Extreme measures for extreme days
Join the green revolution: Eat this column after reading it. On second thought, the writer may have to eat his words, but not the reader. Well, we live in days that call for extreme measures: to create jobs, re-invent the economy, save the environment, educate our young people, and find a way to eat more dark chocolate without feeling guilty.
Extremes have hit us of late with full force: a tsunami like never seen before, and floods and tornadoes so vicious as to level whole towns. The winds of a tornado, say the experts, are too violent to measure. Something like the barking of your neighbor’s dog: too loud to measure. It all seems to never end, and that’s just the half of it. To top it all off, Sarah Palin is back!
Here at home, we’ve had the high winds that go on and on, and the endless days of drought, which have made raincoats and umbrellas as antiquated as land phones and the horse-drawn milk wagon. On TV, there’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, but of late we may feel we’ve gone through our own extreme makeover, whether at home or away.
Extreme sports, it’s been said, will one day nudge aside the other sports we now enjoy — and, with the National Football League lock-out and Major League Baseball’s extra-inning grasp for dollars, the nudge to extremes may have already begun.
“In extremis” from the Latin means “at the point of death” or “in dire circumstances.” A good example this year is our national Congress, where Republicans’ extreme government-bashing and Democrats’ extreme lack of political will have resulted in political stalemate, which must make those millions of out-of-work Americans extremely nervous.
In such an atmosphere, it almost makes those extremist talk-show radio shouters seem nearly normal — or, kind of. And where does their kind of linguistic gibberish come from? Have we all gone insane, to even broadcast their blather on otherwise respectable media?
Psychologist Neil Bernstein, a popular TV personality and author, may have an answer. He says that television and other media producers aren’t looking for intellectual, sober, and soft-spoken guests. What they want is high-energy and opinionated people who can bring drama, conflict, and sexy stories to the stage. That’s what captures the public’s attention, so that’s the kind of people they’ll hire.
So are you looking for balanced views, with objective takes on the news, and reasoned and thoughtful deliberations? Good luck, but those aren’t the kind of things radio and TV producers figure will draw an audience. You might have to settle for an afternoon at the public library or your favorite web-site. Just don’t fall asleep in the process.
The kind of talk that many people want — that of extreme positions — fits in well with the thinking and attitudes of what is called the false self. And it’s much more common than we might think. It feels good to latch onto ideas that can be used to feel validated and secure, and to look down on those with contrary views. That sounds negative? Welcome to the human race — of course, you and I never do this.
For Aristotle, virtue lies in moderation between extremes. That view is pretty solid, but it doesn’t mean that radio talk show hosts are virtuous, as long as they’re only moderately atrocious. In a certain sense, too, moderation is not always the right path: like intending to be moderately honest but not too much so. Aristotle would be displeased to the extreme with that.
Maybe what we need is some moderate and well-placed extreme conduct. The unemployed, our eager students, and all who live in a changing environment might benefit from that. Otherwise, we may be “in extremis,” and we’re not just talking about loud barking dogs. Anyway, I hope I don’t have to eat those words. That’s an extreme I’m not at all ready for.
Kozeny works for Socorro Mental Health Inc. His views are not necessarily those of his employer. He can be reached by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.