Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Higher Perspective of Moderation

I used to think Conservatives were hysterical in smelling Communism within any statement the least bit liberal, and when Liberals smelled Fascism in any statement the least bit conservative. Having started off as a Libertarian, I settled into my newfound moderation by turning a jaundiced eye toward either knee-jerk reaction. Things are never as extreme as extremists think!

But having lived long enough to watch cycles repeat a few times - to compile a deeper data set - I've reversed course. I now smell what they smell. Both sides!

When Liberals dictate, with infinite arrogance, the latest words we're no longer allowed to use, or the latest trendy viewpoints all well-meaning persons must immediately adopt (or be intolerantly shunned for one's lack of tolerance!), I do catch a whiff of Soviet/Maoist lockstep. And when Conservatives vent their whacko paranoia and xenophobic jingoism, I do smell the jackboots.

It turns out both are right. As are the Taoists, who observe that extremes bleed into each other. The Stasi and the Gestapo may have talked very different talks, but they had more in common than not. In the end, it's less about one's particular dogma and more about one's penchant for assholery. The true conflict, in other words, lies between humanity's better, loving nature versus our crueler, more divisive impulses (and our cursed tendency to mistake one for the other).

Most human conflicts can be viewed within that light. As I once wrote:
Racism, sexism, classism, etc. are nothing more than the incomplete registration of a perfectly appropriate misanthropy. We study the Other...and we don't like what we see. Men rue the cruelty of women; women rue the cruelty of men. Both are quite correct, really.
From the highest perspective, one finds true moderation. But the case for "high-mindedness" is a sticky-wicket, because even the noblest credos can become monsters. Look at what liberals have done with a swell credo like "tolerance" - wielding it into its very opposite - and what conservatives have done with such lovely credos as "individualism" and "morality".

So what can be done with a species that makes cudgels of its highest principles? The best suggestion to date may be the Christian injunction to hate the sin but love the sinner. High-mindedness may degrade into monstrousness, but that also means the darkest and most inhuman results may stem, however murkily, from virtuous human impulses. To see this requires a loftier perspective than is fashionable, but if we can try to keep our eye there, there's hope for us.

In fact, my quoting of Christianity is, itself, an example of such perspective. Given the centuries of unimaginable cruelty my ancestors withstood in the name of Christian doctrine (supposedly all about the love, baby!), I, as a Jew, have to look past quite a bit to arrive at the beautiful kernel underpinning those many cudgels. I can't say this higher perspective makes the cruelty any more attractive, but it does help pinpoint the true culprit - so we can react to extremism with enlightened moderation rather than with reciprocal extremism.

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