Meaningful Distinction:

Patrick S. Lasswell Look outward for something to accomplish, not inward for something to despise.
pslblog at gmail dot com
Tuesday, October 21, 2003
Kool-Aid Dissent

It is a lot of fun to be angry. The adrenaline flowing, the feeling of unity with a pack, the delicious clarity of an extreme position are all heady experiences. The tonic of youth for many young and old is the adherence to a compelling ideal. This feeling is real and addictive; the source and cost of the feeling for many is irrelevant. Kayaking down rapids, skiing down a glacier, and screaming at Bush can all be accomplished in one day in Portland. Dissent has become another extreme sport in the Northwest.

Just like kayaking and skiing, there are points beyond which you can no longer recover. Just like other extreme sports, many of those points are not attended to by amateur enthusiasts. Just like other extreme sports, screwing up can get you imprisoned, hurt, or killed. Unlike other extreme sports, there is no regulatory body of peers to keep things safe and sane. Extreme dissent lacks the civility and sanity of a mosh pit.

There are issues with dissent that are not faced by extreme sports. Sportsmen routinely confront the bounds of natural laws, but they operate within them because they have no other choice. Extreme dissenters often ignore the bounds of human laws, civil communication, and fact verification regardless of the consequences, and they often get away with it. Eventually this behavior is wildly destructive.

Jim Jones is a mostly forgotten specter of a bygone era, but the legacy of his dissent is still worth reviewing. In another time, Jim Jones led a congregation to believe that they were persecuted and possessors of a special truth. He took those people away from rational community into a jungle and established his own criteria for truth. When confronted with a reality they could not dismiss or suborn, he chose to kill his community rather than relinquish the ecstasy of his message.

Today much of what advertises itself as dissent is increasingly isolated and lunatic, like the ideology of Jonestown. The acrimonious opposition to the current administration is pushing itself further into the jungle and away from honest communication. The eventual result of this political extremism is not yet written, but there is a point of no return. The final act of dissent is to drink the Kool-Aid and deny reality forever. Last week, Garrett Hardin and his wife took that position without admitting the failure of their Malthusian stance. This is not necessarily the ultimate fate of all who pronounce the true religion is named, "Bush=Hitler", but it is not an unlikely result, either.

Admitting that you are wrong is hard; admitting that you were deliberately vile in support of a lie is impossible for many. There are some mountains you should not ski, some rivers you should not run, and some political stances that will destroy you. Abandoning civil communication is like ignoring safety warnings and the weather; it may be a rush at first, but eventually it will bring you grief. In the end, it is better to accept a buzz kill than a kool-aid dissent.

(Thanks to Glenn Reynolds, Howare Kurtz, and Gregg Easterbrook for the inspiration)
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