This is a decent article. He starts out with a pretty good assessment of what a fanatic is and wants, but then he suddenly changes gears to talk about literature and humor. Kind of caught me off guard, but if you read the tagline he tells you he's gonna do that. Worth the long read.
He has some good observations:
"Conformity and uniformity, the urge to belong and the desire to make everyone else belong, may be the most widespread if not the most dangerous forms of fanaticism."
"The essence of fanaticism lies in the desire to force other people to change—the common inclination to improve your neighbor, mend your spouse, engineer your child, or straighten up your brother, rather than let them be. The fanatic is a most unselfish creature. The fanatic is a great altruist."
"In fact, often the fanatic is more interested in you than in himself. He wants to save your soul, he wants to redeem you, he wants to liberate you from sin, from error, from smoking, from your faith or from your faithlessness, he wants to improve your eating habits, or to cure you of your drinking or voting habits."
The best defense against extremism includes empathy, imagination, and a healthy sense of humor
I have called myself an expert on comparative fanaticism. This is no joke. If you ever hear of a school or university starting a department of comparative fanaticism, I am hereby applying for a teaching post. As a former Jerusalemite, as a recovered fanatic, I feel I’m fully qualified for that job. Perhaps it is time that every school, every university teach at least a couple of courses in comparative fanaticism, because it is everywhere. I don’t mean just the obvious manifestations of fundamentalism and zealotry. I don’t refer just to those obvious fanatics, the ones we see on television, in places where hysterical crowds wave their fists against the cameras while screaming slogans in languages we don’t understand. No, fanaticism is almost everywhere, and its quieter, more civilized forms are present all around us and perhaps inside of us as well.
Do I know the anti-smokers who will burn you alive for lighting a cigarette near them! Do I know the vegetarians who will eat you alive for eating meat! Do I know the pacifists, some of my colleagues in the Israeli peace movement, who are willing to shoot me in the head just because I advocate a slightly different strategy on how to make peace with the Palestinians!
I’m not saying, of course, that anyone who raises his or her voice against anything is a fanatic. I’m certainly not suggesting that anyone who has a strong opinion is a fanatic. I’m saying that the seed of fanaticism always lies in uncompromising self-righteousness, the plague of many centuries.
Of course, there are degrees of evil. A militant environmentalist may be uncompromisingly self-righteous, but he or she will cause very little harm compared to, say, an ethnic cleanser or terrorist. Yet all fanatics have a special attraction to, a special taste for kitsch. Too often the fanatic can only count up to one; two is too big a figure for him or her. At the same time, you will find that many fanatics are hopelessly sentimental: They often prefer feeling to thinking and have a fascination with their own death. They despise this world and feel eager to trade it for “heaven.” Their heaven, however, is usually conceived of as the everlasting happiness that occurs in the conclusion of bad movies.
A dear friend and colleague of mine, the Israeli novelist Sammy Michael, once took a long intercity car drive with a chauffeur who was giving him the usual lecture on how urgent it is for us Jews to kill all the Arabs. Sammy listened to him, and rather than screaming, “What a terrible man you are. Are you a Nazi, are you a fascist?” he decided to deal with it differently.
He asked the chauffeur: “And who do you think should kill the Arabs?”
The chauffeur said: “What do you mean? Us! The Israeli Jews! We must! There is no choice, just look at what they are doing to us every day!”
“But who exactly do you think should carry out the job? The police? Or the army? Or maybe the fire brigade? Or the medical teams? Who should do the job?”
The chauffeur scratched his head and said: “I think it should be fairly divided between every one of us, every one of us should kill some of them.”
Sammy, still playing the game, said: “OK, suppose you are allocated a certain residential block of your hometown of Haifa and you knock on every door, or ring the doorbell, asking: ‘Excuse me, sir, or excuse me, madam, do you happen to be an Arab?’ and if the answer is yes, you shoot them. Then you finish your block and you are about to go home, but just as you turn to go home you hear a baby crying. Would you go back and shoot this baby? Yes or no?”
There was a moment of quiet and then the chauffeur said to Sammy: “You know, you are a very cruel man.”
Now, this is a significant story because there is something in the nature of the fanatic that is essentially sentimental and at the same time lacks imagination. And this sometimes gives me hope, albeit a very limited hope, that injecting some imagination into people may help cause the fanatic to feel uneasy. This is not a quick remedy, this is not a quick cure, but it may help.
Read the rest here.