Why I Will Never Use the Term “Extremist”

“Extremist” is a term I will never use. Here’s why.

When you call someone “extreme”, you’re calling them consistent. To assume that consistency is automatically and always bad is totally wrong.

Think about people in your personal life. Do you want them to be consistent, or not? If someone you love and trust is consistently honest, or consistently funny, or consistently intelligent, do you call them “extreme” because they’re consistent? Of course not. You want consistency with the things you like, and with things that are objectively good and sound.

Let’s say someone advocates consistency in freedom of speech, or the right to self-defense, or in economic liberty, i.e., the freedom to trade freely with others on terms agreeable to all involved. To advocate these things is always considered extreme by those who don’t like these things. But if these are good things, then why not attempt to practice and uphold them consistently? How does it help your cause, and your values, to water them down?

The best way to understand the intellectual dishonesty behind charges of “extremism” is to look at the person making the charge. The person making the charge might call you an extremist for saying freedom of speech applies to everyone, including even Nazis or racists, no matter how horrendous their views might be. So long as they don’t take action on their views, i.e., starting to personally threaten or physically harm people, the government has no business stopping them from saying or thinking whatever they wish. The person who calls this extreme wants freedom of speech applied to him- or herself. You had better believe that! But how about with others whose speech they don’t like? Not so much.

How are you supposed to define when to turn the principle of freedom of speech on or off, if it’s virtuous and reasonable to apply that principle inconsistently? What are the parameters? How are you supposed to stay true to any principle or value — honesty, integrity, trust, reliability — if you disparage its consistent practice by use of the critical term “extreme”?

If it’s “extreme” and therefore bad to be “too honest” with the people you love, or “too loving”, or “too kind”, then how is one to measure the exact right amount of honesty and kindness?

These are the questions people who level the charge “extremism” will never answer. Usually that’s because nobody ever asks them. Being called “extremist” is like being called “selfish”. The shame is so great upon having such a charge made against you, that you bow your head and all debate or discussion stops. It’s the death knell for any reasonable, principled discussion about anything. That’s why intellectually dishonest people use the term “extremism”. It stops conversation dead in its tracks, and they don’t want a conversation. They want dissenters simply to shut up.

If you take a principled stand about anything and you’re told that you’re being extreme, about the only thing you can say in reply is, “I hear that as saying I’m too consistent. Tell me why consistency is a bad thing, in this case. Prove to me that consistency is bad”. The burden of proof has to be on the person making the charge. If they don’t want something to be consistent, then it’s up to them—not you—to explain and defend where the principle applies, and where it does not.

Don’t be frightened by terms of intimidation like “extremism”. Listen to what the person is really saying.

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