Extremism

Extremism, we are told, is bad. And, we are also told by the media, constantly, what political candidates and ideas are extreme.

There are a couple of ways to define extremism. The most common way is that anyone who doesn’t agree with you is extreme. But that doesn’t seem very scientific so let’s try again, using the well-known bell curve that plots the number on individuals in a category against the categories.

You may remember the bell curve from the grading curve in school where a few people got an A, a few more got a B, most got a C while fewer got a D and a few got an F. We might say the As and Fs were “extreme” while the Cs were typical, normal, average or moderate.

You would think that before the charge of extremism was leveled at someone there should be data available indicating their ideas or life style was rare. Jumping through the ice into freezing water, like the Polar Bear Club does each Winter, is an extreme activity because so few people do it. Swimming in warm water isn’t extreme because it’s so common.

But how is “extreme” different from “odd” or “eccentric?” There’s an old saying: You are odd, he is extreme and I am eccentric. That’s about the truth. The difference is one of connotation only.

To give a specific example of an “extremist:” What happens when, after being told how extreme Sara Palin is, we read that she polls better than Barack Obama? Well, judging by the comments in the article I linked, most Obama supporters go into a state of denial, deriding the intelligence of the American people and announcing how stupid Palin is, with no proof of either accusation.

But, even if the American people are dumb, deluded, uneducated, whatever, the fact that Sara Palin’s opinion is regarded in a positive way by the majority makes Sara Palin’s opinion mainstream, not extreme.

That doesn’t mean that Sara Palin is correct or wise, just that she is somewhere in the center of the bell curve. Where does that leave the Palin detractors? It leaves them with a huge problem. They now have to argue the merits of Palin’s opinions not just smear her.

Don’t expect that. Smears are too easy and most of us don’t stop to think of the meaning of “extreme.” I confess I’ve long doubted the sincerity of those who accuse others of racism, sexism and other leftist pejoratives. The reaction of, so called, feminists to the Clinton era has convinced me that these accusations are just political tactics to shut down opposition and instill unearned guild.

On the other hand, words such as extremist, racist, homophobe and others are used more often than personal pronouns in political debate so, for the most part, all those words have become meaningless.

Full disclosure compels me to admit that I’m a radical extremist. I believe in liberty and limited government. That’s a pretty rare opinion, thus extreme, but it’s becoming more common. So I’m hopeful that someday I’ll be normal.

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