Extremism is “a tendency or disposition to go to extremes or an instance of going to extremes, especially in political matters:” (http://www.dictionary.com/browse/extremism?s=t).
Extreme methods are needed for certain types of problems, especially when those problems have limited solutions. This can become hard to determine though, as extreme solutions might work even when they are not needed. Instead, a more moderate solution might be possible, and even better. If a moderate and an extreme solution are both possible, we need to determine which is better. In general, moderate solutions tend to have fewer negative side effects, but take more time, effort, or resources, while extreme methods alleviate some of those factors but may have side effects.
These side effects might be as a result of what makes a method extreme. One way to develop an extreme method is to make sacrifices in other areas. Those sacrifices might harm other people in order for you to benefit, or they might benefit you in the short term but cause issues in the long term, or give you a benefit that is hopefully greater than a simultaneous negative effect. They might also simply go too far in what they are trying to achieve. Pouring too much water into a glass will achieve the goal of filling the glass, but it will waste water and wet things around it. There is generally no benefit to doing this, when instead you could have poured slower and avoided those issues.
There are times when extreme actions might be better because they exchange certain losses with potential worse losses. If someone needs water quickly, carefully filling a glass might take too long, in which case a bit of spilled water might be worth avoiding running out of time.
It is important to differentiate between those who employ extreme methods and extremists. A moderate person can understand and apply extreme methods when it makes sense without being an extremist. An extremist in this context refers to those who think extreme methods are preferable, better, or the only way to do things.
Extremists often view moderate view as being ineffective whole moderates view extreme views as unnecessarily harmful. These are both valid criticisms, but they do not always apply, specifically because they are blanket statements. There are situations that require extreme methods, and situations where moderate methods solve the problem with better results.
Extremism is Bad
Extremism is bad because it promotes extreme methods first. Extreme methods should instead always be a last resort, as it is more reasonable to first determine what the best solution is rather than to be biased towards one, or worse, to blindly apply one methodology to everything. This is ineffective and can even be lazy, done because it is easier and does not require one to think or work as much. Others might honestly believe that it is the only method that can work, and that any more moderate methods will be ineffective.
Another problem is that extremism may be effective, but it is often not efficient. If you could have solved a problem with minimal loss, but instead you solved it with many losses, then you have done a worse job than you could have. It ignores the general situation and only focuses on a single objective. This narrow mindedness is simply ignoring reality to make your job easier, or to make yourself feel better for having harmed others.
Extremism as an ideology might also cause people to not only act with extreme responses, but to think in extreme ways. This might lead to the “us versus them” fallacy, where they only view issues in terms of two extremes. Consequently, they may also prematurely disregard people who support centrist or moderate views, possibly because they view them as not fitting in their world view, or simply because they don’t like that other people can entertain views that they do not. This essentially blinds them to other possibilities that may have made things better for them.
Assuming or Projecting Extremism onto Others
Extremists are prone to jump to conclusions and assume that others mean things in their extremes as well since they are so used to thinking in extremes. This leads them to misunderstand what others mean, and since misinformation hinders your ability to make decisions, this tends towards your own suffering. Their interpretation of ideas naturally tends towards the most extreme possible version. Some of them will even project their own extremist mentalities onto others, and claim that others (or everyone) thinks like this. If you claim that an oppressed group deserves more rights, many people would assume that instead of wanting the group to be raised to an equal status, you actually want them to be raised to have more rights than everyone else. That would be an extreme view of civil rights, and defies views of equality. It’s far more logical and likely that someone who promotes equal rights would have a moderate view that extremists will misconstrue.
They might assume that allowing homosexual marriage will lead to animals and inanimate objects getting married by a slippery slope fallacy. They might assume that raising awareness of the struggles of some people somehow implies that the people not being talked about are less important. They might think the Black Lives Matter movement should be inclusive of all races in their message of who matters. While some might correctly find it strange that the message wasn’t “Black Lives [also] Matter”, or “All Live Matter”, some would just assume that the protesters think that -only- black lives matter. Maybe there are some people that think that only the lives of African Americans matter, but there is no reason to believe that this is the majority of the Black Lives Matter movement. To believe so would be an extremist assumption that cynically generalises a very large group of people they know very little about, assuming the worst of them. Such people assume that if you support one group, you oppose others, or you have a bias or preference towards this one group.
Other extremists reinforce these positions. If someone assumes that a woman wants more rights when she only want equal rights, they should eventually see that no woman ever actually asks for special rights. The problem is that extremist women might actually want these rights, and this minority might be more vocal than the moderate majority. People will see feminism as what the crazy selfish women want, which means they would have discredited the reasonable feminists as now people will have the wrong idea of what feminism is. This would make it harder for the practical, moderate feminists to achieve equal rights, as even their requests for reasonable changes will be assumed to be unfair and extreme. Some might even blindly oppose feminism as a whole to protest the extreme feminists, hurting society as a whole.]
Contrary to the narrow minded views that might come from extremism, true balance isn’t an ideology that only employs moderate actions. The view they have of centrists is really of someone who is an extreme moderate: someone who limits themselves to thinking and acting in ways that they think are a balance. This is similarly narrow minded and limiting to the more obvious forms of extremism where one only allows themselves one end of the spectrum. True balance is when you understand that moderate methods are ideal, but do not exclude yourself from considering other options depending on what the situation needs. A truly balanced view analyses problems to determine what the best solutions are, while extremists avoid having to think by simply sticking to one methodology.
Extremism encourages conflict and more extremists
Extremists have a tendency of an extreme response to something they oppose, regardless of whether or not what they are opposing was moderate or extreme to begin with. As an example, one could look at racism. Although racism is illogical and harmful, it is not necessarily extreme. Extreme forms of racism do exist, but there are moderate forms of it as well. In this case one should not confuse the acceptance of moderate forms of racism with saying that there are acceptable or good forms of racism. Moderacy is not inherently good, nor are extremes inherently bad.
Extremists can fight for a good cause, but because extreme methods tend to overdo things and makes sacrifices, they can cause a lot of unnecessary harm. This can embolden not only those you are justifiably fighting against, but militarise those who see your extremism.
If we respond to oppression by suggesting or imposing our own oppression against those who have oppressed us, then we are doing the very thing that we claim is bad. This seems irrational, as it is more like taking vengeance on those who we hypocritically claim are guilty of what we are now trying to do, or worse, simply replacing them as the oppressors because we want power. If we really want to end their oppression, then oppressing them seems like an unnecessarily extreme way to do it.
Even if our response is not to impose our own form of oppression, our response should not be one of spite and hate, but to dismantle the system in an effective way. Hating your oppressors, or worse, hating innocent people who can be associated with your oppressors, is unwarranted, and more importantly unhelpful. By being unfair, even to those who are guilty to begin with, you give them a justification for their bad actions. Doing bad things to bad people is not generally justified, and it also shows your enemy that you are also bad. When you respond to unfairness with your own unfairness, both sides see each other as guilty, because they are. While one side may have better intentions and might be fighting for a better cause, the actions of both sides have generated an environment where they both think they are justified to do worse things in response to previous bad things.
There are groups such as “men’s rights” or “meninists”, and even groups promoting rights for Caucasians. There are two reasons these groups likely arose:
- because they view the restriction of their privileges as a threat, and do not understand or care that it is to treat every race equally, or
- because of what they call “feminazis” and other such extremist activists.
The second reason refers to two types of groups:
- These are activists that either have been ambiguous or not very clear in their goals, and appear to want more rights than everyone else. In reality they would want equal rights.
- These are activists who really do want more rights than others. They might have a good cause or their cause may be entirely selfish, and are often splinter groups of larger, more moderate movements.
One reason these groups have caused this problem is because either they have lazily, hastily, or angrily tried to promote their cause and protest. When a few people in the Black Lives Matter movement claim that white people should be assaulted, it is easy to focus on this and generalise it to the entire movement. It might be taken out of context, or it might just be a vocal minority opinion, but it is fuel for racist propaganda to demonise the entire movement. Doing this helps divide the racists from everyone else, and it reinforces the racists’ views. Our goal should not be to punish or harm the race that is dominant, it should be to make sure that racism isn’t spread to the next generation. If we cannot convince racists that they are wrong (even though I think we can), then we should at least make it impossible for them to indoctrinate their children into thinking the same thing. We should still actively protest and hold people accountable for racism, and we should do whatever we can to stop more hate crimes from happening before it’s too late, but saying that all white people are to blame is illogical, incorrect, discriminatory, and blindly generalises in a racist way that isn’t as bad as white supremacists, but is still harmful and betrays your own cause and beliefs. Blind extremism helps the racists.
If we respond to white supremacy by saying that white people should be oppressed, then we are being racist and are making the same mistakes that the white supremacists are. It is irrational to think that any one race is better than another. One extreme way to counter institutional racism is to force others to accept minority races. This is one of the times extreme methods seems to be justified, as racism is such a prevalent issue in the US that is difficult to get rid of with more reasonable methods. It is referred to as “reverse discrimination“, but as the name suggests, it is still discriminating between races, which is inherently still a bad thing. It is outweighed by the equality of denying racists the means with which to reject racial minorities. Whether or not this system works in practice, it must be a temporary solution, as it is an extreme solution that causes more issues and is inherently flawed in its morality: it claims discrimination is bad while at the same time employing discrimination. Ideally, we should not be discriminating at all based on race, as that should never be a factor for most things. The issue is that in such a system, racists can make excuses to discriminate against others, which might be hard to disprove. That is the case in the US where racism needs to be addressed on a more personal level before they can make fair and indiscriminate institutional systems.
Until that time however, the right wing will continue to use these systems as excuses to claim that white people are being oppressed.
Escalation is a form of extreme methods where a disproportionate response is given to something, and extreme responses are generally disproportionate.
Because extremists naturally mess things up with careless and harmful extreme actions, they make it easy for their opponents to feel justified doing something equally as bad, or worse. They also generates more extremists as opponents, because for every extreme action you take that hurts someone who did not need to get hurt, you run the risk of those people deciding they need to stop you because of the negative side effects of your extreme methods.
Since extremism irrationally assumes that extremes are good, extremists sometimes try to be as extreme as possible. This results in escalation where two sides respond to each other with more and more harmful or dangerous methods. Regardless of who starts the fight, blindly employing more and more extreme methods results in a far worse situation than if problems had been solved efficiently rather than extremely.
- Maybe protesters get violent to protect themselves from corrupt police, and a policeman gets hurt. The police, especially without knowing the context, might get violent, or worse, arm themselves against the protestors. They might pre-emptively attack protestors because they think the protestors are violent. This would in turn cause protestors to arm themselves to protest against the police arms. This just becomes an arm race with both sides attacking each other, although both sides think they are defending themselves.
- Or maybe a group of rowdy protestors hurt a policeman that wasn’t corrupt. This could spur the same escalation of both sides. Misinformation and small groups might cause large groups to become extreme in response to the acts of a few people.
Extremism as an ideology or methodology is illogical because it assumes that only an extreme response will suffice. They look down on moderate responses, either because they think they’re inefficient or insufficient, or because they just have a disdain of moderacy. It is an ideology without reasoning or justification. It makes assumptions and blindly follows them, ignoring how reality actually works, and ignoring the harm they do. Hating moderate solutions makes no sense if the moderate solution is the best one.
Problems require their own unique solutions. Some may require an extreme response, but extremists harm others and themselves by assuming that only extreme solutions work.