Stealing a post-generating method from Brad DeLong, Bill Tozier posted and interesting comment that I wanted to highlight:
I've often wondered why people place me (a moderate in a lot of polarized
debates) "in the middle".
I think I'm orthogonal, not "in the middle". I'm concerned about
plenty of things; they're just not what's being discussed, and in some
cases they can't even be framed in the terms used in the core debate. My
suspicions grow that fundamentalism should not be defined as being extreme,
or merely holding extreme opinions, but rather as framing every discussion
including those having nothing to do with a subject in terms of the
That's an interesting angle on the whole business. I'm not sure I really agree with that definition, or maybe I'm just not happy with "fundamentalism" as the label. I'll have to think about it a bit more, but I have a great big stack of homeworks to grade, so I won't have anything to say about it for a while.
I thought it deserved better than being buried in concern trolling and willful misreadings, though.
I agree with Bill wholeheartedly, here. The problem with many polarised debates is that they completely miss the point, and completely ignore what's important about an issue.
Here's an example, I hope not too controversial: Abortion.
The "debate" in the US, as I see it, is one of "rights" or "choice" on one hand and "life" on the other. Sorry, that's not a "debate". It's trench warfare.
Both sides miss what I see as the most important issue: that the issue of pregnancy termination is primarily about health care. The "woman's right to choose" side, for example, frames the question in such a way that it completely ignores a very important third party: the woman's doctor.
The "right" to medical pregnancy termination is no different than the "right" to chemotherapy. It's not even a particularly feminist issue, when you think about it that way. It's a matter of you and your doctor deciding what medical care is most appropriate for you, with all of the things that go with it (e.g. the right to medical privacy).
"Fundamentalism" is becoming the new "Fascism": A word for "Bad people we don't like". I prefer to stick to meaning a religious belief marked by faith in the infallibility of their holy texts, and a reaction to Modernism. The more it gets debased the less useful it is. Why not use "Ideologue" instead? It's non-partisan, applies equally well to political, economic and religious philosophies of any kind.
That said, I don't think I can comment on the actual substance of his discussion without branding myself as an ideologue. :P In all honestly, I think the two-party system in American politics has allowed a relatively small group of radical reactionaries to completely dominate one of the only two viable choices for government, and attempted to maintain that power through intentional polarization.
In this sort of political atmosphere moderation is an immediate casualty. I personally identified myself as a "Moderate" around 2000 or so. Now, I'm somewhere between a liberal and a democratic socialist. Did my views change? Not much. My context for expressing them, on the other hand, has changed greatly, moving from Canada to a post 9/11 United States.
How can I identify myself as a "Moderate" when Bill O'Reilly claims the same? How do I cope with Hillary Clinton labeled as "Far Left", when her healthcare plan relies on private industry far more than Canadian Conservatives would possibly suggest? Regulated capitalism is branded as socialism, liberals are rebranded as "Fascists" or "Stalinists", and secularism as atheism.
The only way I could deal with that level of cognitive dissonance was to re-examine my own positions. I had to make sure I knew what positions I stood for, or be washed away by public sentiment. It's made me more vocal in defense of my own positions though, and much less tolerant of letting the two political parties frame the arbitrary "extremes" in a debate.
I'm not sure the word "idealogue" is really what you're looking for here. Strictly speaking (i.e., according to the dictionaries I have at hand), an idealogue is just a theorist.
I think "zealot" is a better word for what we're dealing with, sort of a quasi-intellectual militant who is prone (possibly intentionally, possibly not) to mis-readings of even the most simple statement they find issue with. It's awfully tough to reach common ground with such a creature, because they're always willing and able to twist your statements to make them sound like verbal assaults on their own "reasonable" positions.
The more I think about it, the more I like the term "screechy monkeys" for this phenomenon (although one could argue the association is insulting to our simian friends). Still, in both cases, the screeching seems to be accompanied by a lot of poo flinging.
For instance, look at the response you'll get from any mention of the term "framing" in some quarters. You can debate whether or not Nisbet et al. define the term accurately, but the term itself seems to be treated by the "screechy monkeys" as a sort of code word for accommodating irrationality. Talk about framing science in front of these folks, and they respond with their own brand of irrationality.
Anyway, the thing that makes my irony gland explode is the number of blogs (which shall go unnamed) hosted by individuals supposedly promoting science and rationality, which wallow around in this sort of behavior themselves. Seems to me that if you're trying to "sell" something (which in a sense, science blogs are doing -- "selling" rationality), you ought to make use of your product yourself.
Monsters from the id, indeed.
Just for the record, I'm personally acquainted with some atheist zealots, as well as some biblical literalist zealots. As far as I'm concerned, both are a pain in the arse when they get up on their respective soap boxes.
As for putting yourself on a spectrum, you might want to think about avoiding it by dodging labels all together. Or else, just call yourself an independent -- it's liberating, really it is. The problem with giving yourself a label (even a gentle one like "moderate") is that you've now made it easy for somebody else to redefine you (as O'Reilly and co. like to do).
I'm also not so sure that the U.S.' two party system is at the root of this problem. My suspicion (and I'll admit that it's little more than that) is that a bigger issue is the current news cycle. Mass media like simple "A vs. B" presentations, the more dramatic the better. Most issues (even the ones that certain groups have intentionally polarized) don't fit cleanly on a left-right line. But if you've only got 60 seconds of a nightly news show to devote to a discussion, it'll get boiled down to competing bumper sticker slogans for sure...
Restricting 'fundamentalist' to religious fundamentalists is gives up a very accurately descriptive term IMO.
Anyone who believes the correct answer to whatever question is to be found within the narrow literal doctrine of a specific teaching/ideology is a fundamentalist. It is easiest to see with religion, but I don't think anyone here has a hard time recognizing free-market fundies or tax cut fundies. If the 'right answer' is the same regardless of details of the problem, then 'fundamentalist' is a pretty accurate term.
Zealot is a good term... but misses out on the philosophical / ideological aspect IMO. Zealot connotes more of an active promotion of something relatively specific, as opposed to a fundamentalist who 'knows' the right answer / approach to every problem is simple application their ideological dictates.
I think the correct term here is 'fanatic'. Defined as "someone who won't change their mind, and won't change the subject"