The Terror of Our Don Quixotes

“In short, his wits being quite gone, he hit upon the strangest notion that any madman in this world hit upon, and that was that he fancied it was right and requisite, as well for the support of his own honor as for the service of his country, that he should make a knight-errant of himself, roaming the world over in full armor and on horseback in quest of adventures… righting every kind of wrong, and exposing himself to peril and danger from which, in the issue, he was to reap eternal renown and fame…. And so, led away by the intense enjoyment he found in these pleasant fancies, he set himself forthwith to put his scheme into execution.”

– Cervantes, Don Quixote

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Millions of Don Quixotes

If you want to understand what we are dealing with in the Woke and the alt-right read this and take notes.

In the tale of Don Quixote by Cervantes we meet a delusional man who has come to believe that he is a knight. This fictional character is farcical and hilarious. He finds himself perpetually in trouble and wreaks ridiculous havoc because of his delusion. The word “quixotic” captures this naively idealistic aspect of Don Quixote, which some people in our world display. We often use the word quixotic with thoughts of an almost silly person that frustrates serious discussion and planning. However, if one were to meet a Don Quixote in real life – not merely a person who could be associated with the adjective “quixotic” – that real Don Quixote is not naive or silly any longer, not merely slightly frustrating. A Don Quixote, if he were plucked from the pages of fiction and actually placed into our world, would be an absolutely terrifying menace. Some of us know this already. Ask anyone who has ridden a New York City subway recently, how amusing it is when a delusional person randomly selects you as having something against them (Don Quixote does this many times in the text, assaults random people who he has incorporated into his delusional story).

What frightens me most is that in our society there are in fact millions of Don Quixotes roaming about as if transported from that novel, hordes of people believing they are knights, brainwashed into hallucinating threats, and then attacking those hallucinations. Cervantes’ creation grants us an insight, as a matter of fact, into the psychology of a type of evil – he demonstrates what occurs when people, in order to produce a heroic sense of life, project made-up demons onto the world and then fight those fabricated demons. At the moment, the phenomenon, I think, presents most frequently and blatantly on the political Left, but there is no dearth of such deluded beings on the Right – presently and historically. More than merely quixotic, we might call these delusional behaviors in contemporary culture “quixotoxic.”

If you take nothing else from this article, remember the following section: 

The windmill vignette from Don Quixote is one most people are aware of, even if they haven’t read the book. But an often overlooked part of that episode sadly illuminates why it is so maddening and challenging for us to defeat and rid ourselves of political extremists. Let’s read, pay attention:

At this point they came in sight of thirty or more windmills that sat there on a plain, and as soon as Don Quixote saw them he said to his squire, “Fortune is arranging matters for us better than we could have shaped our desires ourselves, for look there, friend Sancho Panza, where thirty or more monstrous giants present themselves, all of whom I mean to engage in battle and slay, and with whose spoils we shall begin to make our fortunes; for this is righteous warfare, and it is God’s good service to sweep so evil a breed from off the face of the earth.

[Don Quixote thus] fell upon the first mill that stood in front of him; but as he drove his lance-point into the sail the wind whirled it round with such force that it shivered the lance to pieces, sweeping with it horse and rider, who went rolling over on the plain, in a sorry condition.

Now, here we come to it, the deepest, most frustrating problem with delusional radicals: After being pummeled by the windmill he thought was a giant monster – does Don Quixote observe the error in his ways? Certainly not, instead he gives a demented explanation for what just happened:

“Hush, friend Sancho,” replied Don Quixote [after being knocked to the ground], “the fortunes of war more than any other are liable to frequent fluctuations; and moreover I think, and it is the truth, that [a Wizard] has turned these monsters into mills in order to rob me of the glory of vanquishing them, such is the enmity he bears me; but in the end his wicked arts will avail but little against my good sword.” [emphasis added]

That’s the difficulty right there—Don Quixotes employ “magical thinking” to explain away stubborn realities and to keep their delusion alive. It also gives lie to the oft bandied saying by the Right that a “mugging by reality” makes people drop their idealism. A run in with a harsh reality only seems to break a small minority of Don Quixotes from their delusions. We’ve all seen the videos of those who, when confronted with indisputable facts that legitimately and thoroughly obliterate their false convictions, do not give up those convictions. They are infuriatingly intransigent. They are viciously thrown to the ground by the windmills of reality, and instead of admitting they were regrettably misguided, they resort to preposterous claims of being deceived, and/or broach paranoid conspiracy theories to defend their fraudulent worldviews. It’s cognitive dissonance, but worse: it’s cognitive dissonance in the service of a good cause. For example, when they are told that some big name conservative intellectual is a rank bigot—a monster, if you will—and then they scour all his videos, interviews, read his books very closely, watch his body language when speaks of certain topics and words, and find naught to suggest he is a racist, does it matter to them? Of course not. They will fabricate an explanation for the lack of prejudice. “Ah, racists today are crafty,” they’ll say, “they wear the guise of non-racist attitudes and actions. It is the job of the knight to see how they have magically hidden themselves in the wardrobe of an ally or of a reasonable person. See there – their declaration of colorblindness and merit is the concealing spell! And sometimes, if the truth be told, these bigots don’t even know they are racist, as the wizards of American culture have essentially put them under a trance of unconscious racist possession.” This happens everyday in America (and the broader west), in large and small ways. In regards to police shootings, the evils of capitalism, election fraud, pizza shop pedophilia, and so on.

When interacting with a Don Quixote on the left or the right, merely suggest using objective evidence, robust statistical analysis, expertise, and replicated, peer-reviewed studies, and they will often treat such staples of rationality as if they are some of the most pitch forms of deceptive black magic. Why? Because it evaporates their life meaning.

None of this suggests that there cannot be real monsters. Just because police shootings of unarmed African-American are not at all widespread doesn’t mean there are not racist police officers. Just because a particular election wasn’t stolen, doesn’t mean that there isn’t voter fraud (or that mass mail-in ballots are a good idea). Sane people can honestly investigate such claims and determine the true scope of these evils. And what is more, studies and data can change over time; an election in the future might have massive fraud; scientists can indeed be biased and inaccurate. There are pedophilia rings. In such cases, one’s opinions should change as well. But for Don Quixotes, it’s always the worst possible interpretation of a person or system that is the right one. For the greater the evil, the more knight-errand work there is to do.

So it all goes in America and the West in general, that when Don Quixotes finally get near enough to attack their monsters and learn that the perceived monsters are usually but windmills, they promptly explain the realization away by noting that the monsters have merely been transformed and/or hidden as if by magic. When too many people engage in such quixotoxic behavior, refusing to accept that their enemies mostly exist only as figments of their imagination, it represents a significant threat to the stability of any society and civilization.

The Creation of Don Quixotes 

Seeing so many quixotoxic people about, I began to wonder: how does a Don Quixote-type person come into existence? How do people become real life versions of this character? Consider the origin of the fictional one. In the tale, we find a man with plenty of free time, who has stopped caring for his property, for work, and even for most forms of recreation. We find a man who has immersed himself in stories of gallantry. Cervantes wrote:

…the above-named gentleman whenever he was at leisure (which was mostly all the year round) gave himself up to reading books of chivalry with such ardor and avidity that he almost entirely neglected the pursuit of his field-sports, and even the management of his property; and to such a pitch did his eagerness and infatuation go that he sold many an acre of tillage land to buy books of chivalry to read, and brought home as many of them as he could get. [emphasis added]

In short, Don Quixote is binging on the righteous actions of others. He is lusting to become one of the moral champions he is reading about. One of his servants said that he often heard Don Quixote mumble to himself, “I desire to be a knight-errant.”

Many of our fellow citizens have experienced something very similar to the fictional Don Quixote’s origin story, and that is why they are very much like him. To be more specific, there are at least eight factors that have contributed to the emergence of our real Don Quixotes:

1) Moral teachings in general. Our education system harps upon legendary moral leaders – for good reason. I often joke that the only things all high school students in America know when they graduate are that mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell, Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally, and that slavery and racism are bad. Teaching the terribleness of slavery and racism is healthy, and necessary; it forms the bedrock of a good nation. (I do not include in this Marxist Critical Race Theory, that is not the teaching of history, but is, as a matter of fact, a Don Quixotesque delusional interpretation of the present). You want people in your nation prepared to do good and prepared to root out the cancerous aspects in the country —to spot it and push it to the fringes, decrease its numbers. You want to train the young so they know how to fight dragons. You want to teach them about the “knights” of the past, tell the stories of those who beat back true wickedness. And for the sake of the argument I am making here, let’s assume the knights Don Quixote read of were real, and the quests those knights went on were real as well. Don Quixote was properly inspired by those knights just as anyone alive in America today should be truly inspired by those who defeated the real Nazis and fought against slave owners and protested Jim Crow. The great souls who fought those battles were very much like genuine knights—the Freedom Riders, the Little Rock Nine, Harriet Tubman, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, Jr., and so on. But what has happened is that instead of creating people poised to do right, we have bred people who will do good even if it means having to mistakenly believe they live in an oppressive and totalitarian state in which the population is steeped in “white supremacy” to do that good. They have to convince themselves that the world they occupy is a racial hellscape in order to live out these heroic fantasies. They must do righteous deeds even if that entails having a near fully delusional view of reality. Again, it’s not that their impulses are not desirable, and it’s not that we shouldn’t inculcate those inclinations. They are desirable, and they should be inculcated. The problem is that gobs of people in the West cannot accept they live in a part of the world mostly devoid of large horrors. We’ve created scads of soldiers with hardly any (maybe zero) big battles to fight, or grand adventures/quests to go upon. Yet, if you listen closely to the new generations, you hear them each whispering to themselves, “I desire to be a knight-errant!” And by God, they will be.

2) Our radical educators. So what exactly makes the inculcation of this otherwise salubrious moral attitude so malignant? The short answer is this: biased and radical educators. Undeniably, many teachers and professors are also Don Quixotes, they have often been educated in graduate school programs to see dragons in America and the West where there are none – or where there usually is, at worst, very, very small, “infant” dragons, and indeed, very faint ghosts of old dragons. At least in the last forty or so years, this has been the case. On the Left, for example, this Weltanschauung appears in something like Critical Theory, which can be defined, in my estimation, as a system of thought designed to first, hone in on ideas and institutions and systems that work very well and that usually self-correct (with proper pressure from right-minded activists and thinkers), and then, after finding that which keeps society stable and functioning, this critical philosophy urges its followers to destroy that which works simply because those ideas and institutions and systems have not attained utopian perfection. A root of the Don Quixote delusion is that a monster is any person or system that is not perfectly perfect. A secondary definition of the theory is to find minor, real, isolated problems and exaggerate them, so that those problems are made to seem as if they are major, ubiquitous and systemic (this is the desire of Don Quixotes to turn molehills into mountains). One might say, then, that many “educators” are little more than dealers of hallucinogens. I once had a professor tell me to “problematize truth.” I replied,  “It’s problematized everyday – it’s called lying.” That wasn’t what she meant of course. In brief, one reason we have throngs of fake knights is that we prime students to be moral agents, which is excellent, but then in the second phase, we urge them to hallucinate that capitalism, the American Constitution, the idea of colorblindness, etc. are the anlages to all evils past, present and future—and this as bad as bad can be. Many teachers and professors are tricking kids into thinking the things that have made and make society excel are actually the things they need to fight. They are sending armies of knights to the pillars of the world with battering rams. They are sending war parties with long lances to go forth and to stab Atlas. Indeed, Atlas shrugging is a problem; Atlas being stabbed is a larger danger. 

And I will continue to remind readers that there are also rightwing versions of this. Under rightwing ethno-nationalism, as an example, teachers might brainwash students into believing that other races are like plagues and insects, that other nationalities are morally defective, and so on. Nazis saw innocent Jews as something akin to nesting parasites they had to eradicate. Don Quixote can be a fascist or a Maoist, a rightwing conspiracy theorist, a religious zealot, a Timothy McVeigh, or part of the Baader-Meinhof group. His insanity can afflict any political orientation.

3) Our media, entertainment, and corporate establishments confirm that the hallucinations are real. Once out of academia (and even while within), everywhere these newly made Don Quixotes turn they see that very serious people, very famous people, very educated people, as well as very legitimate institutions, believe the same things they do and champion what their teachers and professors spoke of. For example, it is declared, with straight faces, by well-known people, with millions of followers, and long scrolls of credentials, that racism is baked into the unconscious of everyone around them as well as into all the nation’s systems, laws, and founding documents; that America is turning into The Handmaid’s Tale; that there is a genocide of one group or another (transpeople, white people, black people, etc.) actually taking place presently or near to taking place soon; that every part of the Western world is in need of upheaval and needs to be revamped and reconstituted; etc. So in short, now these delusions have academic, corporate, institutional, and celebrity reinforcement, and hence, our mobs of Don Quixotes are even more entrenched in their troublesome perceptions of reality.

4)Too much affluence and leisure time. Our society has created enormous amounts of free time for hefty percentages of the population, and endless amounts of entertainment for nearly everyone. Much like Don Quixote the character, millions of people in America and the West (not all of them, but many of them) are essentially at leisure most of the year round, (a state that was exacerbated by the 2020 lockdowns). A significant portion of the population also has more than enough money, food, and tech, and are therefore sated and bored. Boredom is key here. I’ve spoken often about how dangerous boredom is if it is widespread. An interview I saw with a former antifa member explained how much fun it was to be part of antifa, that this was the driving motivation to join. Don Quixote, as he said in the opening quote to this essay, set off on his missions with “intense enjoyment.” Never underestimate how exhilarating it is to be a Don Quixote. And note how many movie characters are essentially Don Quixote type characters that watchers are not so subtly encouraged to emulate.

5) Lack of meaning and death of a metaphysical center. Related to the previous point (boredom is the brother of meaninglessness), many in the population have lost meaning in life. Many have lost a sun to orbit around, if you will. Tradition has died. The family is diluted in importance. Religion is non-existent for many people, or occupies a spot in the farthest parts of the periphery of life. And the job or career many have is not fulfilling. Don Quixotes loathe an ordinary life, but very frequently are living ordinary lives. They feel profoundly less than they should be, especially since they’ve been taught to be majestic moral actors. To cure this, many often unconsciously move toward malignant activism (Left) or malignant patriotism (Right)—these political movements become the new center of their solar system. Consider how the fictional Don Quixote went from a state of meaninglessness to living with a grand and glorious purpose in a single instant – the moment he decided to be a warrior for local and cosmic justice, if you will. Of course, not all Don Quixotes are “atheists.” Many blend their religion and spirituality with their politics. (Jesus Christ to the Christian DQs, essentially becomes a sort of metaphysical Che Guevara). Being a Don Quixote can add even more meaning to a religious or spiritual person’s life; as the goal of being a citizen becomes an attempt to recreate the Garden of Eden, to meld heaven and earth, to enhance reality through their faith and political action. Such Don Quixotes get to try to be angels though it looks like they are only a barista at Starbucks, or an uber driver. Don Quixote would love to be adorned with a halo, as would all would-be social justice warriors and “patriot revolutionaries.”

7) The Allure of pseudo-sophistication. Another interesting aspect about the making of Cervantes’ Don Quixote is that he also adored convoluted passages in the stories he was reading. It seems Don Quixotes wanted to feel intelligent, sophisticated:

But of all [the authors] there were none [Don Quixote] liked so well as those of the famous Feliciano de Silva’s composition,… where he often found passages like “the reason of the unreason with which my reason is afflicted so weakens my reason that with reason I murmur at your beauty;” or again, “the high heavens, that of your divinity divinely fortify you with the stars, render you deserving of the desert your greatness deserves.” . . . [He] used to lie awake striving to understand them and worm the meaning out of them; what Aristotle himself could not have made out or extracted had he come to life again for that special purpose. [Emphasis added.]

Our real men and women of La Mancha are drawn to radical politics as they are also, very often, absorbed by philosophies with uselessly “fancy” jargon. One can only think of the neologisms of postmodernist texts which are so attractive to the Left—“problematize,” “decenter,” “microaggression, ”—or relatedly, the ridiculous lexicon of the KKK, with its made-up Klan words—“kludd” (a Klan chaplain or preacher), “kladd” (a Klan conductor or custodian), “klaiff” (an officer of the Klan). There is of course, the allure of having a secret language that only other cult members know how to speak; Don Quixotes enjoy both being part of an elite in-crowd and feeling erudite by being using over-complicated verbiage to simultaneously explain their ideas and hiding their often more sinister meanings. Buzz words fall out of them like an endless stream of cards from a magician’s mouth. More yet, the fictional Don Quixote speaks in a stilted, pompous way, and so do our Don Quixotes in real life. They don’t know how absurd they sound to sane on-lookers. Yet, we must admit, their pseudo recondite speech is alluring to plenty of people. And the naive think that if the language is complex, or abstruse, then the ideas must be also.

8) Social media influence. Perhaps worst of all for us – and this is how we produce Don Quixotes at scale – is that people with Don Quixote tendencies have cameras. They record, or others record, their “deeds.” Hence, Don Quixotes go online and see other Don Quixotes in action. They spend endless hours taking in the entertainment of “righteousness porn.” They relish witnessing activists screaming at others, laying down in traffic, storming government facilities, spitting on police, gluing themselves to this or that, street fighting with other deluded beings, and so forth. Seeing such passion and sincerity (the character Don Quixote was very sincere), many people assume that no one would be that enthused without good reason. The brainwashing thus deepens.

So those are the main eight means (we could add more) by which our Don Quixotes are made, and why we have so many of them running about our communities causing havoc. To recap, they are spawned via a perversion of the modeling of genuine moral heroes, by radical educators, by a media-corporate-celebrity complex suffering from the same delusions as them, by too much affluence coupled with too little meaning, by the death of belief in a higher power, by the allure of feeling erudite, and by the amplification of the delusion via social media.


In closing, I’d suggest it’s normal to have a moment in one’s life where one sees him or herself as a savior, even when no savior is needed. But this is usually a kind of messianic phase, emerging in late adolescence into the early 20s. However, scarily, this appears not to be merely a phase today: people, young and old, are embracing the role of the knight and riding forth into a world where their heroism is not needed. And each day, more Don Quixotes are minted. When you are taught of those moral exemplars who went to war for justice and liberated souls who were truly oppressed, you understandably wish to be like them. When you have little meaning in your life and heaps of free time, and when smart people and celebrities and your peers all put on their armor and appear to be on a grand journey to slay dragons, you will naturally assume there are real dragons out there and may wish to join. While sane people look carefully around and stand ready to fight actual dragons, you can’t wait. You must see your run-of-the-(wind)mill uncle as a closeted Neo-nazi. And no, you won’t accept taking on little problems; you are compelled to battle massive, vicious firedrakes. Making minor tweaks to a pretty good police force and justice system? That’s not fun and you’ll never reach the heights of those who marched across Pettus Bridge, or who stormed the beaches of Normandy if you don’t perform some feat far more major than that – like “abolishing” the police, or stopping an election from being “stolen.” Those are knights’ crusades.

Don Quixotes are the woke, and they are the far Right, and they are trying to be our chevaliers. And, horrifyingly, as stated, once a few Don Quixotes begin posting their delusional adventures on social media, other Don Quixotes are encouraged to participate. I suppose the most terrible irony of all this is that our Don Quixotes may well bring their hallucinations into being, creating the radical, oppressive, totalitarian states that actual knights will have to fight; they may spawn the horrible dragons that real knights will have to duel with at some point in the future. Possibly even soon.

Author Bio:

Dillon Freed is completing his M.S. in Cognitive Neuroscience, and another M.A. in Liberal Arts. He published his novel, The Unneeded Redundancy, in 2022. He owns several companies.

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