Thursday, August 12, 2010

Are You Extreme?

In today's highly-contentious political world, we often make the mistake of discounting extremists and their views. I'd like to offer another perspective these groups and their individual members, a view that values their voices as a fundamental component of any democratic process.

I believe that we as a people tend toward complacency. Maybe it's just a misinterpretation of the scientific concept of entropy, but over time, given no external stimuli, most of us would just wind up going through our typical daily routine day after day after day. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Granted, this is an over-broad, stereotypical statement to which there are always exceptions.

One of the greatest purposes extremist groups and their followers serve is to offer us an external stimuli to force us into action. In a democratic society, this action is a call to arms, figuratively - not literally. We're called to not just assume others believe as we do; we're called to action, to vote, to write and to think. Every educator knows that knowledge is the by-product of challenges. Failure forces us to rethink our actions and develop resilience to try again. Success teaches us to move forward and build on the lessons we've learned. Extreme political and social ideologies are challenges to our belief structures and offer us insight into the type of world we could create, but usually not one that we want.

The tenor and content of their voices pierce our personal bubble and call us to action, not necessarily in support of one extremist view or the other, but rather a call to action forcing us to take a stand for the middle ground that we find comfortable. By definition, extremists are minorities on the edges of any continuum. The majority that resides in the middle rarely has to do much to maintain their happy equilibrium. Yet when the volume of the extremist voice raises to a level like what we hear today, I have to believe those in the middle must step in order to maintain the bubble of balance that we've come to enjoy so much.

Extreme arguments call us to question what we believe, what we value and how we fit in to the the continuum. It isn't just whether your Democrat or Republican, every issue, every topic has a continuum of agreement and dissent. A complex individuals, wearing a uniform blanket of red or blue really is a disservice to ourselves. We each have multiple, unique perspectives that sway our opinions on each and every topic commonly hashed about in political debates. Our challenge is defining where we sit on the continuum and understanding why we like it there. Extremism can push or pull, but our ideals have to always be at the core.

If there's a lesson in this post, it's this: listen to the voices, all the voices, that surround you. Listen and think. Don't limit yourself to a single issue or subject, separate the ideas, concepts and ideologies and pick and choose the ones that resonate with you, from whichever side of the aisle they come from. Evaluate them, analyze them and understand them. Once you've done that, your job, in this democratic society, is to then act to preserve the status quo that you've come to love so much, lest we all wake up one day in a world we don't recognize.


Charles E V said...

There's a lot of profundity in this post.

Unfortuantely, what happens in practice is that extremsts are not interested in a process of thesis/ antithesis/ synthesis. They're out to demonize non-beleivers and purge their own ranks of false prophets. Flip through your cable channels and you'll see this in seconds.

I consider my self a moderate. I consider it my right and duty to listen to viewpoints and make my own judgements. As a result, I'm able to tick off extermists and dogmatists on all sides of the spectrum. Which is why I emmphatically disagree with one statement: "The majority that resides in the middle rarely has to do much to maintain their happy equilibrium". Trying to maintain a committment to truth over the flood of 24 hour a day extremism and demagoguery surrounding us today greatly affects my attempts at a happy equilibrium.

Shawn C. Monk, J.D. said...

Thank you for your comment! It's nice to know that someone, anyone, actually finds something I've written to be interesting.

You're absolutely right. In today's spin-centric world, I don't even know if it's possible to find an absolute (or even a relative) truth. Data, as one of the most fundamental components of developing reliable conclusions, is almost completely unreliable. Fault-ridden acquisition of statistics and figures are compounded by twisted premises and sound-byte conclusions. Truth has been tossed in favor of sensationalism.

I don't think it needs to be that way. Maybe its the idealist in me, but I believe that when we, whoever identifies themselves within the moderate collective, begin to question bias and demand honesty, we can begin to push back against the onslaught of ridiculousness that now defines our politics.

Idealistic? Yes. Challenging? Yes. Impossible? No. Nothing worth having comes easy, for when it does we fail to appreciate it. I probably should have said that the majority that resides in the middle rarely has HAD to do much to maintain their happy equilibrium. Today, those individuals must act if we want to restore some sense of balance.

Thank you again for your comment. I appreciate the opportunity spend a few more minutes on my soapbox!