Dangers of extremism

How polarization has corrupted our minds

David Armour, Guest Writer

Illustration by Micky Flores-Nieves

In the words of Samuel Adams, “A general dissolution of principles and manners will more surely overthrow the liberties of America than the whole force of the common enemy.”

Sadly, this statement appears to be proving itself in modern America, where extremism is on the rise and millions openly believe in insane conspiracy theories.

Online echo chambers grow more and more divisive as sanity is gradually pushed back by radical content, much of it violent. Every day, more and more people are buying into these beliefs, to the point where a cult around GameStop stock has formed and almost one-third of Americans deny that Joe Biden is our president.

The far-right and far-left are fundamentally motivated by the same sensation: the feeling of intellectual and moral superiority. Every one of the many extremists that I have come across thought that they were the smartest, most well-informed person in the room because they didn’t believe the mainstream/corporate media and wanted everyone to acknowledge that.

This leads into another commonality between extremists, and one that I think is the root cause behind radicalization. Nearly every one of them, when faced with a genuine counterargument that they haven’t prepared for, will demonstrate in one way or another a lack of any genuine self-esteem.

To many of them, extremism is a security blanket of sorts. They follow it not because they believe it but instead because extremist communities are quite cult-like and encourage their members to ostracize the outside world all while providing praise to any fellow radical in their ranks.

There is also significant overlap in the rhetoric of radicals. All of them are highly utopian groups who believe that a perfect society is suppressed by a small cabal of elites. They might be rich, globalist or Jewish depending on the theory in question, but all radicals believe that this conspiracy constantly propagandizes the masses into voting against their best interests. Naturally, these ‘best interests’ are always the views of the extremist spreading the theory. These groups are then willing to subvert democracy in one form or another to achieve these ends.

It has been my unfortunate experience to be in close contact with two of these radicals, one on the far right and the other on the far left. Although I cannot completely comprehend their viewpoints, I will aim to represent their beliefs as accurately as I can.

The first and most prominent extremist in my life was a close family member who began to buy into the QAnon nonsense around the time of Trump’s election. Far-right radicalization is unique in that it is tricky to notice when it’s happening, as radicals on the right frequently fail to realize that they’re that extreme. Instead, they rally behind policies that sound defensible on the surface but are clearly trojan horses for much worse societal change. They often group up on public social media sites such as Facebook and mainly discuss what their perceived enemies are doing.

Far-right theories are frequently the most insane ones imaginable, often claiming that the Democratic party is a secret pedophile club or that COVID-19 vaccines exist to spread the mark of the beast. All these claims are then spread through supposed leaks, crafted in such a way to make anyone who follows them feel smart.

This is also a far more unified radical front than the far left, consistently voting for the same candidate in high percentages. It is easy to spot a far-right extremist by how much they focus on wedge issues compared to centrists and moderate conservatives. A good example of this would be gun laws. A moderate conservative will mention that they support the right to own firearms and walk off, while a far-right extremist will instead talk about how Democrats want to take away their guns.

My best friend from middle school radicalized into communism over the past few years. This transition was much easier to spot than my family member’s, but it was just as unstoppable once it came. In contrast to my family member’s slow radicalization, my friend had a switch flipped in her and announced that she was a socialist without any foreshadowing.

In many ways, extreme leftists are an inverse of the far right. Rather than post on public social media, they prefer anonymous sources such as Reddit. Instead of delusional conspiracies and subtle radicalization, they instead prefer to shift the blame on true stories and use the shock to radicalize people. Most importantly, they talk about what the world will be like under their regime instead of who their enemies are.

This distinction doesn’t sound too big at first glance, but without a unified enemy, the far-left is hopelessly shattered and unable to make any meaningful progress in their goals.

Far-left extremists are generally quite open and vocal about their beliefs. While they have strong disagreements about the endgame, they have many similarities. They almost always believe that the system is beyond reform and in need of a revolution to fix. They universally believe that anyone who supports private ownership of industry should not be allowed to vote. Lastly, they seek to spread this system beyond their borders, often through whatever means necessary.

Extremists are egotists without an ego, looking for self-validation above all else. They seek to undermine democracy as we know it and force their system on the people in their unfettered drive for their utopia.