Often you’ll hear or see someone making the statement, the “problem” is extremism. Sometimes the term extremism is replaced with fundamentalism. There is a problem with this statement, if you examine what is meant by that, nobody believes it and contrary to being the problem, extremism is exactly what we are supposed to be doing. Extremism is not a vice, it is a virtue. More than that, pretty much everyone would agree that this is so.

Examine common extremists, Olympic athletes, professional athletes, and the top researchers in physics, mathematics and chemistry are all what we would regard as extremists. They have devoted their entire life, to borrow from the Bible have, devoted their pursuit of their goal with all their heart, mind, soul and strength. What they are doing is how extremism is defined. They are taking their pursuit of excellence, be it a time in the dash or a proof of an abstract concept … it consumes their attention, their life. Breaks from that pursuit are (typically) intentionally taken to bank their coals, to spur them to higher and greater efforts when they return. I’d mention politicians, who can often also show great zeal in their extreme efforts mostly in the pursuit of … (yikes).

Oh, comes the objection (from the marginalia), but we mean religious extremism is what is bad. Hmm. So, secular extremism is good, religious extremism bad? Except that isn’t quite so. The most common example of religious extremism a common religious in these parts, are monks. Monastics, like those athletes, devote themselves entirely to God, withdrawing from the world. Horrible they are not. Secular extremism is also bad when the thing pursued is a vice (alcoholism for example).

This may yield a clue.  Extremism may be seen as human in pursuit of particular excellence (as opposed to general excellence). One concentrates on one thing, as exclusively as possible and devotes ones life to that. If the thing for which you pursue is is a vice, or generically “is bad”, then this form of extremism is harmful. But pursuing vice is bad, in and of itself, that is the loci of the “badness” of extremism to the cause of a vice, not the extremism itself.

See also “arete” or what the ancient Greek’s would have recognized as common extremism.

Next up: why fundamentalism, is also not problematic.

Filed under: Ethics & MoralityMark O.

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