Professor Robert Jensen speaks on how to make the radical mainstream

In an era of unprecedented volatility in politics, do we strive for the centre to keep everyone happy?

No, says former University of Texas at Austin Professor Dr. Robert Jensen. Our response to increasingly radical political ideas shouldn't be to move to a consensus, but to fight fire with fire. In other words, we need to increase radicalism — not back away from it.

As a white, well-educated male, Jensen got his start in activism through what he calls “radical feminism and the critique of patriarchy.” His work against the sexual exploitation of women through industries like pornography led him to write multiple books, including his newest, The End of Patriarchy: Radical Feminism for Men.

To him, for a man or a white person to say “it’s not my place to speak” on issues of race and gender is an abandonment of responsibility.

Instead, Jensen considers it his duty to communicate these ideas to people in power — that is, people like him. “My role is to speak to other men about how we live and be in this world,” he says.

In his talk at the UBC School of Public Policy and Global Affairs on October 11, the now-retired professor spoke about his 2001 book Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream.

When Jensen wrote his book in 2001, making sense of the crazy world meant trying to make a long-term political impact through physical mobilization — whether that be rallies, events or all the other ways activists have long sought to effect political change.

But he noted that the Internet has made many of the arguments he made in his book irrelevant, as it continues to create a dangerous media environment where people are able to hold “ideas that are contrary to the reality” much more easily. The world has, according to Jensen, become “the crazy” that we can no longer make sense of.

“What do you do when you don’t know what to do?” This difficult question has become a pressing one for activists to answer, and one that he believes must be answered by everyone individually.

Jensen's experience as a journalist allowed him to write about radical ideas in a way that allows them to exist and be read in mainstream media. A proponent of fringe arguments, he believes that the current move in some political circles towards appealing to the centre is wrong.

Putting ideas and movements that are unfamiliar to the general public front and centre is key to effecting change, and to be more radical, Jensen says, is to “go to the core of systems that everyone understands, on some level, are no longer viable.”

So what do we do when we don’t know what to do? The answer is simple: stop watering down our beliefs, and be more radical.