Extremism, Flowers, and the Powers that Be

Flower.Guns_If you take a strong position on some issue, or on cultural/political matters in general, it is easy to label those on the other side as “extremists” or “reactionaries” (while failing to see that they might be passing the exact same judgment on you).

For example, I remember when the O.J. Simpson verdict was about to be read, the police in Los Angeles were out in full force, decked out in riot gear, ready for the worst. But when the jury decided to acquit, the cops breathed a sigh of relief, packed up their tear gas and rubber bullets, and went home. Being very evangelical and somewhat racist at the time, I said, “Hey, wait! Why aren’t the police going to stay out and deal with the inevitable white-people riots and looting and whathaveyou? Oh, that’s right: white people don’t act like that when we don’t get what we want!” (Cut me some slack, I was listening to Rush at lot at the time. The fat guy, not the band.)

I made a similar remark recently when I was watching National Geographic’s documentary on the ’90s (which I brought up in our most recent podcast, which you can listen to below). “Why,” I asked, “weren’t there wackjob leftist militias running around stockpiling ammo and canned goods during the 8-year presidencies of Reagan or Bush like there were among conservatives during the 8-year presidencies of Clinton and Obama? Oh, that’s right: liberals don’t act like that when they don’t get what they want!”

I quickly realized this time around that it’s a mistake to expect the extreme versions of opposing viewpoints to manifest their respective wackiness in exactly the same way. When it comes to race, white frustration and power-grabbing just doesn’t manifest itself the way the black versions of these do. This is primarily due to each race’s relationship to power (as in, when you have it, and you can write the laws and elect people who actually represent your interests, you don’t really need to be as knee-jerk as you do when you’re used to being on the receiving rather than wielding end of the billyclub).

flowerpowerHere’s the thing, though: Just as, say, right- and left-wing extremism are dissimilar in the way they manifest themselves, they are likewise dissimilar in the danger they present. While someone who is pushed further and further to the right may very well become more and more racist and more and more violent (think Timothy McVeigh, who was a witness to the attack at Waco and was actually interviewed by a news reporter about how he felt about it [his attack in OKC was on Waco’s 2-year anniversary]), the same doesn’t happen to someone who is pushed further and further to the left. In that  case, what we get is what I recently saw while watching CNN’s documentary on the ’60s, namely, they become hippies who try to expand their minds rather than narrowing them, who attempt (and usually fail) to live communally and without greed or lust for private property, and who oppose war and sing songs like “All You Need is Love.”

Both sides are kooky and weird, no doubt about it. Both extremes are equally incapable of functioning in the world as it really is. And both groups can be really naïve and utopian.

But the thing is, who’d you rather have as your neighbor?




  1. StephenAugust 19, 2014

    I still sometimes listen to Rush(the band). Geddy Lee would be a good neighbor.

  2. JasonAugust 19, 2014

    Haha, I can’t name a single song by them. True story.

  3. JonathanAugust 19, 2014

    I think you have to distinguish the batshit crazy even from the political extremes. As between the batshit crazy, I would much rather live near a raving hippie than a neo-Nazi skinhead. But for anything short of that, which is the way-huge majority, take the conservatives. Dumbass racist rednecks are more likely to threaten you by drunk driving than guns, and you can generally avoid them. But if you’re a thought criminal to the liberals, they will not stop until the re-education is complete, sometimes even to the point of violence (riots, enviro-terrorism).

  4. GregAugust 19, 2014

    Is it really as simple as that Jason? When I think of extreme left, I don’t think of peace-loving hippies, I think of violent communist revolutionaries.

  5. ChristianAugust 19, 2014

    Greg, how many liberals do you know in America that would fit your description of “violent communist revolutionaries?” Now how many conservatives do you know that are either racist, gun nuts, or both?

  6. Jason KettingerAugust 19, 2014

    OK, fine. It took like 3 seconds. Anyway, there’s a huge difference between an individualist, and a conservative. There might actually be a fair number of racists in that bunch, but no one’s listening, because you get called a “racist” for dissenting from the progressive group-think, anyway. Better said, I don’t listen anymore; I just assume it’s a power-grab. Sad, but true.

  7. GregAugust 19, 2014

    Christian, I just think it’s a little too convenient for you to reference Timothy McVeigh as the example of far right and peace-loving hippies as far left. If you’re going to use McVeigh on the right, you should probably use the Weather Underground or the Black Panthers on the left.

  8. JasonAugust 19, 2014

    Jason K,

    Anyway, there’s a huge difference between an individualist, and a conservative. There might actually be a fair number of racists in that bunch, but no one’s listening, because you get called a “racist” for dissenting from the progressive group-think, anyway. Better said, I don’t listen anymore; I just assume it’s a power-grab. Sad, but true.

    Here’s what I am saying: Let’s say your typical, garden-variety “Righty” is someone who listens to Rush and watches Fox News. That guy, if pushed further to the right, will more likely than not display certain behaviors and tendencies, such as being ardently pro-gun, xenophobic, and isolationist.

    If your typical “Lefty” is the guy who likes Bill Maher and Democracy Now, he, if pushed farther to the left, will exhibit things like tolerance toward other cultures (especially/only if they are tolerant cultures themselves) and a desire to put aid for the poor and needy above war or corporate welfare.

    I’m not talking about people starting fascist or totalitarian regimes. Normal people don’t just go and do that kind of thing on a whim. We’re talkin’ ’bout ‘Merica up in here.

  9. Jason KettingerAugust 19, 2014

    You’re just making it worse. It’s a caricature, plain and simple.

  10. MartinAugust 19, 2014

    You may be, probably are, right about the generally conservative person pushed to an extreme, but you’re way off on the generally liberal person pushed to an extreme. They don’t become hippies, they become left-wing agitators. My grandmother was one. Jesse Jackson is one, without the guns or violence, but his vitriolic rhetoric is the same, and provokes/incites others to violent behavior. The Weather Underground, Black Panthers, etc. are manifestations of generally liberal folks gone to an extreme. The idiots in Ferguson who are taking peaceful, legit, protests and turning them into violent riots are liberals gone extreme. They are agitators (again, my grandma was one, and as a Communist agitator/organizer she used the same tactics to stir up violent crowds in the 1930’s that are being used by the agitators in Ferguson) who play behind the scenes and provoke otherwise normal people to do things they would otherwise not do.

    The conservative or liberal individual, pushed to an extreme, is a violent hater of mankind and to be shunned. Conservatives or liberals with too much power are tyrants. I lean conservative, but what I really care about is a government that is too big and has too much power – eventually it becomes tyrannical no matter who is in charge.

    Hippies and libertarians are different kinds of folks, but they both just want to be left alone to live in peace with others around them. Small government conservatives and small government liberals can get along with each other, and with hippies and libertarians. The political stakes are too small for anyone to care in such a scenario, and there is more incentive to work together.

    Peace out.

  11. GregAugust 19, 2014

    Jason S,
    It seems to me you’re just trying to perpetuate the liberal narrative that conservatives are racist, intolerant, and violent, and liberals are peaceful, tolerant, and inclusive. I think it’s a lot more complicated than that, and I don’t think the stereotype is fair. I’ve met a lot of liberals who seem to value their ideology much more than they value people. And most of the conservative people I know are the most charitable and loving people I know.

    I’m most bothered at the racist thing. Liberals love to paint conservatives as racist, and that just drives me crazy. Racism is not a left/right issue.

  12. JasonAugust 19, 2014

    Is caricature necessarily bad, Jason? I mean, what I am describing about the right (with which Martin agrees, by the way) seems exactly in line with reality as I experience it.

    When I see a guy with a beard and nine kids, I can tell you with near certainty that he hates Abraham Lincoln. Why? Because he is a postmill reconstructionist who values states’ rights and is therefore against the Civil War.

    When I meet a guy who own 47 guns and wants to use them to police the border, I can tell you with near certainty that he used to be a moderate conservative but then was pushed further to the right.

    Likewise, the guy who chains himself to a redwood wearing a crystal around his neck started off listening to NPR and thinking Alec Baldwin is amusing.

    It’s not rocket science, seems pretty obvious.

  13. ChristianAugust 19, 2014

    Greg, Jason isn’t stereotyping conservatives as racist, intolerant and violent. He’s stereotyping racist, intolerant, violent people as conservatives. There’s a big difference there.

  14. DavidAugust 21, 2014

    Jason: I would challenge the notion that the more extreme right you go the more racist you become. Racism is NOT apart of the far right. Anarchy is the result of the extreme far right. Think of political ideology as a pie—the further you get to the right you have less and less government until there is none. On the far right government becomes an abomination.

    Your understanding of the far right assumes it becomes fascism—which often has racist undertones; but fascism was national socialism. It wasn’t far right in the American parlance, but the right side of the socialistic left. I am a black man. My parents are far, far, right, and I can assure you they’re not racist. Never have been. They’re classical liberals. They’re also white folks and they adopted me knowing I was black. To use Timothy McVeigh as an “orthodox” example of what is right wing in the American parlance is absurd—it’s like saying the branch dividians were an example of normal non-Roman Catholic orthodox Christianity. McVeigh was a loon; just because he held some positions some of the right would agree with—like the right to bare arms (which is simply Constitutional) does not mean he is a good example of what it means to be on the far right. A far better measuring rod of the far right would be say, Reason magazine, Consequentalist libertarianism (Milton Friedman, Ayn Rand, Frederick Hyack, etc. Also, in your podcast you presume the right is more ideological than the left. I would challenge this as well. The left assumes it is not ideological, but it is not. For more on this see: http://www.amazon.com/The-Tyranny-Cliches-Liberals-Cheat/dp/1595231021 . Also, are you going to serious define conservatism by Rush Limbaugh, an entertainer? I cannot take you serious until you define the right by it’s philosophical best, not it’s entertainment figures. That would be like be defining the left by Alec Baldwin instead of leftist thinkers and philosophers…

  15. JasonAugust 22, 2014

    Hi David,

    I would challenge the notion that the more extreme right you go the more racist you become.

    That’s fine. It’s not like a hard rule or anything, just an observation on my part. A lot of hardline righties I know are either subtly or explicitly racist, and pretty much all the racists I know are right-wingers. But it doesn’t apply to everyone, of course.

    And yeah, I am more interested in exploring popular expressions of these things rather than the philosophers behind them. Few right-wingers I know read Ayn Rand, but most of them listen to Rush (or some other equivalent popular media person).

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