Radicals are caught between a strong connection with all humanity and a frustrating isolation as a fringe minority group. We want the best for almost everyone, we bring up issues that affect everyone, we speak to a deep longing within all humanity for unimaginable liberation and a joyous global future. And then our ideas go through long historical periods of being either unpopular or entirely unknown, and are certainly almost never predominant. Materially we are often in the same position as the rest of the working majority; mentally, we are somewhere else entirely.
So in some ways we are the soldiers and voices of the world-spirit; in some ways we are total outsiders.
The outsider is faced with a number of problems. One obvious one is alienation. They possess a difference which no one (or few people) around them can bridge. They may go about their lives imitating normality, but this is painful; otherwise, they act out their strangeness and possibly suffer social and economic consequences. This is not a passing threat: the natural social networks which a person often possesses (family, churches, community groups, friends) can very often get them an economic connection at some point – a job, a deal, something they wouldn’t have if they weren’t part of that group. Straying from the norm can damage these networks or your place in them. Obviously church may go out the window for any number of reasons, but even family and friend networks can deprioritize you on the list of who they give referrals if you’re a weirdo.
But the outsider has a gift, too. Their lives are not pure difference. Oddly enough, they may understand most people better than most people understand themselves. Their outside perspective can give them an objectivity about society which other people, smack in the middle of it without a second thought, never attain. To really understand what’s ticking in the minds of the American cultural norm, it may require people who just aren’t part of it.
The shaman or wizard archetype often has the same cycle to it. They go away from society, they go to some “out there,” maybe the wilderness, maybe up a mountain, maybe they commune with the spirit world, whatever. Crazy stuff happens that could only happen alone or in that “other” place. Out there, they have some kind of experience, or they learn something, or they literally find something, some object. They return ready to make a greater contribution to society, creating a new synthesis between whatever new thing they learned and the old society to which they returned. They new synthesis is an altered society, whether they just have a better medicine man now or the wanderer returns with some sort of prophetic idea about the way things should run.
In secular terms this reminds me of when radicals, individually or collectively, sometimes retreat into high theory – rather than focusing on active social movements, they do deep reading and research to figure out an overall framework. It’s necessary for every radical to go through such a phase at least once, and to possibly revisit it, in small bursts balanced with active involvement or in longer spells, depending.