Amidst the standard partisan barrage of accusations, insults and general malevolence that one can typically expect when offering an opinion online, one relatively recent attempt at political slander that seems to be in fashion is the accusation of being a wishy-washy centrist without the courage to state or adopt convictions. The logic being that in the absence of a strident political ideology or ideological loyalty, that one lacks the sorts of serious fidelity to ideas that one ought to hold when debating matters of public concern. Though by no means universally held throughout partisan or ideological circles, this rather asinine notion of an obligation to orthodoxy has come to strike me recently as perhaps one of the most obvious signs that in my own “filthy fence sitting,” that it may in fact be the center or middle path that, as explained by Siddhartha in the fabled Buddhist mythology, holds the real keys to enlightenment.
I raise this topic specifically due to the increasingly fringe nature of the politics of our time. With the emergence of the alt-right and their white nationalist factions, the existing fringe mania of the social justice warrior seems to have found something of a far flung counterpart, drawing the distance between left and right even further than it was before. Also, in as much as this tug of war for command of the political discourse of the day seems to have moved the ground beneath many a once “liberal” foothold, bringing what was once left further to the right simply by virtue of contrast, it would seem as though this era was one simply chomping at the bit for a resurgence in objective critical thought that is as devoid of partisan absolutes as is possible. This of course is something which was said even as social justice and militant third wave feminism rose in prominence and profile initially, it remains as true, if not moreso today.
Consider if you will not only the complaining surrounding the election of Donald Trump and the U.K.’s forthcoming exit from the E.U., but also the overall swings that the actual national politics in the west seem to be experiencing. Not merely a sign of the public’s rejection of whatever the previous ideological or partisan standard may have been, these shifts back and forth between often hardline progressivism and conservatism which seem to fall into reactionary patterns that can be observed over the decades seem to also actually reflect the bipolar nature of sentiments within the body politic itself. With each move from left to right seemingly being more strident and fervent than the last, it increasingly appears that moderate, intelligent solutions to the problems we face fall further out of reach, replaced instead with whatever heavy handed ideological approach a given party, movement or individual wishes to enact.
It is and has been my own position however that real solutions to problems and challenges faced to society are typically not found in these often simplistic absolutes, but rather in the compromise laden middle ground of ideological neutrality that in effect, puts all options on the table. For some examples, we will take some general hypothetical scenarios to consider just how even noble ideas can get in the way of functionally addressing common problems in modern societies. These of course are meant to be taken more to examine how such a middle ground of understanding can affect debate as opposed to outright advocacy for the “solutions” that are proposed, although I will clarify that such are being made using the logic of your author, which I stand by on their own merits in the discussions themselves. But let us begin first with an example of how ideologically progressive sentiment can fail in the face of obvious peril.
This coming to us in the case of war. Though no healthy minded, humanist thinker can or should think of war as a “good thing,” it is as we can see from the state of our world, sometimes outright necessary for the stability and security of its people. Though “saying no to war” can be and is a noble sentiment unto itself, when one looks to anything from the rise of fascist dictators such as Hitler, down through history to our modern age of Islamist terror groups and armies such as ISIS, it is simply not possible to deal effectively with such enemies without the use of military might. As these forces cannot be reasoned with and are by all objective measures according to liberal philosophy “evil,” they are much as the hopelessly violent mad dog is, requiring of a violent end.
There is no peace in this sense, without war, no matter how vile, horrid or destructive it might be. However despite this reality, many a staunch anti-war activist will insist that war is “never the answer.” This being demonstrably false in the face of the Islamic State (IS) and its rise to power throughout the middle east, the question then largely comes back to whether it is “our problem” once the use of force in the name of national defense is settled in terms of its overall necessity. Bringing us then to pivot onto the isolationist libertarian perspective, it must then be argued that if such a force as IS is allowed to flourish in one region that its conquest driven nature will obligate it to spread and attack others, eventually leading to our very own doorstep either in the form of terrorism or attacks on our allies by more conventional means.
In this matter we find not only the nationalist conservative or neoconservative argument for intervention taking on some merit beyond the rhetorical sentiment of global power, but also that in spite of the ideology’s generally illiberal overall philosophy, it does offer us an argument that in fact carries water. Here, if we’re to be objectively honest in our reasoning, we are forced to offer a nod to the merit of an idea in a manner only really feasible if we consider it from a place of relative ideological neutrality. This being because the pressing weight of reality outweighs in this sense, the desire for philosophical uniformity.
But we shouldn’t stop with war. If war brings death as it does, let us now also consider the opposite of death; life. The preservation of life is one which on a domestic level is best addressed through healthcare. While most advanced nations enjoy some form of public healthcare, here in the United States our privatized for-profit system is rather horridly riddled with serious problems which often destroy individual lives. Whether necessary treatments for serious conditions are denied due to costs, or if said costs outright bankrupt otherwise financially solvent individuals, the problems created by such a system as ours generally cannot be ignored.
Yet even in the face of what should be obvious, the philosophy of “rugged individualism” often insists that such ought to be accepted and tolerated as a cost of maintaining this ethos, regardless of the direct or knock-on effects created. Whether it be the shrill cries of taxation equaling theft or the notion that we all must be solely responsible for ourselves (in spite of the very nature to insurance itself being one of a for-profit collective service) so many arguments against public healthcare seem to center more around the philosophy of the matter than the actual, practical realities. While some other arguments are then made attempting to frame Canadian or British healthcare systems as being broken and therefore emblematic of the failure of public health services, these arguments seem to curiously dismiss the more nuanced notions of just how Americans could go about forming their own public healthcare systems, were they so inclined to do so.
In this, beyond merely (and ironically) dismissing the old notions of American ingenuity being capable of doing anything better than anyone else, these arguments made from ideological positions lazily seem to presume that any attempt to create such a system would obligate the creation of a carbon copy of another, replete with all the presumed failings. Even with the most exceptionalist attitudes on the conservative right, the “can-do” spirit that for so long defined the notion of American exceptionalism goes straight out the window here in favor instead of an apparent surrender to presumption and philosophical orthodoxy. Merely dismissed as “socialism,” which itself becomes a thought-terminating label, exploration of what could be never seems to really make it to the table. While we could and ought to perhaps have discussions containing greater levels of unfettered possibility, we’re instead routinely routed towards stale notions of all-or-nothing examples and poorly constructed theoretical absolutes.
Now once more, these examples are not so much meant to outright advocate for positions on matters directly, as much as serve to demonstrate the ways in which constricted ideological thought suffocates the complexity of matters as we approach them. While many throughout our societies seem outright eager to stake out their own senses of certainty granted to them by rigid and established schools of thought, many within those very ranks not only take to sneering at their direct opposition, but those who perhaps reject the notions of absolutism and orthodoxy outright. Though ideology is itself as fundamentally useful in certain circumstances as it is inevitable in the course of political events, the intellectual shuttering of minds to the myriad of possibilities seems equally to hinder our overall advancements as it does to create division.
If we are to learn anything from the increasingly wild swings and backswings of our political pendulum and the ever evolving fringe ideologies which grow from them, it is my –perhaps naïve- hope that it will be that ideology is best taken on in a fluid and dynamic manner. Allowing schools of thought to be places from which ideas and perspectives are drawn, as opposed to rigid positions to be adopted or rejected in their entirety cannot, to my mind, do anything but advance our abilities to tackle serious matters in the most thorough and effective means. In this, while some may see a “centrist” as a “fence sitter” without any outright convictions or beliefs, it should instead be a matter of ideological neutrality that allows for a more honest consideration of the questions and proposed answers we face in our time.