The Value of Extremists, or, "What's for Dinner"

From: M. E. Smith (
Date: Tue Mar 21 2000 - 13:25:19 MST

Each one of us has conflicts in our own minds about
various subjects. No one has the time to think long
and hard about each and every issue and decide on a
position on each. Some issues are "no-brainers", but
some are very hard to decide. So, it is natural to
have conflicts in our minds. We accept this. It
doesn't bother us if we are "of two minds" on a few
issues, even many issues, especially if the issues are
non-vital and/or you aren't somehow forced to choose a
position on them.

I would even say that it's a sign of a healthy mind to
have some internal mental conflicts. It's a sign of
mental "balance". I would be pretty worried about
someone who seemed to have unshakeable positions on
EVERY single issue life presents us with.

I would further say that the same can be said of
societies. This is pretty obvious, so I won't go into
much detail, but it is natural to have in societies
people who disagree on various subjects. An analogy
can be drawn between debates that occur in societies
and internal debates in a person's mind. It would be
pretty scary to have a large society that agrees 100%
all of the time; in fact, we would simply not believe
it, and see claims for such unanimity as a sign of
false government propaganda.

When someone expresses an opinion I consider extremist
and stupid, (as happens often on this list) I
sometimes remind myself that societies NEED
extremists. They're part of the natural order; the
debates they engender strengthen societies and
exercise our minds. Their presence helps to keep
societies balanced. Hell, sometimes the extremist are
even RIGHT.

As a hypothetical example, imagine a person confronted
by the opinions of , oh, let's say an "anarchist",
opinions which he/she thinks are silly and wrong.

Before responding, the person could think to
himself/herself like this:

"Anarchists", he/she thinks, "are just extreme kinds
of libertarians. They are foolish because they espouse
the impossible, but so what? What's the harm? No
society will ever actually BE an anarchy; there is too
much benefit to be gained from organizing good
governmental systems. If 'anarchies' were superior,
they would already exist; their very absence is proof
that they are obviously inferior in an evolutionary
sense. So, even though this person is obviously
deluded, his opinions will only serve to remind us of
the importance of respecting individual rights as a
way of minimizing the inevitable tryanny of the

"Yes," the hypothetical person could go on thinking,
"although it's humourous to me how this person seems
to think that the concept of 'tryanny of the majority'
is somehow new and profound, when the framers of the
U.S. Constitution knew about it over way back in the
1700's, and set of the Bill of Rights to help mitigate
the problem, I will still refrain from responding.
There's a small chance that this person's obsession
might someday help us to find new and better ways to
protect the rights of the individual and still have
societies where people are protected from harm by
other people."

Again, this is just an hypothetical example.

"This reminds me", the imaginary person could continue
thinking, "of the way so many people misunderstand the
word 'anarchy'. For example, 'Freenet' is NOT 'a
perfect anarchy', as it's proponents describe it,
because EACH NODE FOLLOWS RULES. It's a 'perfect
egalitarianism' because each node is equal. It's hard
to imagine how a a computer network could be a
'perfect anarchy'. Well," the theoretical person could
think with a grin, " a BROKEN one could, I guess. I
wonder if this anarchist really knows what anarchy
means: No rules. Therefore, no rights."

Then, the pretend person of undetermined gender could
get hungry and think, "What's for dinner?"

** *** ***** ******* ***********
M. E. Smith
** *** ***** ******* ***********

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