In 2018, Washington state representative Matt Shea wrote a document describing a “Biblical basis for war” against people who “practice abortion and same-sex marriage”. In it the currently serving, elected government official instructed: “If they do not yield, kill all males.”.
Also, in 2018, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) came out against what they call “speciesism”. This is the thoughtless anti-animal language populating the idioms of our language. PETA urges us to replace “beating a dead horse” with “feeding a fed horse”, and instead of “taking a bull by the horns”, they’d rather we “take a flower by the thorns”.One is mind-boggling evil, one is outrageously ridiculous. But they are both depressing examples of the extreme ends of the spectrum. The ones that result in people fearing and hating them or finding them so whiney and absurd that even when they have something important to say, no one listens.In political science, there is a phenomenon known as the horseshoe theory. It posits that rather than a straight line between pure communism on the left, and fascism on the right, it’s shaped like a horseshoe with the extreme ends residing very close together in belief and action.This kind of ultimate extremism, whether it’s the driving force at the heart of an entire nation or an organization of true believers, can only be maintained by authoritarianism or totalitarianism. When those in power are completely convinced, down into their very marrow, that they have all the answers to all the questions, and only they know what is best for everyone. And this dominion must be maintained at all or any costs. They are absolute in their belief that the decisions they make, and any discipline or punishment meted out is necessary, in fact good, and even ordained.But the only people who have all the answers and see the world solely in stark shades of black and white are fools, children, and fanatics. Sure, it’s easier and more comfortable to put our fellow man in neat little boxes like hero, villain, saint, and sinner, but all thinking, reasoning humans know that life doesn’t work that way.Every one of us has a story. There were shady garden paths, dangerous rocky roads, and tricky confusing detours that got us to where we are at this moment. We’ve had missteps that have made us kinder, tragedies that have hardened us, miracles that have amazed us and made our souls a little brighter, and betrayals that have almost broken us. And yet, we regularly get out of bed in the morning to do it all over again. And most of us usually try to be our best selves. The selves that are shocked, horrified, and saddened by those zealots out on those horseshoe fringes.
So, what do we do about those scary outliers? How do we protect against such stark, unyielding absolutism?
Here’s my best advice: we try.We try to make the world around us a better, kinder place. We try to make the journey of our fellow man a smoother, more peaceful one. We try to help where we can and call out evil when we see it. We look within ourselves, and attempt to exercise our better angels, and exorcise our demons.And if a member of a marginalized portion of the population says that something we or others say or do is hurtful, or frightening, or patronizing, we listen to them. And imagine if that person had your mother’s face, or your child’s, or your own. And try to understand and do better.And remember, if your heart’s in the right place, you’re halfway home.
Thanks for your time.