extremism - a tendency or disposition to go to extremes or an instance of going to extremes, esp. in political matters: leftist extremism; the extremism of the Nazis
I finally got around to filling out the PETA survey - you know, the one they send you with a request for donations and lots of cute little address labels with puppies and kitties on them. Now, I am an animal rights enthusiast. I don't own furs or seal skins. All my pets are Humane Society rescues. But even I became frustrated by the way this survey was worded. "Do you agree that all animal testing should stop, because there are hardly any benefits to it?" How am I supposed to answer that? I can't say "yes", because I believe there are benefits to animal testing. Anyone who thinks otherwise is welcome to offer themselves up for new medications testing before they go for human trials. I also can't say "no", because I do think that animal testing should stop as soon as we find other alternatives. My reply ended up being, "I cannot answer this question, because your statement is untrue and highly subjective." Let them figure it out.
This is exactly how the good causes go bad - this survey being one of the mildest examples of this transformation. Some of the more fervent animal rights activists go as far as demolishing various laboratories that use animals for testing and releasing the animals that are kept there. Let's think about this for a second. (a) Some of these animals are sick and in need of care; (b) those animals that are not sick are domesticated and would not survive in the wild; (c) mass release of animals contributes to the homeless animals population, which means they will end up in a Humane Society shelter (if they are lucky) or under the wheels of a car, unless PETA activists who bust the lab also volunteer to adopt all these animals or find them a good home. So, by organizing the lab raids, these people contribute to the very problem they claim they are trying to solve - cruel treatment of animals.
Radical environmentalists set up fires at the SUV and Humvee dealerships. Anyone who knows me well, knows my stance on large vehicle ownership - I despise people who pull into their office building garage in a pristine SUV that has never seen (and most likely will never see) a single speck of mud or a single pound of heavy equipment. However, I also fail to understand how setting a bunch of vehicles on fire - complete with rubber tires on their wheels, dangerous chemicals in their systems and gasoline in their fuel tanks - is supposed to help the environment. Who wants to do the analysis of what sort of dangerous cocktail is released into the air when you burn this rubber-gasoline-antifreeze-transmission fluid-oil-insulation-electrical wires-other stuff mix? Caring about our environment is supposed to be a positive cause, which, to me, just doesn't jive with the environmentally-harmful acts of arson.
A couple of years ago, someone posted a question on one of the forums I am a part of, "If my baby dies before he is baptized, does that mean he is going to hell?" The tone of the post was very anxious - the person who wrote it must have been terrified. Apparently, some moron told her that if her baby died before he was baptized, he would go to hell (the same moron also added that this would be the case if she had a miscarriage), and it didn't matter how good a Christian she was. What a great way to attract someone to your church! Fortunately, many people responded and tried to calm this person down, telling her that no, it's not true - that her baby would not go to hell. Considering, how emotional their responses were, I am sure they felt the same way about whomever told that poor woman that piece of crap as I do.
Making your point by using extreme rhetoric and extreme actions gains nothing in the long run, while losing a whole lot - such as people's support, understanding, willing to listen and take you seriously. So many people associate extremism with the Middle East terrorists these days - too happy to have found someone to blame for every one of world's problems. While we scream from the top of our soap boxes and point fingers across both oceans, we forget to look for extremists in our own back yard - people who believe that coming in with a bang is going to get them somewhere and destroy support base for many truly good causes in the process.