In the United States, we grow extremism by telling our children myths about bearded white deities (a Western tradition that predates Jesus) and quasi-omniscient demigod Founding Fathers. These children grow up to age eighteen, and then they are entrusted to make crucial civic decisions about: good and bad, right and wrong, moral consciousness impacting the entire society. Today, there are factions that vote because of one issue that individuals take to the extreme.
For example, the gun issue is the only voting consideration for many. At the Never Again march, our young people protested for safety in all environments. They have come under criticism by the gun-toting extremists.
There are those extremists who criticize the moral fortitude of these young protesters based solely on their need to promote the one extreme view that all citizens can bear arms even if the technology since the second amendment was written, has advanced to include automatic weapons of war.
Extreme discourses come from the wellspring of ready-made answers to the mysteries of our existence, stemming from myths we tell ourselves to make sense of circumstances bigger than our flawed human minds can understand. Myths taken as fact and the resulting discourses are often distractions to the process of self-realization at the core of human experience.
We live in a world of duality: hot/cold, up/down, Democrat/Republican, employed/unemployed, dead/alive. However, the essence of life rests in the middle of the yin and yang represented by Aristotle’s golden mean—a virtuous medium between two opposing extremes. Yet in America, we have as much an appetite for extremism as McDonald’s apple pies.
Extremism from Taking Texts as Literal Fact
What do the U.S. Constitution and the Bible have in common? They are both dangerous when taken as literal fact, rigidly pointed to as doctrine. In an imperfect world, searching for perfect solutions in any single document can have disastrous results. The real world applications of the Communist Manifesto are prime examples.
It is the understanding that ideas must be challenged to create intellectual growth, which evolved to create the dialectic, an important rational tool. In the dialectic there is an initial thesis, which is always challenged by an antithesis, resulting in a synthesis. In order for one to grow, the individual’s ideas must be challenged by an antithesis resulting in a new understanding: synthesis. In many ways the synthesis represents the thinker moving closer to a Golden Mean, this is pivotal in the process of personal evolution and the advancement of society.
Therefore, those who cling rigidly to a single doctrine are not allowing themselves to be challenged by an antithesis, thus avoiding the inspection of their belief system, which is necessary for growth. The unchallenged thesis often results in an extreme position and when this practice is carried over an entire society, the results can be catastrophic. Although we live in the land of the free, we are subjugated by the extremists. The dialogue initiated to change the thinking of an extremist too often is met with the individual’s firm grasp on a myth or literal interpretation of a doctrine and refusal to consider alternatives.
Extremism can stoke Fear and Fuel Greed
Fear often underlies extreme choices and mankind has entered a dark era in which the only impulse more powerful than fear is greed. Many people are concerned with becoming rich, which can be defined as amassing far more than one’s share as an inhabitant of the planet.
Wealth comes from the earth and, if one has much more that has an indirect relationship to another who does not have enough to meet their basic needs. Another duality we live with is rich and poor. Gross economic inequality should not be a fact of life, but our style of capitalism, which hinges on scarcity, is a major contributing factor to the inevitability of this situation.
So, people work overtime, believing that they are buying back their lost hours with material possessions, desperately trying to get ahead. But when the promise of happiness is unfulfilled, they are left feeling empty. Then, if they have not already been institutionalized by a given “faith” by birth, they shop around for something that will fulfill them.
There are plenty of televangelists ready to possess spiritually broken individuals for their own benefit, the likes of Benny Hinn and Jerry Falwell, preaching hope and reaping dollars from their hoodwinked herd. The mind manipulators and alluring doctrines convince the masses that consuming will feed their empty souls, and that the richer one becomes, the happier the individual will be.
The enrichment of a few is fueled by the individuals needed to turn the gears of the machine. When inordinate consumption makes our minds and bodies lethargic, we are no longer a threat to the rich men’s agenda. Too often the workforce, being duped that there is a promise of becoming one of the rich, is really working harder for the already rich to become richer.
As the colonial model has changed over time from Rome to the Soviet experiment and the United States; societies driven by a thirst for resources and the spoils of military conquest sow their own doom. United States society is a consumer culture to the extreme, part of an opulence that has plagued every empire. We are living through the fall of the next Roman Empire, Wal-Mart style.
Extremism Can Lead to Violence
When extreme choices are manifested in violence, catastrophe happens. The perpetrators of the mass-shootings aren’t satisfied with committing suicide: they are compelled to go to a mall or school and murder innocent people. Rigidity, stemming from extremism, pushes aside more moderate approaches, creating tragic consequences. In this uncertain world, we must be open to new ideas and prepared to drop old ones if they do not benefit the individual thinker or are detrimental to society as a whole.
Frequently, the extremists are the perpetrators of mass terror. Individuals who use religion, nationalism, racism, or revenge to cause the destruction of lives through terrorism are the epitome of how extreme beliefs and tactics are a danger to all society. A change in culture, as well as rules of law, need to happen. Our myths and doctrines should not be fodder for extremists, but to be taught to our children as a foundation on which all is questioned, modified, analyzed and synthesized. Our future society should be able to determine how to vote with a moral consciousness.
For millennia mankind believed that the Earth was the center of the solar system and any challenge to this erroneous assumption was met with censure. We now understand that this was part of a greater parcel, a system of thought that no longer served man. Once the yoke of that system was cast off, then the brightening of the Scientific Revolution and the subsequent Enlightenment allowed greater promise for Western societies.
Conservation of harmful practices such as ruthless wars and the bombing of innocent people is partially the result of extremism bred here in the U.S.; residue left from the European colonization of North America and a Puritanical morality in which sexual contraventions are unacceptable but burning people alive is justifiable. We must continuously alter the discourse with new ideas that fit our needs.
Extremists come in all sorts of creeds, codes, colors, beliefs and nationalities. The zealot believes that he is right because he drinks from the well of the Bible, Koran, or other religious doctrines. But often strict religious adherence causes people to shut down to other ideas, important ideas which could benefit the whole. This handicaps society because the zealots will not challenge their own faith. They want to save their version of the world.
Unfortunately, there are many inhabitants that believe that Earth will be the setting for a cosmic war of Good against Evil and in the process, they limit the possibility of a brilliant future for the rest of us.