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Is society becoming more extreme?

By Mal Fletcher - posted Thursday, 22 January 2015

In the face of anti-Islamification rallies in Germany and the gruesome terror attacks in Paris serious question are being raised about social cohesion within European societies.

Questions are being asked about whether Western societies are becoming more extremist in general, as opposed to militant, terms.

Are we beginning to see unusual numbers of people holding trenchant positions at the poles of public opinion, especially on keystone issues? What does this hold for our collective future?


In sociological terms, of course, some extremes can be important. By their very existence they help to define the middle ground, the mainstream. They mark the boundaries of opinion, providing a gauge for the health of public debate.

However, too much polarisation results in a shrinking middle ground and the growth of alienation, bitterness and recrimination.

On the political front, parties like UKIP and France's Front National are gradually attracting a wider hearing. But is this a reflection of a growing political extremism within the electorate?

I'm not so sure. In the European elections last year, some newspapers reported that voters had 'lurched' to the right, by supporting groups like UKIP.

To lurch is to stagger or lunge suddenly, usually without forethought. When editors apply such adjectives to the voting process, they infer that electors have cast their votes thoughtlessly.

I have no axe to grind for UKIP, but I'd argue that by throwing more support behind UKIP voters weren't lurching. Many of them were responding to a perceived elitism at the top of British politics.


For some time, more than a few Brits have asked: 'How can Oxford PPE graduates, coming straight out of university into politics, without any outside work experience, possibly understand my everyday concerns?'

People think it's little wonder MPs create such problems as the expenses scandal. How can they do otherwise when they have little or no real-world frames of reference for their behaviour?

Some of the swing away from traditional parties to smaller, fringe-dwellers also reflects that we've moved away from institutional loyalty.

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About the Author

Mal Fletcher is a media social futurist and commentator, keynote speaker, author, business leadership consultant and broadcaster currently based in London. He holds joint Australian and British citizenship.

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