The Ominous Dominance of Extremism by Wayne Saalman

IF 21ST CENTURY NEWS CYCLES have been dominated by any one ideological perspective it is that of right-wing extremism. From the violence perpetrated by fundamentalist religious zealots to that of the numerous vicious uprisings of armed political authoritarian sympathizers guns have blazed and bombs have blown. As a result, our screens have grown inundated by rampages and outrages in ever greater numbers.

In brief, what we have been witnessing is religious and political theater at its most dramatic, most captivating and menacingly best. 

One must immediately qualify that last word, however, the word “best” with a clarification. Such theater may be cinematically mesmerizing, it surely is entrancing, but at root it is deeply, spiritually unconscionable and too often downright deadly in nature. It shows humanity at its worst, not its finest.

To be fair here, one must hasten to add that in the previous century, especially in the Sixties and the Seventies, the dominance of violent, left-wing extremism was likewise rife and it equally showed humanity’s dark side in a harsh and ugly light. Again, to be fair, however, those protests in the Sixties and the Seventies were against the West waging wars in the East and being lied to about their validity. In contrast, the extreme right in this century wants to subjugate those who do not subscribe to their world view and put authoritarians in charge of policing their overtly biased policies. The violent events last year in Portland, Oregon and a few other cities are another example of left-wing extremism in America and these were unwelcome intrusions on our social civility. Violence is, quite simply, never justified.

Many love such galvanizing theater, however, and get a genuine thrill from it, which is why it has adherents in every country on earth now. Most recently, of course, on 6 January 2021 we saw right-wing extremists storming the Capitol building in Washington, DC and the shockwaves are still reverberating.

What is true today, however, is that every rag tag, tin horn group of disaffected individuals has access to internet platforms that can easily spread the ideological views of extremists like runaway wildfire. Such groups also have access to the kinds of technology and weaponry that special effects movie teams in the past would have envied beyond measure and so they are able to get their message across with an impact far beyond what they deserve. As every mass murderer now knows, for example, he can get his name and face on every television screen in the world and win the notoriety that he so craves. He may have to die for the ignoble privilege, but by doing so – in his disaffected mind – he will have gone down in a proverbial “blaze of glory”.

This is, of course, pure madness.

Obviously, access to internet platforms through which ideological perspectives can be amplified surely must delight today’s extremist ringmasters and would have equally delighted brute leaders in the past, for they invariably lead to one thing: a radicalized mindset among many of the “average, ordinary” men and women in the street, who quickly become vicarious participants in the ideological venting which the person or group happens to perpetrate.

Many of us personally know one or more supporters of the “March on Washington”, people who got caught up in that most recent of political dramas and, rather than condemning it, we have seen that most or many of them have actually defended it. Claims of a “stolen election”, meanwhile, are still being made.

How, I have wondered in the aftermath of this particular assault on democracy, could anyone insist a thing is true when no proof has been forthcoming? I simply cannot conceive how 61 dismissals of voter fraud due to a lack of proof cannot be convincing to those who think the election was stolen. In stark contrast, a single trial can get a person convicted of murder where there is at least a measure of proof or some circumstantial evidence to be found, but never without any proof whatsoever.

Most people, I believe, know better than to support violence. In their hearts, they know that violence will only beget more violence; such knowledge is far too common for them not to know this. Nevertheless, a charismatic figure can be so mesmerizing and the rhetoric so exhilarating that common sense can apparently disappear from certain minds altogether. Even when such rhetoric is obviously dangerous to the welfare of others, many still choose to support it, though they would not themselves ever brandish a weapon at another. Such supporters are not unintelligent; they know what they are saying when they speak, but they do lack wisdom or they would see through such dark and distorted notions with a clarity that would bring them instantly from their drowsy slumber to wakefulness.

If they did awaken, my guess is that they would be shocked to discover that they had been lost for a time, not just in a dream, but in a nightmare of political and religious theater that had real world consequences. Far worse, they would be stunned to look down and see that they have blood on their own hands for supporting such a cause; a cause for which there is still no proof.

True spirituality can never condone any form of heartless violence, especially when the rhetoric is overtly toxic in nature. True political justice, therefore, can never come about from the kind of viciousness perpetrated by the purveyors of extremism, whether of the right or the left.

Come back from the edge, I say, all ye who have dared to wander too close to the abyss.

The brilliant poet-mystic, Kahlil Gibran, once wrote, “God has created your spirits with wings to fly in the spacious firmament of Love and Freedom. How pitiful to lop off your wings with your own hands and suffer your spirit to crawl like vermin on the earth.”

He also wrote, “God has placed a torch in your hearts that glows with knowledge and beauty; it is a sin to extinguish that torch and bury it in the ashes.”

Violent political theater invariably ends up exactly there: in the ashes and, therefore, in the ash heap of history.

Even if one does not believe in “God”, Kahlil Gibran’s sentiments apply to humanity’s consensus of the “good”. The good cannot be a quality that privileges some while oppressing or destroying others. It cannot be violent, cannot be deadly, cannot be the kind of extremism that is divisive and detrimental to the common well-being of society as a whole.

This is just common sense and it should be heeded, for we are but one species, one family, on one small planet. What are we at with our guns and bombs?

No good at all.

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