On Being Radical

For many people, the word “radical” conjures up images of bandana-faced militants hefting Molotov cocktails or turbaned jihadists toting Kalashnikovs and shouting praises to Allah. Sometimes, the brain’s neural synapses trigger thoughts of Greenpeace activists or Tea Party evangelists hoisting their Bibles into the air.

Regardless of the specifics, we are told to regard these people as them; as the other. Their beliefs are the antithesis to ours. They opt for violence and disruption to challenge the peace and quiet we hold so dear. Why can’t they simply adopt our ideals and incorporate themselves as productive members of society?

What a nuisance, we say.

The tendency is to regard those who don’t conform to popular societal norms as outsiders. Likewise, those who take our darkest and most deep-rooted vices and act on them, often violently, are labeled extremists. Both deep ends, but on opposite sides of the pool. We don’t have to watch the news to see this. On the playground, children who exhibit marked social differences are ostracized, while those who possess latent aggressive tendencies prey upon those whom the popular children label as “losers”.

It’s easy then to see where the problems in adult society marinate. Well-meaning children’s books and tv shows do little to stop the march of intolerance because our teachers are so insincere about teaching us the lessons that really matter. A little slap on the wrist or time spent doing homework, rather than an intensive discussion on the topic of acceptance and diversity, suffices as a consequence for bad behaviour.

Where is the study of the root causes of radical philosophies? Why don’t we analyze the events that lead some of us to break the chains of normalcy, instead of quickly slapping handcuffs on those individuals?

Even the most radical movements can trace their roots to some substantial injustice. Send your armies overseas to crush an unfriendly despot sitting on oil reserves, and ignite Islamic jihad when your jets bomb hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. Suppress your northern Irish cousins for centuries, and you ask for retribution in the form of hostage takings and car bombs. There will always be those quick to defend the perpetrators of these legal crimes, but history and our descendants will be the judges. Truth is painful catharsis.

All violence short of self-defense is unjustified, and by the same token, many radical groups and the teachings they espouse are flawed and legitimately dangerous. There is no excuse for taking hostages or using people as explosive mules. If we as a species can agree on these fundamental truths, then we must also accept that the violent eviction of people from their homes in order to exploit their local resources is also a legitimate crime. Nonetheless, the latter happens almost every day to no mass outcry.

It is for that very reason that radicals exist. Radicals abound when injustice abounds. Think people will chain themselves to trees if propper logging practices are followed? Instead, our mass media ridicules these people who have awoken to a startling reality that many of us simply take for granted – our planet is finite. Our resources are exhaustible.

The word “radical”, in some “civilized” societies, has come to include a group of peaceful people who are simply fed up with the state of capitalist society and have chosen to buck the trend. By lumping them with Islamic radicals, or Christian radicals, and radicals of every other sort, the proponents of the status quo can ensure that the mere mention of the word stirs fear and mistrust. This, in turn, delegitimizes anything these people can say even before it’s said. Media reports of protesters portray them as lazy, doe-eyed 20-somethings who protest as a career, ignoring the fact that the majority of protesters are hard-working youth who often spend their days doing the not-so glamorous work that keeps the fabric of society together. This is akin to branding all Texans as beer-guzzling, football-playing yokels – an easy sell to some, but no less false.

You must stir the pot to cook the meal properly – radicals stir the pot to expose truth. Sometimes ugly, always a little hard to digest, but truth nonetheless. It will set you free.

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