Election 2012: Absolutism, Extremism and Insecurity

The 2012 Election Series:  Article # 2

September 18, 2012

Absolutism, Extremism, and Insecurity

Although our species has evolved rapidly, human society is still at an infant stage in its development. There is so much more we do not know than we know, and we have barely
scratched the surface of our potential. One of our greatest strengths is our diversity.
Exploring and considering many alternative ideas can enrich our development and progress.

Two of the major obstacles to the effective maturation of individuals, groups and human
society as a whole are Absolutism and Extremism.


Absolutism occurs when any particular idea, value, doctrine, preference or interpretation is
held to be the sole “answer” or “truth” without reservation. All differing ideas are considered absolutely “wrong”. Facts and proof are often deemed unnecessary and are frequently manipulated to support the absolute idea, value or doctrine.

To be committed to one’s preferred values is admirable. However, to allow such commitment to reach an absolutist level is dangerous and destructive. It locks a person’s mind in a dark box without windows through which fresh ideas and the valuable contributions of alternative points of view can enter. Furthermore, research has shown that the more insulated people become within their own like-minded groups, listening only to ideas that reinforce their absolutist outlook on life, the more entrenched and extreme they become.

Absolutism creates dangerous division at the very time mutual benefit collaboration is most needed in human society. The effectiveness of a pluralistic and supposedly democratic society such as the U.S. is greatly enhanced by what I call “discovery dialogue” in which the sharing of diverse ideas gives us a range of options that helps us discover what needs to be done, can be done, and how to do it.. People who trap themselves in absolutes obstruct meaningful dialogue, choosing instead to foolishly claim they and they alone have the “answers”, they and they alone know what is “right”.

Absolutism is based in part on insecurity; namely, the fear of accepting and dealing with uncertainty and the consideration of alternative points of view. Throughout human evolution, the ability and confidence to deal with uncertainty and to make needed adjustments have been keys to our survival and progress. Absolutist thinking obstructs the continuing advancement of our young species, choosing instead to promote the illusion that we have already reached the apex of our development.


Absolutism and extremism are closely related. If a person believes something is an absolute truth, promoting and protecting that “truth” to the extreme is justified and even required. Those who hold different points of view are treated as the enemy because they stand in the way of “Truth” and the absolute “Good”.

Extremism leaves no room for tolerance, dialogue, or potential cooperation. Defeating those who hold opposing views becomes the primary goal. With minds, eyes and ears closed tight, absolutists and extremists try to force reality to fit into their narrow view of existence.


Absolutism and extremism in U. S. politics is on the rise. Why? Here are some possible reasons.

One, the more complex problems become and the more insecure people feel, the tendency to grasp for absolutes increases and the promotion of those absolutes becomes more extreme. Yet, any tendency is a choice, we are not doomed to become slaves to tendencies.

Two, the two-party system limits the range of ideas considered by politicians. Falling in step with the party line becomes more important than exploring needed alternatives. The electorate gets only two viable choices who stand a real chance of being elected. Defeating the opposing party becomes the goal, using whatever means are necessary. Absolutism and extremism become justifiable tools in the pursuit of victory.

Three, collaboration across party lines, a critical ingredient of effective politics in a pluralistic, diverse society, is seen as “weakness”. Such a narrow attitude runs counter to the original
principles and intent of the American political system. I would go so far as to say it is perilously close to being un-American. The entire society is damaged when working with those who disagree is seen as weakness and being disloyal. Our children learn from our leaders, and this particular lesson, if applied in their lives, will poison relationships, block the resolution of conflicts, and obstruct progress.


Among the many applications of absolutism and extremism perhaps the most complex and powerful is religion. Although a Supreme Being may exist, there is no scientific proof. Furthermore, all religious texts were written by fallible humans influenced by the conditions of
their time in history. Believers in the various religions substitute faith and belief for fact, convincing themselves they know there is a God and their particular interpretations of God are the correct ones.

Whether it be Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, or any other religion, a kind of blind absolutism often takes hold. Non-believers are dismissed as “wrong” or even “sinners”, and believers act as though they and they alone speak for God. Once that kind of absolutism becomes entrenched, most any kind of extremist behavior can be justified “in the name of God” or as “doing God’s will.”

As mentioned earlier, insecurity is at the core of absolutism, an insecurity based on the fear of
not knowing, the fear of dealing with uncertainty, and the fear of having to live without a clear
order to life. We humans pride ourselves on our advanced intellect, and to admit there are many aspects of life we will never know with certainty is disturbing. To cope with all of this insecurity, what could be more “secure” than believing there is a Supreme Being who has a plan, who determines what is Good and Evil, Right and Wrong, who identifies for us what we should do and should not do? For some religions, even the insecurity of death is overcome through belief in an afterlife.

Given all of these factors, it is easy to see why religion is often perceived as an antidote to human insecurity. But acting on religious beliefs as though they are absolute increases the potential danger that comes from shutting out the diversity so critical to the enrichment of human society.

Dudley Weeks



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