Everywhere I look, today, large numbers of people are taking things to extremes, and declaring they’re exercising their Constitutional rights. Some are; and quite a few are carrying the exercise of those “rights” to extremes. Even when the extremes are legal, and many aren’t, is this always a good idea? Even when one can make a case for such excess, is it good when so many “rights” are being pushed to the limits… and beyond?
The first amendment grants and protects the “right of the people to peaceably assemble,” as it should, but all too many assemblies these days are anything but peaceable. The first amendment also prohibits abridging the freedom of the press, and with each year the media pushes out more obnoxious, vulgar, intolerant, and generally inflammatory content, with less and less factual substance. It’s become more and more about “stirring people up,” as a fictional politician in the movie Primary Colors once declared.
And somehow, the Religious Right seems to believe that: (1) allowing women to decide whether they want to be pregnant or not violates religious rights of the Religious Right; (2) private corporations are individuals that can impose their beliefs on their employees; (3) while insisting that every zygote be carried to full term and born, they also insist that government should provide no aid or support for all those unwanted children once they are born. And they honestly feel that these beliefs are not in the slightest extreme.
Then there’s the second amendment. Now that there’s no doubt that any gun-lover in the United States can own and shoot semi-automatic weapons with fifty bullet magazines, what’s next? Private armored personnel carriers [after all, the police now have them] or your own suitcase A-Bomb?
How about a little self-restraint? Not that our media will allow that, because restraint doesn’t sell. As a matter of fact, at least one media outlet has suggested just such restraint – and has been roundly criticized in some quarters for betraying “freedom of the press.”
Charlie Hebdo carried freedom of the press to extremes; the gunmen who brutally assassinated twelve people at the newspaper carried their beliefs to extremes. Is this the world we wish to create, where extremes battle extremes, and the one with the most firepower wins?
And, please, forget about declaring that extreme use of words and cartoons isn’t the same as extreme use of bullets. No, it’s not, but what the extreme users of words and symbols so easily forget or ignore is that such extreme use of words shapes social and political structures, and that shaping influences those with bullets, just as the words and “teachings” of extremist Islamists influenced the killers of those at Charlie Hebdo. Being one step removed from causing violence doesn’t remove all the blood from your hands. Like it or not, people are swayed by words and symbols, and the extreme use of either all too often results in disaster. Just look at what Hitler accomplished, and it all began with words… just words.
What’s the reason for all this extremism? Is it because we’re all so busy trying to be heard and to make our points that the din we’ve created drowns out all our efforts… or is it because we’re so preoccupied with what we’re doing that we’re not listening… or is it because we’re so convinced of our own “truth” that we disregard the “truths” of others?
Whatever it is, the result is the multiplication of extremism in all forms, and that is the road to hell, superbly paved with our good intentions based on the assumption that we know best, and that only we have the truth on our side in exerting our “freedoms” and beliefs to their extremes.