Three articles struck a powerful chord in me over the past few days. They all approach a central theme from different directions, but their conclusions are very similar: today's extremists see politics, ideology, and life itself in religious terms rather than secular. Their beliefs may have nothing to do with any Deity that we might recognize, but they're nevertheless oriented towards a cause that assumes God-like proportions in their eyes.
First, Alma Boykin (a good friend in meatspace as well as cyberspace) compares the attitudes of modern, secular millennialist extremists to religious fundamentalism.
Millennialism, leaning on Richard Landes’ definition and discussion, is an emotional, socially perfectionalist movement with an apocalyptic anticipation that rise[s] out of and then fall[s] back into “ordinary time.” Communism, Nazism, the Ghost Dance, the Millerite movement in the 1830s-40s in the US, the Münster Anabaptists, all fit this description and pattern. Society has become fatally corrupt, and there are signs that the end is coming, be it the Christian idea of the End Times, or Marx’s rising up of the proletariat against the owners of capital. The goal of the believers is to purify themselves and society so that when the End comes, they are ready for the new world that will arise. Often, they believe that their actions can bring about the coming of the End, or at least their inaction will lead to them failing to reach the better world (or for it to arrive at all – Ghost Dance.)
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So what about a modern Millennial movement? ... Two generations now have been told that there is nothing but the material world, that they have an ineradicable burden of guilt for all the ills of the past, that the Western economic and social system will destroy the planet and all life within 100, or 50, or 25, or 12, or 1 year, and that the End is Nigh. Unless—
Unless society is purified of its sins and shortcomings, unless the old world passes away and a new, perfect, and moral society takes over, one that will usher in a new age of living in harmony with the physical and biological environment, a world where Westerners will at last, perhaps, begin to atone for their sins by supporting and learning from the Global South/ Indigenous Peoples/the previously colonized/ the sexual and racial Other. And there is only a short window of opportunity to bring about this purification and change, before the Apocalypse.
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It is a religious movement. We who need to deal with it forget that at our peril, because we can’t use just logic and data to show the error of the movement. It is a response to uncertainty, to predictions of doom, to deep changes in society that people have no good framework for dealing with. They’ve grabbed onto the environment because of “science” and because of a heavy injection of Marxism (itself a Millennial movement and Christian heresy), while being on the emotional support and certainty that goes with their prophecies and predictions. Those of us outside of the movement need to take that seriously, and to really think about what we are going to do when it follows the pattern and collapses back into “ordinary time.”
There's more at the link. Highly recommended reading.
Next, the Z man attributes the effects of leftist extremist politics to the "hive mind" - a collectivist approach of true believers, rather than a rational exercise. I think his approach can probably be applied just as well to right-wing extremists, because in my experience, extremism always evolves to demand fanatical devotion to the cause from its followers, rather than rational debate and discussion.
The word “resist” is an important clue. When one is on attack, resist is not the word you use to describe your efforts. The word “resist” is always used in the context of defending something from an aggressor. That’s how they came to view the 2016 election. It was an assault on their ideological worldview. Since their sense of self is deeply entangled with that worldview, 2016 was felt like an assault on their person. They feel that they are resisting an intrusion into their most personal of space.
It is this sense of being a victim, that their person has been violated by Trump, that is behind the impeachment rage. These people look at Trump entering Washington in the same way they view a rapist violating them. Since there is no way to make it whole, they can never forgive the violation. Their vengeance is perfectly justified, as they are infinity aggrieved. Trump entered into a zone they view as exclusively theirs, as if he violated their personal space, so he must be resisted at all costs.
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This is why there is no reasoning with these people ... It would be like trying to talk a female grizzly out of defending her cubs. Her instinct to defend is not a rational reaction. It is not the end point of a decision tree. That’s the same thing going on with the impeachment stuff, the subversion, the purging on-line, all of it. This is the reaction of an organism to what it sees as a threat to its integrity. This is how The Hive defends itself.
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Instead of a supernatural supreme being, the god at the center of the Progressive consciousness is the hive mind. Instead of a name, they use names of its manifestation, like “democracy” and “community.” Yet, it is the same sense of devotion and ownership that drives them to defend it. The Left views themselves as defenders of the faith. It is why they are so ruthless and vengeful in defending that which is inside their mental space, like official politics and social media. They belong to The Hive.
Again, more at the link.
Finally, Reason magazine, in a 2014 article, discusses environmentalism as an attempt to "realize a sense of personal control stemming from [the] fear that disorder is increasing in the world."
A reasonable reading of these results is that a lot of environmentalists experience many aspects of the modern world as chaotic and thus seek to compensate for their perceptions of disorder by engaging in ritual behaviors that make them feel like they are exerting more personal control. It is not much of a leap to conclude that by imposing those rituals on others, some environmentalists seek to reduce their dread of disorder even more.
Why call them rituals? Because it is not all that clear that they actually do anything much for the natural environment. For example, the costs of curbside recycling often outweigh purported benefits, and lower organic crop yields mean more land taken from nature. But as Meijers and Rutjens have shown, partaking in such rites is much like reciting the Rosary, in that they, too, reduce participant anxiety.
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Meijers and Rutjens also cannily observe that rapid progress in various scientific and technological endeavors can be framed as sources of disorder. This is precisely how many environmentalists portray biotech crops, nuclear power, synthetic biology, and nanotechnology. Advances in science and technology are constantly remaking entire industries and ways of earning a living. So anxious environmentalists alleviate the stress induced by these perceived sources of disorder by trying to exercise personal control—including activism that, ironically, demands increased external control by government.
More at the link.
When you put all three of these articles together, they have an amazing amount of commonality, don't they? I hadn't considered the specifically religious implications of such secular approaches and philosophies, but I'll certainly do so from now on.
A "True Believer" may not subscribe to anything or anyone that I'd recognize as a Deity, but to him or her, it/he/she/they probably amount[s] to the same thing. That calls for a whole new approach to handling their extremist demands - including the realization that dialog is probably a non-starter. It really is "their way or the highway", as far as they're concerned. Therefore, a more robust response might be an appropriate starting point, albeit less diplomatic and conciliatory - because it's probably going to come to that in the end, anyway.