RE: Extremism

From: Harvey Newstrom (
Date: Sun Jan 07 2001 - 10:46:45 MST

My take on "extremism" is that extremists try to go as far as
possible in one direction or the other. I think the real answer is
always somewhere in the middle. That means that you have to pull
reality toward the correct answer until suddenly, when you've reached
the appropriate position, you have to stop or pull back the other way!

Most people cannot judge such an even-handed approach. They decide
on a direction to move, and then keep moving in that direction
forever. Almost all people hold this kind of view on any topic.
Anybody who proposes some middle ground will be accused by both sides
of being an advocate for the other side. Most people divide every
issue into two positions only, and then play tug-of-war as far as
they can go. They go as far as possible for their direction, and can
never concede a single point to the opposing side, or admit that
there are logical limitations to their position up to a point.

Examples of extremism in my view would include:

- pro-gun position that allows arms of any type for any person
- anti-gun position that removes all guns for everyone

- pro-government position that wants the government to control everything
- anti-government position that wants no government at all

- pro-technology position that thinks technology is good for its own sake
- anti-technology position that thinks technology is evil automatically

- pro-Bush position that think the Democrats caused the election problems
- pro-Gore position that think Republicans caused the election problems

- pro-evolution position that evolution always produces the best solution
- anti-evolution position that evolution never produces the best solution

- pro-market position that markets always produce the best solution
- anti-market position that markets never produce the best solution

The fact of the matter is that any position can be taken to
unreasonable extremes. Most people can't recognize this. It
confuses them when they push for their solution and suddenly they go
too far. They become disoriented when someone allows their solution
to be applied "hypothetically" in all cases, to the point they start
running into problems. This is why most people become defensive in
theoretical debates or retroactively start rewording their position.
They "know" they are right, and can't understand why their "obviously
right" position fails when applied to pure clear-cut examples.

I would argue that 45% of the people are extremists on either side of
any issue, and only 10% of the people choose a median position or a
third position. This small minority will always be accused of being
on either side, of flip-flopping, or just left out of the debate
totally. They will be seen as supporting one side on one point, and
then suddenly supporting the other side on another point. They will
alternatively be friends and enemies of either camp. No one will be
able to tell where they stand. They will insist on integrity, logic
and consistency on every issue, and yet most people will not be able
to predict their position. They are not easily classified into
two-label systems.

As a self-test, I would argue that anybody who agrees with one side
of an issue all the time is an extremist. No group is right 100% of
the time. The rare person who is more correct than most would be in
a small minority. They will never agree with the status-quo or
default position of their group all of the time. If one finds
oneself agreeing with their party, PAC, group or spokesperson all the
time, I would worry about being an extremist or a "sheeple". If one
agrees all the time, one can never surpass the understanding of truth
beyond the position that they already follow. In any debate or
negotiation, the fair arbitrator always angers and pleases both sides
equally. Anybody who serves one side only is not being fair.

Harvey Newstrom <>

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