Understanding the extremist to make your story (and life) better

file000646327950We’ve seen them come from all walks of life. All political, social and religious leanings suffer them, sometimes better than others. I’m talking about ideological extremists. And I’m about to explain why you could be one too (and how to use it to build better characters in your stories).

Except for extreme mental health exceptions, all people are the same…yes, I said it. Amazing but true.

“Wait!” You might say. “If all people are the same, why don’t we all vote for the same candidate, worship in the same way, eat, live, dress….you know what? You’re just nuts.”

Outwardly that might seem like an extreme statement, but I promise, there is logic to it. At the base level of mental architecture, human beings are animals (I’m sorry if your religion doesn’t allow you to believe that simple fact). In that primal animal mind, there is one overriding drive from which all others spring forth; SURVIVAL.

Some might say, what about fear? anger? Love? Well, all of those are born from the muck of that one very basic need. You must survive to experience any of those things. Fortunately, evolution did eventually kick in and let us fine tune a long plan for survival, rather than relying on reactionary tactics like “fight or flight”. But the drive is still there, spurring our actions, thoughts, internal debates, politics, etc.



elk-grazing-942014_1280The Hunter:
Hunting: Hunting is one of those activities that some find distasteful (or worse) but others relish. The thought of taking down a large animal, thrills some to extremes. That is the survival impulse, and it is strong for those who like to hunt. However, one thing most hunters will never tell you is that (for most) there is a pinch of remorse after the kill. To admit that even to themselves is a hard thing to overcome particularly when hunting has drawn such public ire in recent years.  But it’s there, lurking inside them.

What does this do to the hunter? Well it depends on the hunter and how they deal with it. Some internalize it, turning them hard, even bitter. Some accept it for what it is, momentary regret over a lost life but balanced by the need for the family (in their opinion) which is the reason many hunters hunt to begin with…meat is good nutrition and expensive to provide from the grocery.

If you are a radical vegan, you are probably rubbing your hands together right now, thinking “an opening to exploit!”
Good luck with that.

protest-464616_1280The Animal Activist:
Internal remorse over killing animals has been occurring within human beings since before we had metal weapons. But let’s depart from the hunter for a second and look at the radical vegan…not your average yoga practicing red wine drinking socially responsible vegan, but the militant ones. These folks are an extreme as well. Some resort to violence to deliver their message of “meat is murder”.

But why are they so angry? (And honestly, how are they so angry, since one of the vegan claims is that meat makes you violent but veggies make you peaceful). I don’t want to get into their politics and belief system, just as I don’t want to get into the hunter’s belief system. I want to explain why all people are the same.

Something the meat-hating vegan will never tell you is that at one time or another, most of them have experienced a moment when they wanted to kill an animal. Maybe they were petting their cat and the thought to grab it by the neck popped in there, daring them to end the life of that small furry creature. Maybe just s fleeting thought, instantly dismissed. But guess what? They have that same basic survival driven reflex as those hunters. What’s different? well, just like the hunters, it’s how they deal with it. If they suppress the primal instinct completely, it is internalized and they might become hard and bitter. Others might see it for what it is, a social stance that betters the world (in their opinion) and satisfies their empathy toward animals. But deep down, their body is screaming for the same red meat protein that the hunters harvest in bloody sport/ritual.

ham-926278_1280How we’re the same
It’s genetic. (I also won’t get into a debate about getting ill eating meat after a long period without it…it’s not a rejection by your body, it’s a lack of bacteria to properly digest it. Give it time, it’s worth it. 😉 Mmmmm, bacon. But I digress.)

Thrown into a field together with sticks and no memory of modern life, both the hunter and vegan would work together instinctively, to kill an animal to eat. And they would both feel the tinge of remorse for the dead once the deed was done. Societal evolution is what has changed the way people deal with things…societal evolution is nothing more than the survival instinct, drawn into a long game. For some, it’s a very long, long game.

How we could all be extremists
6954121728_e4b7afdf62_oNow. How does this work in a broader scope? Answer: We are all shaped from the same things. But because of the vast variety of environmental, social and experiential variables, each person develops in a way unique to all others. Sit down in a room with ten people who share the same social, religious and political values and within an hour, you will have found a way to split the group and argue about something. Everyone thinks their opinion is the right one. Social evolution allows us to swallow much of our opinion when dealing with a group. But even if you are outwardly identical, inwardly there is an opinion that will inevitably be held by your social twin that makes you angry, afraid or bitter.

The reason society survives at all is because of social evolution toward that “long game” survival approach. But the reason society got to that point is because those with the strongest base survival instincts were there as the front line to hunt, innovate, and defend. Both sets of principles are required which is why society embraces those who display both sets of those traits.

The extremists? I’m getting to that…hold your damned horses.


Picking our battles. Dealing with the rest the best way we can.

What makes an extremist?
So what happens when the base survival instinct is strong in someone who doesn’t hold a very high degree of social, long game, survival instinct? Most of them become the silent angry mob, waiting for a trigger. But a smaller percentage become extreme in their behavior, applying their own rationalized social code to their actions rather than true social responsibility. And by true social responsibility, I mean that grudging nod you give to most opinions that aren’t yours but that don’t directly affect you, your family or community (picking your battles).

The extremist sees every opinion other than theirs as the enemy; something that must be obliterated, either by heated debate or physical conflict. When an extremist personality determines that there is no possible way through your opposing idea, the only alternative is finding a way through you. This takes many forms: Racially motivated violence. Gender motivated violence. Religiously motivated violence. Politically motivated Violence. Need based violence. Fear based violence…and so on.

When base survival instinct is strong and social survival instinct is low in a minority, there will be violence. There is no way around it. Most of the time, natural, economic or social disaster are to blame for these rises in violence. When there are fewer resources, and society are seen as standing between them and basic survival requirements (real or imagined) that society will become the enemy; something that must be gone through to get what is needed.

file000588870603Sadly, there are all too many who know this logically and know how to exploit it. Without the Anti Social leader, the anti social extremists would just be an angry mob. Sometimes this is necessary, but far more frequently, it is manufactured for selfish reasons. This duality exists in each of us and under harsh enough conditions, we would either act as the extremist, or roll over and let it kill us (depending on which survival basis is strongest in you).

So how do we deal with this? I don’t have a clue. That’s not my area of expertise. I’m an observer…an identifier of patterns. I’m the guy who isn’t afraid to put myself in the place of someone I hate, just so I can find his weakness…uh…for the sake of the story, that is. I’m very socially responsible 😉 Now please excuse me while I go tenderize this venison.

If you liked this post, then please like this post 🙂  S.L. Shelton is the author of an Amazon Bestselling Political Thriller Action Espionage Series, (The Scott Wolfe Series). Follow him here on WordPress, on Twitter @SLSheltonAuthor or Facebook. He will love you for it. And if you like the posts, click like (likes, follows and reviews are the best way to get authors to write more.)


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