December 7, 2010


If you are a “True Believer” in centrism, what is the nature of your beliefs? What about your doubts? Centrism may not really exist. Moderation may be an illusion.

What do centrists positively and affirmatively believe? Maybe not much more than that we should all (or mostly) vote for them. Or maybe they genuinely believe that we should avoid any organized and consistent policies. We have seen what this means. But often so-called “moderation” is a posture assumed for deception. To conceal a deeper purpose- conservative and extreme.

“[It is] bogus “objectivity” or bland centrism that always locates truth equidistant from two points…”

Susan Jacoby, The Age Of America Unreason. Pantheon Books, New York. 2008. pp xvi.

A “midpoint” between two differing perspectives, narratives or points of view lacks even theoretical meaning.  Contradictory and antagonistic convictions do not invent some kind of “center.” Moderation is not an articulable and defensible belief, or genuine ethical stance. Nor is it a coherent policy, of substance in itself.

At the “center” of any apparent conflict or controversy, there is not even a valid opinion. Such a “place” is vacuous, a vacuum. Any “thing” there could be an accident or coincidence, or a distracting (diversionary?) illusion. Or an epistemological falsity, a tautological error and a failure of reason.

The “center” is an imaginary “place” where nothing happens and nothing matters. It contributes nothing to momentum, strength or resistance. The principle of the Moment of Inertia is an interesting metaphor.

“Not only basic knowledge but the ability to think critically are required to understand the factual errors (as distinct from differences of opinion) that generally provide the foundation for policies at the far ends of the political spectrum.”

Susan Jacoby, The Age Of America Unreason. Pantheon Books, New York. 2008. pp. 298

Have we simply lost our clarity of shared language about our public affairs? Are we bewildered and benighted due to imprecision? Intellectual sloppiness? A failure to consult our dictionaries? If so, this alone is a bad thing. At best, confusion immobilizes and diminishes us.

But this is much more than a semantic problem, or a matter of confused and murky definitions. Remember that the right wing seeks to cloud our words and our reason, and to silence and paralyze us all. They steal away the power of our language. Let’s not abet them with uncertainty and insecurity about what we know to be true and what we know to be wrong.

Definitions For A New World Order:

“Independent” = Uncomprehending

“Common Sense” = Uneducated and uninformed

To be sure, the fearsome matters before us are complex and easily confused. The richer, more nuanced and multi-dimensional our dialogue is the more understanding we will share.

The languages of art, music and architecture startle, amuse and enlighten. Poetry and literature titillate and provoke. Each of these is a whole, evolving, ineffable and organic living thing. They can be sublime, transforming and transcending. Or they can be very bad. But maybe they can be wrong only insofar as they are covert ideological projects.

“LEXICOGRAPHER, n.  A pestilent fellow who, under the pretense of recording some particular stage in the development of language, does what he can to arrest its growth, stiffen its flexibility and mechanize its methods.”

Ambrose Bierce. The Devil’s Dictionary (The Peter Pauper Press 1958) Pp 36

We strive to be anything but dogmatic stiflers of the multi-dimensionality and nuance of plastic language. Metaphor and irony add greatly to the art of communication. Certainly they contribute manifold dimensions of meaning to our conversation about who we are to be.

Integrity demands our dogged pursuit of what we- and our words- truly and completely mean. When we must understand one another, words really matter. In dire times, we owe ourselves, and one another, their certain and precise use. We can only recover the means to really understand one another with intellectual rigor and honesty.

Surely we each have a unique social position, experience and subjectivity. But mutual respect for cultural and ethical differences does not excuse us to simply invent our own private languages from our respective “experiences.”

“Moreover, the much lionized American centrists, sometimes known as moderates, are in no way immune to the overwhelming pull of belief systems that treat evidence as a tiresome stumbling-block to deeper, instinctive “ways of knowing.””

Susan Jacoby, The Age Of America Unreason. Pantheon Books, New York. 2008. Pp 211

When we truly need our terms, we must not condone the proliferation of invented, idiosyncratic usage. Indiscipline can do us great harm when we are the targets of bad intentions, covert dogma, dissembling sophistry and quasi-mystical cant. We do no disservice by aspiring to precision and clarity.

Maybe we are just uncomfortable. About wholesale injustice and violence undertaken in our names, by our governments and those who hijack them. Living among others who embrace it may make us anxious. We may be afraid to resist. Afraid to be victims ourselves. On the other hand, living among people who oppose it may make us uncomfortable. Afraid to appear weak.

So we may just be… uncomfortable. Does this distract us (or excuse us) from what really should discomfit us most? Real convictions- about wrongs, injustices and horrors- are often decidedly disquieting. Openly acknowledging and opposing our personal and collective injustices to others is challenging. It may even be personally risky.

For some of us, to acknowledge the wrongs we jointly do to our fellows and all living things is literally inconceivable. What we do, and what we believe, just must be honorable and justified. When we are dishonorable, our perceptions of ourselves are too discordant. To admit and confront the violence and injustice in which we are all implicated strains us too much. Our impulses to exceptionalism, nationalism and violence are strongest when we are a part of a polity that is doing some significant evil.

Our integrity and our honesty confront us. We should honor, embrace and heed this sort of irritant. Our greatest discomfiture should be our failures to resist racism, intolerance, oppression and violence. There is no dishonor in honesty.  No-one is innocent.

Even shared, honorable beliefs don’t centripetally “pull” toward some kind of pole of ethical gravity. People are drawn toward one another by like beliefs and commitments. Individuals are drawn toward appropriate collective action.

Nor do disparate, divergent beliefs “pull” toward one another. Repulsion –repellence- cannot “pull” us diametrically into the middle of a spectrum of beliefs. No more than beliefs themselves can.

Fear has a “pull” though. But neither is this specie of “discomfort” a coherent belief or a common conviction- or any kind of “center.”

Such a middle is an illusion or a manipulative invention. It is the absence and negation of conviction and belief. It is not “reason.” Here there are no common beliefs. Only a seething, irrational, pre-cortical fear, and a directionless immobility. Inertia. And fear begets anger.

Here is begotten extremism. Or rather, an incoherent patchwork of extremisms: divergent, hostile and irrational. This vertiginous, centrifugal vortex is where mobs are mobilized.

This is not a trivial point. We know it is a deliberate, fear-mongering strategy of both the politically crass and those who are motivated by fear. They exploit and profit by this. The only thing attractive in this “center” is the delusion of comfort and safety. Repugnance is not a virtue. Revulsion is not attraction. There is nothing “attractive” about it.

“Centrism” plays a more sophisticated game than just inciting and exploiting a blunt fear of danger. It plays upon the anxieties of those who yearn to be among the judges and not among the judged.

Those who are afraid to be judged deficient in their knowledge, education, wisdom, tolerance and humanity. To be deemed of inferior class, uneducated and uninformed. Outsiders, mocked and reviled, marginal and vulnerable. To be judged… extreme.

“The real power of junk thought lies in its status as a centrist phenomenon, fueled by the American credo of tolerance that places all opinions on an equal footing and makes little effort to separate fact from opinion.”

Susan Jacoby, The Age Of America Unreason. Pantheon Books, New York. 2008. Pp 211

False tolerance is dangerous. When must we challenge the falsely tolerant? When is compromise irresponsible? Is there no such thing as responsible moderation? Do inclusivity and collective responsibility oblige us to sometimes say no? To not only confront but to censure the theft of our public conversation? This is a dilemma of democratic inclusion. Unambiguously, though, it illuminates an obligation to recover our language.

“We live in a world in which people are censured, demoted, imprisoned, beheaded, simply because they have opened their mouths, flapped their lips, and vibrated some air. Yes, those vibrations can make us feel sad or stupid or alienated. Tough shit. That’s the price of admission to the marketplace of ideas. Hateful, blasphemous, prejudiced, vulgar, rude or ignorant remarks are the music of a free society, and the relentless patter of idiots is how we know we’re in one. When all the words in our public conversation are fair, good, and true, it’s time to make a run for the fence.

Daniel Gilbert. In The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2007.  Dave Eggers (Ed.) Houghton Mifflin, New York: 2007. pp129-30.

Public commitment to inclusivity obliges us to tolerate the anti-democratic polemics of the hateful, the destructive, the intolerant.

“Here we come upon a terrible facet of ethically asymmetric warfare: when your enemy has no scruples, your own scruples become another weapon in his hand.”

Harris, Sam: The End Of Faith. 2004: W.W. Norton, New York. pp. 202

“One of the researches most urgently needed is into the whole problem of compromise and noncompromise. I am dangerously and mistakenly much against compromise: “my kind never gets anything done.”  The (self-styled) “Realists” are quite as dangerously ready to compromise. They seem never sufficiently aware of the danger; they much to quickly and easily respect the compromise and come to rest in it. I would suppose that nothing is necessarily wrong with compromise in itself, except that those who are easy enough to make it are easy enough to relax into and accept it, and that it thus inevitably becomes fatal.  Or more nearly, the essence of the trouble is that compromise is held to be a virtue itself.

James Agee: From Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Cited in Robert Coles: Teaching Stories. Modern Library, New York: 2004. Pp. 233.

So-called moderate “centrism” disguises itself as reasoned, grounded and pragmatic. It camouflages itself as practical and principled.  It pretends to a paternalistic toleration of differences and a sympathetic understanding of multiple perspectives.

It claims to acknowledge, accommodate and even honor positions that it identifies as, well, extreme. Relative to itself.  It paints all that is thusly “extreme” as fundamentally immature and lacking its tolerance, wisdom and superiority. Its practitioners pretend to indulgent and paternalistic care for our well-being.  They claim to patiently –indulgently- represent the interests that they betray.

They smugly presume to define and validate “solid ground” by naming a sort of “middle ground” among competing claims, and calling it “common ground.” They arrogantly claim moral ground by defining all else that lies around it, as far as the eye can see, as “extreme.” And somehow immoral.

This is not complicated. “Moderation,” as a false episteme, endorses the rejection, without serious consideration or analysis, of everything anyone -especially another  “extremist-“ might call extreme.

By positing other positions as extreme, as unbalanced or incomplete in basis or reason, it POSITS EXACTLY NOTHING. It is vacuous. In principle and in fact, it actually logically requires the rejection of… everything. Every affirmative assertion, every conclusion, every truth. Every single valid epistemological stance. It is a vast, comprehensive tautological error.

The opposites of stances don’t seem to be anti-stances, but rather opposing stances. But the opposite of taking a stance could be an absence of stances, a void of convictions. It isn’t overtly opposed to actual, identifiable principles or mores, but it isn’t a nullity. It may be appear to be amoral, but it is truly gravely immoral.

Centrism is not a measured, sober and calculated response to complex and consequential human situations. It is not a sound basis for anything. It is not reasoned, or even real. It is certainly not a valid (or useful) opinion. It is not, in itself, a policy or policies. It is actually ruinous to purposive, coherent public policy. It underwrites pallid, vacuous, directionless inertia.

However, it is political, we must admit. It is the fictive, deceptive posture of political “realists” and opportunists. It camouflages the covert dogma, hypocritical dishonesty and reactionary agendas of conservatives. It is where the fearful and the fanatical seek false comfort among the fearful and fanatical. Cynical, opportunistic operators and predators range among them, inflaming and exploiting them and betraying us all. In this sense it is a “political” position.

But it is not a real “position.” It has no real coordinates in the world. It is actually locatable and given discursive meaning only by being exterior to the coordinates of real, grounded truths. There is no “there” in the center of this metaphoric geography, this compass, that can be found by any honest geography, or any honest geographer. It is also the intersection of apathy, passivity and inaction. A true “moment of inertia.”


This false moderation is worse than merely sanctimonious, paternalistic and dismissive. We should fear this phenomenon. It is not only an amoral absence of ethical convictions and beliefs. It is the very epitome –the epicenter- of intolerance and oppression. To mistake it for a morally grounded stance –much less a position on an issue- is worse than intellectually slovenly. It is beyond sloppy, epistemologically erroneous, and irresponsible. It is beyond moral weakness to mistake it for an ethos or screed.

Remember that the right wing will subvert and anaesthetize our power to act. They steal away our common good and our common welfare. They plunder our societies and our ecosystem. They radically endanger the very survival of a functioning civilization and a recognizable planet on which living things may dwell.

Our proposition is that for us to fail to commit and to act, under cover of false, sanctimonious morality –whether our own or others’- is immoral.  It does wholesale damage to the operations of ethics and mores in the world. It gives protective cover to evil. It exposes us all to abuse, violence and anti-democratic tyranny.

We all become flaccid civilian “human shields,” cloaking the fear and cynicism of the supposedly “neutral.” And the incendiary, apocalyptic and blind impulses of all manner of extremists. We complicitly legitimize and give inadvertent comfort to anti-democratic extremists by putting all claims on some kind of fictive “common ground.” If we submit, if we fail to resist, we admit, abet and expose ourselves to the spread of fundamentalist extremisms and their consequences. Is that immoral?

Supposed “neutrality” can be a fearful delusion. Or it can glorify smug, triumphal and sanctimonious superiority. It makes knuckleheaded ignorance infinitely more powerful than reason or ethical conviction or truth. It confounds and paralyzes serious contemplation of matters of ethical gravity. The true natures of ideas and ideological conflicts are trivialized and debased..…and finally erased. We are numbed and mesmerized. Finally, speech is silenced. This is how we know it is a deliberate, furtive strategy of the right wing. And that it is perilous.

When there is nothing moderate about the horrors you oppose, how can you be a “moderate?”

Most of us are not “somewhere in the center.” Most of us are chickenshit, or lazy. Probably both.



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editor @ 9:03 pm


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