It is easy to write urgent and angry people off as lunatics. Of course it’s true that this is usually true, some froth-mouthed maniac spitting out their prophecies. Crazy. Ranting. Jabbering. Screaming both about, and in favor of the end of the world. Radicals of every stripe, no matter what they stand for, ultimately come out and preach for the same things. They want to significantly alter the world. They are trying to change reality. The way such extremists see the world, no matter how much horror it may require, they believe that they are saviors. They are Destroying the World to Save It (https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResults?isbn=9780805065114&n=100121503&cm_sp=mbc-_-ISBN-_-used).
But there is often a more personal element to this, beyond an exaggerated absolutism about how the world must be. Remember what they always used to tell us in school, when halfheartedly promoting tolerance between cultures: ‘We’re all people.’ And this obvious point is in need of some serious consideration today as we tend to so often caricature individuals into groups, and the groups into cartoonish villains and the cartoonish villains into everything we have ever been afraid of.
What changes a person into this, from the mindless innocence of being born (the first time)? I will avoid a discussion of those who are bred and raised with extremist philosophies and faith. For individuals such as this the reasons are pretty obvious, and the result is one of two things, like with every generation that follows their parents. Most of them are generally good and obedient children (and they usually have a much harsher upbringing than in the modern world, where we have come to fear disciplining out children). They want to please their parents (often just their father), and try as hard as they can to prove themselves worthy of his name.
Of course when your parents are extremists, the consequences of your actions take on a far more significant meaning. These are people, after all, who from birth raise their children to be soldiers and, if need be, martyrs to the cause (it is important for me to declare here that I am not simply talking about Islamic radicals and terrorists, nor the extreme fringe of far right-wing politics; there are types of extremism that cover every socially held view. After all, people have been killed over Yankees and Red Sox rivalries).
Impressing a parent within a cult causes them to see you as possibly ‘the chosen one,’ a symptom noticeable in the larger culture as western parents so often deify their children, giving up everything they ever were in order to worship at the alter of their baby (who will become a privileged nightmare as they grow older). But when a family raises their child onto such a pedestal, there is usually some sort of imposed psychopathic instinct that the growing child experiences. Their parents might have been extremists, absolute believers in their strange and incomprehensible faith, but baby grows up believing themselves to be God.
We recognize this same pattern, on a smaller scale, in suburban American families, among others. The parents are so paranoid that something might go wrong in their child’s life, they dedicate their very being into shielding them against all the evil lurking in the world. After years of this, as the child starts rebelling against the imposed order (in the extremist society this rebellion is how some people might escape from the cult), they find themselves spat out into an alien world that does not care about them whatsoever. The world is thus harder than they had ever imagined, and they cannot understand why everyone in their way will not kneel down and let them do as they please.
In a family of radicals, the end of the world is always tomorrow. The children, instead of being raised terrified of every little snap, crackle and pop of the world, are taught to be angry (this is different from the unhappily dissatisfied rage of moderate civilization). And this deep-rooted rage, this divine vision of clarity about everything that is wrong in the world, makes these soldiers brave. People may call a radical terrorist ‘a coward,’ in an effort to justify their evil, but imagine what must be going through a person’s head as they blow themselves up on a bus, or fly a plane into a building? Would you turn away? Let us ignore, for a moment, rational thinking (nothing extreme is rational), and discard the obvious answer of “But I would never do something like that.” Neither would I. And I wouldn’t have the guts for it. I would certainly turn away. We need to consider for a moment what might cause a person to find a reason for doing this. And is it truly an act of evil, at least according to their extreme faith? Martyrs all throughout history have been called either madmen or saints. To the victor goes the spoils of historical reclamation.
I remember when Bill Maher got fired from ABC for saying something along these same lines (http://www.snowspotmedia.com/2010/09/11/the-comments-about-911-that-cost-bill-maher-his-job-video/) He also added about how we were, in fact, the actual cowards for launching unmanned cruise missiles into civilian areas in hopes of ‘getting the bad guys’ –another statement it is difficult to argue with. But ignoring the controversy, and the just after 9/11 terrible timing, how this a false statement? How are those murderers cowards? Radicals convince themselves to be afraid of nothing. They truly believe that their acts of terror are meant to save the world. They believe themselves heroes.
Our world has descended into a terrifying state of extremism, ranging all over the political and holy spectrum, without much left for rational thinking or tolerance. Even those in the middle are growing outraged, sick of all the insane shouting of false prophets, and thunder and lightning of preachers, and the smug falseness of those who preach moderation. There is a growing class of fundamentalist rationalists who act with wild thoughtlessness in the voting booth, and vote these same extremists in because they present themselves as something new, and will definitely shake up the system in one way or another. When we see the world as broken, crushed by the extremes on both far ends of the social scale, why not just sit back and watch the world crumble on TV?
These extremes are coming around full circle, crashing into each other, not just in holy wars, but as true assimilation, where you can no longer tell the left and the right apart. Mankind is becoming a family of extremes, forgoing all of history, forgetting about the building blocks of civilization that we have struggled through for all those tens of thousands of years since we emerged from the caves. It has reverted back, perhaps, to the simple, voiceless idea of “I want,” denying the whims of others, and taking from the world whatever we believe is already ours.