Radicals safeguard the middle

Image of child smiling. Headline reads, Mommy, when I grow up I want to help smach the white racist, homophobic, patriarchal, bullshit paradigm too!In a discussion with a reader over a previous post, I was asked what I thought of a group of German feminists who claim heterosexual sex is oppressive to women. The question was stupid and off topic so I didn’t answer, but it got me thinking about radical social/political groups in general and if they serve any positive function in society, and have concluded that not only do they serve a positive function but that this function is essential.

It is only through radicalism that we grow as a society. Imagine a spectrum in which the traditional social order is at 0 and its radical alternative is at 10; through the clash of these two polar opposites a middle ground is forged: most of the traditionalists reconsider their position, becoming more tolerant and open-minded, while most of the radicals chill out as progress is made; and thus as a society we end up at 5 on the spectrum, a place where the previously oppressed group are granted rights and freedoms once enjoyed only by the elite. But there is always a backlash: there are always those who hate the new order, who resent the loss of power or advantage and who make it their purpose in life to re-establish the old social order. The middle ground is constantly under siege yet we tend toward complacency, ignoring the threat until hard-won rights and freedoms are eroded. A radical opposite is thus essential to counterbalance this threat: radicals don’t fall into complacency, they draw attention to the threat, and they encourage discussion and action. And if nothing more, or perhaps most importantly, both groups serve as a reminder to us all why the middle ground is not only preferable but essential to safeguard and sustain.

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