Notes On Extremistry

     Yes, that’s a coinage. It’s in the vein of chemistry, which is the study of how chemicals behave. There’s also palmistry, which is the study of palm trees. (What’s that? Palmistry has nothing to do with palm trees? Well, never mind then.) However, the comparison isn’t all that close. What I mean to tag with extremistry is propaganda in which some opponent of How Things Are Currently Done is delegitimized by being called an “extremist.”

     You can style any proposition “extreme” simply by asserting that it’s so. Of course, the label wouldn’t fit well unless there are significant divergences between what’s proposed and current practices. Nevertheless, the label is used even in cases where the divergences are modest, or where the proposition is to revert to an earlier set of norms.

     Remember Pim Fortuyn? I do. His political opponents labeled him an “extremist” for daring to assert that uncontrolled immigration to the Netherlands was on the verge of ruining that country. It might have been what got him assassinated.

     Remember Anwar Sadat? I do. His political opponents labeled him an “extremist” for daring to negotiate a peace between Egypt and Israel. That definitely got him assassinated.

     Italy’s prime minister Giorgia Meloni is being called an extremist, too. Why? Because she defends traditional, Catholic Italy and wants to stop its invasion by North African migrants. Those migrants are ruining Italy.

     Barry Goldwater was called an extremist for daring to assert that the Constitution of the United States was being violated by the very federal government it defined. Thankfully, he lived to a ripe old age. But Ronald Reagan was called an extremist, too. He barely survived an assassination attempt. And for some years now, the “extremist” label has been slathered over Donald Trump.

     Today Argentina is in the news. Its people, who’ve suffered under massively corrupt government and disastrous levels of inflation, have just chosen a certain Javier Milei to be their next president. Milei has said and written some things that have gotten him labeled an extremist. Mostly, he’s said that what’s going on must change, and change dramatically at that. If I were Milei, I’d be very careful going through doors and such.

     In all cases, the extremist label is shorthand for another proposition: “This man is dangerous and must be stopped by any means necessary.” But dangerous to whom? Dangerous for what reasons? Those questions are deflected, at least while the cameras are rolling. Later on, in the comfort and privacy of their conference rooms, those who feel endangered are rather more candid.

     “Extremist” has the same rhetorical application as “far-right:” the intent is to frighten the gullible and unreflective – which is most of Mankind, in case you were in any doubt – away from the person so labeled. In point of fact, those who hold the levers of power, who currently sit around mahogany conference tables plotting out How Things Must Be, are the terrified ones. They fear the loss of their power, prestige, and pelf. They cannot permit even the smallest crack in their protections. Even one such could admit light enough to bring their edifice crashing down.

     That is their definition of extremist: “One who could threaten our positions.”

     And that’s all that extremist and extremism mean.


     I hope Larry Niven and the ghost of Jerry Pournelle won’t mind the following lengthy excerpt from their novel Inferno. It’s a scene in which protagonist Allen Carpentier is being introduced to some of the features of Hell:

     A towering oil-fueled power plant of spidery framework and miles of pipes and valves poured power into a cable thick as my waist. Transmission towers took the cable downhill.
     I peered along its length, but the murk defeated me. How did they use electricity in Hell? But outside the power plant was an athletic man chained to a wheelless bicycle set in concrete in front of the exhaust pipe of the generator. Black smoke poured around him, almost hiding him from view.
     As we watched he began pedaling furiously. The hum of the gears rose to a high pitch—and the generator inside died. There was a moment of quiet. The man pedaled with sure strokes, faster and faster, his feet nearly invisible, his head tucked down as if against a wind. We gathered around, each wondering how long he could keep it up.
     He began to tire. The blur of his feet slowed. The motors inside coughed, and black smoke poured out. He choked and turned his head away, and saw us.
     “Don’t answer if you’d rather not,” I said, “but what whim of fate put you here?”‘
     “I don’t know!” he howled. “I was president of the largest and most effective environmental protection organization in the country! I fought this!” He braced himself and pedaled again. The hum rose, and the generator died.
     Billy was completely lost. He looked to Benito, but our guide only shrugged. Benito accepted everything. I knew better. This couldn’t be justice, not even Big Juju’s exaggerated justice. This was monstrous.
     Corbett had to be guessing when he suddenly asked, “You opposed thermonuclear power plants?”
     The guy stopped dead, staring as if Corbett were a ghost. The dynamo lurched into action and surrounded him with thick blue smoke.
     “That’s it, isn’t it?” Corbett said gently. “You stopped the nuclear generators. I was just a kid during the power blackouts. We had to go to school in the dark because the whole country went on daylight saving time to save power.”
     “But they weren’t safe!” He coughed. “They weren’t safe!”
     “How did you know that?” Benito asked.
     “We had scientists in our organization. They proved it.”
     We turned away. Now I knew. I could quit looking for justice in Hell. There was only macabre humor. Why should that man be in the inner circles of Hell? At worst he belonged far above, with the bridge destroyers of the second ledge. Or in Heaven. He hadn’t created this bleak landscape.
     I couldn’t stand it. I went back. Benito shrugged and motioned to the others.
     Within the cloud of blue smoke his face was slack with exhaustion. “It wasn’t just the problem of where to bury the waste products,” he told me. “There was radioactive gas going into the air.” He spoke as if continuing a conversation. I must have been his only audience in years, or decades.
     “You got a rotten deal,” I said. “I wish I could do something.”
     He smiled bravely. “What else is new?” And he started to pedal.
     I glared at the nothing sky, hating Big Juju. Carpentier declares war. When I looked down, Benito was fumbling through saddlebags attached to the stationary bicycle.
     The man cried, “What are you doing?”
     Benito took out papers. The man snatched at them, but Benito backed away. He read, “Dear Jon, I could understand your opposition to us last year. There was some doubt about the process, and you expressed fears all of us felt. But now you know better. I have no witnesses, but you told me you understood Dr. Pittman’s demonstration. In God’s name, Jon, why do you continue? I ask you as your sister, as a fellow scientist, as a human being: why?”
     He began pedaling again, ignoring us.
     “You knew?” I demanded. He pedaled faster, his head bent.
     I leaned down and put my face close to his.
     “You knew?” I screamed.
     “Fuck off.”
     Big Juju wins again. Too much, but appropriate. As we walked away, Jon screamed after us, “I’d have been nothing if I gave up the movement! Nothing! Don’t you understand? I had to stay as president!”

     No doubt the environmentalist executive thought his sister an “extremist.” As the saying goes, what she had proposed threatened his well-filled rice bowl.


     If you’re a regular Gentle Reader of Liberty’s Torch, you’re already aware of my love affair with the English language. It’s the most powerful tool for communication that’s ever been devised, and it continues to be extended and refined by you, its users. But there’s no such thing as a tool with built-in values. Tools are value-neutral. They can be put to good uses or to evil ones.

     They who intend evil will do evil, and they’ll use the most powerful tools available to do so. That explains a great part of public discourse in our time.

     The misuse of our language fills me with fury. That it’s gone on so long that today it’s everywhere and all-pervading only makes it orders of magnitude worse. If I have a consciously chosen mission – and as it happens, I have several – it’s to combat the perversion of the English language that’s making an incomprehensible hash of discourse in our time.

     George Orwell said it brilliantly:

     [O]ne ought to recognise that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end. If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself. Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

     Let’s start by banning the words extremist and extremism from our lexicon and closing our ears to those who use them. Ask them rather, “What do you really mean by that? Either be clear and specific, or shut the BLEEP! up.”

     The Dictator Verborum to the World Wide Web has spoken ex cathedra. Go forth under the banner of the One True Faith:

     “Say what you mean, mean what you say.” – “Bob Cody,” played by Chris Cooper in Interstate 60


    • Steve on November 27, 2023 at 6:41 PM

    Meloni hasn’t done anything thus far to put a halt to the invasion of her homeland. I’m not sure she belongs on this list.

  1. Oh, you’re gonna love this latest assault: Language Justice

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