Monday, August 14, 2006

Thoughts on Extremists

In an effort to sort my thoughts, I'm throwing out some things that I think I know about leftist extremism. As I make these marks on the wall, I'd appreciate any thoughts that you, gentle reader, may have on the subject. So, without further ado...

It seems to me that the use of the word “extremist” has become overused, primarily for political purposes. Any perusal of books written by the Left or Right will find the use of the word "extremist" to describe the politics of the other side of the aisle. For example, Sean Hannity describes the current Democratic leadership as extreme-left wing (Dean, Pelosi, Kerry, etc.). While the politics of the DNC may be increasingly shrill and distasteful, it is far from the leftists who want to overthrow the government of the United States.

We should, therefore, carefully consider our use of the word "extremist." Wikipedia defines it as
a term used to characterise the actions or ideologies of individuals or groups outside the perceived political center of a society; or otherwise claimed to violate common standards of ethics and reciprocity. It is usually considered by those to whom it is applied to be a pejorative term. It is typically used in reference to political and social ideologies seen as irrational, counterproductive, unjustifiable, or otherwise unacceptable to a civil society. The term connotes the illegitimacy of certain ideas or methods.

The terms "extremism" or "extremist" are almost always exonymic —ie. applied by others rather than by a group labeling itself. Rather than labeling themselves "extremist", those labeled as such tend to see the need for militant ideas or actions in a particular situation. For example, there is no political party that calls itself "right-wing extremist" or "left-wing extremist," and there is no sect of Islam that calls itself "Islamic extremism."

Okay. I can follow that. In fact, the article goes on to outline an article by Mr. Laird Wilcox in which he lays out sixteen traits of a political extremist. They are:
1. Character Assassination.
2. Name Calling And Labeling.
3. Irresponsible Sweeping Generalizations.
4. Inadequate Proof For Assertions.
5. Advocacy Of Double Standards.
6. Extremists Tend To View Their Opponents And Critics As Essentially Evil.
7. Extremists Tend To Have A Manichean Worldview.
8. Extremists Very Often Advocate Some Degree Of Censorship And Repression Of Their Opponents And Critics.
9. Extremists Tend To Identify Themselves In Terms Of Who Their Enemies Are
10. Extremists Are Given To Arguments By Intimidation.
11. Wide Use Of Slogans, Buzzwords And Thought-Stopping Clichés.
12. Doomsday Thinking.
13. Extremists Often Claim Some Kind Of Moral Or Other Superiority Over Others.
14. Extremists Tend To Believe That It's OK To Do Bad Things In The Service Of A "Good" Cause.
15. Extremists Tend To Place Great Value On Emotional Responses.
16. Some Extremists...claim some kind of supernatural, mystical or divinely-inspired rationale for their beliefs and actions.

That appears to be even better distilled. I can see many of these traits on both sides of the political spectrum. But one only needs to surf around the politically inclined blogsphere to determine who best matches these characteristics. Can we, gentle reader, agree that these are indeed characteristic of extreme political dialogue (even if it tends to be a one-way conversation)? Is there an element missing? Why is the Left so vocal and predominant? Is it because the Right is self-regulating? For example, the John Birch Society was denounced by conservatives as fools long ago. Are the Birchers even really extremists?

I suppose that I'm looking for a word that describes those folks who advocate the overthrow of the government. There was a time when I might say "extremist" or "radical." Maybe those terms are no longer sufficient due to their overuse. What say you?