Curmudgeon's Corner, Ethics and Morals, Reality

Why So Extreme?

Written by Sanford Begley

Sanford Begley
The First Reader

We have all seen ideas and opinions from the other side of the political spectrum that are so bizarre they evoke Poe’s Law.  Most of the ones I see are the far left loonies being ridiculous. Notice I said most. I have seen some from the far right that are just as bad. Fringe types are more like each other than they are like those nominally on the same side.

You have to wonder what is wrong with someone that they advocate the destruction of the other gender. Anyone with a functioning brain should realize that that also insures the destruction of the entire race. Equally you have to wonder about those who honestly believe the President is going to invoke Martial Law and has the forces to back it up. This path to insanity must have a starting point, some place where the reality everyone else knows diverges from the reality these people live in.

Like any question involving humans the answers aren’t simple or plain. A lot of it can be explained by isolation. Yes, people online can be isolated from mainstream thought. It is actually easy to do. If you chase away everyone who disagrees with you, your associations can become more and more limited. This leads to an echo chamber where every member of it thinks exactly the same way. If everyone you talk to thinks the same way you do then those who do not agree must be a little off, yes? Well no. Just because the people you talk to believe the oceans are made out of taffy it doesn’t follow that they are, and the people who disagree with you are the sane ones. Unfortunately it can be difficult to see where truth lies.

One way to fight this tendency is to have people you talk to regularly from all walks of life. OK, maybe not the radical fringe. The problem with that is figuring out what the radical fringe is. And there you get into the weeds. A fairly common argument today is the Second Amendment question. Only cops should be legally allowed to own firearms is just as nutty as everyone should be issued nukes. The reality of the issue is somewhere in the middle.  Every group is going to lean to one side or the other, How far they lean is what differentiates the sanity levels.

I started a private FaceBook group about a year ago, a place where people can go to argue questions. I’ve spent a lot of the past year trying to keep some sort of balance in it. How successful I have been is a question. I know for a fact that we don’t have enough liberals in the group. I also know that the general group tenor would drive most liberals away. Oddly enough the latest flare up was because a lot of people in the group felt that one person’s comments were too far towards stereotypical conservatism.

Pauline Kael, a Manhattan socialite in the 70s, was reputed to have been shocked by the election of Richard Nixon because she didn’t know of anyone who voted for him. In her world of the New Yorker and the liberal social set it was probably true. What she couldn’t see was that her circle of friends was limited. The question is, how do you tell if your social circle is that constrained. I honestly don’t know. I’d like to say I try to see all sides of a question and give it a fair hearing. I’d like to say that , but I can’t. We are influenced by the people we associate with and may never even see that there is another side.

The best advice I can give is, try to find people who disagree with you and be friends with them. It may not help, but it is the only thing I can think of that might work. Oh, and try to actually hear what the other side is saying. Not just be able to parrot the words back during a fight, actually figure out what they mean and see if you can find any points where they are right. After all, you and I may be on the fringe on some questions.