In secular democratic countries, where the individual is the social unit of consequence – as opposed to theocratic nations where the family or tribe or some group designation is the social unit of consequence – the right to hold and express your views is an important right and entitlement in society.
Individuals do not matter in nations that hold the family or group as supreme, since individuals how fail to adhere to the social norms and expectations are often killed or sanctioned to restore collective honor to the family, to right the diminishment done to the collective by the individual.
One challenge is that the right to express yourself does not require you to do so responsibility or carry any consequences to how your words impact other people’s behaviours – although hate crime legislation tries to address this aspect.
The bigger challenge it would seem for people is that the right to express yourself does not obligate anyone to actually listen to you.
If what ideas you express are fairly mainstream, you are usually one voice in a chorus, and the more your ideas become fringe, your potential audience shrinks as well. Luckily, most people seek out information that confirms what they already believe – which is partly why people on opposite sides of an issue don’t communicate, they genuinely do not comprehend the opposing view because they don’t expose themselves to opposing views – often just enough to get the sound bytes to refute them, but not enough to actually understand what the opposing side is actually saying and meaning.
When you get far enough from the centre, the only people listening to what you say or post are people who are entirely like minded and depending on the fringe, possibility the police or other law enforcement.
So, I would imagine it’s anxious and lonely for people who are extreme fringe and too small in number to attract police notice, which they need to convince themselves of their rightness and of being a dangerous game changer ideologist.
I think that as there is no way to commit the perfect crime, since you’d go mad by never getting any credit for it – because to be perfect, you’d need to carry it off alone and leave no clues – we do many things to gain little more than bragging rights, so the perfect crime could only be carried out by an egoless person, for the sake of the crime itself, rather than achieving the perfect crime.
This thinking informs extremist thinkers – who know they stand apart from society, who must elevate themselves to a grand status – of being the only right or clear thinker, the only one capable to understand or even see What’s Really Going On That They Don’t Want You To Know.
To be heard, to gain followers but more, to be opposed, for being opposed is what gives conspiracy and extreme ideology meaning – it’s proof of being right! They Are Stopping You From Telling the Truth, the Real Truth, About Them. And no one but you, the ideologist/conspiracy theorist can handle the truth.
Except, that it’s not really the truth and it’s because the extremist can’t handle that the world is not that complex, convoluted, but not that complex, and that they are not the Lone Truth Handler who must enlighten others because the truth is out there and dangerous.
The extremist is a true believer – not skeptical but often cynical – the difference being that a skeptic doubts the claims while the cynic doubts the claimant. No lack of evidence nor evidence to the contrary will shake their belief – indeed, the lack of and contrary evidence is just more proof for the elaborate conspiracy, it’s all just part of the plan.
Conspiracy theories do not substantially differ from religion, except that religion tends to attract a wider audience, who then act as a social averaging, a leveling of behaviours and social norms to smooth out the lone extremists and keep people in the fold.
Except that many religions are not particular mainstream, they are doomsday cults, validating extremist small groups and often the group seeks to impose their religious norms on the population by force or block voting if they can attract enough people.
Charles Manson gained a following of a handful of people and sent them to murder wealthy people to start a civil ethnic war, which strategy repeated itself in Norway, only Anders Behring Breivik didn’t bother with followers, he just tapped into the right wing extremism generally in Europe and accessible on the internet – rather than connect with an actual social movement or begin one – that, after all, takes effort and draws police attention too soon.
Jim Jones took nearly a thousand with him and the Heaven’s Gate group had just over 20 members. Cults have mass murdered and suicide or selected targets to kill to achieve their poligious ends and attempt to gain power and status in society that has rejected them and their ideology as meaningful members – otherwise, they wouldn’t be fringe extremists.
But the solution is not that all views are equally valid, because they are not – most people do not hold extreme views because they are not valid, logical, rational, fair and balanced, extremist views are discriminatory, bigoted and distasteful more often than not.
The solution is education – to teach children to think critically, logically and equitably.
The solution is not shunting extremism to the fringe, but to focus attention upon it, why it’s wrong, but also to determine what attracts people to such views. Often it’s lack of economic opportunity – when people are able to participate in society, have autonomy and freedoms – and understand that everyone is entitled to the same access to opportunities, to the same rights and freedoms – people are more willing to include rather than exclude when they understand that there’s no limit to rights, they won’t run out before the line of people waiting for their share.
It seems what people most need to learn and understand is how big and small their sphere of influence is.
Gays being able to serve in the military does not deprived heterosexuals of being able to serve, anymore than black people getting to serve took anything away from white people serving.
That gays even want to serve in the military should speak volumes about how much we have in common with our fellow citizens – we want the rights and the responsibilities of citizenship.
Gays being able to marry does not diminish or prevent heterosexuals from marrying any more than interracial marriage diminished or made marriage unattractive to same ethnic couples.
It improves society to be inclusive of all members of the society.
It made little sense to me, growing up in Canada, where I could rely on rights and freedoms and have them all unavailable when I came out as a lesbian in 1992. I was legally fired from two jobs and almost not permitted to rent housing. Legally. I had lost my rights and didn’t get them all back until 2003 when gay marriage became law – for most of my adult life, living in Canada, I have not been able to enjoy the same rights and freedoms and legal protection from discrimination as other Canadians.
But gays and atheists – the two most reviled minority groups – have not turned to violence to claim our place in our secular societies. We use the courts, we educate and do outreach, hold conferences, we live as if and wait for the day that we too have all the rights and social standing as other people – for the day when being gay or being atheist is just another bit of information rather than the basis for determining how people treat you or react to you.
It is religion combined with extreme views that attempts to assert itself through violence or by justifying discrimination against those the religion doesn’t like – which is not only anyone outside of the given religion, but generally targets specific segments of society – like gays or atheists, ethnic groups or members of rival (aka closely related) religions. Religion is the basis and justification for excluding people as being equal to everyone else.
When religion says a particular group is immoral and beneath consideration, bigotry follows and if the religion gains sufficient social standing, systemic discrimination and even violence in the form of hate crime often follows.
The most dangerous aspect of religion is the veneer of divinity – any person can claim a deity told them thus and so – and if they can make their story compelling enough, gather followers and form a new religion.
One person believing something without basis is delusional, but a large enough group, and it becomes religion, and large enough and over enough time, a mainstream and established religion with the expectation and history of being above reproach and unquestioned in authority and power and influence.
If we are to have a society – and society is global, no country stands alone, we are one planet, interconnected, what happens in one country can no longer be deemed an internal matter when we are connected by land, air and water – pollution and radiation travels, people migrate or flee and natural disasters know no such imaginary things as borders.
We need to be in a reality and evidence based world and not allow delusional or magical thinking to be pervasive or to continue to divide us and prevent everyone from sharing in the wealth of resources, equitable participation, rights and freedoms – because rights and freedoms are clearly not self evidence or inalienable when only a portion of the world enjoys them, when the rights and freedoms you have are dependent on where you live.
We need to stop allowing extremist views to be validated by moderate ones – we need to draw a line and say, this far is okay, but after that, you’re going to need to seriously talk with someone about your inability to work and play well with other people.
We will never be rid of extremists, but we can stop coddling the similar and mainstream related sensibilities and make a clear stand.
And, we must hold religions accountable for the harm they have and continue to cause – from direct harm such as the Vatican sex crimes against the children in all countries where they have their corporate offices and operations to the theocratic nations were women are held as barely second class, just above the children, but below the family dog in terms of value and participation.
People are entitled to hold extremist views, but there is no obligation for us to act as if they are valid views. All things are not equal and should not be considered as such.