Catastrophizing and the "Demons" of the Radical Left

Let's start with "Catastrophizing". It means what it sounds. Believing that things are unspeakably and unimaginably horrifying. It's usually applied to people evaluating their personal lives, but it has clear political applications.

‘My demons won today’: Ohio activist’s suicide spotlights depression among Black Lives Matter leaders

Since he died early last week, news of McCarrel’s suicide has rocked the national police protest movement, forcing a round of introspection about a reality that predates the seminal 2014 shooting of a black teenager in Ferguson, Mo.: Some of the most prominent activists and organizers are battling not only the system, but depression.

In Oakland, Calif., a prominent activist posted the phone number for a suicide prevention hotline on her Facebook page. In Cleveland, a lead organizer confessed on Facebook that he, too, had tried to take his own life. Dozens of others have shared stories of their battles with depression, anxiety and insecurity on Twitter.

“In the movement you’re just constantly engaging in black death, seeing the communal impact,” said Jonathan Butler, the University of Missouri graduate student whose hunger strike last fall led to the resignation of the school’s president. “You’re being faced with the reality that I’m more likely to be killed by the police, that I’m being discriminated against. You start to see all of the micro-aggressions.”

Like many prominent activists, Butler said he has long struggled with depression, beginning with the death of his grandfather in 2011. His involvement with the protest movement at times has worsened his mental health, he said, not only because of the emotional strain of a single-minded focus on racism, but also because of more mundane stresses, such as media scrutiny and infighting among allies.

The WaPo story obviously takes this at face value. The media is bound to. And yet it's telling a very different story. Not so much about black fragility, but about the sense of fragility and catastrophe embraced by the unstable.

Butler, who started much of the campus mess, had depression issues for a while. The imaginary narrative of black genocide he summarized is typical catastrophizing. Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt was one of the few mainstream figures to link catastrophizing to the hysteria of these activist movements.

Burns defines catastrophizing as a kind of magnification that turns “commonplace negative events into nightmarish monsters.” Leahy, Holland, and McGinn define it as believing “that what has happened or will happen” is “so awful and unbearable that you won’t be able to stand it.” Requests for trigger warnings involve catastrophizing, but this way of thinking colors other areas of campus thought as well.

In “The Coddling of the American Mind,” Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt argued that too many college students engage in “catastrophizing,” which is to say, turning common events into nightmarish trials or claiming that easily bearable events are too awful to bear.

“We are not asking to be coddled,” the open letter insists. “The real coddling is telling the privileged majority on campus that they do not have to engage with the brutal pasts that are a part of the costumes they seek to wear.” But no one asserted that students should not be questioned about offensive costumes––only that fellow Yale students, not meddling administrators, should do the questioning, conduct the conversations, and shape the norms for themselves.  “We simply ask that our existences not be invalidated on campus,” the letter says, catastrophizing.

This notion that one’s existence can be invalidated by a fellow 18-year-old donning an offensive costume is perhaps the most disempowering notion aired at Yale.

But feigned helplessness can also be a show of power. Much of leftist activism combines the paradoxical claim of helplessness and empowerment. But it's also a reflection of "demons", underlying mental health issues that are fed by radical activism. Political activism of this sort enables mental illness and promotes it. It feeds paranoia, helplessness and catastrophic thinking.

Butler actually comes out and says it. "You start to see all of the micro-aggressions.”

A few hours before he fatally shot himself, McCarrel posted a final message on Facebook: “My demons won today. I’m sorry.”

“There are so many folks in this movement that have serious mental health issues,” said Alexis Templeton, who is among the most prominent organizers in St. Louis. “There are so many folks who are on the brink of killing themselves.”

And it isn't racism. Structural or otherwise. Political activism of this kind already tends to attract people with their own demons.

1. People who are angry and seeking socially acceptable ways of expressing it

2. People who have a catastrophic view of life

When she first joined the protests in 2014, Templeton was one of those people. A year earlier, she had been a passenger in a deadly car crash that killed her father, uncle and partner. Her guilt about surviving was often hard to bear, she said, and there were many days when she sat in her room with a loaded gun to her head.

Aug. 13, 2014, was one of those days. But as she pondered pulling the trigger, Templeton couldn’t shake the images of protest pouring out of Ferguson. One of her childhood friends was among the first to tweet photos from the scene of Michael Brown’s death. She had watched intensely, glued to her phone, as demonstrators were tear gassed.

Templeton decided she might as well go out and see things for herself before pulling the trigger.

In Ferguson, Templeton found community and belonging, spending night after night with a bullhorn in her hand, leaping almost out of her shoes as she led the protest chants: “Indict, convict, send that killer cop to jail. The whole damn system is guilty as hell!”

“I went outside and I never came back in,” Templeton said. “Mike Brown saved my life.”

And possibly took the lives of some officers. But hey, collateral damage.

Templeton began spewing hate at others and found it incredibly intoxicating. It's not an original idea. Just look at some of those deranged crowds cheering a Hitler speech. Or a Stalin speech. Certain types of movements attract 'losers', the unstable, the angry, looking for a reason to live and finding it in abusing others while crying that they are justified.

It turns out that #BlackLivesMatter, like the rest of the left, is no different.

And the WaPo article only adds further to the catastrophizing. Rather than holding up a mirror, it continues to enable the psychological demons driving a racist, destructive movement of hate.