The Shadow Behind Our Reasoning

Are We, as a Nation, Being Radicalized?

rad·i·cal·i·za·tion
/ˌradəkələˈzāSH(ə)n,ˌradəkəˌlīˈzāSH(ə)n/
noun
1. the action or process of causing someone to adopt radical positions on political or social issues.
“the radicalization of the intelligentsia led to the revolution”

In the wake of events from January 6, 2021, when a mob entered our nation’s Capital, carrying guns, zip ties, and clubs; when these same people used flag poles with our nation’s flag waving in the wind to break windows and smash walls and furniture; when these same terrorists carried the Confederate flag throughout the halls giving it some kind of acidic respect somehow equal to our United States flag; when they chased down police officers and murdered two of them; when they spread feces on the walls and floors, defacating our national home; when they chanted for the execution of Vice President Pence and Speaker Pelosi, all while having built a hangman’s platform outside on our Capital grounds (something black citizens have been terrorized and threatened with for hundreds of years), when all those things occured (and as I have processed the events of this past week) I felt this article was worth reposting.

I would request my American family to ask yourself this question today, in the aftermath of the shock and horror we all experienced, Have I been radicalized?

We can do something about this as a nation of people who truly strive for freedom and the pursuit of our own rightful happiness. We can vote out political hacks who encourage hate and division. We can boycott organizations and companies that support spurious and dangerous elected officials, the ones who sow doubt, hate, and promote conspiracy theories as they hand out lies like poison candy to their hurting constituents. The mob mentality we witnessed was as viral but far more dangerous than COVID 19. Those people were trying to destroy an ideal and it didn’t matter what color your skin was, how you worshipped or what your Party offiliation. If you stood in their way you were dead where you stood.

We are the only ones with the vacine that can stop this. Until we can honestly answer the question, Am I radicalized? and reevaluate how we see the world and who we support, everyone will suffer far longer than necessary.

America was, after all, a radical idea, born of a revolution, a people ready to break free from the repressive governance of its then mother country England. Radical ideals led to the ongoing experiment of our Republic, one that has been filled with endless potential and possibilities, If we can keep it as the incredibly wise Ben Franklin was quoted to have said.

So, I ask, can we keep it? Or are we as a nation, being radicalized by the extreme ends of our great experiment, pressured to abandon the center that contains the heart and soul of this country? This is the most important question any one person can ask themselves these days. It is, after all, the age of information and it is fingertip available to anyone with a phone, the one we call “smart.” But the information that flows over our tiny screens is unreliable, a gargantuan and often dangerous misinformation field, influencing and fooling all of us who consider ourselves to be intelligent, discerning adults. Pundits with extremist opinions from both the far-left and far-right offer commentary that appeals to our most fearful base instincts. The news coverage of the tragic deaths in Portland Oregon inspired this article. One news report began with (and I am paraphrasing) “someone from the ‘far-left’ had shot and killed someone from the ‘far-right.’” We are so “far out” that we have lost our way as a nation. Remember when “far out” was a hippie-dippy term? That cool term has turned hot and terminally lethal as we move closer to the Presidential election.

Consider there are two sides to everything; good and bad exists in absolutely anything you consider having only one side. That is, by physics and rational analysis, impossible. Our reasoning is no different. You might say, What about water? I would respond by saying it keeps us alive, helps us grow foods to nourish our bodies. It can also flood cities, drown our most precious loved ones, and be used as an instrument of torture. How about the sun? It keeps the planet warmed, provides nutrients to our bodies and to the natural world, helps with photosynthesis and promotes a healthy emotional/mental state. But too much exposure can burn skin to the point of needing medical care, can scorch a rain starved earth, making it barren and lifeless, or can be attributed to skin cancer long after our burns have healed.

Having Certainty Does Not End Confusion — It Deepens False Convictions

We are all confused on some level. If not confused, we are deeply uncertain. Feeling anxious and fearful causes everyone to dig a deeper trench of certainty by avoiding the other side of the issue. Feeling terrified of our neighbors and fellow Americans pressures us to mentally arrive at a conclusion we feel is certain and absolute. If certainty doesn’t drive us, helplessness and hopelessness certainly can feed the language and influence of extremism.

For a moment, consider that we are all looking through a telescope, focusing on only one small section of a world that, when observed away from our myopic view, is as wide and varied as the Universe itself. If you’re eye is seeing burning buildings, you are missing the inhumanity that led to destruction. If you are only seeing distrust, you are missing all the reasonable ways there are to trust. If our telescope is only turned toward a specific, limited view, we miss all the warnings and/or beauty that does not fall into our limited perception.

I can feel my own resistance. As I write this I too long for, want and need certainty right now for myself. I can hear my mind saying that certainty is needed in my world and I need to find someone to trust so I can survive. We are all vulnerable to our fears. Examples abound, however, of how our fears lead to us, as humans, being fooled. Some instances are more extreme than others for certain, but each example exposes our vulnerability of falling into an abyss of lies that promises us “the moon” but leaves us stripped of everything in the end. From the infamous Bernie Madoff to the brother-in-law who cheats you out of your job, we are each and all craving security through certainty, giving away our trust to those who say one thing and then betray us. We need to trust but we need to trust ourselves first.

We also need to ask hard questions, questioning everything. Those who would abuse and misuse their supporters as a means of accomplishing their own ends count on our dependency and need for certainty. They hand assurance out like Halloween candy and expect us to gobble it up, even if in the end their certitude makes us even sicker with fear. If more people asked questions, those who lie to us might be exposed and held accountable for who they really are and the abuses they heap upon humankind.

On November 18, 1978, an American preacher turned cult leader took advantage of confusion and a need for certainty. Jim Jones, the leader of Independent Assemblies of God, orchestrated a mass suicide and murder for his followers. All 918 members of his devotees, 304 of them children, died that day. They trusted him because he offered an answer that eased their uncertainty. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Jones

In Germany, Hitler fed on the frustrations and uncertainty of his country’s citizens that resulted in 6 million Jews being annihilated. Responsible German citizens stood by and trusted his repetitive false diatribes as a positive vision for a strong, healthy Germany. https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/documenting-numbers-of-victims-of-the-holocaust-and-nazi-persecution

The 17-year old teenager who recently shot and killed two protestors in Kenosha Wisconsin was looking for certainty and had been radicalized to act, trusting that the Trump call to arms was speaking directly to him. https://www.nbcchicago.com/news/local/who-is-kyle-rittenhouse-what-we-know-about-the-17-year-old-arrested-in-kenosha-shooting/2329610/

Is our need for certainty blinding us to what might be outside the scope of our miopic, limited telescopic view?

Being Groomed — The Repetitive Messages of the Radical

We all have vulnerabilities that make us targets for those seeking power. As adults, we acquire our perspective over time, gathering information experientially that leads us to assumptions we believe to be true. If I am a Republican, my faith in the party is based on whether I have felt supported over the years by my party. The same is true for Democrats. If I am a person who lives in a lower populated, less diverse place in our country I see people of color differently than I do if I live in an urban area and have friendships with minorities. If I am a deeply religious person, I may have no tolerance for someone who does not believe as I do. Mixed with certainty, our perspectives and beliefs become cement boots that keep us weighted down and incredibly vulnerable as targets. Loyalties to one position can lead us away from our values when those values become less important than our right to have them. We see that in the support given a president whose values are in complete opposition to the values of his supportive base. We see that in religious leaders and coaches who are trusted with our children even as they violate them sexually. One by one, people of power who point fingers and say one thing, while doing exactly the opposite (or sometimes the very thing they are condemning) feed on our vulnerabilities and trust. We mistake their “honesty” as truthfulness. Those two concepts are juxtaposed to each other, each meaning something completely different.

Life is hard enough; we must feel safe as we live in our communities and our country, as we move through and live with our decisions. In Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, Talking to Strangers, he deftly explains why we trust others and how we miss what in retrospect was apparent. https://www.amazon.com/Malcolm-Gladwell/e/B000APOE98%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share

The question at hand is are we able to see the naked king? There is a biblical quote that tells us a small child will lead them. Using the example of the naked king, it was the child who stated the truth. It was the child who, in his innocence, simply stated the fact with such pure honesty that it awakened the adults around him from the hypnotized radicalization of their king, even as his male appendage swung freely in clear view of his followers.

The nature of being informed is not the same as receiving the repetitive loop of messaging that is streaming over the airwaves. Far-right and far-left pundits are stoking our fears. Those on the far-left call all Republicans evil, heartless people while the those on the far-right tell Americans the country will burn if we elect “fascist socialists” (which is, by the way, an oxymoron). Name calling could be harmless if it weren’t being endlessly repeated, infecting our minds with ideas that have no factual foundation in reality.

Radicalization is a process of adopting an extremist system of values combined with expressing approval, support for, or use of violence and intimidation as a method of achieving changes in society or encouraging others to such acts” (Szlachter, 2012).

This falls far outside the scope of peaceful protesting, something that is our privilege living in a free society. Demonstration has always moved the needle toward the positive evolution of our country since day one. On the other hand, radicalization feeds on the discontent; to have a revolution, one who wants power must build his/her base through repetitive hyperbole and fearful messaging. Without consensus from a base, radicalization fades when the light of truth hits it. Radicalization takes hold when there is a common fear of change, of some ethereal, ghostly loss that suggests we need to have any control over the evolution of society. Without evolution a society dies. What we can do is reevaluate and reconsider why any society needs to change and then take steps together and move it toward the positive change we seek. If we are cemented in our thinking by radical left/right ideas, we are far more vulnerable to the extremist pundits than we are willing to work together.

If you would like to consider some of the influencers that give radicalization power, here are some of signs to heed as adults.

*Being discouraged or unwilling to listen to other points of view
*A feeling of arrogance and superiority over another race, gender or class
*Using scripted speech to express your position
*Disrespect for others that dehumanizes them
*Separating from people we love and once trusted to have our best interest in mind
*Picking a side we think is “right” and making everyone else “wrong”
*Increased levels of anger and aggression, choosing weapons over reason
*Isolation that insists on loyalty instead of connection
*Differing points of view seen as disloyal that lead to punitive consequences

— — — — — —

This post is an exceedingly small dip into the how’s, why’s, and reasons any of us become radicalized. We have all been influenced by those we trust to lead, trusting they care only for our highest welfare. Responsible spiritual leaders have convinced us to choose compassion over hate. Compassionate doctors convince us to exercise instead of being couch potatoes. Even Tony Robbins has convinced people to walk on hot coals so they can believe in themselves to take on and conquer the impossible. But none of these bridges, big or small, are ever crossed until we are willing to recognize that the bridge leads to another side. We don’t have to give up our values to follow our convictions. We surrender nothing when we cross over and see another point of view, see that we are all connected. It soften’s our gaze and melts the unreasonable. Until we recognize and acknowledge that we live in a diverse world, we will continue to burn bridges and disconnect from what matters: each other.

This country, the United States of America, is one I love deeply and without apology. I also recognize it is also deeply flawed, yet boundless in possibilities and potentially filled with hope. I recognize that not everyone gets to play or start on the same playing field but together we can change that for everyone. The disparity can only be corrected as we are willing to share the compassion and goodness that is ours to share. We do not need to compete, but to simply offer a hand (or take one) when someone reaches out. Without that willingness, we cannot even see the extended hand of friendship. The mud of arrogance smeared on our virtual eyeglasses, ear plugs that stream only one repetitive looping message, or ideas we cling to that are inconsistent with our ethics and morals, simply make us all deaf, dumb and blind.

We rarely see our position as being jihadist, or extreme, or controlling. You will know when you are edging away from your true center when you become angry and unwilling to have the conversation with someone with a differing point of view in a rational and reasonable manner. You might argue you have that right, that you are not one to fly planes into buildings or plant bombs in neighborhoods. You will tell me that you do not kill or defile our neighbors’ home. On the surface you might even feign kindness, respect, or compassion to those you see as unworthy. But if you demean another person, see them as less than human, if you see yourself superior in anyway, radicalization has begun to set in. We betray ourselves by accepting without question those who would prey on our vulnerabilities and trust for their own benefit.

On the other side of this time in the history, as we evolve, I hope that the innocence of a child (or the innocence that is our own to trust) awakens us from the radicalization of the extreme left and right. Only then will we find ourselves individually empowered and living together, working together, playing together in the freedom we all have grown to love so well.

__________________

For more information on radicalization and how it can happen to anyone, I provide the following links:

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/20/books/review/hitlers-first-hundred-days-peter-fritzsche.html

https://www.amazon.com/Hitlers-First-Hundred-Days-Embraced/dp/154169743X/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=Hitler%27s+First+Hundred+Days+Peter+Fritzsche&qid=1599506993&s=books&sr=1-1&tag=NYTBSREV-20

Isolated and Potentially Radicalized by the Dark Web:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poway_synagogue_shooting

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandy_Hook_Elementary_School_shooting

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Paddock

Political Radicalization

https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2019/05/why-social-media-ruining-political-discourse/589108/

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-39730467

https://www.wired.com/story/qanon-deploys-information-warfare-influence-2020-election/

Candace is a published writer, teacher, coach and student of history. A wife, mother & grandmother, writing has been her life-long passion.

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