Ideology and Its Immune Response
and on the violence of identity
Yesterday, I forced myself to look through an archive of thousands of screenshots I really didn’t want to see.
I’ve been doing things like this a lot lately. Part of it is for research, as I’m working on a book to be published next year about the “woke” madness, its historical causes, the role of bodily alienation in its political framing, and what the left can do about it. This means I’m also reading books I don’t want to read as well, or books I read and told myself I’d never read again.
There is another reason why I’m doing this, though. I’m trying to correct a mistake I made over the last few years by not looking at things that threatened my worldview and ideology.
That’s something we all do, of course, no matter what our framework is. When new information arrives that cannot fit into our own narratives, we often just ignore it, or dismiss such accounts as false. When neither of those work, we then try to reshape that information to fit into our narrative, stripping it of its foreign content or isolating it from the rest of our worldview.
That’s all basically an immune response. Our ideologies—no matter what they are—seem to protect themselves when something threatens them. This is a neutral thing, I think. We really cannot go about our lives always having to develop a new understanding of the world every day. It would be impossible to exist that way. Such frameworks are shorthands, symbolic orders which tell us who is worthy of our trust and attention (like families, partners, friends), who should be listened to even when we disagree (bosses, landlords, people pointing guns at you), and who cannot be trusted or who doesn’t have your best interests in mind.
Of course, we have to continuously alter these, but those alterations are slow and rare. A family member does something really shitty and so you re-evaluate their place in that framework, a person you didn’t trust suddenly saves your life and you re-evaluate their place as well. Being too rigid can cause just as many problems as the instability of constant framework changes, and we usually find a balance to this.
I thought I had a balance also, but maybe I didn’t. Or, as a friend said to me, “you weren’t ready to look at that stuff, your life was too chaotic back then.” And that’s true. Over the last five years, I moved to Europe, found myself in an abusive marriage in a country I wasn’t born in, then fled into the kind of nomadic situation which defined much of my life (despite deeply loving rooted attachment to place, there is a safety and beauty in nomadism, which I will write about sometime). Then COVID happened just a month and a half after meeting my now partner, and so the entire world changed while I also started a new relationship.
Having some sort of rigidity during that time was a kind of security, which I think anyone can understand. This same truth explains also why so many others become rigid in their ideologies, especially people in traumatic situations, or people bombarded with constant news and social media posts about how certain people want to kill them. This is also a key to understanding religious fundamentalism. Not that this justifies any of the violence such fundamentalism leads to, only that it cannot be comprehended without looking at the unstability of the societies those fundamentalists live in.
Speaking of “social media posts about how certain people want to kill them,” that theme composed a significant part of the archive I mentioned at the beginning. That archive,1 which I found via Jozua’s recent essay, contains several thousand screenshots of social media posts by trans and non-binary people. The subjects range from calling for the death of “cis gays,” railing about them because of their refusal to have sex with them, proclaiming proudly they have “tricked” cis gay men into having sex with them in darkrooms, urging people to “normalise homophobia” again, and a slew of related things which are really, really difficult to read.
I will post a few examples below, for those who might doubt my account of the archive’s contents or for those who don’t have the stomach to peruse it.
There are thousands of these in that archive. I did a lot of checking on Twitter to verify if these were real accounts. All of the ones I checked are, or were (some were suspended for terms of service violations). And many of them share a core feature, not only the non-binary or trans identities, but also similar ages (between 17 and 26, with only a small handful being from accounts that identified their ages over 40).
Here, my own ideological framework went to that commonality first to ‘isolate’ this information from the rest of my world. “They’re all just young,” I thought to myself. And that’s true, but what precisely does “just being young” mean?
Kyle Rittenhouse was 17 when he shot people during a protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Patrick Crusius was 23 years old when he shot 23 people at a Walmart in New Mexico. Dylann Roof was 21 when he shot up a church in Charleston, South Carolina. In fact, most of the violent shootings in the United States whose victims were chosen based on their identity were perpetrated by people between the ages of 17 and 26.
By telling myself, “they’re just young,” I was trying to tell myself that they were not capable of violence and also would eventually “grow out” of this kind of violent rhetoric. Unfortunately, following up on some of the twitter accounts from which they were posted also revealed images of some of those people’s other hobbies:
Now, to be clear, I only found a few accounts that also posted photos of their guns. Many more contained ‘hot takes’ on plot twists in anime series, or photos of themselves, or just really boring, mundane posts about what they had for dinner or the cute top they found.
That is to say, there is not some armed military movement of non-binary and trans people out to kill gay men who are not attracted to trans men. And also, despite the hundreds of boasts about wanting to kill “cis gays,” it seems unlikely any such purge is coming.
This may, again, be the immune system of my ideological framework shutting down something which threatens it, but what I read in all these posts was ressentiment. Many of the screenshots contain multiple posts from the same account side-by-side. In some you will see the person wishing death to all ‘fags’ just after posting about how frustrated they are that they cannot get laid by those same men.
In fact, what appears to be happening is the same process which occurs with “involuntary celibates” (incels), who turn their frustration at not being able to find a sexual partner into an ideology which paints them as a righteous victim. For the incel, the response to this situation is to hate both women and the men they desire, to see both as part of a grand conspiracy to deny them the sexual experiences that should be theirs by right of being human.
That’s what it appears many of these people are doing. Especially in their many complaints that some gay men “refuse” to have sex with trans men, they are turning their own sexual frustration into a political ideology.
Now, here is where I am feeling pretty shitty about myself, because this is exactly the same thing many women—and especially lesbians—have told me has been occuring for them. I have had many friends who have reported feeling pressured by a trans woman to have sex with them, and even more who have told me that the rhetoric around trans acceptance often amounts to a sense that people have no right to choose who they desire.
I ignored these statements, because it didn’t fit into my worldview. I also ignored the complaints that much of the rhetoric about “TERFs” employed some really abusive, violent, and rapey language. Even when shown screenshots of trans women threatening to rape a gender-critical woman “with my girl dick” and reading through an archive of similar screenshots of posts directed at J.K. Rowling, I still mostly ignored this stuff.
When I saw that collection, I did mention it to a trans friend of mine, an anarchist with generally balanced opinions of the world. I was rather suprised by that friend’s response, which was to berate me for even bringing it up.
“What they’re doing is nothing compared to what Rowling is doing to them,” was the response, followed by a massive social media pile-on by others who took my concern about this to be sign that I was anti-trans.
I think this friend (not sure if we’re still friends or not) was reacting in the same way I had when I encountered these things. That is, I think their ideological immune response had kicked in just as mine had, and this information that didn’t fit needed to be pushed out or isolated.
This same thing happened for me in relation to “American Antifa.” For a long time, I’d ignore any evidence of excesses or unjustifiable violence against uninvolved people (that is, people who were not even slightly fascist leaning) because it threatened my worldview. I’d hear stories of people’s lives destroyed for merely asking honest questions, or the wrong people being doxxed (their personal information published online), and especially accounts of people who were absolutely leftist getting smeared and doxxed by Antifa-branded people who had accumulated enough social capital to use it against rivals.
The moment when I couldn’t stop looking at these things occurred just a few months ago, when one of the major architects of American Antifa was revealed to be working alongside ex-CIA agents and other state-security people at an “anti-extremism” think tank. That was too much to ignore, and even more difficult to ignore was how many of the other people and groups involved worked very hard to silence that story and any anarchists or leftists asking honest questions about what this might mean.
There are many, many other things I can point to where I was either willfully blind or actively trying to fend off any foreign invasion to my rigid worldview. And maybe I still am trying to fight these off with the conclusions I have come to with all this, which is that this is all just inevitable human behavior.
I mentioned in an earlier essay (citing an essay by Slippery Elm) that the left is particularly stupid when it comes to questions of human nature. We mostly just deny that such a thing exists, that there are things all humans tend towards in certain situations, that all humans are capable of doing really awful things and really beautiful things.
That’s how I see that archive full of trans and non-binary people declaring their desire to kill gay men, and also all those posts about women, and also all the shitty things Antifa did. The only conclusions that seem reasonable are that there are some really shitty humans and no political, ideological, racial, gender, or other identity makes anyone more or less likely to do such things than any other.
This goes all ways. If we are to admit that some trans and non-binary people are violent and even rapey, but that this does not define in any way people who are trans and non-binary (which is what I believe), than we must also admit the same thing about every other identity group.
This collapses all identitarianism, though. Because that means we cannot say men or white people are inherently anything, anymore than we can say women or black people are inherently anything either.
That deadlock is I think why the woke cling to such fundamentalist ideas about identity, and why they have an even harder time dealing with evidence that suggests people in “oppressed” identities are just as shitty as people in “privileged” identities. To admit that a trans person might be inclined to rape or kill a cis person out of ressentiment or sexual frustration is to admit that the incel who might do the same is just as human. To admit that a black person might be inclined to harm a white person soley based on their skin color is to admit that the white person who would do the same to a black person is equally human and equally capable of violence.
That means, in the end, that identity is not only a useless terrain of political discourse, but also that attempts to build political movements around identity are very dangerous and destructive paths. This goes equally for white nationalism as it does intersectional feminism: both lead to the same abstraction of humans into dehumanized categories.
And once we dehumanize people, once we accept any framework which reduces people to their identity, it is much easier to call for their deaths on social media and attempt to enact those deaths on the streets.
This is the archive. I don’t believe in content warnings, but I really need to say that reading through every single one of these (it took me several hours) was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. After reading it I held my partner closer than I think I ever have and just let myself feel the warmth of another human’s body in order to be okay again.