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Looking For Remedies For Extremism

Updated: Mar 28

‘Loneliness is the common ground of terror,’ Hannah Arendt wrote in ‘The Origins of Totalitarianism’. For Arendt, the far right is driven by elites who skilfully manage the loneliness of masses of people. This led her to call totalitarianism an ‘alliance of the elite and the mob.’ Today, we see this clearly in the ‘alt-right’, which draws on past ultranationalism and adapts it for the internet age.


The alt right feeds on loneliness. It also feeds on inequality. One academic study by Sarah Jay and colleagues shows that inequality fuels extremist politics: ‘We conclude that [far right] populist leaders not only tap into the negative social consequences of inequality, their policy positions also fail to address and may even compound the situation’. The far right and alt right claim to have the solution to the problems arising from economic inequality, but their ‘solutions’ only compound the problem.


In another study, Patrick Forscher and Nour S. Kteily found the alt right was driven by ‘the desire for group-based dominance’. Supporters of the alt right are suspicious of mainstream media and seek alternative media sources to propagate ideologies such as white nationalism. Inequality and loneliness create a toxic cauldron of ideas, such as the belief that racial and gender inequalities are justified. The alt right uses banal catchphrases such as ‘Christ is King’ to justify the kinds of policies that Jesus of Nazareth clearly opposed, such as oppression and exploitation.


Right-wing extremism preys on the weak. Autistic people are more likely to be interviewed by Prevent than non-autistic people are, The Guardian reported. This is because extremists find it easier to manipulate people with difficulties in social communication. If your condition already leaves you feeling isolated, this isolation could become a tool for indoctrination.


More unequal societies tend to be lonelier societies. In ‘The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone’, Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson find inequality compounds loneliness. Inequality creates ‘unrealistic’ standards, leading many people to have problems with self-esteem: ‘People who don’t value themselves become frightened of rejection; they keep others at a distance, and get trapped in a vicious circle of loneliness.’


Being autistic and lonely in an unequal society seems to be a clear pathway to radicalisation. But with rampant income inequality and chronic loneliness, even being ‘neurotypical’ (not autistic or experiencing another condition like dyspraxia) is no safeguard from being radicalised. The alt right recruits from across the social spectrum. At root, inequality creates a lonely society where both rich and poor can fall prey to extremism.


Perhaps more equality and more community are remedies for extremism. On a personal level, yoga and meditation can help train the mind to focus on the here and now, helping people to avoid getting caught up in extremist fantasies. Tolerance for different perspectives and cultures is crucial. There is also balance, a middle way between extremes. Like the Chinese ideas of ‘Yin’ and ‘Yang’, it is helpful to put different ideas together to find a balance between poles on a spectrum. This does not have to be political; it is a personal journey towards moderation. Perhaps this is a remedy for extremism.



·      The psychology of the alt right:

·      Jay et al., ‘Economic Inequality and the Rise of Far-Right Populism: A Social Psychological Analysis’

George Alexander


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