Sunday, March 27, 2011

Is "Radical Center" an Oxymoron?

In an era of eXtreme sports and politics, the center is often derided as lukewarm, as we even get Jonah Goldberg claiming absurdly that only extremists can build a bridge.  Some fed-up non-extremists are calling for a "radical center" movement.  Why do we want it to all come down to one side or the other.  "You're either with us or against us.  You're part of the problem or part of the solution.  Only yellow lines and dead armadillos in the center of the road".

The feeling of belonging to one or another side of a momentous conflict is so seductive and feels so natural and right.  I think it is a sort of feeling of "coming home" and being "at home".  This must reflect in some way the tens of thousands of years prior to settled human life.  It is so comfortable to feel one belongs to the Donkey Clan with its long history of standing up to (and sometimes dominating) the Elephant Clan -- or vice versa belonging to the Elephant Clan etc.

Or, belonging to the clan of progress, of throwing off old prejudices or its opposite, the clan of opposition to the insane/wicked/dangerous/... direction that the world will go in if we don't stop and look to the past.  I am trying to describe both clans as they would tend to describe themselves (something rarely done), rather than trying to define both sides from within one of them.

It's true that there are violent struggles and there are crisis points, and the world of story-telling (by movie, novel...) saturates us in these struggles and crisis points.  Perhaps in our ancestral environment we needed to rehearse over and over again how to react to those situations, while the rest of life was easy and routine -- but not any more, and we need more competence in the less dramatic situations.

So my "standing for the center" is a shorthand for saying I above all distrust, whatever standard extreme positions happen to exist at a given time and place.  Those who embrace the extreme positions seem to me most prone to overlook reality when it fails to fit their theories.  Whatever ones theory is, our leaders, or we in trying to govern ourselves, need to constantly ask "Is this working?".

I don't advocate "triangulation" and consider it mostly a stock slander by extremists against centrists.  But I do put a lot of stock in respectful argument.  Most of the time either side of a broad dichotomy is right sometimes and wrong other times.  Whether it is tax reduction vs funding a project; internationalism vs isolationism; unilateral action vs consensus and alliance building; or freedom vs restraint. When both sides can argue respectfully and rationally, sometimes in the end, one side will realize the other has a point.  Even if you merely get compromise, you are more likely to avoid the waste of half-finished projects

Each side demonizing the other, or a "party discipline" that leads to "winner take all" government, will produce a dangerous sort of lurching back and forth between extreme options, and projects that take time and consistency to succeed are started and abandoned, so that much money is spent to accomplish nothing.

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