“A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.”
“Men will defend most passionately, that which they doubt the most.”
Well. I admit. I try to avoid fanatics. I realize in doing so I am doing so at the expense of debate & discussion. I say this as someone who has dedicated an entire site to enlightened conflict and actually believing positive conflict leads to sparks of knowledge and learning. But fanatics are maddening to debate with. The debate, the intellectual conflict, becomes anything but intellectual or enlightening and the only sparks that occur tend to be ones of frustration. Specifically, they are maddening for two reasons:
- Generalities not specifics
More often than not there is a broad sweeping generalization or claim grounded on ‘common sense.’ Debates are dependent upon specifics. Debating generalities is like swatting at clouds <that is maddening>. Beyond generalities the main constructive base for formulating the opinion is … well … common sense, i.e., “just think about it … its common sense when you look at it!”
This is maddening because how the hell do you debate common sense that is anything but common or of any sense?
<note: you cannot>
- Narrow specifics <or selective specifics>. I sometimes call this “stilt beliefs” or ‘stilted reasoning.’
More often than not a fanatic uses one, maybe two, narrow well-honed factoids. They are stilts upon which the fanaticism balances itself. This is maddening for two reasons:
<1> the factoid is, well, yes, a fact — but selective truth at best. It is a fact selected from a larger group of facts. So it may actually be the truth, but not the whole truth;
<2> whole truth is rarely easy to explain. Truth, in general, is rarely simple. Stilts are simple. Enough said on why that is maddening.
You can tell when you have run into a fanatic because there arrives a point where it is counterproductive to further discuss a topic. Simplistically, that point is when one person crosses into fanaticism. It is typically at this point when a mind closes.
And when the mind closes being right matters more than actual truth.
And when the mind closes there is actually no chance for a rational discussion because you actually cannot even agree to disagree. There is no agreement.
This is because a fanatic must be right and, therefore, if they are right than everyone who disagrees must be wrong.
This is maddening.
I am not sure this last thought is a reflection of a closed mind or simply a stubborn fanatical belief, but with most fanatics their position and belief becomes who they are … a strong aspect of their self-identity.
Even worse? It is an aspect of not only their identity but also their self-worth. Think about that for a second.
In your attempt to get a fanatic to change their position you are actually attempting to undo who they are as well as their sense of worth. Think about that the next time you gnash your teeth over a stubborn fanatic.
Suffice it to say, a closed mind is a bad thing.
Here is my hope when dealing with a fanatic. Sometimes, yes, sometimes … you can say something that has been said a zillion times before and somehow that ‘something’ reveals a new truth. By the way, this is more often than not not a simple truth or factoid, it is more often you stumbling across the moment in their past <or creating a visceral mental tie to that moment> that was actually the foundation for the fanaticism. Somehow you reveal a thought that reminds the person of a thought long misplaced or forgotten which ultimately creates ‘something’ which begins the unraveling of the whole foundation of the fanaticism.
My real point here is that the ‘something’ more often than not does not address the superficial surface fanaticism but instead addresses an underlying underpinning.
Please note the key word I used above – ‘stumble’. You can pick away at memories and try to reveal the ‘tipping moment’ in their thinking but more often than not you just stumble across it … uh oh … at the right time. Yeah. Timing matters too <and you never know about the timing>.
Fanatics are not just maddening but they can also be a little frightening.
“Human beings are perhaps never more frightening than when they are convinced beyond doubt that they are right.”
Laurens Van der Post
Now. Let me be clear about fanatics. Because some of the things I have written may suggest that these are all people wearing tin foil hates living in their parents’ basement reading up on the Illuminati.
That is not true. I would be willing to bet we all know fanatics. It can be someone you know well, even like most of the time, except for that “one topic.” The one topic for which they reach into their pocket and pull out their fanatic hat and put it on.
Here is where I give fanatics a break. The path I am suggesting is a trying, difficult path that takes a lot of work.
I am a curiosity guy and I walk a curious path. I believe … no … I know that there will always be something yet to be known that can significantly later or even completely undo everything we, or I, know and believe.
In fact … my Life is almost an ongoing quest to learn whatever I can to unlearn everything I know. And, yet, I am confident in my beliefs so that positively impacts how I live my Life and conduct myself. In other words, while confident in my beliefs I am not defined by them which permits me to constantly reexamine them in light of new information. I say all that because I know that the whole concept of ‘unlearning what you believe’ and ‘constantly seeking new knowledge with an eye to altering one’s beliefs’ is not an easy task.
It is easier to establish some beliefs and then move on to expanding the mind on a variety of other things. Let’s call this ‘closing parts of your mind’ rather than simply suggesting someone has a closed mind.
Life shrivels with someone who has a closed mind, but a partially closed mind permits enough growth to ignore the stagnant parts of the mind. Young people tend to be more receptive to the concept that there will always be some unknown fact just around the next proverbial corner that will turn some belief upside down. Older people tend to close off portions of their minds therefore eliminating differing opinions which could potentially alter something they hold true.
I believe <just my opinion> this happens because of the whole self-identity and self-worth thing I brought up earlier.
Young people are still growing into their identity and have shit for self-worth. They are trying out different thoughts and ideas like new clothes. Outgrowing some and ultimately wearing some until they fall apart.
Older people have some things that are ground into their identity & worth.
Anyway. Fanatics actually have an advantage over … well … me at least.
I envy them their comfort.
And, yet, maddened by the fact they are so comfortable they won’t explore a different, maybe uncomfortable, thought.
Should we all believe in nothing? Of course not.
Life throughout history reveals the constant struggle between what we knew, what we know now and what will be known. It is a reflection of a constant struggle for truth which is a malleable concept even on a good day.
So most of us try and find truth when we can find it and as best as we can.
Fanatics don’t try.
Look. The challenge for all of us is to be careful how tightly we dogmatically cling to what we see as ‘the truth’ and how strongly we attack others’ truth. Heck. At any given point we might just both be right … or wrong.
Fanatics have lost that challenge. In fact, I am not sure they even recognize the challenge. I find that maddening. That is why I avoid fanatics.
originally published March 2016