Ep229 – What Makes Someone a Fundamentalist?

Living in America, Bryan and Hunter constantly hear demands for Muslims to call out the fundamentalists in their own midst. We think this is a great idea. However, before you can do that, you have to be able to spot a fundamentalist. And that it turns out is quite easy when you’re looking at a fundamentalist in someone else’s tribe and quite hard when you’re looking at the fundamentalists in your own tribe.

It’s easy for Westerners to see the fundamentalists in the Arab world and quite hard to see the fundamentalists in their own midst.

Recently, we had Jordan Peterson on The Bryan Callen Show and the community cheered Jordan Peterson on for calling out the Social Justice Fundamentalists on college campuses. How great? A lot of listeners knew these college kids had gone nuts. Thank goodness someone was standing up to them. That is not the reaction Jordan Peterson has gotten on college campuses and from his fellow Professors. Some people in his own community have cheered him on but many have attacked him.

Hunter had a similar experience recently when he challenged certain fundamentalists whom we’ve had on The Bryan Callen Show, namely Peter Schiff and Thomas Woods. Some people cheered Hunter on and one Mixed Mental Artist even congratulated him on making it through the Peter Schiff interview “in spite of all the government that was getting in the way.” Others were either confused by what he was doing and many insulted him.

And that gives you a reality on why Muslims don’t call out the Fundamentalists in their own midst. Many have a hard time spotting which imams are the fundamentalists and their sense of loyalty to the tribe outweighs their commitment to figuring out realistic solutions to the problems of their society. In short, it was a perfect demonstration of why Hunter and Bryan have been focusing so much on the work of people like Jon Haidt. Feelings drive our choices without even realizing it and it’s only when those feelings are brought into conflict that we realize that those feelings are there.

And this is the big difference between a Mixed Mental Artist and a Fundamentalist. The Mixed Mental Artist craves finding conflicts between their beliefs and reality. That’s what it’s all about. When your beliefs don’t fit reality, then you have an opportunity to improve them. You are forced to confront your existing feelings and potentially change them. You are forced to re-examine your existing beliefs and potentially realize that you’ve been wrong about yourself and the world for decades. And that is upsetting. That is what Fundamentalists don’t do.

In fact, the Arab language has two words that capture beautifully what makes a fundamentalist. They don’t engage in ijtihad. You’re probably familiar with the word jihad. It means struggle. Ijtihad though is the reflexive form. It means struggle with oneself. Fundamentalists don’t struggle with themselves. They decide they have a monopoly on the truth and they have all the answers and then they spend their lives pursuing that simple answer to the end of the line.

In every case, the Fundamentalist believes that their tribe is the source of all good and that anything that threatens that is the source of all the world’s problems. If only we could get rid of all the world’s problems, everything would be solved. A few examples should suffice:

Islam: The Way of the Prophet is the answer to everything. Anything that doesn’t fit with that must be eliminated. And so, Islamic Fundamentalists like the Taliban try to eliminate toothbrushes and kites.
Social Justice: Racism and sexism and colonialism are the sources of all our problems. We must deny the white man banh mi and sushi. If someone feels oppressed by the need to use a limited number of pronouns, we must recognize all 70 pronouns. In the name of social justice, there is nothing we won’t do. It sounds good but like all virtues taken too far it becomes ridiculous and self-defeating. Sharing food between different cultures promotes tolerance. Words, including pronouns, are tools. Languages simplify over time. English used to have an informal version of you, namely thou. Ultimately, speakers threw out that pronoun because it was more of a pain in the ass than it was worth. Language is a tool that people use and 70 pronouns just isn’t user-friendly.
The Free Market: The free market is not the same thing as a free for all. Free market fundamentalists like Peter Schiff and Thomas Woods don’t understand that. They hate government and so they just keep foolishly wanting to strip it away. To them, the FDA is like the toothbrush. It wasn’t there in the time of the prophet so we rip it out. In fact though, you only need to look at what is happening with food safety in China right now to see what would happen. People are injecting cancer-causing gel into shrimp to make them look plumper. Some people will do anything for a buck, including peddle free market fundamentalist ideology as if they are representing the free market.
Atheism: Atheist fundamentalists are a great example. They’re not violent because theirs is a culture that fights with words but the thinking is the same. If only we could get rid of religion, then all our problems would be solved. And like all fundamentalists, they have large and complex rationalizations for what are ultimately very simple feelings. In practice, the people involved end up being bad scientists. They spend so much time engaged in jihad that they don’t really engage in ijtihad. They’re not doing the hard work of figuring out how your beliefs don’t fit the evidence. And they don’t. Because #DescartesError
The Alt-Right: A reactionary movement to social justice. It’s a white identity politics movement that blames the problems of the world…on tolerance. And so rushes towards NAZI ideology.

The list goes on and on. There are a lot of flavors of fundamentalism right now. On the surface, they seem different. However, they are all essentially the same. They’re like different flavors of ice cream. Different flavors. All of them are still ice cream.

And just like ice cream, fundamentalism is immediately satisfying. It takes three seconds to understand and the rest is delicious confirmation bias. “Oh!!! We just need to get rid of The West/Racism/Government/Religion and all our problems will be solved for us!” And then, you can spend decades being convinced of how you knew it all along! “Ohhhhh! I was even more right than I thought. Yes. This is so great. I’m a genius. Why are other people such idiots that they don’t see this?”

People in the West seem to think Muslims should call out their own Fundamentalists. I think they should. But rather than just preaching at Muslims, I think we should lead by example and develop a playbook for how to effectively handle fundamentalism. The West is a great place to pioneer this because our Fundamentalists are generally less violent. Generally.

Good thing Bryan has been taking boxing classes. We’re going to try and put the fun back in fundamentalism. But fundamentalists can’t take a joke at their expense. They’re such snowflakes that when their feel feels get hurt they get violent. Will Bryan’s boxing skills be sufficient when some fundie comes at him? We’ll see. Get ready, Mixed Mental Artists. There are a lot of bad ideas out there. We’re going to fight them all.

Right after being born in Saudi Arabia, I was taken to the Callen house. Since then, Bryan and I have travelled the world with our Citibank fathers and somehow ended up in LA together. There we'd run into each other at family gatherings and do something that no one else in LA seemed to be doing: we talked about books. Since Bryan was kind of a big deal, Hunter and Bryan hatched a scheme to use his podcast to get on their favorite authors and professors. Out of that evolved Mixed Mental Arts and this tribe. For me, the marriage of entertainment and education is a return to how things used to be before our culture split story into two separate things. It's exciting to be able to build on the work Katie O'Brien and I did for The Straight-A Conspiracy and expand it out to every area of life. While I play a series of roles in the Mixed Mental Arts community (including Shitty Dutch Uncle and Bryan's #1 fan) my favorite role is as Toto who pulls back the curtain and let's the world see that there are no wizards...only men and women who try and puff themselves up to seem important.

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