David Adams Richards is not the type of novelist one would expect to read about in a political forum like this one. He writes about rural New Brunswick, which for him means camping excursions, beer, divorce, custody battles and poverty. But he is not a ‘leftist’ writer, and he probably has little sympathy for most progressive causes today.
In fact, in his view political activists are often little more than “edgy frauds of some past injury,” motivated to help others for what are essentially selfish, egoistic reasons. In what I think is his most recent novel, The Lost Highway, a young man decides to take up the cause of Native American rights, right up until he is on the point of being tenured for defending them. He does not, however, have any genuine desire to see justice done: he is an activist simply for the sake of his academic career, and also in order to spite his uncle! Years later one sees quite clearly, when this character is willing to let a Native man hang for a murder he himself committed, just how firmly he ever believed in the cause.
What Richards hates are essentially those who try and do good but for the wrong reasons, the people who want justice but only in a self-serving kind of way. His message is ‘motivation matters.’ I think this is a good thing, since it works to keep ‘activists’ self-critical and introspective, and a healthy one, if only because one hears so little about it outside of right-wing mudslinging.