Monday, April 11, 2005


Has it occurred to anyone out there that fanatics are the main engine of social change in our society, both on the left and right? Think about every major societal upheaval in history; did it come about because of moderates or pragmatic thinking? No, just about every one of them came about because a person or a group with an agenda, clearly focused and intense, pushed for it. Abolition, temperance, movie ratings, birth control and abortion rights and civil rights are on the list, along with Christianity, Islam, Fascism, Communism and the State of Utah (Mormons, remember?). Just because these wildly differing items are on the same list is not to say they are all necessarily bad or to be associated with each other, merely that they tend to share a common attribute: A fanatic or a group of fanatics felt strongly enough about something to make them happen and then flourish to some degree until either their goal was reached or somehow obliterated or modified by societal fiat.

Look at the French Revolution. It certainly started out with the best of intentions, with the citizenry rising up against the arrogance of the nobility and instituting, for a time at least, some semblance of democratic rule. However, the fanatics, Robspierre and Marat among others, kept pushing their agenda and thousands died, many by the guillotine, until the fanatics themselves were killed and the revolution burned itself out, allowing Napoleon to come to power for another twenty years of European war. Fanatics are pretty good at causing change, but rarely competent at maturing change into something permanent and beneficial.

Turning the social upheavals caused by fanatics, political or religious, into something beneficial for society as a whole is where moderates and pragmatists come in. They are the ones capable of seeing both sides of an issue and taking the best of them out of the fanatic mindset and creating some benefit to society. Where do you think Social Security came from? Fanatics of the Left in this country for sometime had called for the central government to guarantee an income to the poor and destitute, though this usually came in the form of Socialism or even a Communist society where no one owned property and all was distributed by a supposedly benign government that knew best for its people. Of course, no one has ever been able to make such an idealistic concept work, but the fanatics of the Right weren't any better; their idea was that everyone should be able to make it on their own, without any government interference or aid. If it had been up to the fanatic Right in this county, there would have been no Social Security and millions of Americans would have gone into retirement with nothing. Instead, it was the moderates and pragmatists who established a compromise that, while certainly not perfect and certainly not ideal, has acted as a safety net for many who didn't have family wealth passed down to them or whose lives have been marred by circumstance and difficulty.

Don't get me wrong, I do believe fanatics have a role to play in society. Somewhat like bees spreading pollen to flowers in a way no other creature quite can, fanatics spread ideas in a manner more efficient than others across society because of the focused, narrow nature of their message. Without fanatics, our culture would have become inbred and stagnant long ago. However, the problem over the last few years is that fanatics have begun to believe that they ARE the majority and that their ideas, unfiltered and unadulterated by moderates and pragmatists, are to be accepted by others at large without question. The fanatic terrorist minority of Islam have become the face of Islam to the rest of the world, eager to kill and be killed and crippling the majority who need to live in peace with the rest of the world. The fanatic right wing of Christianity in the United States has convinced many that the media are a bunch of rabid liberals portraying religion in the worst light possible at every turn, that judges are "thwarting" the will of the supposed majority in rulings that offend them (while doing exactly what the Constitution calls for them to do) and that government, as a whole, is persecuting them in the same way Jesus and his followers were persecuted (sans crucifixions, of course), keeping them from placing their own engraved idols in the places of our society where the beliefs of all are to be kept sacred.

Moderates and pragmatic thinkers are usually excoriated by fanatics as being "without convictions", but the fact is that they have the hardest job of all in society, coming to mutually acceptable compromises of fanatic ideals and implementing workable solutions. It is the moderates and the pragmatists who become the butt of jokes and the subject of ridicule because they aren't there to make everyone happy and usually don't, but their solutions benefit all much more than the limited goals of the various segments of fanatics could ever hope to offer. Unfortunately, if you listen to the average right-wing commentator these days, moderates and pragmatists are the scum of the earth, unwilling to take a position matching those of the particular fanatic commentator who apparently has been self-appointed as the wisest person on earth.

The plain truth is that the average fanatic, of any ilk, wouldn't like living in a world that resembled their goals very much. You rarely find a fanatic that has any broad view of the world and of the practical, day-to-day struggles the average individual goes through. The race for the fanatic is to reach their one narrow goal, regardless of all roadblocks or the needs of others that might get in their way. The average fanatic is happiest when standing out in the crowd, proclaiming his opposition to the status quo and revelling in his status as an outcast in society at large. If he got what he wanted, he'd be unhappy and would be cast adrift, without purpose. The truth is that fanatics and moderates need each other, but they need to stay in the proper balance, with fanatics doing their John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness thing, while moderates and pragmatists take the best of the fanatics' ideas and implement them in society, protecting the rights of all.

No comments: