Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Against the Middle Ground

It's often been said that the United States is too politically polarized. This strikes me as a problem with no solution--which usually indicates that it's not a problem worth talking about. If lots of people have one view, and lots of other people strongly hold an opposing view, the interesting question is, who is correct? Perhaps both sides are wrong and there's an answer somewhere in the middle, or perhaps the issue needs to be re-framed altogether. But we need to figure out which view is the correct one to have, not just complain that we have differing views.

I say this, in part, because I have some radical views. There is nothing wrong with being radical, as long as your position is correct. We often get into discussions about radicalism, polarization, extremism, and people plead for a middle ground. But the middle ground is just another position that requires a reasonable defense. There is nothing special about being moderate between two poles that should give a position any extra credence.

Historical examples of radicals can help. It might have been radical in 1800 to favor abolishing slavery. John Stuart Mill was radical for proposing that women should have equal access to economic freedom as men in 1869.

I might want an eight-foot deep swimming pool in my backyard, and my partner might not. It helps neither of us to install a four-foot swimming pool.

This point is closely related to one of strategy in many movements. For example, when Obama administration first got into office, they proposed a stimulus spending bill far less than what many economists thought was necessary. They didn't want to overreach--but because they moderated their position, the stimulus failed to be a effective as it could have been. What's worse, this gave many people the impression that fiscal stimulus doesn't work at all.

Likewise, the modern "animal rights" movement has tried to be cautious. Many have thought that a vegan movement would have turned people off, so they instead have advocated vegetarianism, or slightly larger cages for exploited animals. In my view, this has deeply muddied the issue. I don't think we would have a vegan world if advocates had been clearer in the '80s, but we might be closer than we are now, and there would likely be more vegans. Instead, most people have no understanding of the most basic animal rights theory. One of the biggest struggles for vegan educators at this time is confronting an animal protection movement that has told the public it's okay to exploit animals for decades.

Obviously, many people will disagree with me, on both these examples. And there are other cases where strategically, some movements might correctly want to advocate for a middle ground. But this is certainly not always the case, and I think it often does harm.

When you advocate for a drastic societal change, many people might be sympathetic, but they may not be ready to accept the radical position quite yet. They will find their way to the middle ground, and hopefully (if you're correct) the culture will shift. But if you start out in the middle, they may still see you as extreme. And if now they find their way to some middle ground, they'll have progressed far less than if you had direct and honest to begin with.

No comments:

Post a Comment