History teaches us that extremism, regardless of political stripe, often serves to elevate an individual as it fails to tend to the greater good. Exceptions exist, but they are few.
Ego is the mainspring of most extremism, despite the rhetoric, the claims concerning the common good, the “service” to the citizenry. In the heart curls a worm: a personality in need of aggrandizement, a powerless soul desperate for attention and influence, projecting personal failure and frustration on a big screen. When we encounter extremism, we look for the worm.
Extremists urge others to break bonds, prompt them with frantic voices to unravel the social fabric, sound alarms when there is no emergency, press action against amplified problems. History shows us the damage caused by this and our current condition provides many examples of those who master the language of resentment and revenge, but, because the foundation is fantasy and ego, are incapable of applying it to real, political situations.
We examine the contemporary scene through this conceptual lens: That we are a nation of law, bound together and made strong by laws and the processes established to create, enforce, refine and remove them. The processes are frustrating and most often slow but, overall, they have served us well.
We believe there is a tested way to shape change and achieve compromise without serving the damaged ego — a moderate approach to social issues and change, one that finds middle ground, with constant, methodical pressure to improve.
Extremists invariably claim sole ownership of a “true” interpretation of founding documents and law. In a free society, this is a danger. There has been a clamor of late, with individuals and groups claiming they and they alone define what is constitutional and what our founders (who were not of uniform mind) intended. They claim they alone should rise above the process, seek and receive special oaths from elected officials, be the sole arbiters of what determines patriotism, of who is and who is not a traitor. This is counter to the idea of freedom in a civilized state.
We are free because we are a nation of laws. Everyone in a free society has the right to express an opinion and work within the established process for change. Legislatures and elected bodies set law and regulations, and we elect our representatives. Law enforcement ensures laws and regulations are maintained. Courts rule on the legitimacy of enforcement. Higher courts rule on the validity of decisions and, ultimately, on the constitutionality of laws.
Without the glue of this process, we have Brownshirts in the streets, thugs and egoists dominating politics and culture. We no longer have a nation of laws that seeks compromise that suits the greatest number of citizens while mitigating impacts on those in the minority.
In the noise and haze created by the Internet and television and radio “news” broadcasts, it is easy to lose sight of the importance of a nation of laws — that our freedom depends on a defined and effective process for establishing and changing those laws. It is easy to become distracted and frustrated when one is constantly assaulted by unchecked opinion and loud, ego-driven politics. It is too easy to accept simple, emotional answers to difficult questions.
The process whereby we refine and replace our laws, through which we alter our processes to keep pace with changing social, political and economic environments, is sometimes tedious, and sometimes enrages us, but it binds us together and, without it, we go the way of societies that tumble over the edge and give way to chaos and despair.
Always look for the worm.