Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Hard-Working Menders and the Radicalization of the Center

I had an interesting talk this morning with a finance guy who's been working on revitalizing his home town, Detroit. The thing is, if you delve into tough municipal/civic issues - in a practical way rather than in the academic/theoretical way - you will unavoidably find yourself squarely confronting certain taboo issues.

There are truths that must never be expressed, according to leftist Thought Leaders. But in trying to actually fix stuff, one faces realities that aren't "nice". And you can't just paint over them with sparkly glitter. That's for the idle commentariat, not for the hard-working menders.

He outlined the complexities - including some ugly realities that local black leaders would privately acknowledge, but never in front of a wider audience - and did so with a defiantly spiteful tone. "I could be crucified for saying this, but..." was a frequent refrain. And, yep, a few things he said did ping my sensibilities, but I reminded myself that this is a guy who's actually trying to fix something. When you're renovating a deteriorating house you don't tip toe around rotting frameworks. You need to see it all clearly for what it is.

Once he'd finished his tour of the multithreaded problems facing Detroit, including some reflections that would get him banned by Rachel Maddow, he was bashful. "I know; I'm a real right-winger", he confessed. "I've been a solid Republican for years. Of course, I don't like where the party is going now, but real Republicans like me are still out there."

I think he's correct about lots of things....but not about what he truly is. So after some consideration, I sent him this email:
Your positions are all moderate. You are as close to a centrist as anyone. For example:

"Work ethic is the most important thing” : Totally moderate.

“Handouts and entitlements are a poor solution, but, all things equal, always choose the disadvantaged or minority person”: Totally moderate.

“Black people have legitimate grievances, but activists go too far when they insist black people never deserve blame, and when they offer silly justifications for bad behavior”: Totally moderate.

That’s all just common sense. These are moderate positions, not “right-wing”. You are correct that there are people who would crucify you for saying these things out loud, but those people are left wing extremists. They are 20% of the population, and they are as irrational and ignorant as right-wing extremists.

To an extremist, moderates seem extreme. That doesn’t mean you really are extreme! You shouldn’t allow extremists to reciprocally define you. It’s not binary!

Not all left-leaning people disagree with you. Just the 20% true believers. And those true believers have irritated you into finding common cause with extremists on right (just because they share your irritation) and even into finding some common cause with a monster like Trump, who also eschews left-wing extremism.

The problem isn’t liberal extremism, but extremism, period. We’ve got 20% stupid, irrational extremists on each side, and 60% moderates who are more alike than they realize, but who are locked into savagely opposing whichever extremism happens to most irritate them. I’m guessing you don’t love the fascist/racist awful shit coming out of the MAGA garbage pits, either. But that's not what you’re most zeroed in on.

Left-ish moderates, viewing the fire-breathing racist thugs on the extreme right, buy into lots of stuff that they ordinarily wouldn’t (their natural inclination would NOT be to crucify people who state the truths above). Same for moderates on the right. They’re not racists or fascists, they’re just extra reactive to liberal extremism. But they rarely buy into the whole package, because they’re reacting from the center, not the opposite extreme.

We are not truly a divided country, because we are not truly a binary country. We are a country where moderates don’t realize they’re moderates, because they’re so focused on their irritation with one extreme or the other.

The salvation - our only hope for restoring rationality - is for moderates to recognize that they are, above all, moderates, and to band together against not one extreme or the other, but against extremism, period. Human beings naturally come to feel highly oppositional to their triggers. That’s why it's hard to find a middle, even when it's our actual position!

The first step would be to take a bit less joy in bluntly, harshly stating obvious truths which offend extreme liberal sensitivities. None of what you are saying is really so transgressive; it doesn’t make you a Brave Fighter For Truth, because the force you’re opposing, from your position in the center, isn't actually massive. You’ve overestimated it, and therefore you overreact. That’s why you call yourself “a real right-winger”, when you’re clearly not. At least not in my opinion, fwiw!


1 comment:

Richard Stanford said...

It seems that a fundamental change that has happened over the last couple of decades is that we no longer agree on our goals, as Americans or for America.

Take healthcare. One big disconnect that I saw and still see was that the Left was approaching the entire business from a perspective of deciding what healthcare approach would work the best to keep everyone healthy (HSA? ACA? Medicare for all?) whereas many on the Right were trying to find the cheapest healthcare, but without agreeing on the overarching goal.

Same for many other examples. In fact I'd say that its pointless an frustrating to have the debates that we're currently having on HOW (for any given HOW) without first coming to a rational agreement - or at least having a debate - about the WHAT. Without common goals, process is doomed to fail.

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