Extremist; when you hear the word a certain image pops in your head. Nowadays it’s probably an image of some sort of Islamic fundamentalist or if you pay attention to the news a different image might pop into your head; that of the Tea Party Republican. Both are equally dangerous they merely differ in their methods. The Islamic fundamentalist believes that constant pressure must be applied to western societies in order to get them to retreat from their foreign entanglements while the Tea Party Republican believes in a “bleed out” approach. The bleed out approach is, of course just as dangerous as random violence directed against a population center because both have the same singular goal of bringing down the economies of the western world. The difference between the two is that Tea Party Republicans want their friends to get rich in the process while terrorists want everyone to suffer.
Extremists are everywhere. The danger they pose to us depends on the intensity of their anger and the propensity for violence that they exhibit. Let there be no doubt though, extremists are everywhere they just wear different masks. Thomas Hutchison, the loyalist governor of Pennsylvania once asked the citizens of his state to: “tell me which is worse: one tyrant 3,000 miles away or 3,000 tyrants one mile away.” It’s a fair question and living an area that is composed almost entirely of Republicans it’s one that I think about more and more. But sometimes we take a macro approach to micro problems. We tend to avoid even engaging with extremists because we view them as unreasonable and most of the time that’s correct. What we often forget is that everyone is unreasonable about something.
A friend of mine is unreasonable about race. Everything turns into a racial argument with him, but he’s funny so I let it go. The fact that he is funny however is not the only reason I let it go. I also let it go because he rarely turns to violence and when he does he never gets out of control violent. The one fight I’ve seen him get involved in he only threw one punch, of course it only takes one punch with him, but still it showed restraint. Now, one could point out that he spent a lot of his time boxing when he was growing up and was either quite good at it or has learned a lot through adversity. Regardless of why he is allowed to get away with the behavior that he gets away with in my judgment the positives outweigh the negatives and besides he’s one hell of a writer. Just as we’re unreasonable about something we’ll go to extra lengths for something or someone if we’re passionate about it. I also take into consideration the fact that he’s also black, which makes a big difference when we’re talking about racial overtones. He has plenty of reasons to be angry about the way society has treated him and I usually give him the benefit of the doubt on this issue.
Our passions come to define us many times, but not everyone knows your passions nor can they. It’s for the latter reason that we tend to project our interests either in the form of conversation, image or in some cases, preoccupation. I had a creative writing class with a guy that hated writing. He enjoyed reading and interpreting writing, but he didn’t enjoy writing itself. Believe it or not I know a lot of people who fit this criteria. Those who don’t enjoy writing but enjoy most of the things around it (reading, editing, interpretation) tend to be artists. This guy in my creative writing class would use our workshop days to draw and he was a phenomenal artist. He’d pass his drawings around the room because the room full of writers was always interested in the guy that seemed to have no interest in writing.
We’re all extreme about something though. Many times it’s just a matter of finding out what someone is extreme about if you want to understand them. There are a lot of people that genuinely don’t want to be understood and there are people like me that genuinely don’t want to understand most people because in the grand scheme of things, who cares? I do try to understand those close to me, if for no other reason than it is in my own self-interest to do so. I’ve found that I’m surrounded by two types of extremists: negative extremists and common sense extremists.
The negative extremist sees life as a struggle and just any struggle, everything is a struggle against the worst case scenario. The common sense extremist looks at life through a similar lens, the only major difference is that the negative extremist seeks to understand life though pragmatism where the common sense extremist looks at what has happened before and seeks to replicate those results. Happiness will elude both these people because the negative extremist will always see the negative even where none exists and the common sense extremist will live their life in constant search of nostalgia. There is no sadder pursuit than the pursuit of nostalgia because the nostalgic past never happened rather it was imagined by accentuating the positive and downplaying the negative.
Both the negative extremist and the common sense extremist can be difficult to deal with but one is always more difficult to deal with than the other. For me the common sense extremist is very difficult to deal with because pragmatism is something that I place a lot of value on while the common sense extremist couldn’t find a pragmatic approach to something with a map, compass and Onstar navigation system. I wasn’t always a pragmatist, which made it easier to deal with the common sense extremist because I wasn’t constantly asking: what the fuck? Now, I combine certain aspects of the negative extremist with the common sense extremist and have created the difficult extremist construct where everything turns into a struggle no matter how trivial a point it may be. Yes, I can take the simples situation and make it endlessly difficult. This is my specialty in life. I’m an analyst who enjoys asking what ifs? What’s worse is that I consider myself an expert on just about everything and often find myself being stubborn to a fault at times.
Where I struggle with the common sense extremist is in coming up with practical solutions. For instance, if we need a new toilet seat the common sense extremist talks about the need to replace the toilet and if allowed to continue down this path they will come to the conclusion that what we really need to do is replace the bathroom. If not put into check at this point we may wind up replacing all bathrooms in the house. The common sense extremist is also a literalist. Don’t worry about inferences because they never arise with the common sense extremist. Things need to be extremely clear to this person and if they’re not you will be asked ad nauseam to clarify. The worst part about all of this is that the common sense extremist thinks they’re doing the world a favor by engaging in this behavior. It doesn’t matter how much this behavior annoys you either because the common sense extremist can’t see what’s bothering you. They take an extreme position when arguing. For instance if I were to suggest that maybe we don’t need to repaint every room in the house I’d be met with the response of: “if it were up to you nothing would ever get replaced at all.” This is disproportionate comparison and it is the only way that the common sense extremist knows how to argue.
The negative extremist is more practical, but can’t deal with what I call compound problems. Where the common sense extremist survives by compartmentalizing, the negative extremist survives by thinking about problems until there is a solution at hand. This is behavior that is similar to the worried worrier, but where the worried worrier debates on end (often with themselves) the negative extremist can break down problems by thinking about them logically. That is, their thinking has a logical end point where the worried worrier simply worries because that is how they deal with the boredom that exists in their world.
Extremists of all stripes are difficult to deal with, but the problem in dealing with issues that arise in everyday life using these two systems is that they come with a multiplier. We all suffer from what I call +1 syndrome. On Google + you can give something a +1 if you like it and if it accumulates a lot of +1’s it gets a certain stature within the Google community. The +1 syndrome infects our ability to solve basic problems because we don’t look at problems by giving them a +1 we look at them through incorrect solution sets. The common sense extremist will multiply the problem, the negative extremist divides and the difficult extremist will add/subtract/multiply and divide until they are satisfied.
Our world is full of syndromes, so many in fact that they can’t even be realistically counted. What we forget sometimes is exactly what’s called for on a situational basis. If it’s an addition problem then multipliers aren’t necessary and division isn’t called for either. One can only imagine the problems that attempting to try all sorts of solutions at once bring about. The simplest way to solve a problem is by addressing the problem not making the problem bigger, taking parts of the problem away or trying every situation you know to solve it. Each method is insufficient to solve the problem. The shortest distance between two points will always be a straight line. The question will always boil down to whether we’re willing to put aside our preferred methods for solving problems and embrace the solution that is called for an required to solve the problems.