Extremism is not good. I once read an article (I disremember when or where) that postulated: carrying anything to its extreme point creates its opposite. This appears to be, at first glance, counterintuitive, but in many cases it seems to hold true. I think it’s true of good things, I’m not convinced it’s true of bad things. Bad is bad (and I don’t see it becoming good when carried to its extreme). An example of good slipping towards the bad is Patriotism. Patriotism (usually considered a good thing), carried to its extreme, often morphs into nationalism, and nationalism easily morphs into fascism. Even love has its darker side. Love can often morph into possessiveness, and further morph into outright abuse: I loved her so much I couldn’t stand the thought of losing her so I had to kill her (this is a headline you can find on almost any given day throughout America). I struggle to understand how a bad thing can morph into a good thing, but I’ve certainly seen many examples of a good thing morphing into a bad thing.
So I think that all extremism has, at its core, the seeds of its own destruction. Politically I am admittedly, and unashamedly, a left-leaning individual. Many of my friends and acquaintances have this attribute in common. However, I do not consider myself to be an extremist. I find extremism on the left to be every bit as repugnant as extremism on the right. And like every extreme philosophy it carries the seeds of its own destruction within. Extreme leftist thinking is quickly branded “whacko” just as extreme rightist thinking is branded “whacko.” And for good reason I think. What I find amongst extreme positions is the tendency to quickly adopt a corrupt methodology: the ends justify the means. This is never an appropriate methodology. Many of my liberal friends are posting outrageous claims on Facebook, and slinging mud just as fast as they can.
Giving up the moral high ground is a big mistake. Name calling, false attributions, slanderous (and unfounded) accusations serve no good purpose whatsoever. Being a better, or more prodigious, mud-slinger to defeat your opponent is analogous to being a more ruthless terrorist in an effort to out terrorize the terrorists. Becoming what you hate is no solution at all. When we, as Americans, unilaterally attack a sovereign nation, engage in acts of torture and terrorism, to defeat terrorism (that which we hate), we in fact become the very thing that we hate. We have lost the moral high ground. The ends justify the means falls flat, and the result rings hollow. We should be better than that. Our country (as does the world) has big problems confronting it, extremism will not solve those problems.
Moderation and compromise are messy propositions. Nobody wants to concede their position, nobody wants to give an inch. That is perfectly understandable, but nobody moves forward by digging in. Digging in results in stalemate not progress, and without progress there is no improvement. Israel and the Palestinians have both dug in; do you see any progress there? Russia and Ukraine have dug in; do you see any progress there? North Korea and South Korea have dug in; again I ask do you see any progress there? Democrats and Republicans have dug in, and I think the answer is obvious, there is no progress to be seen. Without informed dialogue and compromise no progress will ever be made, anywhere at anytime. Whenever someone takes an extreme position they are doomed to failure. Whenever a nation takes an extreme position it is, likewise, doomed to failure.
Extremism only works in a fascist state, and only as long as the “people” allow it to exist. Knowing all of this, then, why do we allow ourselves to become polarized by the media and our elected officials? Why do we, as thinking adults, allow ourselves to be manipulated by outside forces? Why do we abdicate our right to think for ourselves? Is the United States truly polarized to the extreme left and to the extreme right, or is this only an illusion? I don’t know the answer, but I suspect that many of us fall into the middle somewhere. Until we (the moderates) stand up an announce ourselves, the extremists will continue to control the story. The media loves this of course, because it is both sensational and is financially rewarding. Politicians love it, because it not only energizes the radical elements within their constituency, but it also absolves them from actually having to do anything. Pandering to fear and prejudices is big business, it always has been.
My friends on the left, lest you think this only a rightwing problem, just look at the media (including social media which is you). The left is every bit as guilty as the right. We have given up the moral high ground in many instances. Every time we name call, every time we slander, every time we post un-vetted “opinion” instead of facts, every time we attach an unattributable quote to a personality we are guilty of committing the very same acts we accuse others of committing. The ends justify the means, right? Wrong. Becoming what you hate is no solution at all, it is the problem. I am philosophically opposed to much of what the right stands for, but they are not all evil, nazi-loving psychopaths. And not all of their viewpoints are whacko, or even wrong for that matter. Sitting down with those we disagree with, and discussing the issues honestly and factually, with open minds and a willingness to compromise, is the only way to solve problems. This goes for individuals and countries alike. It is messy, it is frustrating, and nobody walks away completely satisfied, but it is the only way to make progress (and, thus, improvement).
To my fellow lefties, shape up and knock off the shit. You (we) aren’t always right. There are some great people who fall into the righties camp. Extremists will never come to terms with each other, therefore it’s up to the moderates to come together to takeover and own the story. Moderates in both camps need to reclaim their respective parties, and foster a new era of cooperation. Vitriolic rhetoric, fear mongering and sensationalist hyperbole need to come to an end. Our elected officials, and the media, need to be made to understand that this behavior is no longer acceptable and will not be tolerated. It can be done, but it’s going to take a real shift in consciousness. If you are an extremist, left or right, please just get the hell out of the way. Your day is done, or soon will be. Thus endeth the lesson (Sean Connery – The Untouchables).
Stephen F. Dennstedt
Photographer, Writer and World Traveler