to raise the issue of racial disparities in crime rates with fellow leftists, the disparities are once again blamed solely on systemic racism. I point out why this isn't a sufficient explanation, and am told that I’m spouting white supremacist talking points. I say that I agree that it’s a white supremacist talking point, which is precisely why the left must confront it, because being silent about it will only cede the issue to the racists. I’m then accused of being one of the racists.
In summer 1992 I’m a little kid standing with my class in the playground. Our teacher asks us to all hold hands so we can sing Ring a Ring o' Roses. I offer my hand to a girl I have a fondness for. She recoils from it and scrunches her nose and says she doesn't want to get any brown on her. That stings for days. And it’s one of many incidents that will acquaint me with the suffering caused by racism.
After that day I begin powdering my face each day before school, to make myself look whiter. It’s my first sustained attempt at lying. And it doesn’t work out so well; I end up looking like a ghoul, to the laughter of my classmates, because I don’t know how to disguise who I really am.
In August 2017, hundreds of white supremacists emerge from the shadows in Charlottesville, and with blazing tiki torches march through the streets, proclaiming “Jews will not replace us!” Alarmed by this incident and the ensuing violence, I decide to write about my debate with Chelsea, and about how white supremacist arguments about race and crime need to be answered by the left. My article is rejected by all the leftist outlets that I submit it to, except for one, Long Reads, which accepts it on the condition that I remove any mention of black crime rates or otherwise blame it all on systemic racism. I decline, pointing out that I don’t want to lie.
Fortunately, by then I’ve encountered two independent magazines, Areo and Quillette, which have both launched specifically to discuss truths too controversial for the mainstream. I submit my article to Areo, and it’s published as “How Not To De-Radicalise a Twitter Neo-Nazi.” In it I make the case that the debate about race and crime can be won by the left, and so it should confront the issue directly, because trying to silence it only admits defeat and feeds racist conspiracy theories.
Predictably, this article receives condemnation from orthodox leftists, who question my motivations. I tell one of them that my motivation is truth. He balks at that. “No one is just interested in what’s true. There’s always an agenda behind every ‘just sayin’.’ What are you trying to convince us of?”
“The truth,” I say, confused.
In July 2003 I apply for a summer job flipping burgers at McDonalds. Part of the application is a yes/no questionnaire. It asks, “Should you always be honest?” Most people would give the answer they think the recruiter wants to hear, but I treat it as a philosophical question. All my life I’ve said what I thought and it’s made life hard for me and for others. I think about a situation in which I’m serving a customer, and they have bad breath. It would be wrong for me to express disgust. Better to smile and bear it. So I tick the “no” box, thinking that I must be honest about the question of always being honest. My application is unsuccessful.
In winter 2012 I’m trying to work out why I’m so weird. I read about Asperger syndrome, and it strikes me that I have many of the symptoms. Specifically, I find “complex” things easy but “simple” things hard. I spend disproportionate amounts of time fixated on things no one else cares about. I’m not good at reading people’s feelings. But most of all, I have a self-sabotaging habit of saying what I really think.
In July 2017 Quillette publishes a seminal essay, “The Neurodiversity Case for Free Speech,” by the evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller. The essay points out that the current trend of punishing people for stating inconvenient facts disproportionately hurts socially inept people such as those with autism. This piece strikes a chord with me; for the first time I feel like there are people who understand me, but alas, they’re not the leftists that I’d believed were the most empathic and compassionate.
A few weeks after Miller’s essay is published, an autistic Google engineer, James Damore, is fired because, after being asked for his thoughts on diversity & inclusion programs, he says what he really thinks. Specifically, he writes that the gender imbalance in certain jobs can be largely explained by biology. For instance, women tend to be inherently more interested in people while men tend to be inherently more interested in things. Damore’s assertions are supported by decades of research, such as the finding that girls tend to play with dolls and boys with toy vehicles across cultures, and the finding that this gender difference also exists in chimps. There’s also the finding that in more gender-equal societies, women’s participation in fields they’re underrepresented in, such as STEM education, actually decreases (or, according to a later study doesn’t change overall).
Of course, the idea that men and women are, on average, different, contradicts polite society’s preferred narrative of everyone being inherently the same, so Damore is publicly crucified. The establishment media mobilizes a smear campaign against him, portraying him as a devious bigot. They say his autism is no excuse for his “misogyny,” because there are plenty of autistic people who hold the “correct” views on race and gender (well duh, because what autistic people think is true depends on what they know). The media summon gender ideologues in academia to try to portray Damore’s assertions about gender as pseudoscience, but they’re only able to do so by straw-manning the arguments.
When I try to defend Damore on Twitter by pointing out that the science is on his side, I’m dogpiled by the followers of a certain account that I’d once respected. These followers flood me with insults and accusations of being a misogynist, and I begin to notice a trend; raise doubts about the left-liberal narrative and immediately be accused of being a bigot—Islamophobe, racist, misogynist.
If the left-liberal mainstream was simply wrong about issues of race and gender, but was willing to debate them, it would be redeemable. But the attempts to destroy Damore and anyone else who speaks out make it clear: not only are the claims of identity politics questionable, but they aren't allowed to be questioned.
Over the next few years, emboldened by their victories in universities and corporate boardrooms across the West, the gender ideologues double down on their beliefs, pushing ever bolder claims into the mainstream. Soon it isn't enough to just believe that men and women’s brains are identical, one must also believe that sex itself is just a social construct, and being a man or woman is purely a state of mind, a daydream anyone can drift in or out of.
This new view of gender is formulated mostly to make trans people feel “welcome.” I sympathize with trans people, because they’re outsiders, like me. But I don’t believe that a pseudoscientific view of sex helps them; it only makes the masses blame them for the ideological assault on biology and common sense, even though the blame should be reserved for the liberal elites who determine which beliefs are proper.
Between 2010 and 2019 there’s a massive surge in mentions of words like “racism,” “sexism,” and “transphobia” in the mainstream media, and it doesn't reflect a concomitant increase in these forms of bigotry in the real world. By 2017 this illiberal fixation on race and gender, now known as “wokeism,” dominates the West’s culture-producing institutions—the press, academia, publishing, marketing, Hollywood, Silicon Valley—and from there it’s corrupted the world’s most popular source of information, Wikipedia, and begun to metastasize to all aspects of society.
I wonder why wokeism was able to dominate the left-liberal mainstream, and conclude that it offers the privileged a way to appear compassionate and cosmopolitan, while offering the unprivileged a way to scapegoat all their problems on other people’s prejudices. Islamic violence is just a result of colonialism. Police shootings of black people are just racism. Women earning less than men is just sexism. Basic biology is just transphobia.
Wokeism exists to respect people’s feelings by telling them lies, but I believe the best way to respect people is by telling them the truth. And if my belief system prevents me from doing that, then I must shed it.
In 1995 the journalist Irving Kristol quips that a neoconservative is a liberal mugged by reality. In 2017 I’m a liberal mugged by reality, but I don't become a conservative, because I realize the enemy of truth is not leftism but ideology itself.
In 2014, while studying the jihadists of Luton, I notice how their beliefs compel them to aggressively engage in dawah, or proselytization. Influenced by Richard Dawkins’ meme theory, I begin to view Islam not as a framework for understanding the world but as a parasite of the mind that commandeers its host’s behavior to make them spread it to other people, like Toxoplasma gondii. In 2017 I come to understand that this is true of all successful ideologies; a belief system survives and reproduces not if it’s calibrated to be true, but if it’s calibrated to be easily transmitted and easily believed. If it isn't, we never hear of it.
The most successful ideology in the West today, wokeism, has succeeded because it’s perfectly configured, not to establish social justice, but to establish more copies of itself. It’s a memetic superbug evolved for contagion rather than truth or compassion, and if contaminating others requires it to delude the senses, twist the truth, and darken the heart, then so be it.
In Autumn 2015 I first read the words of the Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: “Let the lie come into the world. Let it even triumph. But not through me.” In October 2017 I decide to act on Solzhenitsyn’s words. I remove the line “liberal leftist” from my Twitter bio, and begin calling myself “connoisseur of antidepressants.” It's my crude attempt to purge the virus from my mind.
A few days later I’m standing by a lake, watching raindrops ripple my reflection into a quivering mosaic. I feel just like the dissolving image, fractured into a formless mess. Without an ideology to bind me, I feel unraveled. I wonder if truth alone can put me back together again. It seems so powerless in a world ruled by appearances.
In the cold vacuum left by ideology, I hold tight to what I have left: my principles. Fairness, freedom of expression, truth no matter what the cost: these will be the new stars by which I navigate. An online stranger tells me that not having an ideology will make it hard for me to maintain my principles, but experience has taught me that the opposite is true.
In winter 2009 I first become serious about politics. I’m mesmerized by the leftist vision of a world in which the strong take care of the weak, and where no one is ever punished for things they can’t do anything about. My weird brain has not yet put me in conflict with the left, so I see only its beauty, and equate this beauty with truth, believing that the left knows exactly how to get to the compassionate world it so eloquently describes. My beliefs creep into my everyday life, including my job: while ranking search results gleaned from Microsoft Bing, I instinctively rank right-leaning news sources low and left-leaning news sources high. I don’t bother reading the content like I'm supposed to; I just assume the left-leaning web pages are more true.
If this 2009 edition of me were to read this essay, he’d conclude that I lost my way, that my mind has been captured by the right, and he’d try and be clever by saying that my claim of having abandoned ideology is ideological, because believing that belief systems are bad requires a belief system of its own.
Sure, I have beliefs, but unlike my former self I’m not compelled by tribal loyalties to defend them, so I can easily conceive of the fact that they might be wrong. And I’ve learned and changed too much in the years between his time and mine for me to assume I won’t change again.
In June 2022 I’m still ignorant, and still biased, and still probably autistic. But now that I’m no longer outsourcing my beliefs to a virus, now that my mind is no longer reading from a script, my thoughts are free to grow into any shape, wander into any territory, and, no matter how wrong, be unlimited in what they can become.