Radicals on all sides of all issues are the same. They are parasites attached to political, social, and religious causes using them to promote a hidden agenda of Social Change. Because affecting Social Change is inefficient, slow, difficult, and often resisted by the very people whose society is being modified, this hidden agenda has numerous deleterious side-effects for the organization or cause that Radicals have infected. This essay offers a clear and objective way to identify Radicals. By this identification, and with additional information, political, social, and religious organizations can be cured of Radical infestations, and protected against further outbreaks.
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Part 1. All Radicals are the same.
Everywhere we go, we are constantly bombarded by messages from various ideologies: Environmentalism, Capitalism, Socialism, Religions, Free Software, Sub-Cultures, Counter-Cultures, the list seems endless. Many of these movements have Radicals at their fringes. At first glance, such Radicals seem to be harmless enough: people who are just a little more passionate about the cause in question than the rest. However, this appearance is deceiving. The truth is that such individuals are only using the cause as a cover and a carrier for their own goals. I am NOT suggesting that all Radicals belong to some secret conspiracy, rather that all Radicals, be they religious Radicals, political Radicals, or associated with some more esoteric philosophy, share common properties that make them more similar to one another than they are to the mainstream supporters of the various causes they are attached to.
Radicals only care about one thing: The Structure of Society: culture, lifestyle, attitudes and behavior. They hide this, there true concern, by championing causes: political, religious, economic, and social, but all of their rhetoric, regardless of which-ever side of which-ever issue they adopt always comes back to SOCIAL CHANGE.
We can see that SOCIAL CHANGE is the True Goal of ALL Radicals because they will reject any solution to the issues they are protesting that does not incorporate the SOCIAL CHANGE they are targeting, even if such a solution can be proven to be more effective. (Indeed I would put this forward as the defining quality of a Radical: A monomaniacal focus on SOCIAL CHANGE, to the exclusion of some or all other options). Examples demonstrate the point:
- An anti-abortion Radical might start by talking about life beginning at conception, but he'll end by driving home the idea of SOCIAL CHANGE: 'Abstinence for you boys and girls!' Even when presented with proof that sexual education in schools significantly reduces unplanned pregnancies, and thus abortions, the Radical will stick with advocating abstinence only, because that is the life-style which constitutes the SOCIAL CHANGE that he was after all along. The abortion issue was just a tool to advocate it.
- A religious Radical might start by talking about redemption and the after-life, but he'll end by driving home the idea of SOCIAL CHANGE: 'Cast aside your decadent western lifestyle, live the pure life according to the teachings of [insert holy book here]!' If shown proof that his religion's tenants make no sense, it won't stop him from trying to convert others because what he really cares about is the 'pure lifestyle' of his religion. The myths and other teachings of the religion are, too a Radical, just a way to interest new converts in that lifestyle.
- An environmental Radical might start by talking about climate change and industrial waste, but he'll end by driving home the idea of SOCIAL CHANGE: 'Do away with consumerism! Stop Eating Meat! Use public transportation and recycling for a better future!' He could be shown proof that carbon emissions can be reduced massively by the use of Nuclear Power, Plugin Hybrid Electric Cars, and other advanced technologies, but will reject such solutions out of hand. Environmental issues were just an excuse to attack what the Radical really cares about: so called 'consumerism' and the lifestyle surrounding it.
There are many people on both sides of the abortion issue, and of various religions, and who are concerned about the environment who are not Radicals. These main-stream activists are interested in addressing the problem, not advocating one particular solution. Now that we understand that Radicals are, despite superficial similarities, actually quite different from main-stream activists, it becomes important to understand WHY they are after SOCIAL CHANGE. To do that, we need to understand the mechanisms and forces that create them.
Part 2. Why Radicals are after SOCIAL CHANGE.
Ideologically, Radicals are caught up in a sort of feedback loop that attaches them to causes and drives them to take ever more extreme positions.
The radical begins as a social misfit in adolescence. It's nothing to be ashamed of -- probably 50% of all adults believe that they were misfits at that age. Not all misfits go on to become radicals, but almost all radicals begin as self-identified social misfits.
In late adolescence or early adulthood, the radical enters a new environment. Typically, the radical goes to college. There, he meets all kinds of new people who come from backgrounds very different from his or her own. This is ensured by the fact that colleges draw upon a larger geographic area than high schools. (Not all radicals are spawned on campuses, but campuses most commonly provide the necessary ingredients. Certainly, centers of learning have been associated with radicals since the days of the ancient Greeks.)
Our young-adult radical does much better socially in this environment. He is surrounded by people who are also new to this environment, people who did not know him when he was 10 years old; both he and they are motivated to reinvent themselves and establish new social connections. This is likely to be the first time in his memory in which he has perceived himself as being 'accepted' socially. Human beings are intrinsically social, and this kind of acceptance is a powerful motivator. Unfortunately, the secret of his success is not obvious from his own perspective. Often enough people in this situation do not correctly perceive that the acceptance derives from the situational factors indicated above. Instead, they conclude that the new society into which they have been inducted is superior to the one they left back home.
This is at least an unwarranted conclusion, and is also probably false. Mark that. This often results in the radical rejecting his home culture. With the zealotry of a convert, our student embraces for his own the cultural attitudes of his college friends (and, perhaps, college professors.) This includes embracing their causes.
To the extent that the causes have an intellectual component (and most causes do) the conversion is greatly facilitated by the perception that the college population of students and professors represent an intellectually superior elite. Believing this, it is easy to dismiss the attitudes of the rest of society. These self-styled intellectuals tell themselves that most people in society are just ignorant, and the ones that are not are hypocrites taking advantage of the masses for their own ends.
If things went no further, this might describe most college students. Most of them dabble in the novelties and delights of University life, and have to some extent or another, a rebellion versus the ways of their childhood home. Typically, in the decade after leaving college, and after a healthy exposure to the rest of the world, they reconcile their acquired attitudes with their home culture hopefully taking the best of both. In those who become radicals, that reconciliation does not occur. The radical wants to see his original culture devoured and replaced by a new culture in which the radical feels himself justified and accepted.
It is important to reiterate that the radical has come to this point based upon a false conclusion. (The conclusion that his home-culture is corrupt and his new culture is superior). Because this is false, he suffers from a delusion that the superiority of his adopted culture is obvious, and that it should be easy to make people realize it. (By extension, that it should be easy to change the culture, when in fact changing culture is hard.)
The radical champions causes as an excuse to try to change the culture of society. Because his activism surrounding this new cause is based upon a false premise, it is doomed to failure. That is, he might win the cause, but he will inevitably fail to achieve the SOCIAL CHANGE that was his real goal. This is because the association in his mind between his chosen cause and the structure of his home culture was a false one to begin with.
The more he fails to achieve SOCIAL CHANGE, the more angry at his home culture he becomes. He tells himself that they are all decadent, or lazy, or selfish, or hypocrites... Why else would they ignore the obvious (to him) value of the alternative lifestyle that he has embraced? The angrier he gets, the more extreme the causes he supports: He has to break these selfish westerners out of their comfortable little worlds! They'll See!.... At this stage, we have a fully developed radical. He is caught in a feedback loop of ever increasing extremism that increasingly focuses his actions towards the goal of SOCIAL CHANGE.
Up until this point I've discussed Radicals as if an individual was either 100% Radical or 100% main-stream activist. Of course, the reality is a little bit more complex than that. The feedback loop of extremism that Radicals are caught in rarely iterates enough times to make someone purely Radical: willing to knowingly use his cause of the moment as a tool and then discard it. Most Radicals sincerely believe in their cause, they just desire SOCIAL CHANGE more, and that is one of the reasons that they end up doing so much damage, because SOCIAL CHANGE, is rarely a good means to an end.
Part 3. Why Radicals promoting SOCIAL CHANGE is a bad thing.
The first danger of the Radical is to the cause that he has attached himself to. Because his real goal is SOCIAL CHANGE, a Radical uses his cause to promote changes in people's behavior rather that other solutions, particularly rather than technological solutions. The Radical finds technological solutions distasteful because they are usually transparent to the end user, and thus require no change in lifestyle to implement. For example, the typical American doesn't know or care if his air conditioner uses Freon or some more environmentally friendly technology as long as it works. The problem with this distaste for technological solutions is that changing people's BEHAVIOR is hard, while changing their technology isn't. Examples prove the point:
- It was easy to introduce filters to cigarettes. It's hard to get people to stop smoking them.
- Installing virus checkers is easy. Getting people to stop opening every attachment emailed to them is hard.
- Selling diet plans is easy. Getting people to change their eating patterns and actually follow the diet plan they have already paid good money for is hard.
- Making racial/gender/age discrimination illegal is easy. Making people actually ignore race/gender/age in hiring and firing policy is hard.
The take home lesson is that, for societal problems, the less active cooperation a solution requires from large numbers of people, the more easy it is to achieve the desired result. By keeping the focus on changing people's behavior or lifestyle, the Radical ensures that the cause he has attached himself to will promote the least effective solutions to the problems it is trying to address. From the point of view of a main-stream supporter of the cause, that makes the Radical a parasite damaging the cause's stated goals for the sake of his own hidden agenda of SOCIAL CHANGE.
The second danger of Radicals is that they are prone to and provoke violence. History shows us that it is not the greedy, or the pragmatic, or the apathetic that are responsible for the greatest horrors. No, it's the Radical idealists that gave us episodes like the Salem witch trials, or the Holocaust. This is because they can not rest until they affect SOCIAL CHANGE, and to do that they must inflict their ideology upon others. I'm not saying that everyone who cares about society is a Radical or that only Radicals are violent, however, because SOCIAL CHANGE is there goal, Radical's efforts are always directed AT PEOPLE... it is never enough for them to do something quietly behind the scenes: they're trying to send a message, and the strongest messages are always violent, because violence can't be ignored. Further, Radicals are caught in a feedback loop of extremism, and usually see themselves as intellectually or morally superior to the masses (see part 2), thus violence is easy to justify in their minds. This would be bad enough, but promoting SOCIAL CHANGE doesn't just lead to violence from the Radicals, but from everyone else as well. People ROUTINELY choose to fight wars rather than change their way of life! (If you don't believe this, then study history... doesn't matter which country, or which era... most any history demonstrates the point).
The third danger of Radicals is polarization. The extreme ideologies of Radicals are associated with equally extreme lifestyles. These sorts of lifestyles can't be partially adopted. Thus when multiple Radical lifestyles compete, moderates are slowly, by a ratchet like process, pulled into one or another camp leaving increasingly diametrically opposed ideologies facing off across an empty divide. Even if this does not lead to violence, polarization's incompatibility with the idea of compromise is detrimental to just about every civilized institution whether it be in government, or private life.
Part 4. What to do about Radicals.
The first step in addressing the problem of Radicals is not to be one. That means NOT trying to get Radicals to change their ways! Besides, trying to change people's behavior is a sub-standard way of solving problems as the above arguments show. There are easier and more effective ways to mitigate the influence, the methods, and the harm of Radicals... pull their teeth, and leave their behavior to tend to itself.
To attack the influence of Radicals, one needs to equip organizations to identify individual Radicals in their midst, and so that this does not degenerate into popularity contests and mud-slinging, that identification needs to be based upon objective criteria. To provide that capability, this essay, includes an objectively testable definition of the Radical:
Definition: A Radical is an individual who promotes SOCIAL CHANGE as the solution to one or more problems, in preference over, or exclusion of, other options even when those options can be shown to be superior. SOCIAL CHANGE is understood to mean changes in the culture, behavior, lifestyle, or attitudes of society or individuals.
It should be emphasized that merely wanting to improve society is not enough to make a person a Radical, it is the exclusion of other, better, options that is the hallmark of the Radical. This is a very easily testable quality since, in practice, almost all other options are almost always better solutions than SOCIAL CHANGE for almost any problem. Radicals are parasites. This definition is the basis for organizations to mount an immune response against them.
Even if Radicals escape detection within their host organizations, it is possible to harden those organizations against their methods: The way we can do this is to highlight in the public consciousness the simple and irrefutable fact that SOCIAL CHANGE is an inefficient way to affect progress for most if not all problems (see the examples in Part 3). Making this a WELL KNOWN truth will cause organizations to be much less compliant hosts for Radical parasites, because they will resist adding a social message to their rhetoric, and instead focus upon purely non-social methods. They will do this, not because they are trying to resist Radicals, or because they don't care about society, but rather for the simple reason of expediency; people use what works and discard the rest.
Without, platforms to spread their messages, or influence to wield, Radicals will be too weak and too divided to provoke violence or polarization in the rest of society. In the absence of compliant hosts to attach themselves to, they may start preaching their message of SOCIAL CHANGE directly, but this is far less damaging because it is no longer a HIDDEN agenda.
The powerful quality underlying this Radical Mitigation strategy is that it is nothing more than simple facts... not behaviors, not ideologies, not actions of any kind. Mere knowledge alone, if sufficiently disseminated, will poison the well that Radicals drink from. That is the ambition of this essay: to paint the nature of the Radical so clearly that people merely knowing about it, will stop it from being a problem.
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