IPFS Powell Gammill

More About: Philosophy: Anarchism

Extremism in America

I recently had the privileged of attending a speech at the Strategic Edge Breakfast by Dr. Joel Olson, a political science associate professor at Northern Arizona University.  He specializes in studying extremism. 

This first thing I thought was interesting was he offered a historical definition of politics, that he considers a good one: "Who, what, when and how?"  (Harold Lasswell - great link)

I liked it, though we differed somewhat on his interpretation.  This is a short way of saying politics is two parties compromising on who gets what, when and how the exchange takes place.  Pirates.

Where we differ was Dr. Olson's discussion that this was like a capital business exchange where properties were being exchanged between two parties with each believing they got the best deal. 

The difference is businesses are exchanging their property.  Government, which is politics -- or at least the "leaders" in charge of government -- are also exchanging property.  It is however, property they had nothing to do in the creation of.  It is property they have acquired through robbery and deceit. 100 percent of the time!

According to Olson, politicians have a central belief: Rejecting compromise is not only crazy, it is extremist.  Compromise is the method of how you divide the spoils.

The reason I liked this was it defined two levels of our servitude:  The masters dividing the spoils, and indeed planning on future plunder and division of the spoils of other's labor.

This is separated from the far, far greater mass of bureaucrats set up over the past 250 years by the same ruling class to detect, confiscate and ensure the compliance of those who produce goods and services.  This apparatus of enforcement is called government.  And government is both real and an illusion.  Both groups are maintained at great cost to and with the blessing of the producers.

It is Dr. Olson's belief that America has always had a Lockean world view.  That America has rejected both the monarchic or hereditary rule and the Burkeian rule.  [I agree with him on the Lockean view. That is the definition of the American Way.  But the political elite certainly do not ascribe to that rule.  I think they welcome Harold Lasswell's views of political control over the unruly masses.  I think such views predate this nation.]

Dr. Olson also laid out first what extremism is not:
*It is not equivalent to violence.
*It cannot be reduced to a tactic.
*It is not a psychological temperament.
*It is not an ideology.
*It is not a relative concept.
Rather extremism is an approach to politics.  It is a complete rejection of political moderation.

Extremism consists of three parts: The (3) unconventional, extraordinary [means] (2) political mobilization of the (1) refusal to compromise. 

Extremists both refuse to compromise AND mobilize (attract) supporters as the result of their refusal to compromise.

Extremists have a friends and enemies world view.  The extremists views are an either/or situation(s).  Extremists want to both attack their enemies and evaporate the (majority) middle ground, forcing those in the middle to choose sides.

Elements of extremists:
*Refuse to compromise.
*Friends and enemies.
*Attack the moderate middle.
*Build a dedicated core.
*Commit to direct action.
*Ready to sacrifice.
Objective: hegemony. He defines hegemony as the struggle between dominant and subordinate groups to rule by defining the "common sense" of a society. (Antonio Gramsci)

Three comments on extremism in American politics:
1.  A poor understanding of extremists distorts our foreign policy.
2.  United States' extremism is consistent with the American character.
3.  Polarization is not extremism . . . but it can become so.
A take home point is his belief that ALL movements are extremist in nature, and the ONLY times there is a shift in worldview it results from uncompromising extremists who gain attention for their cause, and pull the rest of the population towards their views by refusing to compromise.

While no recording of his presentation is available, I did find this Youtube audio recording link to something similar at the Institute for Anarchist Studies.

Joel Olson Interviews:
Revolution by the Book
Repeal All Immigration Laws
Institute for Anarchist Studies interview
Fires Never Extinguished (4 Joel Olson links including Youtube video)

1 Comments in Response to

Comment by Mike Renzulli
Entered on:

It seems that Joel Olson not only specialized in studying extremism and fanaticism, but also White Guilt. The description of one of his books: http://www.upress.umn.edu/Books/O/olson_abolition.html

"Joel Olson contends that, given the history of slavery and segregation in the United States, American citizenship is a form of racial privilege in which whites are equal to each other but superior to everyone else. In Olson’s analysis we see how the tension in this equation produces a passive form of democracy that discourages extensive participation in politics because it treats citizenship as an identity to possess rather than as a source of empowerment."