Rethinking the Definition of Radical

11/12/2019

Whenever the word radical is used in any context, it almost always has a relatively negative overtone. The word, like many in political discourse, arguably has no legitimate definition anymore. Synonymous with disorder, dramatic change, intense, etc. we allocate it to people and events that don’t fit the current norm. I contend that it should be the opposite, and that what we have considered the “norm” throughout time is what’s really been radical.

The easiest example for me to use here is anarchism. Overthrowing capitalism and abolishing the state both sound like “extremely radical” ideas. They involve tearing down hierarchies and power structures, completely reorganising the fabric of society in ways that human history has not yet witnessed in any genuine manifestation. Every aspect of our lives will become simultaneously, but not contradictorily, independent and collective.

Sounds “radical”, right?

Not really.

What anarchism hopes to introduce is the freest and most just society that humanity can achieve, always striving to improve where it is possible to do so. It is the ultimate freedom from authority, relying on voluntary collaboration and communities. How is freedom a radical concept?

Why don’t we consider power and authority as radical concepts?

All throughout history, “radical” movements have lurched us, generally, in the direction of what we consider “progress”. From tearing down monarchs and feudal systems to fighting against global capitalist powers, strides have been made that have freed greater numbers of people in more ways than history could ever have imagined. Oppression and persecution still exist, but battles have been won that can never be forgotten or understated.

It is the “radical” elements of society that have led us to improve, even if some methods could be considered questionable. So why, when the motive is clearly one that should be at the heart of every human being, are they called “radical”? I would say that it is a propaganda so ingrained that we have been unable to view it any differently.

We are told by our leaders that there are “radical” elements in the world, enemies to “freedom and democracy”. Perhaps some are, but by no means all of them. We are bombarded with a media that throws the word around quite nonchalantly, and the idea that the mainstream media is propagandistic is by no means new or revolutionary. Even those who claim to be “on our side” look at those who are truly fighting for us and caution us from associating with them.

Bernie Sanders is considered radical. AOC is considered radical. The Greens in Australia are considered radical. Countless other individuals, groups, and political parties are considered radical. All because they dare to question the status quo. In reality, none of them are truly radical. How is the concept of free healthcare as a right radical? How is the concept of being able to procure enough food and water to survive a radical idea? How is reforming our consumption habits to save the planet a radical idea?

All of those things are common sense and cannot be justifiably denied. Treating healthcare, shelter, food and water, or any other necessity to live as a market, to the detriment (and even death) of the people is radical. The idea that we can rape our planet mercilessly to the extent that much of it is devastated and human society will inevitably collapse without intervention is radical. The idea that there are leaders and figures of authority who allow and carry out these injustices is radical.

Those who oppose them and call for a free and safe world – and mean those words – are not radical. They are only sane ones left – and if they perhaps seem erratic and terrified at times, that’s because you’d be insane (or complicit) not to be.

It’s time to drop the notion that basic human decency is “radical”. The real radical notions are those that cripple what we could become. What we propose is rational, not radical.

 

Liked this? Read Private Property: Housing

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