Anyone who has watched and studied fanatics for many years will have noticed these practices:
- The average person is interested in fairness. Fanatics are not. Without a trace of shame, they will shut down debate, slant programs, violate laws, and nudge out anyone who is not in lock-step with their ideology.
- Whatever devotion they may have to diversity, it certainly does not extend to intellectual diversity. A non-fanatic may consider publishing or promoting a fanatic as a way of showing openness and tolerance. That gesture is never reciprocated by fanatics. If they compromise, it is in the mode of two steps forward and one step back.
- The average person does not employ language as a weapon. The fanatics do. They push for the use of terminology that favors their results and ostracize anyone who doesn't adopt the "proper" terms.
- The average person has other interests and will not (and often cannot) devote a sizable amount of time to certain issues. The fanatics will devote that time and by doing so they'll establish beachheads that are hard to dislodge. [One of the tactics that Communists used decades ago was to attend meetings, prolong discussion, and then, when a sufficient number of liberals, moderates, and conservatives grew weary and left to do other things, hold the vote. And when the Communists voted, it was as a bloc and not as independent thinkers.]
- Another tactic favored by fanatics is to hold the opposition to rules which they themselves eagerly violate. Since their opponents believe in the rules, that is not difficult to do. Fanatics do not care about being hypocritical.
- Standard ethical practices, such as truth-telling, fairness, justice, and respect for others, are only honored by fanatics if it is convenient or expedient to do so. In recent years, we've seen the presumption of innocence pushed aside if embracing it would slow or foil the fanatics.
- You can trust a fanatic to be a fanatic. As a historian recently noted in a study of appeasement, Neville Chamberlain was thrown off by Adolf Hitler because he'd never met anyone like Adolf Hitler. Chamberlain was assuming that he was dealing with a responsible European leader whose word could be trusted. Instead, he was dealing with a fanatic who had a completely different set of rules.
- The most effective defenses against fanatics first require that they be identified as fanatics. These are not neighbors, co-workers or peers who just happen to have somewhat different views. The sooner that is realized, the sooner various defenses can be employed.
- Finally, the fanatics are always with us. They may be few in number but they always are out there. Unfortunately, nowadays they are numerous.
[Photo by Gabe Pierce at Unsplash]