Extremism Is Now the New Hype?

Transposing emblem by Jonay Quintero Hernández

“Extremes meet” – this little piece of popular wisdom may come in handy more often than not in many a conversation today. Everyone seems to be ready not only to give their own opinion (regardless of whether it has been asked for or not), but to defend it down to the last bullet. Very often a simple suggestion is responded to with an outburst of emotional arguing rather than with a logical response related to the original statement.

If all this happens in private, daily life in interactions with classmates, colleagues, relatives or passers-by in a pub, what happens in the international geopolitical scene? Just a few examples, though not necessarily innovative ones: the Brexit “thing”, pro-independence claims in Catalonia, populism and neofascism in western Europe, ISIS and other religious extremists, and the Trump administration, among others.

However, the savvy reader might have been thinking at this point: “But extremism is all about terrorist attacks and the like, isn’t it?” Well, according to the UK’s Counter Extremism Strategy of 2015, the definition of extremism would be something like: “…[] the vocal or active opposition to our fundamental values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and respect and tolerance for different faiths and beliefs. We also regard calls for the death of members of our armed forces as extremist.” So, if someone goes against “our fundamental values”, or threatens respect or tolerance, they are being an “extremist”. But the question is do we all, not only as countries, but as individuals, respect the other’s rules and values? Are we really so tolerant?

Millennials are said to be, by far, the most oversensitive generation ever and it is very interesting to consider whether there is some truth in this claim. The current generation has grown up in an over protective environment in which the individual is said to be “special”, “different”, and therefore, why should the slightest discrepancy be allowed, especially if it questions your values or hurts your feelings? You are the “special” one.

Allegedly, younger generations have greater concerns about social or environmental issues than previous ones. That’s cool. But being brought up in the notion of their own uniqueness, many youngsters, apparently seem to care about those issues but, especially when they affect them, there is a certain tendency to overreact to the offenses. It is very hard to live if you take offense at the slightest criticism that you receive.

There seems to be a dictatorship of the “politically correct”, a constant exaggeration of inclusive language or a fundamentalist preaching of gender ideology. All of these tendencies can be in themselves “extremist” as they take values originally considered to be positive too far. As they fall into exaggeration, these values get diverted from the purpose they were originally designed for. One of the most famous cases took place when Netflix began broadcasting the classic TV series “Friends”, which enjoyed great success when aired for the first time almost 30 years ago. The new audiences considered the series to be homophobic, misogynist and contrary to LGTB rights. Particularly controversial was the episode in which Ross’s lesbian ex-wife marries her partner; many of the jokes about their sexual choice angered the youngest Netflix audience.

The fact that at that time everyone laughed at that kind of humor may be arguable, but the real point is that not a soul thought by any means, at that time, that silly jokes of this sort could be offensive to anyone. No one would have thought this to be such a big deal back then. That being said, is it that we all were brutally homophobic at that time? Or is Gen Y overreacting to this issue? This is just one example. The fact is that increasingly more experts on psychology and sociology are beginning to suggest the latter. And this is again where we see the “snowflake” phenomenon mentioned above: if you are “special” yourself, your feelings are more important than anybody else’s, your views matter more than anyone else’s… indirectly you are two inches above the rest of mankind.

This is at the heart of extremism because if you take offence so easily and your reactions are so violent (critics, please check any comments section of Youtube, Twitter or any other social network), then you are surely provoking an at least, equal reaction in your counterpart. Everybody seems to believe they have the right to pontificate on any subject, no matter how complex it might be. There is a serious danger in believing that mind-bending, long-lasting problems may have simple, straightforward solutions. Here is where the “bad guys” come into play. The populists, nationalist, or just simply professional manipulators that try to gain some sort of profit from general uncertainty or social unrest.

The media are particularly relevant in this issue. They seem to have dropped independence, neutrality, objectivity or simply essential ethics long ago. Taking Spain as an example – although it seems to be a general tendency everywhere – there are no “normal journalists” any more. You only get left-wing journalists and media or right-wing journalist and media. “Wisdom is always in the right middle,” Aristotle said, but that does not seem to apply any more. When we hear these journalists’ mean, selfish, one-sided, if not simply false reporting, we feel like we are being transported to our darkest past.

Obviously, there had to be consequences sooner or later. The surge in populist parties like Podemos or CUP, independentism (we always had a little bit of this though) and, worst of all, the appearance of a far-right party, for the first time in more than forty years, are due to this two-sided phenomenon of extremism-polarization. One could have thought that Falange, the Franco regime’s party, would become this strong far right party at some point, but that does not happen to be the case. National Catholicism is difficult to market in a time in which fewer and fewer people seem to care about religion in western countries. There is a renewed, “fresh” and “normal guy looking” for this new version of fascism, which is called VOX, and he succeeded in gathering an audience of 10,000 at Vistalegre Arena in Madrid. This audience is “massive” for the social standards of a “leftie” country like Spain and no far right party had managed to achieve this in the last forty years.

Their ideology can be quickly summarized in “Spain for Spaniards” (immigrant deportations), the abolition of Autonomous Communities (centralization of the country) and “Make Spain Great Again”… whatever… Doesn’t it sound familiar to you? Old imperial nations such as Austria, Germany, the UK or Spain are especially vulnerable to this kind of “ideology”, but this delusional return to a “brighter past” is even triumphing in smaller nations. Otherwise you couldn’t explain the success of such bizarre characters as Orban, Farage, Le Pen or the Kaczýnskis.

When you surf the Internet, open a newspaper, listen to the radio or watch TV it really feels like we are in the 30s again. Watch out. Most people who lived during that time are long gone now, so what happened in those years has become a “not so serious” account performed by Hollywood, the History Channel and history books. Finally, as most educational systems in Western Europe have abandoned humanistic disciplines, this creates the perfect background for a new surge in these dark ideologies of the past. The effects of fascism and communism are a foreign experience for most millennials, who are at risk of repeating more than just an environment of polarization and extremes.