John Cleese’s Comedically Explains the Psychological Advantages of Extremism: “It Makes You Feel Good Because It Provides You with Enemies”

Extrem­ist: in any polit­i­cal squab­ble, and espe­cial­ly any online polit­i­cal squab­ble, the label is sure to get slapped on some­one soon­er or lat­er. Of course, we nev­er con­sid­er our­selves extrem­ists: it’s the para­me­ters of accept­able polit­i­cal dis­cus­sion that wrong­ly frame our entire­ly rea­son­able, truth-informed views. But what if we were to embrace the extreme? “What we nev­er hear about extrem­ism is its advan­tages,” says Mon­ty Python’s John Cleese in the tele­vi­sion adver­tise­ment above. “The biggest advan­tage of extrem­ism is that it makes you feel good because it pro­vides you with ene­mies.” When you have ene­mies, “you can pre­tend that all the bad­ness in the whole world is in your ene­mies and all the good­ness in the whole world is in you.”

If you “have a lot of anger and resent­ment in you any­way,” you can jus­ti­fy your own unciv­i­lized behav­ior “because these ene­mies of yours are such very bad per­sons, and that if it was­n’t for them, you’d actu­al­ly be good-natured and cour­te­ous and ratio­nal all the time.” Sign on with the “hard left,” Cleese says, and you’ll receive “their list of autho­rized ene­mies: almost all kinds of author­i­ty, espe­cial­ly the police, the City, Amer­i­cans, judges, multi­na­tion­al cor­po­ra­tions, pub­lic schools, fur­ri­ers, news­pa­per own­ers, fox hunters, gen­er­als, class trai­tors — and of course, mod­er­ates.” If you pre­fer the “hard right,” they have a list of their own, one includ­ing “noisy minor­i­ty groups, unions, Rus­sia, weirdos, demon­stra­tors, wel­fare sponges, med­dle­some cler­gy, peaceniks, the BBC, strik­ers, social work­ers, com­mu­nists — and of course, mod­er­ates.”

As Cleese tweet­ed this past week­end, “Hard to tell if I record­ed this 30 years or 10 min­utes ago.” In fact he record­ed it more than 30 years ago, as an endorse­ment of the cen­trist SDP-Lib­er­al Alliance between the Unit­ed King­dom’s Social Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty and Lib­er­al Par­ty. Hav­ing formed in 1981 and gone defunct by 1988 (when it became the par­ty now known as the Lib­er­al Democ­rats), the SDP-Lib­er­al Alliance leaves lit­tle in the way of a lega­cy, but this clip has only grown more rel­e­vant with time. As an extrem­ist, Cleese reminds us “you can strut around abus­ing peo­ple and telling them you could eat them for break­fast and still think of your­self as a cham­pi­on of the truth, a fight­er for the greater good, and not the rather sad, para­noid schizoid that you real­ly are” — a state­ment that, uttered in our inter­net era, would sure­ly make more than a few ene­mies.

via Boing­Bo­ing

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Mon­ty Python’s John Cleese Wor­ries That Polit­i­cal Cor­rect­ness Will Lead Us into a Humor­less World, Rem­i­nis­cent of Orwell’s 1984

John Cleese on How “Stu­pid Peo­ple Have No Idea How Stu­pid They Are” (a.k.a. the Dun­ning-Kruger Effect)

John Cleese Cre­ates Ads for the Amer­i­can Philo­soph­i­cal Asso­ci­a­tion

The Psy­chol­o­gy That Leads Peo­ple to Vote for Extrem­ists & Auto­crats: The The­o­ry of Cog­ni­tive Clo­sure

John Cleese Plays the Dev­il, Makes a Spe­cial Appeal for Hell, 1966

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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Comments (3)
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  • Jim says:

    Last year I was amused to see a stu­dent ask how Mon­ty Python had man­aged to pre­dict the future with all the polit­i­cal fac­tions in the Life of Bri­an amphithe­atre scene.

  • Christian Cawley says:

    The SDP is gain­ing new mem­bers in the UK right now under new lead­er­ship. It’s worth check­ing them out.

  • Rinzai Gigen says:

    The only point of view here which seems “too extreme” is Cleese’s car­i­ca­ture of a decent man who fights for his beliefs, how­ev­er wrong. Assum­ing every­one is evil and there are no Truth or Greater Good, apart from being in itself bar­bar­ic, nihilis­tic, and more than a lit­tle pro­to-Fas­cist, (See “Big Lie” or “Might Makes Right” for con­text) we can vil­i­fy all peo­ple equal­ly, assum­ing all are wrong, and then wage war on any­body try­ing to “do what is right” (yes: even Tom­my Pick­les may be can­celled, and by Cleese him­self).

    This is by no means new; this was pre­dict­ed by the great­est minds back in the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, includ­ing Kierkegaard and Niet­zsche, both of whom pre­dict­ed that it would give rise to immoral­i­ty and evil through the loss of any of that sort of right­eous indig­na­tion which might stop it. (See “Third Reich” for con­text.)

    Kierkegaard par­tic­u­lar­ly point­ed this out in the satirists, insist­ing, “even if the vul­gar laugh, life only mocks the wit which knows no val­ues.” Now, imag­ine if a man made a career from mock­ing every val­ue of his own tra­di­tion, from reli­gion to the code of chival­ry and feal­ty and any­thing which Shake­speare wrote about so pas­sion­ate­ly (all the while col­lect­ing checks for his per­for­mances of Shake­speare). Would you be sur­prised if he would mock the pas­sion­ate “extrem­ists” of his age, for want of any sort of God whom he him­self believes in?

    Yet is it “extreme” to fight for what is True or what is Good? Per­haps, but M.L.K. embraced the label, while the Sovi­ets employed it as a tool for cen­sor­ship of dis­si­dence. Per­haps, instead of tear­ing down the right­eous since they are not per­fect, one should ask one­self, “Am *I* pro­ject­ing? Maybe I just do not like extrem­ists, since I *am* one… and that is, per­haps, okay, since all of us extrem­ists are pur­su­ing Some­thing Greater.”

    Maybe I was wrong to make a straw­man and assume that Cleese him­self believes in nei­ther Truth nor Good. Per­haps he should come out and say it: he believes in them, and, by exten­sion, he sup­ports the peo­ple who pur­sue them by all means avail­able, for, if there’s such a thing as either, then no price would be too great to pay for them, for Truth and Good remain the only scales by which we weigh the beef.


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