THEME: Taken To The Extreme

Extremist: someone who has beliefs that most people think are unreasonable and unacceptable. Cambridge Dictionary.

How do we as a society make space for the ‘extreme’? How could we come to a better understanding of ‘extreme’ ideas if we remove violence, chaos and the overthrowing of power as defining traits of ‘extremism’? At the core of ‘extremism’ would then sit radical, evolutionary, critical thought and ideas. How do we allow these to proliferate and be debated?

Extremist is a dirty word. In fact, it’s so dirty (and powerful) that you can name your group ‘Band of Mercy’ and be labelled an extremist. Mercy? That is extreme. I wonder if all the intensely negative rhetoric around ‘extremist’ is really a fear of violence, chaos and loss of power? Maybe those two concepts are unfairly conflated into the one neat parcel that rejects unfamiliar, challenging ideas.

If we make space for ‘extreme’ ideas, where do we draw the line, if at all? As a society can we censor right-wing white supremacist ideologies and leave progressive politics untouched? Not to critically examine, and ignore, punish or demonise ‘extreme’ ideas is at our peril – the ‘mainstream’ is not always the safest, most morally coherent option. Where has the mainstream idea of infinite growth on a finite planet got us?

If the use of violence is a tool of extremists, what does that make governments who engage in warfare? And what does that make ‘extremists’ who engage in non-violent civil disobedience? According to Mark Furner MP for Ferny Grove you’re an extreme activist  and zealot if you use civil disobedience to try and raise awareness about the annual slaughter of 80 billion land animals world-wide, and the extreme conditions that sentient cows endure on Queensland feedlots. Extreme? Extreme compassion and love of all living things; now that is dangerous.

Abolishing slavery was once considered extreme, and the normalised brutality was fiercely defended. I’m glad the practice of enslaving people is now illegal and viewed negatively by our culture. It’s not to say that slavery no longer exists by any means, but it highlights that abolitionists were once considered ‘extreme’. Freedom is now a central tenant of Western democracy.

We as a species are faced with an extreme and imminent existential threat from human induced climate catastrophe. Will our society sanction extreme responses in its wake? Will ‘extremist’ be such a dirty word then?


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