The Emotional Barriers in Extremism

Part III: The Stakes of the Midterms

Sam Chavez
Sam Chavez

Table of Contents

๐Ÿค“ Bite-Sized Knurd: Why do some people turn to extremism? The answer lies in a personโ€™s emotional capacity, adaptability, and self-reflection.

In Case You Missed It: The Rise of Extremism
3-minute read - Read on for moreโ€ฆ

Picking up from last weekโ€™s conversation, the threat of extremism is clear. And the fears of a changing America and power loss are real. But why do some people turn to extremism when others donโ€™t? Why is Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, giving away his company to fight the climate crisis, while Elon Musk spouts anti-semitic, pro-Russian talking points?

Repression at the Core of Extremism

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The answer, I believe, comes from a personโ€™s ability to be adaptable, to self-reflect, and to experience their emotions.

Unable to Adapt

The current wind of extremism is coming from right-wing, conservatives. The fundamental principle for Conservatives, according to Mariam-Webster, is being averse to change or innovation and holding traditional values.

Inherently, itโ€™s more difficult to want to adapt when your views are to maintain the status quo. Itโ€™s much scarier for a person with conservative views to acknowledge the existence of the climate crisis and that we need massive changes in our economy and everyday lives to avoid its worst threats. Tech, the climate crisis, and a new generation who view gender and sexuality differently than past generations are forcing change and making people really unsettled about how they fit into society.

The fear of change can lead down a narrow path with few choices other than extremism when change is forced to occur.

Inability to Self-Reflect

The primary way extremist groups recruit new people is through grievance.

Youโ€™ve heard the phrases before, โ€œimmigrants are taking your jobs,โ€ โ€œMillennials are lazy, thatโ€™s why theyโ€™re poor,โ€ โ€œItโ€™s womenโ€™s fault that young men arenโ€™t having sex,โ€ and โ€œa cabal of elites are worshiping Satan bc they want to take your guns.โ€ You know! The casual things that people say.

But at the heart of the grievance politics that has taken over the GOP is the inability to self-reflect.

Self-reflection requires both to look inward at your own actions, beliefs, and thoughts as well as outward at society and the established norms that shape us.

Many of the issues that are leading to extremism: lack of economic prospects, isolation of young men, white fragility over power loss, uncertainty over new norms (i.e. gender pronouns), etc. are all symptoms of greater issues in our society.

Without self-reflection, itโ€™s much easier to find a scapegoat to blame which leads to the many -isms: racism, Anti-Semitism, xenophobia, misogyny, and homophobia. Once you find a scapegoat, a person doesnโ€™t have to do the work to self-reflect on why they are feeling aggrieved. Extremism is an escape hatch for people who want the easy route out. But itโ€™s never really true.

Take the stat that 28% of young men are not having sex. Extremism says that itโ€™s women who are at fault. But thereโ€™s no self-reflection over how young men are treating women or how our patriarchal society represses menโ€™s emotions and tells them they have to dominate to be attractive. Being angry at women might feel good in the moment, but it wonโ€™t solve the issue.

Canโ€™t Experience Their Emotions

And that least to the most important piece to how extremism foments: peopleโ€™s repression of their emotions.

Emotional intelligence has never been a priority in the United States. Our good friend, Ronald Reagan, dismantled the mental health infrastructure that we desperately need today.

The stigma around mental health means that extremists wonโ€™t get the help they need because they see it as a weakness. But with Covid, the Trump presidency, and seemingly endless bad news, we are all facing ongoing trauma that hasnโ€™t been addressed.

When we donโ€™t tap into our emotions, we are not able to be fully self-reflective and understand why certain emotions come up around specific issues.

If you are angry that immigrants are taking your jobs, itโ€™s probably not the actual immigrant youโ€™re mad about. Where is that anger really coming from?

โ€œNationalism, racism, fascism are in fact nothing other than ideological guises of the flight from painful, unconscious memories of endured contempt into the dangerous, destructive disrespect for human life, glorified as political program.โ€

- Psychologist and world renowned author, Alice Miller

The Path Out of Extremism

Next week we will discuss what we can do to push back against extremism and stand for democracy. This work will be long and difficult at times, but itโ€™s essential for us to address the issues our world is facing.

We canโ€™t do it all in the name of politics though. This battle will be fought across many arenas and reach many different people, not just the extremists themselves. Next week weโ€™ll focus on two key arenas:

  1. The political arena
  2. The arena of the heart

Next Up:

Combatting Extremism in the Arena of the Heart
๐Ÿค“ Bite-Sized Knurd: There are no easy solutions to combatting extremism, but we can start in the arena of the heart. Nurturing our communities and relationships during times of uncertainty helps build resilience and a movement against extremism. 5-minute read - Read on for moreโ€ฆ
๐Ÿ—ผ๐Ÿ—ž: Newsletter

Sam Chavez

Sam is a writer, strategist, and curious human. She founded the roots of change agency in 2020. Sam is a queer, white, LatinX activist whoโ€™s passionate about a livable planet & equitable societies.


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