The title of this article is, of course, something of a trick. If you know me or are even remotely familiar with my work, you know that I am robustly of the left. I am somewhere on the Social Democrat to Democratic Socialist spectrum, and I am pro sex work, pro degeneracy, and pro sex positivity. I believe every billionaire is a blight on the human race and a failure of our system. I believe Black Lives Matter, that trans women are women and that trans men are men. I believe we should have a broad social safety net, correct climate change, and empower minorities. If you gave me a list of leftist mantras and talking points, I would affirm most of them.
Instead, this title has to do with where I place my own identity, with how I name myself to myself. When I look at myself in a cognitive mirror, what do I see, first and foremost? What words do I use to filter the unfathomable complexity of self into a single narrative?
Several weeks ago I had journalist and professional curmudgeon Katie Herzog on the show to talk about “cancel culture.” It was a good conversation, but one thing she said at the beginning of the interview stood out to me. When I pointed out that I am very much a leftist, she had this to say,
It’s sort of ironic, because I am also of the left. I have started eschewing labels in recent years because I think labels are problematic, to borrow a term from my woke friends. I don’t mean problematic in that sense, I mean that I think labels can actually hinder people’s ability to think clearly when your identity is wrapped up in being a leftist or being a rightist or being a liberal or being a classical liberal or whatever, or an activist. I think it becomes really difficult to evaluate policy, and evaluate movements on their own merits, and not have your own identity wrapped up into this. So for that reason I don’t call myself a feminist, or an environmentalist, or anything like that anymore. But I am, politically, of the left.
In the past, I have placed enormous emphasis on being a leftist, and this strong leftist identity was cultivated online. I watched leftist creators who I thought were funny, who demonized and cajoled anyone not as left as them, and I ingested their tone. The world became subtly Manichean: there were only two kinds of people in the world, the Left and the Right, and all the Left was good and all the Right was bad. None of this was conscious, of course. It was only when I started my digital detox and stepped away from excessive social media use that I realized how simplistic, antagonistic, and juvenile my attitudes had become.
This is why Katie’s insight resonated so deeply with me. Because we are complex and flawed social creatures, there will inevitably come a time when a contingent of the left will demand something of me that contradicts my conscience, or expects me to demonize someone who hasn’t earned that punishment. This doesn’t mean that the left is evil or inherently broken, it just means the left is made up of human beings like any other coalition. Because I am human and deeply wired for in-group obedience, adopting the political label of leftist makes me less likely to follow my conscience and autonomy when I need to.
This inspires me to think more critically about the labels I adopt for myself. Are certain labels hindering my capacity to think clearly about policy and other human beings? I personally feel that the label of “leftist” has now become a constraining, toxic filter. I feel that political terms are full of group identity and talking points, none of which are necessarily bad, but lack any central narrative or core philosophy that tethers us when human frailty rears its head.
I am led to a label that works better for me: Satanist. Instead of filtering my identity and world through the label of “leftist,” even though I am of the left, I instead choose to filter my world and identity through the narrative of Satan.
My Satan stands against arbitrary authority, injustice, and groupthink. He is the champion of the outsider, science, reason, and beauty. He is the unbowed will, never losing sight of his individual autonomy and the constant threat of tyranny.
The label of Satanist, therefore, provides me with a narrative structure that empowers me to practice greater compassion, justice, and autonomy. It gives me a framework to speak my conscience, even when doing so might be unpopular. For me, the narrative of Satan has checks on human excesses and provides a narrative structure in a way “leftist” does not.
Every label has its pitfalls, and “Satanist” is no different. But, for me, it’s a matter of which label serves me best as an individual, not which label is perfect.
There is nothing wrong with being a “leftist,” and there is nothing wrong if you identify as one. I am on the left, and I always will be. My pivoting away from the label is a personal choice and not a judgement, and it doesn’t change my core values and commitments. If you find yourself using “leftist” or another political label to represent yourself, I support you.
I, however, find that filtering my identity through myth and narrative is more empowering, productive, and effective. At the end of the day, regardless of what labels we adopt, we should all think deliberately about the language we use to describe ourselves, and how it maximizes our effectiveness in creating a better world.
But that’s just me. What do you think? I love hearing back from my audience, so leave your thoughts in the comments below or write me an email.
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3 thoughts on “I’m a Satanist, Not a Leftist”
I’ve never really thought of it this way, but I completely agree. I’ve tended to consider myself generally-left but never tried to fit in to any of the narrower labels like anarchist or socialist or anything. I focus as much on my values and what reflects them as I can. But I think part of that has come from my position as a sex worker and disabled person, as the “Left” fails me on both those counts pretty spectacularly on a near-daily basis. It’s hard to feel like part of the in group when every leftist space has been hostile to me. I also was an anti-feminist in University for a brief (couple months) period due to a particularly SWERF-filed Women’s Studies class and a lot of online left spaces being extremely toxic towards sex workers and kinky folks. It took finding feminist sex workers and that whole community for me to even start identifying with a segment of the left, despite having always been pro-queer, pro-social supports, and anti-capitalist.
Stephen, you never fail to verbalize nascent ideas that are floating unformed in my brain, and I’m very grateful that I have your writing to help me think more clearly ❤
I am so glad you found the article helpful, and thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. My worry was that people would interpret this post as a Dave Rubinesque rejection of the left, when it isn’t at all. It rather has to do with the complexity of political categories, and how a marriage to an identity can hinder one’s ability to conscientiously disagree (as in the points you mentioned above, all of which are “left,” but also regrettable.)