Oh look, Krinn venting. This is an angry post that is unlikely to be read by anyone who it attacks - but it needed writing.
I finally realized why it rankles me when people say “oh all extremists are alike.” The part I already knew was that generally, “oh the extremists on both sides are equally bad,” is Not Even Wrong (or possibly wronger than wrong). This is especially evident when people talk about atheism and theism (you may not like Richard Dawkins, but there are theists who want to kill you) or about matters of politics (you may not like Noam Chomsky, but Barack Obama thinks it’s okay to send flying death robots to other countries and use them to kill people).
But aside from that - when people like the imbecilic Haim Hariri say that “the extremists in the two edges always end up in the same place,“ that’s not actually a factual statement. That’s a dismissive statement, a tribalistic statement, an unthinking statement. That says - “these people are all different from me, they must all be the same.” The only way that extremists are the same is this: they all threaten the status quo. When you say “all those extremists are alike,” all you are doing is allowing yourself to class all extremists with the ones you think are Just Crazy - you are sparing yourself from having to think about what the extremists actually advocate. That is an absolute cop-out - it is a thought-terminating cliché and should with the rest of its brethren be ruthlessly extirpated from the human discourse.
The extremists all want to upset your comfort, and there the similarities end. Pretending that they - that we - are all the same, is fleeing from the responsibility of critical thought. Further, it’s abdicating discourse-power to the people who are counting on you to stop thinking when confronted with unfamiliar ideas - the people who are moving to extreme positions because you proudly “centrist,” proudly “moderate” wankers inevitably split the difference between two positions without considering the merits fully.
So I’m pretty fucking tired of hearing about how feminism is as bad as patriarchy, how atheism is as bad as the Crusades, how socialism is as bad as fascism, how my hard-won hard-thought hard-endured convictions are not worth actually thinking about or engaging with or considering: they’re just another set of extremisms.
Fuck that noise.
Enlightenment for all beings is my extremism: for all that I think they’re wrong, that one status-quo-threatening point of commonality among extremists all means that they’ve actually thought about the way the world is - and the way it could be. That’s a bigger step towards enlightenment than just taking the weltanschauung your culture gives you and living in that box all your life.
Well said. It's also not a neutral statement in that it doesn't just favor centrists. Since the far right is so much larger and more powerful than the far left, making them morally and conceptually equivalent is also an attempt to convince the general public that the "far-right" is a small fringe and not a dangerously powerful movement that is supported by at least one sixth of people in the US.
The extremists all want to upset your comfort, and there the similarities end.
That's an excellent point and one of many reasons that I'm not one - instead I seem to merely be someone with values and ideas that are center-left in northern europe and am instead living in a nation where the dominant opinions range from those I consider to be overly conservative to those I consider to be barking mad.
I do mean this in more contexts than American politics - but that area is particularly rich with examples, such as the ones you point out.
As for me personally, I have with a surly and graceless mien basically accepted that I am a radical - I believe all kinds of lunatic things. Which is not the most comfortable life to live, but I think I'd feel even more uncomfortable consciously abandoning it.
It's hard to confront something that threatens your status quo. It's hard to see someone's opinion that differs dramatically from yours and not follow the gut-impulse to dismiss it;it's even harder to keep attention on it- to take it and pick it apart and understand the structure of it, of their thought-process.
It's painful and frustrating and worrisome and it's absolutely necessary.
You have a lot of respect from me for trying to get people to take that first step. Enlightenment is hard. *bow, hug*
You also make a good point: I'm unnecessarily demonizing some people. It is very hard to challenge the status quo, especially when your life seems to be going pretty well with things just the way they are. The desire for stability and safety is a powerful and normal desire.
Again, I think right wing extremists aren't challenging the status quo at all, they are attempting to enforce their own self-serving version of it. Someone who wants a plutocracy or a theocracy in which wealthy dudes hold all the power isn't going anywhere but backwards. The also aren't out to upset anyone's comfort, just punish people for challenging their own. The Tea Party is angry and radical because they resent even having to notice people unlike them, let alone think about them getting money they don't deserve.
And indeed many of the extremist movements I do agree with aren't necessarily challenging the status quo in order to upset it, but out of the desire for stability and safety. They become extremist because the status quo isn't stable or safe for them. Right now one of the things driving the protests and riots in other countries is poverty and hunger or fear of such things. People become extreme because they want security they can't have.
Well, that's pretty much why I don't call your average Democratic-party politician an "extremist," ever. They are radical pro-status-quo-ists. The Republicans, meanwhile, do actually want to change things.
As for the causes of extremism, I think that we are talking past one another a little. I don't think I said the thing that you're refuting, and I at least partially agree with you.
Maybe some demonization is necessary. For example: This class of Conservation Biology i'm taking this semester is giving me some worries on a very primal level- just of how much crap people do with no real regard for the environment- the planet plays second fiddle to our wants.
The status quo is nice, sure, but when people expect it to last forever when it literally can't, then it's a problem. Then people need to be gently told- or bitchslapped, if need be- into realizing things are bad outside of their bubble of worldview.
Trying to get people to change their way of life, even if it's for good reasons, is very very very hard. And right now, that fact is kinda scaring me.
Rambling, sure. But I have sympathies I needed to express. *hug*
I am glad you have expressed your sympathies. *le hug*
If you're taking a Conservation Biology class, I think you would be doing yourself a big favor by reading John Michael Greer's blog - great stuff about sustainability and living within our collective means. Alongside, of course, descriptions of the consequences of not living within our means.
"that one status-quo-threatening point of commonality among extremists all means that they’ve actually thought about the way the world is - and the way it could be"
I dispute this - a lot of extremists are actively, violently opposed to thinking about the way the world is. In fact their entire point is their version is the way the world is and anyone who suggests otherwise, let alone suggests how it should be, needs to be eliminated. They are extremist because they think they are the status quo and everyone else is trying to destroy it. There's no enlightenment in fundamentalism, just a retreat into a reactionary past definition of normal which never really existed.
I think that's a separate mental tendency than "extremism," actually, and can exist side-by-side with it. In the case that you're talking about, someone has still measured reality-as-they-perceive it and found it wanting. That sort of person is still worth talking to because they believe in something - forgive the cliché, but it's pretty much the Beast/Smiler thing from Transmet. Would you rather try to deal with someone who's a True Believer with vile beliefs - or with someone who has no beliefs, no sincerity, no solid ground?
What makes part of the American authoritarian movement so toxic, of course, is that they combine all of the things we just spoke of: extremism, detachment from reality, and bad faith. I think it's important to be clear that those are three different forces, though, and that they are much more problematic together than in isolation.
It's a difficult thing to talk about, really. I agree with you; the worst things that liberals want largely consist of well intentioned, clumsy, and insensitive refusal to consider freedom of speech and expression at a relatively modest financial cost; the worst thing conservatives want to do by comparison is genocide and complete long term fiscal disaster. I do think there's some claim though that when liberals do really stupid bullshit, it's worse in a way because theoretically we know what a dead-end this stuff is; we've seen and been on the receiving end of it, and that's no fun at all.
And I also agree about "extremism." It's a little like using terrorist, Zionist, freedom fighter, or hipster - at some point the use of the word gets to be so subjective it's ridiculous. There's got to be a way around it.
That's another thing that bothers me - losing words. Having to have debates like this, or other similar ones over recent decades, amounts to losing chunks of expression-ability. I weep and gnash my teeth over this loss of ideas. The loss of ideas is really hard to recover from, and there are people actively fighting for the cause of meaninglessness, who are willingly making themselves into warriors of Newspeak. They wish language to mean nothing but what the people in power allow it to mean. Bloody hate that.
And yes: people calling themselves "liberals," "leftists," and so on, ought to be held to a somewhat higher standard - should know better.
I suspect this may just be natural process - some sort of language shift. Like "multitasking" and "team player" sound good, so every job post will list these (I've been at a company where the salesmen weren't team players, probably needed to be, but their role was different from the necessity of my administrative job interfacing with two different departments) and boom, a specific word or phrase becomes meaningless. I think we can all accept this with stuff which starts out vague - freedom, capitalism, patriotism - but it gets grating when you're referring to specific stuff. (Godwin's Law is an example of reaction - don't refer to anything as Nazi-like, unless it really is reminiscent of actions taken by the German government in the 1930s through mid 1940s.)
But the name-calling nature of American politics - and once again I blame the Reagan years for really starting it off - just makes more of the same.
I vociferously agree with you, and praise this post. False equivocation is the bread and butter of our national discourse, and even the youth seem to think it's terribly edgy to look at both sides of a debate and give a big fuck you to change of any sort. The number of amusing image macros pointing out the differences between radical theists and radical atheists that I've been seeing lately is heartening. No matter how pompous you may find Christopher Hitchens' talk show appearances, his opponents are killing people in a strait forward unambiguous classically militant way.
Thank you for the support and encouragement. It's funny and tragic to think of 4chan and their crowd as a barometer of popular culture - but they are, and they're a great Everything Bad Is Good For You example.
"That’s a bigger step towards enlightenment than just taking the weltanschauung your culture gives you and living in that box all your life."
Yes! I really hate the attitudes of the defeatist types who say stuff like "that's the way the world is, deal with it". First of all, with an attitude like that, big problems will never get fixed; we'll never break our dependency on Big Oil, we'll never get kids to stop picking up their parents' smoking habits, we'll never be able to design a better fucking RESTAURANT NAPKIN.
Plus, it smells faintly like rape talk. "That's the way the world is, deal with it" seems to have an undercurrent of "relax and learn to enjoy it, bitch." It's just... nasty.
One of my previous bosses used to say "it is what it is" a lot, and while that was probably psychologically helpful for him in dealing with problem customers, it grated on me for similar reasons to this.
This. If I have to hear "the political left-right spectrum is more like a circle" from some brainless undergrad on the internet one more time, imma blow my top.
Centrists are just as likely to be irrational and violent. In fact, the moderate political position is quite often the least well thought out, as it takes extreme (or quasi-extreme) positions and averages them. If one believes (and I don't, obviously) that both extremes are wrong, then what is the median between wrong and wrong? Wrong.
I mean, it was the centrists in my country who got us into our latest war. Granted, the arch-conservatives would have gotten us into two wars, but it remains that the social democrats would have kept us out of war entirely, and thousands of people might still be alive. Give me rational extremism any day.
Yeah - you're reminding me of another angle of the matter, that I respect positions that I disagree with far more if someone can explain, at all, how they got there, what the intellectual underpinnings of their position are. What are your principles? What are your axioms? If they can answer these questions at all coherently, they are people I can probably cope with. The really toxic folks in the discourse have incoherent answers to those questions, and usually can't speak at length on the topic without lies, self-contradiction, or descent into meaninglessness.
We agree. To equivocate all things is to abandon one of the most important faculties of the human experience - to be able to judge. There are things that are moral and immoral, right and wrong, and helpful to enlightenment and harmful to enlightenment. Not all ethical and moral systems draw their lines in the sand exactly in the same place, but the fact that they do those things allows them to avoid being caught in the morass of "all things are the same, and those with opinions must be dismissed." It allows for action, and for people to recognize whether they like or dislike those actions and move to further them or counter them.
The faculty of judgment is a very important one - and a very difficult one. The thing is that acknowledging the tremendous diversity of the human experience, and of different standards that we may use for judgment, does not release us from the responsibility of judging for ourselves.
Amen to that, with all the subtexts of using a religious word associated with denominations that tend to discourage individual thinking that it implies. We must wonder what kind of life we would have if every religious organization made it a fundamental tenet that their followers must regularly read the material and be willing to extemporize on it from their own understanding.
I certainly agree with you that extremism is not bad simply for being extremism; people who say so are exhibiting an indifference to truth. They are also falling into a lazy habit of mind that says "well here are these two extreme positions, so the truth must therefore be somewhere in between." This attitidue becomes most dangerous, I think, when some people on the liberal left fall victim to their own rhetoric of balance and moderation, and mistake compromise for a principle, when it should be viewed as a strategy. Finding common ground between two extreme positions may sometimes be a political necessity, but some people mistake the moderate position for a valuable end goal.
My favourite counterexample is this: suppose you encounter someone who thinks that black people are of an inferior species and should be enslaved. Is the appropriate reaction to say "well, I'm completely anti-slavery, but extremes are bad and compromise is a noble thing, so let's just agree that black people should be second-class citizens but not actually slaves"? If you think extremes are necessarily band and/or that compromise is a noble principle in itself, then that has to be your answer.