Exploring the Eclipse of Equality

Posts Tagged ‘extremism’

There are Four Lights: Paranoia target as ideological clue

In Domestic Politics on March 7, 2010 at 5:00 pm

There is a famous episode of Star Trek, the Next Generation in which Captain Picard is tortured and psychologically manipulated in an attempt to break his will (yes, I realize that I have outed myself on the status of my pop-cultural taste). The  episode is really quite nice as a placeholder for a kind of heroic recalcitrance in the face of ideological manipulation. There are times when I feel the need to state the obvious –to channel my inner Picard.  Not to overdramatize the situation, but this feels like one of those times. Whatever others might like us to believe, the recent set of violent attacks on the government have something in common. These are not isolated tragedies.

The anti-government violence seems to be getting closer to home. We now have another terrible story of a young man who decided to attack the Pentagon single handedly in support of his idiosyncratic worldview. I am sure that this poor soul was not well. This may be something that we keep in mind when we judge other terrorists as well. In this case, we had the warning  of the family, who suggested that the man had purchased weapons and was in the grip of a set of ideas that could prove dangerous. This reminds me most of Abdulmutallab who would have downed a jet on Christmas. His effort was the last word after the passage of the health care bill in the Senate and before the Scott Brown victory. Association is intriguing if potentially spurious at times.

I think it is important to think historically about the form of American extremism. Remember the major finding in the political science literature that there is little ideological constraint in American public opinion. Just because you hold one idea, does not mean that you hold others that are logically associated with it. This holds at an individual level, but not necessarily at the group level. This means that we can find a set of ideas that characterize the ideal type of a group’s mind without finding much coherence in the individuals who comprise it. The more extreme the group, the more variable the correlations of disparate ideas one should expect to find, but the group may a kind of coherence of idiosyncrasy even of the  individuals are simply incoherent.

This would fit for the New Left of the 1960s, whose members espoused a variety of eclectic leftish views, many of which would not make sense to espouse together.  The lack of coherence of such views led to the creation of hippie tourism (the summer of love had tour buses), the remnants of which are with us today. It is fun to ogle others with whom one disagrees when the other’s views do not make much sense. Recently Jaywalking with Leno has much the same feel.

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