By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Best Favor to Extremism: Kindly Disagree

Extremism is very common in the internet and the rest of the media. You get a lot of twitter followers and blog readers by becoming a caricature--whether of the right or of the left. You find the extremist phenomenon in politics, in religion, and in the mixture of both that is common among American rightwingers.

Even in private life, you sometimes are faced with expressions of extreme, almost paranoid, views of events.

What can you do? The golden mean of Aristotle, the qualitative excellence of genuine moderation, is mocked by extremists. Moderates are weak appeasers, too obtuse to see the stakes.

Well, I am a moderate in pursuit of the qualitative rational excellence of the golden mean in many disputes, whether political or religious. The best favor moderates can do to extremists is to be assertively and forthrightly moderate. Reason is usually on the side of the golden mean. Be assertive about your moderation. You are providing a dose of sanity to ideologists of all stripes.

So sometimes you just have to calmly tell someone, for his own good: "I disagree. Is it OK to disagree?" Sometimes they will take it well, other times they will be in shock.

But it is a good lesson to give anyone: other people and other views exist. Recognize that reality and deal with it intelligently and kindly. Do not retreat from reality into the mindlessness of ideological fanaticism--whether it is a form of hypernationalism or of Tea Party politics or of religious fanaticism.

Virtue lies in moderation. Barry Goldwater had it all wrong when he famously said that "extremism in defence of liberty is no vice." As usual in a misleading statement, the assumption involved is not openly defined. Goldwater assumed that "liberty" was equivalent to what his own very particular American version of rightwing politics celebrated. Liberty includes much more than that because it belongs to all human beings and to all cultures and existed well before modern capitalism. In addition, liberty is not just for me and my views, but also for the other and his views. That means that I must eschew extremism and learn to listen and learn from the other and be very skeptical about ideological claims to have uniquely and completely tapped into the ultimate truth.

I used to be a law clerk for a federal judge many years ago. I recall, with a smile, that he made sure that witnesses sworn to testify in his courtroom were not asked to swear to the "whole truth," because, as he said, no one knows the whole truth. Instead, you swore to tell the truth and nothing but the truth. The whole truth is only in the mind of God. Our minds cannot compete. The most religious should be the first to recognize this fact.

"A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject."

Winston Churchill


(Image is used via fair use doctrine and/or public domain; the Greek word in the chart means "vanity." Source of image is at Google books link.)