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What extremists have in common.

Updated on September 26, 2012
Extremists groups often want to impose their ideas and thinking on others even when people do not want them to.
Extremists groups often want to impose their ideas and thinking on others even when people do not want them to.

Common Elements in Extremists Groups

It is hard to have a rational discussion with members of extremists groups, whether they are extreme in terms of their religious beliefs such as extreme Muslims, extreme Christians, extreme Mormons, extreme Jehovah’s Witnesses or extreme Catholics. For every religious or political group, there is often an extremist branch, division or sect. Confusing the extremist branch with the non-extremist leads to confusion and false accusations. The extreme groups are not limited to religion, there are also extremist political groupings. It is also difficult to have rational discussions with extreme Liberals and extreme conservatives. Each of these extremist groups share a devotion to a dogma. When you talk with the extremist, you often receive the party line rather than an honest discussion of facts. For some the ‘party line’ is contained within their party platform or talking points, for others the party line is contained in their religious writings.

Each of these groups often hold to a ‘standardized’ set of talking points. When you veer from these talking points, the discussion often stops. Whether the discussion is about religious issues, the myth of global warming, the myth of evolution, or the origins of their religious traditions, veering off from their accepted view is often met with resistance. In arguments with extreme Muslims and extreme political types, you may find yourself not just ostracized, but called names, your intelligence insulted or threatened. Since each of these extremist groups views their version of events as superior, or the correct version, disagreement from the accepted views is met with hostility.

The issue of what constitutes scientific evidence is also a matter of debate. What political groups consider ‘scientific evidence’ is often based on political consensus rather than scientific research. When consensus is used to obtain information, you are left with what is politically correct rather than what has been proven using scientific methods. Since science requires observation of phenomena, what is presented as science is often driven more by theories, religious teachings and politics rather than by useable data. When select scientist provide information that is deemed ‘acceptable’ it becomes part of the established dogma. When data exists outside of the acceptable range of data, it is deemed as ‘unscientific’. This way, the debate about what is scientific evidence is controlled and limited.

When science, the arts and literature are stymied by extremist groups, the whole society suffers. Extremist thinking often attempts fragmenting science, the arts and literature. The tendency is to compartmentalize each are of study rather than to allow for a synthesis of them or the connection of them with the religious aspect. When the extremism becomes more intense, these areas are not just compartmentalized, they are censored. The censorship of ideas is one of their methods of controlling the thinking of the group as a whole. Whether compartmentalization or censorship, both techniques are methods of shaping and controlling the thinking of people rather than allow them independent thought.

A variation of this procedure is also used by extreme religious groups. They have an accepted version of historic events along with an accepted interpretation of religious texts. Those who veer off from the accepted version are often viewed as ‘heretics’ or non-believers due to their questioning of events or interpretations. In some religions heretics are ostracized from the main group. In some of the more extreme cases, the outcasts are killed or silenced from their dissension or deviation from the religious group.

Whenever groups, be they religious or political in orientation become closed to debate and dissension, there is a tendency to become more cult like in their orientation. Leaders are elevated to high position and often considered beyond question. The tendency to hold leaders to different standards than the rank and file is a quality often found in cult dynamics. This is seen in how the founders of some of the extreme religious groups are allowed a free pass on their personal morals. This is also seen in how some political groups also allow a free pass on the personal morals of their leaders.

The leaders of extremist groups are often charismatic. The leaders of such groups often surrounded by their own private protection force. Although the force is presented as for their protection, the reality is that they are often used to force the will and wishes of the leader on the followers in such groups. The protection force often have to show or prove their loyalty to the leader. Loyalty to the leader is often paramount in extremist groups. When the leader gives direction that is contrary to common sense, the followers are expected to follow what direction the leader gave rather than be open to other sources of information.

Since closed groups are suspicious of outsiders, there is often a risk for conflict. The more closed a group becomes the greater the risk of ‘groupthink’ developing. When a groupthink mindset develops, there is a high risk for violence whether in defense of the group or in the aggressive silencing of potential threats to the group. That violence may be political, legal (through the passage of laws designed to silence opposition), social (by using social pressure and media to silence opposition), ridicule or direct threats.

There have been many wars and violent actions where groupthink was a factor. Groupthink or the reaction to groupthink was a factor in the French Revolution, The Mormon War, the Armenian genocide in Turkey, the St. Bartholemew’s Day Massacre, the Jonestown Massacre, the Crusades, the Salem witch trials, the spread of Isalm through military conquest. In each of these episodes the zealous devotion to a cause or belief led to the deaths of many innocents.

When one mindset takes over and controls the masses, whether for what they view as ‘good intentions’, ‘equality’, ‘social well being’, ‘liberation’ or some other stated reason, there are potential dangers. Extremist groups often view their dogma as superior to the others. They often use terms in such a way that they are not oppressing or controlling others, they are ‘protecting’ them or protecting the society. The twisting of words and the meaning of them is another aspect of dealing with extremist groups that proves challenging. In the minds of the extremists, they are doing what is ‘best’. A common trait of extremist groups is the belief that the leaders are the ones who decide what is best, rather than allowing the people to make those choices for themselves. Not only do the leaders decide what is best, they often tell the people how to live their lives. They often strive to shape and create some utopian ideal of life they devised rather than allow the people to hold onto their history, heritage and cultural traditions.

When the people resist the leaders of extremist groups, they may find themselves viewed by the leadership as ‘unenlightened’ and the extremist leaders view their role as to bring enlightenment, equality or some other messianic sounding ideal rather than allow the people liberty in their laws, thinking and living. Although the extremist leaders talk about improving the lives, when they control the thinking, debates, discourse the extremists are not improving the lives of the people. When they take action like using the courts, police, laws and taxes to force compliance with some enlightened ideal rather than allow the people to make their own choices, they are laying the foundation for a closed minded groupthink society.


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