I learned of the Congressional baseball team shooting my second day of a much-needed vacation in Mexico. For a brief moment, I actually thought, “Am I safer in Mexico?” The absurdity of that thought was not lost on me, considering I live in one of the safest places in the world. However, the fact that I would even consider such a notion underscores the burgeoning and very real threat to the security of every part of our country: extremism.
Extremism, in any form, occurs in the absence of critical thinking. It’s far easier to simplify or reduce a position or a person than to critically analyze the whole of a position or a person. In this sense, reducing a person to a political affiliation, or simplifying a political affiliation as the whole of a person, is fodder for extremism. All of us, even the politicians amongst us, are far more than our political affiliations. And, truth be told, most of us who identify with a political party do not march lockstep with all party leadership decisions.
I hazard to guess that Rep. Steve Scalise, the wounded Republican congressman from Louisiana, is not known in his family for his political party affiliation. Nor is it likely that he defines himself as a Republican or politician.
Likewise, the shooter, James Hodgkinson, was more complex than a “Democrat Bernie Sanders Volunteer.” While he may have minimized Rep. Scalise in order to carry out his atrocity, irresponsible television hosts continued the extremism by making Hodgkinson’s volunteer activity discussion-worthy and by describing his atrocity as encouraged by Democrats.
I know a lot of folks who affiliate with the Democratic Party; some are nuts (a.k.a. extremists). Most are not, and would never encourage violence, let alone violence against someone because of political affiliation. The same holds true for my experience with Republican-affiliated folks. However, our tolerance, and perhaps lust, for simplification of complex people and issues is leading us on a path of intellectual (if not literal) destruction. We are “dumbing down” as a society and will never be able to capably address complex issues such as health care, national security, Social Security, and tax policy if critical thinking is eliminated from public discourse.
Extremism is void of critical thinking, leads to political impasse, outrageous behavior, and atrocities. There is more to every human being than what is found in gender, heritage, last names, race, sexual orientation, chosen careers, and (gasp) our political affiliations. We cannot allow extremism to reduce us to less than the sum of our selves.
Simplistic thinking, by boiling down complex issues into sound bites, is easy, but as my grandpa said, most tasks that are easy “ain’t worth doin’.” My grandpa was a smart, hard-working man of few words. He was also a Democrat. Had I discounted his worth because of his political affiliation, I would have missed out on one of the most meaningful relationships of my life. Yet another reason to end extremism and start doin’ critical thinking.