The problem with extremism is not the division it creates. There is always division in society. Vibrant civil societies are full of conflict and struggle. The great threat of extremism is that it can foster a growing detachment.
The problem of extreme positions and actions is that they foster detachment in those in the middle. Forced to choose sides people prefer to choose none. The intensity of the fight between extremes creates a ‘no mans land’ in which those forced to choose sides choose none. The lack of certainty caused by ardent opposition disconcerts those who fall in the middle. Unsure of their ground and unwilling to join the fight, the middle detaches and leaves the fight to the extremists.
A civil society requires the participation of everyone. We need all knowledge to combat fake news. We need all voices to be able to hear what’s best for society. We need diversity to be able to leverage the capabilities and talents of all. We need new and different ideas from those shouted by the packs of loyalists. We need all hands to make our society better together.
When we become detached, we leave the floor to the extremists. Amidst their number are the ideologues, the totalitarians and the tyrants. Each of these is happy to trade reality and society for greater power. By ceding the floor when the fight gets extreme, we open the door to the ideologues and the totalitarians who would like to proscribe what thought and what action is acceptable. No civil society can survive the pretence and the cancer of social relationships that follows.
The remedy to detachment is engagement. Engagement is at the heart of the future of civil society. We must remind each other of the purpose and value of sharing a civil society. We must find our causes, our relationships, our voice and our actions. We needn’t unite in one cause. We can pursue the cacophony that reflects a vibrant civil society. Far better to deal with complexity, compromise and confusion than to face the quiet certainty of absolutism detached from society. Detachment is the problem, not an answer.