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Go! Be an Extremist!


Barry Goldwater, an American politician who ran for and lost the Presidency to Lyndon B. Johnson, the American President after John F. Kennedy said this (apparently in a slightly wordier way)

Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue.

This essay is a call for and a defense of extremism. This extremism though has to be preceded by an end to the monopoly of violence that the Indian state enjoys.

For example, we give them carte blanche to prohibit us from meeting each other (Section 144 IPC), curtail our speech (by banning books, movies or controversial art), fine us for making mistakes (e.g., driving under the influence), imprison us for committing crimes, or kill us in the "rarest of the rare" cases.

Why Is Extremism Useful?

One of the key uses of extremism on hot button issues like immigration, tax policy, markets, and human rights is that it gives people the chance to define themselves in opposition to that extremist position.

For example, the Sangh Parivar has an extremist view on the sanctity of (all things) cows. I personally know people who have told me that they cured inflammations and illnesses by drinking cow urine. People have been lynched for the crime of cow slaughter.

Gradually, the tide is turning against this sort of crazy deification of an animal. People are starting to understand that human life cannot and should not be weighed against cows. No one wants to go out and indiscriminately kill cows but the alternative - that cows cannot even be touched - is being questioned. For instance, the Prime Minister had to yield to local sentiments in the North East in favor of beef when he told Nagaland that access to the meat of their choice would not be curtailed.

We saw what cow-stremism looked like and we recoiled.

What's Stopping Extremism?

In the introduction we saw above that the government has a monopoly on violence. It uses this monopoly to deliver law and order which, while it pleases the majority, leaves no oxygen for alternative approaches and ideas to reach the general population.

A number of structural issues make it so that this monopoly cannot be broken any time soon.

No Justice is Not Justice

The courts are overrun by cases which, on average, take years, sometimes decades to resolve. The government has no incentive to make access to justice easier. The current situation enforces a quiet acquiescence from the population. "If we cannot hope to get quick justice, why bother at all?" And this lack of familiarity with the judiciary breeds lathargy among us in favor of the status quo.

No Credible National Civic Institutions

We lack national scale autonomous civic institutions in many spheres of public polity. Yes, for elections we have the CEC and for general human rights, the Human Rights Commission.

Compare this with the American Civil Liberties Union which can quickly and credibly bring lawsuits against the American Federal government to force them to reverse unpopular, and arguably unconstituional positions in a weekend.

The lack of structural checks on the government allows the executive to essentially claim that they are the state and move unilaterally to exercise their monopoly on violence to curtail opposition.

Martin Luther King's complaints against the White moderate are equally applicable to the average Indian moderate, who having seen the inadequacies of the justice system and a lack of civic institutions owing loyalty to the constitution, has yielded passive support to the executive's claim to being the sole protector of law and order.

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action;"

The Upshot

We have to allow extremism in the public sphere which will allow us to test and taste that extremism and (hopefully) reject it in favor of more universal positions.

To get there, we have to curtail the government's claim to being the entirety of the state and support a leaner, more agile judiciary along with civic institutions of national scale who derive their support and funding from the public and can act as the public's champion.

Go! Be an Extremist!
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