Despair Doesn’t Make You More Progressive

Sophia Burns
3 min readSep 13, 2021

I want progressive values to win. I believe they can.

I don’t think most progressive activists agree.

There’s a funny parallel between left-wing and right-wing activists: each of them has the same view not only of their own side, but of the other. They’re both convinced that their opponents are flexible, disciplined, unified, tactically-savvy, and able to strategically invoke the support of the political establishment. Meanwhile, the “good guys” waste all their time on pointless arguments and impractical principled stands, perpetually unable to set aside their differences and come together against the enemy’s imminent triumph.

I’ve never been part of a right-wing political community. But reading accounts from people who had, the flashes of recognition caught me off guard. It’s all very familiar, right down to the perception that the police crack down mercilessly on “us” but let the other side run amok in the streets.

Now, it doesn’t automatically follow that both sides are therefore deluded. It’s perfectly plausible that one of them is correct and the other is talking nonsense. But I think it’s more likely that when your beliefs are on the edge, the mainstream and the opposite fringe look like slightly different versions of the same thing. An enemy is an enemy is an enemy.

That means that being on the fringe both draws from a particular personality type — the ideological one — and reinforces a similar set of attitudes. One of those is pessimism. Radicals never believe that they, themselves, are on the verge of winning once and for all. At best, they project their millenarian hopes onto some outside force, a receptacle of their faith but not something they, personally, are part of. (QAnon waits for Space Force to bring “the storm;” leftists anticipate the working masses delivering “the revolution.” Psychologically, it works the same.) Wherever they individually are right now, though, things are bleak and getting worse.

Now, from a progressive perspective, there’s plenty of ground to be optimistic when you look at history. A hundred years ago, Jim Crow laws existed. Homosexuality was banned. The legal right to join a union was questionable at best. Every major city was full of sweatshops. The literal KKK was a mass organization…



Sophia Burns

Paganism, Buddhism, Classics, philosophy, LGBTQ culture, and the art of living well. Former activist; I don’t trust culture war.