, Salem, MA


October 20, 2012

Watson: Fanaticism is blind to tolerance and compromise


But the master sees him as the ultimate test subject for his theories about setting us free. In very disturbing scenes, he manipulates the bum’s mental instability. When almost everybody else in the film (and in the theater) can recognize that no intervention is possible to repair the bum’s long-ago-destroyed psyche, the master is still blind to that reality.

And it is that blindness and obliviousness and ego — that deficit of empathy and that inability to imagine the lives of others — that define a fanatic and that make the personality of the master so shocking and unbelievable to the movie audience.

We see him unable to abide the questions of skeptics, or even treat his challengers as anything but “enemies” and “attackers.” They cannot recognize the obvious truth, he says disdainfully.

Amos Oz, the great Israeli writer, has written about fanaticism in his 2006 book, “How to Cure a Fanatic.” He cautions us against dividing into “sides,” and against seeing things as black and white.

He writes, “The ability to exist within open-ended situations, even to learn how to enjoy open-ended situations, to learn to enjoy diversity, may also help. I am not preaching a complete moral relativism, certainly not. I am trying to enhance our ability to imagine each other — on every level, on the most everyday level, to just imagine each other. Imagine each other when we quarrel, imagine each other when we complain, imagine each other precisely at the moment we feel that we are 100 percent right. Even when you are 100 percent right and the other is 100 percent wrong, it’s still useful to imagine the other.”

One of the abiding strengths of our 236-year-old democracy has been its ability to hold fanaticisms at bay. With the exception of a few serious mistakes — slavery, the Yellow Scare, the WWII internment of Japanese, McCarthy’s communist hysteria — our governments and our people have been able to avoid the temptations of ideological rigidity, self-righteousness, and imposed conformity.

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