Saturday, June 13, 2020

John Cleese on Extremism

I keep repeating the following statement, hoping to nag everyone into recognizing the problem pretty much everywhere we look:
Will we human beings ever learn to react to extremism with enlightened moderation rather than with reciprocal extremism?
The great John Cleese gets to the core of the issue in a two minute video clip:

I agree with Stephen Fry (whose own wisely delightful video I linked to here), who tweeted out this reply to Cleese:
"If I didn’t already think you were a genius I would now..."
Take the insight one step deeper by considering The Segregating Outcome of Selective Attention...
We notice the flaws to which we're all heir much more precisely in The Other, whom we instinctively observe with great care. Me and my tribe receive a blurrier, more forgiving appraisal, due not to vanity but to familiarity. We're less instinctively alert to the familiar, because it's innately safer.
...and you can get pretty close to a holistic view of the Human Problem (do also factor in the sorely-missing recognition that noticing stupidity and craziness doesn’t mean you’re smart and sane; it just means you’re observant). 

Thanks to Dave Feldman for hipping me to Cleese's video.

So much of life - including life well beyond politics - is explained by this dynamic. I've spilled much virtual ink hunting down its corollaries and origins. But I'll add a fresh (for me) one: Young people are particularly attracted to extremism out of eagerness to jump-start a sense of personal grandeur (it's easier than developing talent or knowledge). In fact, to widen the framing, anyone frustrated - whose grandiose self-image fails to jibe with real world evidence - is susceptible to extremism of one sort or another.

That's the thesis of Eric Hoffer's classic book "The True Believer". I'll beg you to read it. It's short and written with brilliant clarity. A fantastically quick and life-changing read.

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