Zeno’s Paradox presents an idea portrayed in a few ways, one being the story of Achilles and a race where he goes a 100-meter race, and at the halfway point he’ll stop. He’ll then run to the next halfway point, (75 meters), He’ll then run the next 12.5 meters where he’ll stop, before continuing. He’ll theoretically never reach the end.
One exception to this could be if Achilles uses a supertask, the concept of which is simple, but infinite in scope. Say Achilles runs the first 50 meters in 10 minutes. At the 75-meter mark, he’ll run it in 5 minutes, the next halfway point, he’ll run it in 2.5 minutes, and the next in half that time. In doing so, he’ll finish the race in 20 minutes, despite doing an infinite number of steps, he completed it in 20 minutes.
Now you might be asking why I’m explaining these thought experiments involving purely theoretical physics and math, and what does any of this have to do with the title? These are some excellent questions, and the answer is that while the ideas of a supertask and Zeno’s paradox are theoretical, their implementation isn’t. I believe that implementation is also why you see a lot more extremes in politics as well.
To illustrate this, let’s look at a less theoretical example. Say you and I both want a tub of ice cream to eat together. I want it to be all vanilla, and you want it to be all chocolate. Being reasonable people we split the difference and get 50/50. After we both get used to this arrangement, I’ll propose that we should really compromise, and get another split to occur, 75/25. That might take slightly more convincing, but you’ve already gotten used to the 50/50 blend haven’t you? In a while, I’ll notice any reservations you’d had about the vanilla have faded, and I’ll bring up how we should really stop arguing about ice cream percentages and just compromise, leading to an 85/15 blend. After some more time, I might even convince you that chocolate isn’t all that important, and special ordering that 15% of chocolate isn’t worth it, and lo and behold I’ve won, and the chocolate is entirely gone.
If you don’t believe this strategy has ever been used, or that it’s ridiculous and no one would ever fall for this, consider this: when the income tax was first introduced, the flat rate was 3%. Looking at the current lowest Federal Tax bracket, you might notice that it starts at 10%, and finishes at 37%, a substantial change that’s largely gone unnoticed, or uncared about. Another example of this is the major movements looking at ideologies, if you’ve looked at the news or kept up to date with different parties and their policies, you’ll notice some pretty extreme policies. Looking back in the last ten or twenty years, you’ll notice a lot more of them were suggesting more moderate changes. While it’s certainly possible that people have gotten more extreme, consider as well, that their ideas have swayed public opinion, slowly sure, but ideas that were ridiculous or outrageous before, suddenly don’t feel all that bad when they’re only a few steps away from the status quo.
Thankfully there is a solution to this, a very simple one, but just like the supertask, it is hard to pull off in practice. That solution is to watch yourself, figure out your values, and your beliefs, find what’s important, and don’t compromise on it. If it really is as trivial as chocolate vs vanilla ice cream, sure compromise, but when it’s something of true value, hold on to it and watch it carefully.