The left gets extreme in several different ways, but because it does not have backing from corporations and billionaires, it is far less dangerous. As discussed under Extreme Enviro, a leading climate-change journalist has claimed the ocean is rising a foot a year, when it’s actually rising about 1/8 of an inch per year. That’s extreme.(1) Climate Change Is Not a Hoax: The best science is telling us there's a huge risk from what we're doing. Since we can begin to address this risk very cheaply, it is completely irresponsible not to. Also, I am not saying that environmental exaggerations are nearly as bad as those paid for by Exxon and the Koch brothers, but this is no excuse. And the enviro extremism only serves to discredit environmentalists. And, Al Gore has published a picture suggesting the same error, and I’ve never found a single environmentalist correcting this. And then there are the 9/11 truthers. But let’s start with Jim Jones.
Let’s start with a clear example. I have a friend who spent years thinking Jim Jones, the mass murderer of 908 progressives, was nearly Jesus Christ. He almost got himself killed. But, even before Obama’s election he hated Obama with a passion, and loved Ralph Nader. That’s extreme.
He’s a very nice, calm, intelligent guy. How could he make a such mistake? And how could he learn so little from it?
I believe, he has a simplistic view of change — Change happens if we see the light and do what’s right. So he will only trust a leader who reflects that simple vision, but not one who thinks change is an incremental process that requires compromise and dialog along the way.
He’s also missing an understanding of the power of the constraints that keep status quo in place. He would read this and think I was arguing for the status quo. I’m not. I’m arguing that the system that protects it is powerful. To change it for the better requires hard work, and even then, positive changes come gradually.
Even more difficult for extremists to understand, is the need for strategy. Not only is positive change slow, but it must often be indirect. If people are sick of confrontational politics, and the opposition demands X which cuts entirely in the wrong direction, it may be best to offer to compromise on X/2, knowing they will reject it, look unreasonable, and fail to gain their demand.
But the extremist will see the offer of X/2 and a sellout and morally reprehensible. Of course politics is far more complex, and the strategies needed to accomplish anything are also far more complex then X/2. All of this escapes the extremist, and that is why the left splinters and turns on itself. For a brilliant 80-year look at this phenomenon, read Jonathan Chait, or watch Monte Python’s The Life of Brian.