Do you believe that in a conflict between rationality and fanaticism, such as in The Crucible, that fanaticism will always win?
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This is an interesting question. There is a temptation to say that fanaticism will win out because humans act on fear without always thinking through their reasons. I am not a pessimist of such a large scale though to think that groups cannot be swayed by reason. It seems that if a group can be assured that its position is strong, it can be reasoned with. Only when a group is undermined will it be open to fanaticism. Sadly, convincing a group of people that its position is weak seems to be rather easy.
I do not believe that fanaticism will always win. When Miller write The Cruciblehe was using the fanaticism of the Salem Witchcraft Trials to comment on the fanaticism of Senator McCarthy and his anti-communist followers in the 1950's. Actually in both of these situations rationality eventually won out. The Salem trials and their fanatic nature eventually draw criticism from Massachusetts intellectuals and the supposed spectral evidence was banned from the trials. Without this hearsay, "I believe I see a witch" evidence, the trials have no conclusive proof and the trials were ended. Most of those jailed were then released. Unfortunately it was not soon enough to save those were hung. In the 1950's senator McCarthy also went to far, making accusations that many upper level army members were Communists. The televised trials showed the world the paucity of evidence of McCarthy's accusations and his 15 minutes of fame came to an end. Although there were casualties in both cases, in the end, rationality ruled.
Today we are also in a war between fanaticism and rationality as Muslim fundamentalists have a fanatic desire to destroy or control the "West" that they hate including America. Unfortunately we have a nearly as fanatical response to this threat in the West as seen by mobs and death threats threatening peaceful Muslims. Again, I hope to see that rationality manages to win out over fanaticism.
Arthur Miller's, The Crucible, is a perfect example of how fanaticism won out over rationality. In my view, this is not always the case.
The reason that fanaticism was so powerful in Salem in 1692 was because the governing system was Puritan theocracy, or religious based law. It did not allow for individual expression. Anyone acting outside the structure that determined behavior was considered suspect.
Therefore, fear and suspicion were influential in how individuals viewed one another. These forces, along with envy, usually are present when fanaticism overrules rationality.
Fanaticism is stronger, when individuals in authority allow it to influence decision making, which is not based on truth, but on an unprovable subjective belief or opinion.
Opinions can be informed by many influences, such as in Salem, when the officials in charge of decision making, based their judgement on fear and suspicion, or fanatical views that were not based on truth or evidence, but driven by jealousy and unresolved conflicts.
Rationality governs most conflict resolution, but history tells us that, there have been dark periods when fanaticism controlled governing bodies and resulted in tragic consequences.
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