Extremism is the single biggest threat to liberty. As 10,000 years of history indicates, this is not a new concept. What is new are the types of extremism. Regardless of their source, extreme views and extreme behaviors rise from the dark parts of humanity to produce the Herods, the Hitlers, the Stalins, the Maos of the world.
Extremism exists in every society in a variety of ways. But for the sake of this post, I’m focusing on extremism in America. Extremism in the US can be loosely divided into two groups:
- The Far Right- Primarily comprised of “religious right” evangelical groups and Republican loyalists. It also has its own fringe — the alt-right as an example.
- The Far Left- Primarily comprised of the secular left and “social justice warriors”. They, too, have a fringe — Antifa, militant fill-in-the-label etc.
Although worthy of deeper examination, the purpose of this post is to explore the mindset of extremists. Put in very simple psychological terms, extremism appears to be a type of mental illness. When you consider such conditions as cognitive dissonance, group polarization, paranoia et al, the profile of mental illness emerges.
It’s been said that if you know you’re crazy, then you’re not actually crazy. In that spirit, here are 10 signs that you might be an extremist:
- You are disconnected from humanity. This starts with disconnection from your own sense of self and your own value. For if you are disconnected from your own humanity, then its quite impossible to be connected to the humanity of others. This is most manifested in isolation, joining closed groups and committing acts of violence.
- You live in a closed society. Closed societies are the stagnate ponds of humanity. They sit closed off from the rest of society and become corrupt. A closed society could be a family, a community, a religious sect, a political group. But they also exist in more large scale cultures such as academic institutions, corporations and non-profits. If everyone around you looks like you, talks like you and thinks like you, you are in a closed society.
- Your knowledge is static. When your knowledge set doesn’t grow or evolve, you become highly attached to the structure of what you already know. And new information and ideas are seen as a threat. Most common in academic models, religious dogma and ideology (which the very definition is that you think your ideas are more right than every one else’s). This is also why extremists have their own language separate from reason, logic or science.
- You are obsessed with image. Osama Bin Laden would watch hours of recorded news shows and rant to others about how he was portrayed. Despots erect giant shrines and statues to themselves. This also includes an obsession with appearance: dress codes, approved language (political correctness), unwritten rules of conduct amongst members of a group.
- You have no sense of humor. Or more accurately, you are part of a group that has an approved sense of humor. As such, there are only forced smiles and fake laughs.
- You’ve become what you hate. The Law of the Seed is quite evident in extremism- if you plant hate, you grow hate. Very much related to this is condemnation by comparison, shaming those that leave your group and behavior that is radically misaligned with what you say you believe.
- You are wildly inconsistent with your moral code. This is similar to #6 but is more related to the dissonance between assumed beliefs and actual behaviors. You especially see this in extremist religious groups — like the befuddling fawning endorsement of Trump by the evangelical right and Islamic terrorists’ prolific consumption of pornography.
- You’re reaaaaaaly in to conspiracy theories. It would be quite convenient to believe that your life sucks because some outside force is stacking the deck against you. You wouldn’t have to own your own life or your behavior. After all, you are a victim and victimhood is the easiest cult to get in to and the most difficult to get out of. This is quite common in the political arena. Remember Hillary Clinton’s “vast rightwing conspiracy” comment? Or the far right’s obsession with Obama’s birth certificate?
- You are incapable of seeing the merits of opposing ideas. Mark Twain once opined “The only cure for narrowness is travel”. That’s the thing about extreme ideas. They don’t stay that way if you get out and see the world and talk to people with a curious mind. That’s why most extremists stay in closed societies. It makes them feel safe and gives them a sense of belonging.
- You don’t know you are an extremist. Which means if you are reading this and you are outraged, offended or otherwise in a tizzy then … well, you know the Foxworthy bit.