Looking back on my adventures through cyberspace, all the long running arguments and back and forth poo-flinging, trials of one-upmanship, I have come to realize one simple fact:
Radicals are the same everywhere.
It doesn’t matter if you are debating radfems, racists, anti-communists, die hard libertarians, religious fanatics(of all stripes), Pro-Choice, Anti-Abortion, Men’s Rights Activists, eco-guerillas, anarcho-capitalist, anarcho-primitivists, or counter-revolutionaries. The polemic is all the same, it follows the same patterns, and it all leads to the same place; back where you started. You have a better chance persuading a stone wall than you do a radical of any ilk.
1. Radicals label you.
It is imperative that radicals label you at the the earliest possible instance in an interaction. By labelling you they can determine if you are “in-group” or “out-group”, once they determine that you are one or the other (you HAVE to be one or the other, no fence sitting), they can go on to treat you appropriately, either by ridiculing you/ignoring you or if your “in group” getting all buddy-buddy with you and rope you into planning their next jihad.
2. Radicals attribute behaviours to you.
Once radicals got you pigeonholed, they begin to attribute an entire groups characteristics onto you. For example, if you happen to be a biologist, then a rabid anti-GMO advocate begins to blame you for Monsanto. Not logical, but it happens far too frequently. How do you argue with that?
Biologist whose politics you do not like:
“But, er, I don’t even like GMO’s”
Radical Anti-GMO activist:
“SHUT YOUR LYING BIOLOGIST, GMO-LOVING, MONSANTO-WHORING MOUTH!”
Radicals are also sure to use the word “you” and “your” as in “you lefties are all alike”, and “your scientist mafia”.
3. Radicals are incapable of absorbing new information.
You craft an argument that clearly shows your radical opponent is wrong. What do they do? Do they read it and weep. Does their ideology crumble like a house of cards? Do they admit that perhaps they were mistaken? NO. They ignore what you’ve said, they ignore any evidence you may have provided that they cannot refute and plough on with thought-stopping memes. Do you seriously think a radical is going to listen to anything you, as an identified “out-group” has said? You have no rapport with this person, to him/her you are the antithesis of everything they stand for, to admit any falliability to you would be an unforgiveable weakness. If they cannot post up a link weakly refuting what you’ve said, then they just don’t bother. Ever notice how long it takes a radical to respond versus someone who is trying to understand the other persons position? A radical can respond with a thought-stopping meme or with a crushing wall of text/links (a la copy/pasta of course) in seconds whereas people who are legitimately trying to understand a persons position takes hours, even days to go through their oppositions position. This is why you will never win a debate with a radical. They have spent countless hours painstaking putting together their dismissive one-liners and padding their wall of text with new links. And if you are foolish enough to go through every link or read every book they suggest and furnish a critique, they will say your critique is wrong and either ignore you or hit you with another wall of text/links or further suggestions for reading.
As you can tell from my blog I have taken people up on their offers to read books that support their point of view. And I have made extensive notes. I would note, however, I don’t think any of my opposition have ever read a single one of the counter suggestions I made. I think that some of the people I’ve crossed swords with don’t read at all. Which shows to me they are not willing to absorb new information. As one such opponent stated that we cannot “underestimate the conspiracy against liberty in higher learning institutions.” Right. Next.
4. Radicals are interested in recruiting more people like themselves.
This is why they are so keen in identifying you right away. If you are strong in person and opinion, you are the enemy. If you are unsure then you can be brainwashed (bombarded by links and text and e-mails). By converting you they have added to the echo chamber. This is important and this is why radicalism can survive, because even if you hold a fundamentally flawed idea (like say, all people must die to save the environment) it becomes less extreme if you surround yourself with people that think like you do and espouse the same views. It normalizes your viewpoint. Radicals, like the mainstream, want the same things, they want to be accepted by others. For radicals, however, it is much harder to be accepted by others if your viewpoint is that all women who get abortions are baby killers and should be killed, or that all infidels from the West must convert or die. So radicals do what they can, they create specialized enclaves that exist in isolation from the mainstream.
5. Radicals are interested in having their message become the dominant message.
All radicals entertain a fantasy. One in which after surmounting the insurmountable, they win. Their utopia is realized. The bad guys (the out group) have either died off or have converted to in-group. They write and talk endlessly about this “light at the end of the tunnel.”
6. Radicals talk in terms of absolutes.
They like to use the terms “all”, "no", “every”, “always”, “Not one”, “never”.
“All men rape, even the good ones.”
“Every muslim is a terrorist-in-waiting.”
“Gays always have an agenda.”
“There is no such thing as a competent woman.”
“Not one women marries for love. None! They marry for a walking-talking wallet.”
“Men will never stop oppressing women, they are incapable of stopping.”
There are no exceptions for a radical. If something appears like an exception then torturous logical contortions must be enacted to explain how the exception is not an exception. Or the easier route, ignore the existence of the exception.
What I have learned is that neither answers nor questions are black and white, there exists an interdependence of variables that influence outcomes and defy simple solutions. Most peoples brains are not cut out for that complexity, we like to keep things simple. For example, for radfems, the root of the problem is men, it is a seductive answer that if a solution is found for men then everything else, the economy, the environment, the culture, would sort itself out. For radical muslims, the root of their problem is the infidel. For radical communists, it is capitalism. For radical capitalists, it is socialism in the form of totalitarian governments. But for each radical and their perceived root, it is only one facet of the story, all of these are interdependent on other factors, which because we are human and not robots, we lose sight of because it is too damn difficult to hold it all in our heads. Think about it, how hard would it be to attract members into your radical group if your welcoming dialogue resembled the following:
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have a problem with the institution of religion...no wait, back up start again, we have a problem with our political parties...no wait that doesn’t sound right...Government! We have a problem with our government....yes we do but that is not all...Big business they are behind it...no wait this is bigger than big business it’s the transnational corporations and their plutocratic elite masters! Yes! Hold on I forgot the banks...no, the Central Banks! Wait I forgot the International Bankers! Ok ok maybe there is more...political ideology! That is the driving force! But that is not all, there is economic ideology behind that! And behind that is the philosophy of money! Driving that is the ideology of POWER, driven, of course, by the currents of culture...is that all? I forgot about the philosophical memes infecting culture which are in turn enhance by religious symbology infecting culture...”
You see what I mean? How do we unpack all that? How to unravel this mess exactly?
Normally I would encounter a radical and laugh it off. How would they possibly ever be in a position to influence or control society? I thought about it for awhile and a couple things came to mind:
1. Hitler - definitely had some radical ideas that even as a minority opinion he managed, through a perfect storm of events, get imposed on an entire nation. So there is that.
2. To quote from Zbigniew Brzezinski "...in early times, it was easier to control a million people, literally it was easier to control a million people than physically to kill a million people. Today, it is infinitely easier to kill a million people than to control a million people. It is easier to kill than to control....".
Technology being the double-edged sword that it is, eventually, inevitably, gives the power of mass destruction to individuals, including radicalized individuals. So the same small group of fringe radicals with their wacky views of how the world should run (and who should be "removed" to make this happen) suddenly can be seen in a whole new light.
It is not to say radicalism never had a place in society. These groups glom onto to nuggets of truth but then proceed to distort the consequences of that truth until it, and the proposed solutions to it, are as unrecognizable as they are unpalatable. The purpose these radical groups serve is to project these nuggets out into the mainstream where more rational and level-headed citizens can recognize they have a point, strip out this truth from all the dogmatic garbage that surrounds it, then champion realistic changes to the rest of society. Pressures that led to the formation of these radicals are hence relieved and the figureheads, having served their purpose, fade into the background (whether willingly or unwillingly).
Increasing access to technology short circuits this process by giving the radicals a direct means to act on society without going through the "laundering" process where their diamonds in the rough can be polished, instead it is the twisted version of consequences and solutions that can be enacted, which usually involves some offending group of people dying in large numbers so the rest can live in paradise (i.e. genocide).
The question then becomes how can we reach these radicals before they reach critical mass and "pull the trigger?" I can only surmise we do that by making the process of change more responsive and easier to partake in than wholesale destruction and matyrdom.