Fundamentalism: a movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles.
When we think of fundamentalists, our minds most often jump to pictures of zealous religious followers who are willing to denounce both logic and reason to protect their beliefs. However, fundamentalism can exist in many different forms. Even scientists can become fundamentalists within their own disciplines and refuse to accept evidence that may contradict with their beliefs. We even now have atheists who ironically promote atheism as fervently as many missionaries promote their own religions.
Now with social media, we are presented online with a buffet of ideas, and allowed to pick and choose only those which we prefer to be exposed to. This is even already automatically being done for us by algorithms that are running behind the scenes. Thus our exposure to others who think differently than we do is being limited by social media the same way a person’s socioeconomic conditions physically can prevent them from interacting with different groups of people.
We are presented issues as false dilemmas and bifurcated into different extremes: social justice warrior or racist/sexist, third-wave feminist or men’s rights activist, nationalist or globalist, coastal elite or backwards redneck. Why do you need to be either pro black lives or pro police? I think that we should all be pro both, and choose to condemn individual behavior instead of automatically categorizing entire groups of people. Only when we quit focusing all of our energy on attacking one another from safe inside our two separate camps, can we come together and work to address the systemic problem of racism that does exist.
In the process of arguing the wrongness of other people’s beliefs, we can become so self-righteous about our own convictions, that we too can risk becoming fundamentalists in our own way.
In physics and engineering you learn that when something oscillates between two extremes while gaining momentum, it normally results in the object tearing itself apart.
We need to meet somewhere in the middle and have a nuanced discussion about hard and uncomfortable topics. However, often in the very institutions where such discussions should be common place, a person is cut off mid-sentence for forgetting a trigger warning, before an entire complete thought can even be uttered.
If a “safe space” was just an area where a person did not have to worry about being discriminated against because of their race, religion or gender, I think almost everyone would agree that they would be a good thing. However, the problem is that such spaces have developed into places where everyone holds the right to not be offended and be protected against being exposed to any conflicting ideologies. If different ideologies cannot conflict, and nuanced discussions cannot be had, then there can be no progress on the very issues which are most affecting the disenfranchised among us.
Regardless of your views on President Obama, he covered this issue well during one of the final speeches that he gave during his presidency.
South Park also chose to deliver the same message, but set it to music. If we all live in our own bubbles and ignore the true reality around us, we lose the ability to make positive change in the real world.
Our American democracy works because ideas are allowed to conflict with each other in civil ways. It is this competition between ideas which overtime has lead to the growth in both economic prosperity and human rights. But if we are to completely segregate ourselves into smaller enclaves and only interact with people who prescribe to our specific view of reality, we will lose the ability for our democracy to self-regulate.
The below video produced by the US War Department in 1947 warns of the dangers of a nation becoming too fragmented. A people who are united for the common good are difficult for extremists to influence. However, if these people are split into groups and turned against one another, fundamentalism is given space to grow. While fundamentalist leaders make grandiose promises to their followers, it is only ever these leaders who will prosper, and in the long run everyone will suffer.
As the film state:
“We human beings are not born with prejudices, always they are made for us. Made by someone who wants something. Remember that when you hear this kind of talk. Somebody is going to get something out of it, and it isn’ t going to be you.”
As soon as we make an exception and allow another person’s rights to be stepped on because they are different than us, it is only short while before we end up losing our own rights. Again as stated in the film:
“We must guard everyone’s liberty, or we can lose our own.”
When one fundamentalist group eventfully gains control over all the newly fragmented groups in a society, a witch hunt will then ensue to purge all those who threaten the new ruling class. The perpetrators of this purge proclaim of course that it is being done for the overall benefit of society. As Captain Picard reveals in the following Star Trek clip:
“Villains who twirl their mustaches are easy to spot. Those who clothe themselves in good deeds are well camouflaged.”
Captain Picard’s closing statement in the clip above warns us that there will always be those waiting for the right climate to flourish and spread fear in the name of righteousness, and that constant vigilance against those who do so is the price that we all must pay to protect our freedoms.
Article’s featured image by David Saracino.by