Circle of Strife: The Problem with Extremism

I am convinced that the continuum of political persuasion is not linear with the extremes being at opposite ends, but more of an open circle motif.  When you bring the two ends together to create the circle, the extreme left and the extreme right are right next to each other, two versions of the same mental deficiency.  An email my daughter received from a far left lady who owns the farm where she used to board her horses provides some evidence to support my theory.  My daughter and her fellow boarders made the decision to leave the barn because the owner was slipping deeper and deeper into spiritualistic nonsense, like claiming she could hear the trees cry when they needed to nail fencing to them or insisting that the horses were telling her (and/or the horse psychic she hired from time to time) that they didn’t want to be ridden.  When her bizarre beliefs actually threatened the health and welfare of the animals she claimed to be protecting  the remaining boarders decided they would have to leave. They worried, needlessly it appears, about her reaction and the loss of income she would sustain. Here are some excerpts from her email sent in response to their notice that they would be leaving:

  • “I knew you would be leaving perhaps before you did.  I was asked by spirit to call together a small group of friends who are healers, intuitives and psychics.  We have been getting together once a month. Although we are not yet certain why we were asked to form this group some incredible things have come to light. My own abilities to communicate with spirits and animals are growing quickly.  Some changes have to come for this land to be all that it can be and one of those changes is that it be a non-riding barn.  Although I would never have asked you to leave I knew that the universe would resolve this for everyone’s higher good. I am not 100% sure but I think Creekside is destined to be a rescue barn. Things are happening so fast that I just have to trust the universe and accept.”

Alrighty, then.  So here we have a self-identified liberal who, like her far right counterparts, abdicates her obligation to think and reason in favor of leaving decisions in the hands of an invisible spirit.  No doubt she would accept the wisdom of runes or other ancient inspired writings over observable fact every time, as well.  So let’s compare ideologies, shall we?

Far Right Far Left
Rely primarily or solely on guidance from an invisible spirit who is presumed to have supernatural wisdom X X
Believe that ancient sacred writings are more relevant to human experience than centuries of documented human experience X X
Consider themselves to be victims of persecution when their belief system is challenged X X
Are willing to allow real harm to accrue to others rather than compromise on their beliefs X X

Perhaps I was primed to take a new look at extremism because of this email, but a recent article by David Corn in Mother Jones (“Confessions of a Tea Party Casualty”) got me thinking about what I would do if the extreme left took over the Democratic party in the same way the extreme right has for Republicans.  The article consists of an interview with Bob Inglis, long-time Republican representative from South Carolina who, although boasting a 93%  lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union, failed to be conservative enough for his district.  His crimes? 1.) Encouraging his constituents to think for themselves and ‘turn Glenn Beck off,’ 2.) Pointing out that it was in poor taste, just generally rude and disrespectful of the office  for Joe Wilson to shout ‘you lie’ at the American president in public, and 3.) Suggesting that efforts to label Obama a socialist or to challenge his birth legitimacy were ignorant distractions that kept elected officials from addressing the real problems facing the country.   Every one of these sins provided proof to the extreme right that Inglis was, unforgivably, living in the real world of reason.  In refusing to accede to their faith-based belief system in favor of getting to work on actual problems that need actual real-life solutions, he invited the righteous wrath of those who would prefer to go to their graves, fingers in ears, believing a beloved set of lies rather than to ever acknowledge the hard issues facing the real world.

Just to reinforce the conservative bona fides of Bob Inglis, this was one of the guys who made it his mission to take down Bill Clinton, wasting (as he now acknowledges) time and taxpayer money on a conservative vendetta against a guy they just didn’t like.  In fairness, there is a lot to not like about Bill Clinton as a person, but that has nothing to do with his governance and using elected office and taxpayer money to pursue a personal take down is more slimy than anything Clinton did while in office.

Inglis bemoans the demagoguery, ‘poisonousness’ and ignorance of the Teabaggers and their de facto leader, Sarah Palin.  He  despairs for his party and his country and in being bold enough to publicly denounce the nonsense that is going on in Republican circles he managed to do what I thought was impossible: Make me feel kinda sorry for someone whose political tactics I despised during the Clinton years.   I found myself trying to ‘walk a mile in his shoes’ and wondered what would happen if reasonable Democrats faced a parallel situation in our own party which, thankfully, I think is highly unlikely.

But what if?  What if those who espouse New Age dogma and advocate reliance on spirit voices for policy direction became the leading strident voices of the party (again, highly unlikely because the ritual practices that often go along with New Age spiritualism include imbibing ‘sensory enhancing’ substances that tend to make stridency all but impossible :-)).  What would I do?  I couldn’t in good faith support nonsense I felt to be endangering our country simply to stay loyal to a party, but neither could I jump ship to the other party simply because they were slightly less crazy (assuming their extreme faction was suitably contained–which it currently is not).  A philosophical shift of that magnitude would simply not be possible so I would be stuck, like Inglis, in ‘no-party’ land.

While I disagree with Bob Inglis on almost every issue of policy and would find it hard to ever trust him after the unseemly display that was the Clinton impeachment trial, I applaud him for having the cojones to call bullshit on teabagger nonsense despite knowing it would cost his career.  It is a brave politician these days who is actually willing to fight on issues rather than ideology.  If only the leadership of the party were equally brave.

*PS: In the Corn article, Inglis provides a chilling account of how deeply paranoia and mental illness penetrate the teabagger movement.  In this passage, he is describing a visit to a group of constituents who support the teabag movement. It should be required reading for independents and undecideds:

  • “I sat down, and they said on the back of your Social Security card, there’s a number. That number indicates the bank that bought you when you were born based on a projection of your life’s earnings, and you are collateral. We are all collateral for the banks. I have this look like, “What the heck are you talking about?” I’m trying to hide that look and look clueless. I figured clueless was better than argumentative. So they said, “You don’t know this?! You are a member of Congress, and you don’t know this?!” And I said, “Please forgive me. I’m just ignorant of these things.” And then of course, it turned into something about the Federal Reserve and the Bilderbergers and all that stuff. And now you have the feeling of anti-Semitism here coming in, mixing in. Wow.”

These are the ‘real Americans’ Palin would like to see run this country.


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