Monday, January 18, 2021

Composing the Anti-Extremist Supermajority

In honor of Rev. King’s birthday...

Having voted for Biden, I can take only scant solace in the slim majority of my "side". But that rueful view stems from a framing error. An easy flip of perspective reveals that I'm part of a supermajority which does not yet view itself as such. Here are the affirmations necessary to execute that flip:

I am opposed equally to extremists on either side, including those with whom I share some core belief or tribal affiliation.
Inspired and disarmed by the handful of conservatives who've placed country over party, I can't wait to return the favor. I will eagerly disregard arbitrary affiliations whenever the common good is endangered. That's what prompted me to publicly declare myself Muslim shortly after Trump's election. Humanity over taxonomy!
I decline to divide people along lines of political preference, exactly as I disregard false boundaries of race, gender, sexual preference, and religion. Those things don't determine identity. They don't define us. We need to stop doing that.

I am kindred to the vast majority of people with whom I sharply disagree. Most folks are surprisingly nice, even if their politics strike me as cuckoo-for-cocoa-puffs. It has ever been thus. Every moderate, regardless of credo, is my brother or sister. And every extremist, regardless of credo, is our collective opponent. 

So I reside amid a vast, stable supermajority (which, for the moment, lacks self-awareness).

This supermajority is imperiled whenever moderates point with accentuated attention and horror at the other side's extremists. They have failed to properly frame, and we must hope they rectify their perspective before they're forced to do so by bloodshed. At the core of our national predicament lies disproportionate fear and disgust for the other tribe's worst actors. The solution - even for those fancying themselves to be on the blameless side of the equation (i.e. every damned one of us) - is to reframe the battle as moderation vs extremism, period.

In case the seam pops open again (old framings are persistent), I'll reaffirm this most high-minded framing: "Every moderate, regardless of credo, is my brother or sister. Every extremist, regardless of credo, is my opponent. Political preference doesn't define us, and nice people - of every stripe - constitute a vast, stable supermajority". It's reassuring; even comforting. And, best of all, it's true. We actually have to work hard to frame it any other way...though, alas, we do.

If your response is "Anyone who'd vote for that devil is, by definition, an extremist", then I have bad news for you. You've been trolled and provoked into extremism, yourself. One may take pride (lots and lots of pride) in styling oneself "an extremist against evil", but that's the signature proclamation of extremists. Those are the words perennially uttered as the atrocities commence.

History always unfolds via a succession of immoderately reactive pendulum swings. Will we human beings ever learn to react to extremism with enlightened moderation rather than with reciprocal extremism?

If you're unpersuaded by my words, choose your favorite from the big three who encourage the counterintuitive reaction to opposition - MLK, Gandhi, or Christ. Focus on their teachings for a few moments before your spleen restores your extraordinarily clear and clean perspective. Give the fuzzy mildness of your humanity a chance to catch up with the brisk sharp certainty of your spleen. You know how you desperately wished for the MAGA crazies to come back to their senses? Be magnanimous enough to go first, even though you, naturally, feel sensible.

One final thought: if you can't spot extremism on your side, you are the extremist.

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