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Forum, Jan. 10: We must refuse to escape into extremism — it’s the easy way out

Published: 1/9/2021 10:00:30 PM
Modified: 1/9/2021 10:00:13 PM
We must refuse to escape into extremism — it’s the easy way out

Dan Weintraub’s op-ed column “How I became an extremist” (Jan. 3) was a most enlightening window into understanding the polarized citizenry of our country, presently and throughout our history. His musings help explain this situation as it highlighted, as I see it, both the cause of it as well as the reason for its persistence and, as I will later propose, a way to begin to address this human problem.

He writes: “I became an extremist because I was in distress” — meaning he was overwhelmed by anxiety. Later he writes: “Uncertainty is our watchword.” Earlier, he called extremism “a godsend. It gave me purpose and meaning,”

Eric Voegelin, a brilliant political philosopher of the mid-20th century, helps us understand that embracing the urge to find certainty as the way to deal with the anxiety we all experience is the essence of modernity. He explains it with the term “gnosticism,” or the desire to escape the anxiety of life by creating a perfect world or heaven here and now. You see this in utopian thinking on the left of the political spectrum and in extreme conservatism on the right. Thus, our current polarized citizenry.

Incorporating this concept into our attempt to “do something positive about it” can lead us to find realistic ways to deal more effectively and purposefully with all the anxieties we experience. But a major barrier to achieving this is the human tendency to take the easy way out by embracing extremism and to escape into denial, or, as the op-ed column does, to blame our basic neurological makeup for the “mass neurophysiological hijacking” of our will. Thus, we are only neurological pawns to the temptation of extremism.

I suggest that what we really need as U.S. citizens is to have the guts to face our anxieties with courage, and — by an act of will — refuse to escape into denial or take the easy way out by seeking certainty in political extremism. This is the challenge we are now called to face fearlessly, and with humility.



Columns offered clarity, nostalgia

I want to applaud the Perspectives’ columns from the Jan. 3 Sunday Valley News (“How I became an extremist,” “Religious institutions behaving badly” and “Two visions of ‘normal’ collided in our abnormal pandemic year”). I have the inclination to save them for my teenagers to review 10-20 years from now. I do not tend to save newspapers, but these provided so much clarity and even nostalgia.

My wife and I experienced 9/11 simultaneously, but 200 miles apart, in medical school rotations in Houston and San Antonio, Texas. She sent me a digital alert as I was making rounds in the hospital where I worked (and in which I was born). It was tough to finish our rounds that morning because every patient’s TV was on and showing the news coverage.

Being a first-generation American, I can relate with some objectivity to our political climate. I choose to care for veterans at the VA because I feel indebted to the heroes, inside and outside of my family, for liberating my mother’s family from World War II Germany (where she was born following her family’s capture from Poland). Like the 1940s, we have so much to learn from the past year.

I applaud these writers. It was a nice educational beginning to 2021.



The writer is a physician at the White River Junction Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Family should be compensated for use of Lebanon Class VI roads

As a former Lebanon and Upper Valley resident, I am writing to comment on the article about the dispute over ownership and access to four Class VI roads in Lebanon (“Committee urges city to keep roads as trails,” Jan. 5).

A few years ago, I contacted the listing agent for a large block of land in Lebanon and Enfield that the agent referred to as “Johnson’s and Korpela’s Thousand Acre Woods.” I was concerned about the status of the Class VI roads that crossed the property and was assured that because the roads had not been maintained for more than 60 years, they had been abandoned and the contiguous landowners could legally bar the public from using them. A short online search led me to believe that while Class VI roads are subject to gates and bars, they are still considered to be open for the public to travel on.

I was raised in Lebanon and rode trail bikes on three of the four Class VI roads that have been proposed to be reopened as hiking, biking and snowmobile trails. I clearly recall that these roads were in poor condition as long ago as 1970. Since the city of Lebanon didn’t maintain these roads for public use over a period of several decades, it seems wrong for the city to penalize the Patch family by disrupting their commercial operations and thereby reducing the value of their land. If the city’s actions are going to harm the Patch family, the city should compensate them for their current and estimated future loses of revenue and for the decrease in property value.


Omaha, Neb.

Political picks and ‘identity politics’

In a recent Forum letter, Jeff Lehmann complained that the appointees for government service selected by President-elect Biden reflected “identity politics” because they appeared to favor women, people of color and people with unconventional sexual orientation (“Biden fills his Cabinet by employing identity politics,” Dec. 31). That ignores the fact that such appointments, until recent years, have always involved “identity politics” — that is, people were appointed to government service if they were identified as a white, heterosexual and male.



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