Unmixing Nuts

In a recent comment, I compared and contrasted the differences in the “nuts” on the left and right ends of the political spectrum. Because while both sides have their dangerous whackjobs, there are significant distinguishing aspects as to how they express their nuttiness. I felt like there was more to be said, so I thought I’d expand on those ideas here.

The first thought I had was that the far left is passionate, while the far right is efficient.

To the left, political extremism is a way to express outrage. They are furious, and they want the whole world to know just how outraged they are. They are loud, they are proud, and they are shouting it to the rooftops.

To the right, it’s about getting things done. Right-wing nutjobs aren’t overly interested in individual glory and fame; they just see what they percieve as a great injustice, and will do whatever it takes to right it.

To the leftist nutjobs, political extremism is a social activity. When they want to go nuts, they find as many like-minded nuts as they can to feed their craziness and egg each other on. They build whole social networks around their extremism.

To the rightie nutjobs, political extremism is an obligation. It’s a duty, an onerous task. And it’s a risky one. That’s why it must be done in secret, in isolation or in small groups, because exposure doesn’t bring glory, but defeat.

Both are also expressions of ego. But on the left, it’s about “look at me and how outrageous I am!,’ while the right is saying “look at what I have done.”

In brief, leftist extremism is fun, while right-wing extremism is work.

The examples I cited in that earlier comment demonstrate this: William Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn vs. Timothy McVeigh. Ayers and Dohrn formed the Weather Underground with a bunch of friends and lovers and whatnot, published their manifestos and screeds, and set up their bombs around the country to express their outrage.

McVeigh, on the other hand, recruited one buddy and set off one big bomb.

In the end, McVeigh and Terry Nichols achieved far more than all the Weather Underground ever did with their bombs; McVeigh took out a whole federal building and almost 200 people, while the biggest score the Weather Underground ever pulled off was an “own goal” where they blew themselves up.

It’s also illustrative in how the “mainstream” left and right treat their nutjobs. McVeigh is universally seen as a monster, and nearly everyone is glad he was caught and executed. On the other hand, Ayers and Dohrn were allowed to put their past behind them (without even a public repenting), and were allowed to assume positions of authority and responsibility and trust.

Another distinction worth noting is that there are a lot more left-wing nuts than right-wing nuts. It’s easier to get passionately worked up about a cause than to become whole-heartedly dedicated to one. Most people, when given the choice between “fun” and “work,” will choose “fun.”

Another distinction that might or might not be significant is the nutjobs’ perception of America. To many on the far left, America is a bad, bad place, and the source of much of what is evil in the world. Smashing America — or, at least, the government and social and economic fabrics of the nation — would make the world a better place. They love humanity so much, they must destroy America as it is to save it.

On the right, their hatred is reserved for factions that they believe are out to destroy America. Their motivation is love of country — an idealized, fantasy America where their beliefs prevail and those who hate it are the enemy. The world is filled with evil people, including even some Americans, and they must be defeated to save the nation.

So, whose nuts are more of a problem? Tough call. On a one-to-one basis, the right-wingers are more dangerous. They aren’t deterred when things stop being “fun” — that happened a while ago. They’ve got far more of themselves invested in their causes. And they’ve put far more effort into training and education and skills — when a right-wing nut sets out to do something, they’re far mroe capable of wreaking havoc.

On the other hand, they’re a lot slower to anger. One healthy component of education and training is a sense of responsibility for what one is capable of doing. The vast majority of gun owners, for example, are exceptionally aware of what their guns can do, and go to great lengths to make damned certain that bad things don’t happen with them. And that sense of responsibility means that they will take a hell of a lot of provocation before they lash back with everything at their disposal.

For the leftists, the leap to extermism is much easier. It doesn’t demand the dedication and commitment as the right does. Plus, there’s the social atmosphere — left-wing nuts are more welcoming and trusting of new converts, and not as paranoid about infiltration and betrayal. When one makes the leap to the left, there’s no sense of “going it alone,” but “joining the cause.”

So, naturally, there are more leftist nuts out there than their right-wing counterparts. And there is strength in numbers. Enough, quite often, to outweigh the dangers of their far more competent and committed opposites. Joseph Stalin once famously noted that in some cases, “quantity has a quality all its own.”

So, the question remains: how best to deal with the nuts? Well, for one, grandstanding about them doesn’t make much sense. These people are at least partially motivated by ego, and to have prominent figures go on TV and talk about how scary they are gives them a happy. And blaming the leadership or rank and file of a political movement for “egging them on” or, at least, tolerating them and enabling them to engage in their nuttiness is pretty much pointless, too — they aren’t the ones doing the nutty things, they don’t particularly like the nuts, and they don’t like being lumped in with them when they haven’t done anything wrong.

If anything, there’s also the chance that you can end up pushing some borderline nuts over the edge. “Hell, if I’m going to get blamed for it, I might as well do it. Besides, those whiny jerks think they’ve seen bad things happen? Wait’ll I show them just how bad things can get for them.”

Karl Rove and Representative Eric Cantor both have been the subject of numerous threats over the years, and they both said last week that the way they handle them is to quietly inform the authorities of the threats — not to hold hysterical press conferences where they can cry victim and point fingers.

Good advice. A lot of people could stand to hear it, and follow it.

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