Beware those who argue every difference in extremist terms
By Jose Leonardo Santos
Jose Leonardo Santos is an anthropologist and assistant professor of social science at Metropolitan State University.
It's an election year. Prepare for shouting matches among folks who insist they're right. But remember, they're all the same. For example, consider the rhetorical similarities between extremist feminists and extremist Christians.
In real life, no group is homogenous. You can't say all Minnesotans like hockey (just too many of us). Few true statements begin, "All Christians..." or "All Feminists ...". But extremists in both groups want you to think otherwise. And the media cover extremists, because they're the loudest.
When people think "feminist," they don't think of me. I drink beer and argue over which James Bond was best. They think of Catherine Mackinnon, telling us that all sex between men and women is rape. Similarly, when some people hear "Christian," they think of angry protestors yelling "God hates fags." Extremists are so alike, it's creepy.
Both thrive on vilifying others.
Extremists tell you you're wrong. They have a strict, black and white mentality. If you don't agree with them, you should change your ways, because you're a moral failure. They believe everyone else is warped by evil.
For extremist feminists, there is patriarchy. It's a masculine system of inequality. It controls how you think. It gets you to do bad things. For extremist Christians, there's the Devil. He controls how you think. He gets you to do bad things.
To be saved from either evil, you must have a conversion experience, and if you don't, you're part of the problem. God help the Christian or feminist nonextremist. Listen closely if you hear the phrases "He's not a 'real' Christian" or "She's a bad feminist." The speaker is likely an extremist.
Both try to control public discourse through moral outrage.
Extremists love a lynching. They yell "Hey, I'm being lynched!" at every opportunity. The crucial debate on health care has been portrayed as a war. Extremist feminists portray it as part of a larger "War on Women." Christians speak of a modern "War on Religion." For both, the answer to key national debates is outrage, not dialogue. Extremists direct the outrage at each other. Extremist Christians portray feminists as a threat to family, social structure and values. Extremist feminists see Christians as obliterating the rights to self-determination, mental and bodily well-being and dignity. Yell about how abused you are. It gets attention, as people want genuinely want to stop abuse.
Both thrive on being disliked.
Everyone else is wrong. If you can get them to persecute you, it proves you're right.
The problem is extremists. Christian ones find joy in getting people to dislike them. Feminist ones believe challenging injustice means everyone should hate when it's your turn to speak. Both neglect that people stop listening the minute extremists start talking — everyone except other extremists.
Maybe the rest of us, the nonextremists of every stripe, should get together and talk. We could spare ourselves the yelling.