Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Conspiracy Against Extremists. Part 1

Reader beware: EXTREMIST AHEAD.

Modern American culture hosts a conspiracy against extremism. The conspiracy is fed by a burning fear of being isolated. It's fertilized by a longing to be accepted. It's a movement that's blindly joined by those who are weak.

Moderation has been called a virtue to limit the ambition of great men, and to console undistinguished people for their want of fortune and their lack of merit. - Benjamin Disraeli, former British PM

The simple nature of being "extreme" is touted as being overboard or unreasonable. The negative connotation of extremism clouds any educated argument. Extremists of all ways of life are quickly bound together with groups such as al-Qaeda, Branched Dividians, and armed militias. Not a fair shake. Many of you first read the title of this post "Conspiracy Against Extremists" and some preconceived imagine popped into your mind. Right?

An arising question may have been: How exactly does this relate to physical fitness, performance, and elitism? First, let me lay some serious groundwork with regards to extremism, social acceptance, human tendencies, and myths and connotations.

Two obvious sects ripe for extremism are politics and religion. Social "law" goes as far as keeping dinner or cocktail conversation away from such topics. One really has to wonder why. Afterall, those are the two topics I most enjoy discussing! But most folks don't want to lose friendships, business contacts, or family ties due to an argument where neither side has a decent chance of changing the other's stance. (I'll take that risk!!)

Let's first look at politics. Most people have been brought up in a family or environment that favors one American major political party over the other. (With the uprising of more influential groups, we have less of a bipartisan system than in the past.) Rarely does a happy family sprout from parents with opposing political views. There are certain views, beliefs, values, and philosophies in strong contention with each other. With contention comes argument. And disagreement requires knowledge to debate. However, most Americans don't possess enough political knowledge to enter into a civil, logical idea-contest. Or they get swayed by a savvy lecturer who knows how to sell his/her point to the uncommitted and uninformed. This weakness breeds a tendency to "ride the middle." Polls indicate 25% of Americans as "independent" when it comes to political affiliation. I'm not sure it stems from ignorance, or the reluctance from aligning themselves with a side. Now there are far-left Democrats, moderate Democrats, moderate Republicans, and far-right Republicans....with all shades in between. Is this fear of alignment a fear to be falsely grouped among the far left or right....and therefore a desire to be labeled indecisive rather than labeled an extremist??

With regards to religion, let's first examine Islam. Depending on the statistics, numbers vary greatly. I'll adopt one set of numbers to make a point here. Ten percent of Muslims are solid believers. They live by all the rules of the religion. Eighty percent go with the flow, and are more practitioners out of upbringing, convenience, and ritual. Only 1-2% are categorized as violent jihadists (though I've seen stats as high as 7%). There are obviously varying degrees of all Muslim believers, some categorized as extremists.

Now within Judeo-Christians, I'd contend the numbers are similar. While I don't see the frequency or volume of violent Judeo-Christian movements (as with Islam), there are undoubtedly those who do use violence as a tactic, claiming action in the name of God. Many Christians find themselves along the spectrum between strong, faithful, testifying believers all the way down to I-go-to-church-on-Easter. If one aligns him/herself with a group of fervent and committed believers, s/he risks being labeled with those extremist titles of Jesus Freak or Bible-thumper. "Maybe it's better to be temperate than to risk those titles," is a moderate approach.

Abortion. We've got Pro-Lifers and Pro-Choicers. At one extreme, there are protesters who pray in front of clinics that perform the procedures. At the other, activists who fight for late-term abortions. One end harbors "baby murderers" and the other holds intolerant and chastising idealists.

Gun Control. Another hot bed for debate. Gun owners cling to the Second Amendment, but are cited as militia men, paranoid protectors, and the reason for violent crime in America. Gun control advocates are either sissies or overly-idealist legislators.

Turn the page to alcohol consumption. Abstainers sit at one pole denouncing alcohol as a poison to body and mind. Regular drinkers on the other hand proudly raise a glass to any day ending in "Y." Talk out against booze, and you get called a teetotaler. Frequently partake in the bottle, and you're a drunk, lush, or booze-hound. This is NOT a unique situation where one bookend is considered wrong by most all. Most cultures see drunkenness as an evil (or wrong). But why do the majority of people also see the same negative connotation applied to complete abstainers? Why is moderation seen as better than complete abstinence?

The topics surrounding sex is filled with potentials for extremes. If you're an abstainer, put on the chastity belt. But sleep around, and you're a slut. The same goes for pornography. Certain risks go with speaking out against it (Goody Two-Shoes?)...and the Internet and technology has produced yet more media opportunities to churn out porn addicts. Again, the safe route is to side with a certain public-acceptable amount of promiscuity, and tax the porn industry. Much like in the case with alcohol consumption, less risky to put oneself in the middle. Aligning with an extreme here is a recipe for isolating yourself against the rest.

What has been bred is a climate rejecting polar affiliation. The safe route is to be moderate. Not too hot, and not too cold. Be temperate. Be tolerant of everyone. Don't upset the apple cart. Don't cause waves. In mediocre. Ride the middle of the road. This is not only an acceptance of mediocrity, it's a factory pumping it out en masse. Some of the above dissected topics have poles that are outright wrong on all moral compasses. Drunkenness. Lewdness. Violence. The others aren't as clear cut. Well, let me rephrase that....the others aren't as agreed upon.

I must make some concessions here. Some topics under politics will battle forever. Gun control. Social Reform. Abortion. The poles are so antagonistic. The middle ground is held by those:
  1. Confused by the issues at hand.
  2. Ignorant to the facts or stances being contested.
  3. Refuse to align themselves with a side for fear of being associated with the most extreme in that group.
There are extremists attached to each of those movements. The arguments and debates and protests are heated on both sides. And this is not the forum to discuss them any further. Done.

However, I will discuss some of the other topics. Consumables and participation events. As I've alluded to above, some of the above topics have varying degrees of what it means to be moderate. One one end, there are some topics that have varying degrees of consumption and participation. Two previously identified topics are alcohol and sex (which at times aren't as separate as may seem). At one end, there is drunkenness and lewdness. Both of these "extremes" have been labeled by most all societies as wrong. Public society has however found some middle ground where one finds acceptance. But, why is there such a negative connotation towards the opposite bookend of sexual and alcoholic abstinence or avoidance? Critics against these extremes claim intolerance, prejudice, or obsessiveness. I understand the dissenting overtone of overindulgence in these realms, but why such an unyielding toward avoidance??

We can go on and on with these consumables and participation events: vegans, vegetarians, Amish/technology, pornography, food portion consumption, sexual activity, modern medications, religious devoutness, celebration of holidays, sports team/athlete fanaticism, alcohol, illegal street drugs, television watching, tobacco. The list can go on and on. And many of these topics find an extremes of overindulgence/participation versus avoidance/abstinence. Most all of the extremes of overindulgence bring a negative image: too much tobacco, too much alcohol, too much sex, too much chocolate, too much watching TV. But I question yet again....why is there so much negativity associated with the opposite extreme? What inherent danger goes with not having sex, not drinking booze, not watching TV, not caring about the local sports team, not eating meat??

Society has found it much easier to promote moderation than it has in accepting or tolerating avoidance groups altogether. Moderation has been deemed a virtue, but avoidance is punished with monikers....some nicknames are worse for abstainers than for those who over-indulge in the same consumables!!

These following personal stories of mine shed some light on the Conspiracy Against Extremism. Between now and when I complete Part 2, maybe I'll even think of some more examples of how this Conspiracy Against Extremism can be painted into a clear picture. These are real life stories that I have lived throughout the past few years:
  • Avoiding meat (beef, chicken, and pork) during Lent season
  • Avoiding alcohol while training for a marathon
  • Not having a television for 2 months
  • Sleeping on the floor for 2 years
  • Competing in strenuous physical contests
  • Leading a church youth group
Part 2 will elaborate on the above case studies that make some points about how society perceives those who find themselves bunched with extremists. And Part 3 will get into how this all fits into physical fitness.

For now, I leave you with the above foundation upon which I will build my case for a Conspiracy Against Extremism.

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