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

From: Zero Powers (
Date: Tue Mar 21 2000 - 14:21:14 MST

>From: "M. E. Smith" <>
>Subject: The Value of Extremists, or, "What's for Dinner"
>Date: Tue, 21 Mar 2000 12:25:19 -0800 (PST)
<snip, snip>
>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.

I remember reading a quote (can't recall who its attributed to):
"If everybody is thinking alike, somebody isn't thinking."

<more snipping>

>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

Hmmm. Do I respond to this? I mean after all its only the hypothetical
internal dialogue of a hypothetical person. Oh well, its lunchtime and I've
got nothing else to do right now, so here goes...

Simply because something has never been, does not mean it never will be.
Think constitutional democracy or universal enfranchisement or human flight
circa 1700 a.d. Think nanotechnology or universal properity circa 2000 a.d.

At one time people thought that no regime would be so tyrannical as to
exterminate its minority populations. This is the main reason that, in the
early 1930's, no one really reacted to the Nazi party despite its extremely
xenophobic rhetoric, even while Nazi military aggression was steadily
increasing. Now, thanks to der Fuhrer, we realize that humanity is in fact
capable of some incredibly vicious behavior. That is the reason why the
ascendancy of the Freedom Party in Austria has raised such an international
ruckus, even though their rhetoric and policies are down right warm and
fuzzy when compared with Hilter.

A better reason for your hypothetical person to ignore the rantings of an
avowed anarchist is because (a) true anarchists are in the extreme minority
and (b) its not even a very active or vocal minority. On the other hand, if
say 1-5% of the population were to advocate true anarchy and they were
actively and vocally working toward it, you would have very good reason to
become concerned, regardless of the obvious problems with anarchic
philosophy or the fact that anarchy has not taken hold in the past.

All that having (perhaps unnecessarily) been said, I whole-heartedly agree
with what you say about the value of extremism. Without extremists there
would never be revolution, only evolution. And history has shown than
revolution, often, is a good thing. Think where we might be without such
extremists as Socrates, Jesus, Thomas Paine, Albert Einstein, Mohandas
Ghandi, Martin L. King, Jr., and K. Eric Drexler. The next time someone
accuses you of being an extremist, you might think of these folks and take
it as a compliment.


"I like dreams of the future better than the history of the past"
--Thomas Jefferson

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