By Bradley Harrington
“The best proof of an intellectual movement’s collapse is the day when it has nothing to offer as an ultimate ideal but a plea for ‘moderation.’” — Ayn Rand, “‘Extremism,’ or the Art of Smearing,” 1964 —
Of all the cultural accusations being thrown around today, not a one of them is as nonsensical intellectually, or as corrosive ethically and politically, as the label of “extremism.”
Just from writers right here in town, for instance, consider a couple of examples:
“The Arizona-based right wing Christian extremist group [Alliance Defending Freedom] has its fingerprints on anti-gay causes all over the world …” (“Anti-LGBT extremists back Wyoming judge,” Kerry Drake opinion column, WTE, May 13, 2016.)
Or: “.. There have been far more bombings, arson, shootings and murder in the United States from right-wing extremist groups than Islamists.” (“Far-right extremists more dangerous than Muslims,” Roger MacDonald-Evoy opinion column, WTE, March 30, 2016.)
“Extremism,” to such writers, is clearly a bad thing. Or so they would have you believe. Well, folks, you’re about to read a minority viewpoint.
To begin with, let’s define our terms: Webster’s says that “extremism” is “the quality or state of being extreme” — while “extreme,” in its turn, is defined as “very great or intense; very severe or drastic.”
Observe that, while both words denote the degree or magnitude of something, neither specifies what that something is. Which leads to the obvious question of, “‘Extremism’ … In regard to WHAT?”
Well, whatever you want to apply it to — such as “extreme” temperature, for instance (very hot, very cold); an “extreme” sport (BASE jumping, white-water rafting); and so on. It’s the “extremeness,” in and of itself, that is obviously the essential characteristic here — not the particular instances to which such a description could be applied.
And, of course, some “extremes” ARE bad for us: Who wants to be roasting in Death Valley or suffer from highly-pronounced poverty?
To use such instances as “proof” that ALL “extremes” are evil, however, is to engage in the worst kind of conceptual obfuscation.
After all, to cite from the same article as quoted above at the top of this rant, “Are an extreme of health and an extreme of disease equally undesirable? Are extreme intelligence and extreme stupidity — both equally far removed ‘from the ordinary or average’ — equally unworthy? Are extreme honesty and extreme dishonesty equally immoral? Are a man of extreme virtue and extreme depravity equally evil?”
Indeed, with reference to the last two examples in particular, isn’t it true that it’s ONLY the “extremes” of honesty and virtue that have any meaning or value?
So, aside from being rationally indefensible, it’s clear that characterizing all “extremes” as evil is nothing more than an ambitious attempt to wipe out all of ethics as well — since, in that field, it is ONLY completely unbreached consistency that has any significance. “What is the moral status of a man of ‘moderate’ integrity?”
And, since political philosophy is but the extrapolation of individual ethics into the social arena — where it serves as the base, the frame of reference, for how we choose to organize ourselves as a culture — it should come as no surprise that it’s politics that’s the next target for the “anti-extremists.”
As examples, consider the hysterical calls for “moderation” in all things political (mainly by the “Leftists,” but also, shamefully, by some so-called “Rightists,” too). Whether it’s guns, eminent domain, “welfare,” foreign policy, taxation or regulation, any “extremes” in this field are regarded as “evil” as well.
(SIDEBAR: I use “Leftist” and “Rightist” in quotes because such terms have become so polluted by today’s philosophical chaos that they can be stretched to mean anything to anybody, which means: They now mean NOTHING at all. As I use the terms, “Left” refers to altruism and collectivism while “Right” refers to individualism and capitalism.)
Since ethics DOES serve as the base of all politics, however, the fallacies of “anti-extremism” inherent in the former therefore apply equally to the latter, as well — where pleas for “the middle of the road” thus serve as little more than attempts to destroy the integrity of politics in the same way it’s already being used to wipe out morality. “What is the status of a free country whose government violates its citizens’ rights every once in a while?”
So, Dear Readers, when it comes to “extremism” in either ethics or politics, I’ll wear that label as a badge of honor, with pride — as it’s all of the sit-on-the-fence, “anti-extremist” sell-outs who ought to be hanging their heads in shame instead.
Bradley Harrington is a computer technician and a writer who lives in Cheyenne. Email: email@example.com.
NOTE: This column was originally published in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle on May 20, 2018. Here is this column’s original downloadable PDF file.