I’m stuck on this question, because there seems to be no scientific explanation for this phenomenon. When I recall my time as a high school and college student during the Vietnam War, the images that come back most strongly are those involving riots and demonstrations–and the angry reaction of those whose opinions were the polar opposite. Although I had my doubts about the wisdom of the war, I felt no passion when I heard chants like “Hell no, we won’t go!” or “Hey, Hey LBJ! How many kids have you killed today?” Nor did I feel any passion when I heard extreme voices on the other side, saying things like “Those college students ought to be shot!” or “They ought to lock those kids in jail and cut off their hair!” There I was in the middle, hoping I would not be forced to belong to one side or the other.
What concerns me now–I mean in this blog–is finding an explanation for passion’s seeming preference for the extremes. When I look at a rainbow, I am not drawn to one side or another. I see the primary colors in the order of ROY G. BIV. But my passions are not drawn to the R (red) or the V (violet) just because those two colors happen to be on the opposite ends of the spectrum. On a given day, I might like yellow, or orange, or green, or maybe I might be drawn occasionally to red or violet also. But nothing about the extreme nature of those two colors–i. e., their position on opposite ends of the light spectrum–causes me to feel anything special towards them. Why, then, do matters of politics, religion, and philosophy seem to operate in a different way? Why do passions relating to those areas–especially anger and fear–seem to gravitate toward the extremes?
My hope is that the phenomenon that seems to cause our passions to gravitate toward extreme positions is something learned (and therefore more easily correctable) rather than something inherent in our genetic structure as human beings (and therefore requiring us to fight against our pwn human nature if we are to survive as a civilization). The passion of the Spirited Reasoner is one founded in a love for reason and science–where we learn to feel the greatest excitement through the discovery of solutions that can bring us closer to a world of social justice, peace, and prosperity, regardless of where those solutions might be found across the political spectrum. Can we not learn to channel our passions in that way?