Maybe we should hear out both sides
May 26, 2018 12:34 PM   Subscribe

 
When is arbitrarily defining centrism as always the precise middle ground between any two given opinions a strawman?
posted by tclark at 12:37 PM on May 26, 2018 [35 favorites]


Sophistry. If the author thinks centrism is but a single all-encompassing solution, he should get out more often...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 12:39 PM on May 26, 2018 [5 favorites]


"What makes a good man go neutral? Lust for gold? Power? Or were you just born with a heart full of neutrality?"
posted by Rhaomi at 12:56 PM on May 26, 2018 [46 favorites]


arbitrarily defining centrism as always the precise middle ground between any two given opinions

Let’s say it is half the time, what then?
posted by Artw at 1:08 PM on May 26, 2018 [15 favorites]


When we’re trying to decide between peanut butter and chocolate.
posted by supercrayon at 1:13 PM on May 26, 2018 [5 favorites]


eyeroll I agree that choosing a conflict that is relatively low-stakes is a useful thought experiment, but Pat never once chooses a suggestion that any normal human who lives in a house with painted walls would actually use. Nor does Pat inquire as to the strength of the two relative preferences, why the preferences exist, or whether any other mutually preferable option for a single color exists.

If centrism is Pat, centrism is wholly useless no matter which Pat you're evaluating.
posted by sciatrix at 1:15 PM on May 26, 2018 [6 favorites]


Centrism doesn't exist. Purge the word from your vocabulary.
posted by dilaudid at 1:15 PM on May 26, 2018 [4 favorites]


This lacks all connection to morals/ethics, as if values spring from nowhere and affect nobody but those expressing them. The examples given don't address the effects of power structures or disenfranchisement. I tried mentally replacing "green paint/red paint" with "women have agency/men are owed sex" or "black lives matter/white nationalism" and didn't find the rest of the post particularly useful.

It also misses the point of centrism, which in American politics often serves to justify the status quo (at best) or shift the Overton window further rightwards as the GOP gets crazier, meaner, and more fascist. The goals of many self-proclaimed centrists have nothing to do with whether their stated policies are reasonable solutions or acceptable compromises between stakeholders – it's about creating the illusion of fair, even-handed debate while allowing existing power to concentrate further.

tl;dr Pat doesn't care if you think he is an idiot or whether he is helpful, he gets paid the same for his NYT editorials either way.
posted by ubermuffin at 1:18 PM on May 26, 2018 [36 favorites]


There are more options, like "painting the room is a complicated and nuanced issue and we shouldn't rashly commit to any policy option; instead, let's leave the room unpainted and form an expert committee to give (non-binding) recommendations".
posted by Pyry at 1:19 PM on May 26, 2018 [10 favorites]


Centrism doesn't exist. Purge the word from your vocabulary.

As MetaFilter has taught us, it means someone holding views you don't agree with and are thus free to attack and insult.
posted by Sangermaine at 1:29 PM on May 26, 2018 [13 favorites]


Analytic philosophy: not even once
posted by thelonius at 1:35 PM on May 26, 2018 [2 favorites]


Centrism is a concept that exists to make it seem as if challenging the status quo is a form of extremism.
posted by Morpeth at 1:37 PM on May 26, 2018 [43 favorites]


"Centrism" is an outcome, not a governing position. It should be the result of political systems designed to promote compromise and cooperation between different factions. By starting in the middle, it only results in outcomes that are more lopsided to the extremes.
posted by SansPoint at 1:47 PM on May 26, 2018 [6 favorites]


Centrism can be a good idea, but lots of people take it way too far.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:50 PM on May 26, 2018 [30 favorites]


I'm generally skeptical of things found in the NYT however...
posted by evilDoug at 1:52 PM on May 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


If the sun is directly overhead and one person says it's noon and another says it's midnight, saying that maybe we could just say it's 6 o'clock doesn't make you a centrist, it makes you one more person who doesn't know what fucking time it is.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:52 PM on May 26, 2018 [88 favorites]


I mean, I think that the problem with Centrism is that people approach it with this naive idea that we can just take the most extreme left-wing ideas and the most extreme right wing ideas and average them and somehow end up with a reasonable political position.

That's not true.

But what is true is that both sides can find this average and start arguing from there (rather than their pre-fortified strongholds) and get a lot more accomplished.

I think of myself as fundamentally centrist but, more than any particular ideology, my strongest belief is that the worst decision we can make is to decide the other side can't be reasoned with.
posted by 256 at 1:54 PM on May 26, 2018 [11 favorites]


Centrism is when you judiciously decide where to divide the baby.
posted by SPrintF at 1:56 PM on May 26, 2018 [30 favorites]


I mean, I think that the problem with Centrism is that people approach it with this naive idea that we can just take the most extreme left-wing ideas and the most extreme right wing ideas and average them and somehow end up with a reasonable political position.

Well, let's test that hypothesis. What are the extreme left-wing and extreme right-wing beliefs regarding abortion?
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:57 PM on May 26, 2018 [3 favorites]


Faint of Butt: "Abortions for some... miniature American flags for others!"
posted by SansPoint at 1:59 PM on May 26, 2018 [10 favorites]


Abortion is the frigging easiest one.

Left: Women should have the agency to control their own bodies and the things inside them.

Right: Why is the moment of emerging from the vagina the point where we draw the line between murder and not-murder.


Both seem pretty fucking reasonable.
posted by 256 at 2:01 PM on May 26, 2018 [2 favorites]


someone holding views you don't agree with and are thus free to attack and insult.

For most views I actually care about, disagreeing with me is already an insult against my humanity. Damn right I respond in kind.
posted by traveler_ at 2:01 PM on May 26, 2018 [16 favorites]


Centrism seems to be mainly a way to malign people who don't endorse the most extreme version of your position.

There may be uncompromisable situations where you can't realistically suggest a middle ground. But they are the exception.

I think if you deride all but the purest version of your position, you fail to promote growth in the direction you want. People do it (RMS is always the ur-example for me: total genius, but pragmatists did a lot more to put free software on every server), but I also think it's pretty rare in the wild.

Basically, I think that there is a small straw family here, because you almost never have two equal extremes with no compromise possible and one sincere person trying to mathematically average the centre position. The centrist is always someone on your side but closer to the centre, or someone on their side but closer to the centre. If you have the luxury of choosing between someone who supports your exact position or someone who supports a version of that position closer to the status quo, go ahead.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 2:02 PM on May 26, 2018 [6 favorites]


Left: Women should have the agency to control their own bodies and the things inside them.

Right: Why is the moment of emerging from the vagina the point where we draw the line between murder and not-murder.


Ah, no. That's what people think the extreme right and left beliefs on abortion are, but they are wrong. In fact, the beliefs are as follows:

Extreme Right: Abortion must be illegal under all circumstances.

Extreme Left: Abortion must be mandatory under all circumstances.

Once we've identified the two extremes, the mid point is easy to identify: That abortion must be neither illegal nor mandatory, but must remain legal and available, and the only person qualified to make the decision whether to permit any given zygote to remain in any given uterus is the person in whose body that uterus resides.

And that, obviously, is the rational compromise position that all self-proclaimed centrists must vehemently promote, lest they be accused of hypocrisy or worse.
posted by Faint of Butt at 2:10 PM on May 26, 2018 [11 favorites]


Centrism is the easiest thing in the world. It means you get to pretend to have carefully considered opinions without doing any of the thinking to come to those positions. It means you get the credibility and respect of the powerful and all you have to do is parrot whatever the issue of the day is that centrists are supposed to care about.*

*Remember when all the respected pundits went on and on about Tort Reform as if that were something they all just happened to organically care about
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 2:13 PM on May 26, 2018 [19 favorites]


Extreme Left: Abortion must be mandatory under all circumstances.

Agreed, we should be inventing extreme positions that no one has ever held and then declaring our actual beliefs to be in the center.
posted by dilaudid at 2:15 PM on May 26, 2018 [44 favorites]


There is always wriggle room on positions. That's why there's so many different groups "on the left", ranging from the tankies I think are unreasonable through to democratic socialists I think are naive. That's not how centrism is ever used as a term though. It's always used to create some artificial point that justifies the status quo, with small changes, one step forward one step back.
Yeah centrist is a dirty word, an insult most places I go. I'm absolutely fine with that as long as its used in its current sense. I'm not here to compromise with bigots and capitalists.
I believe in my side. I'm not interested in so-called compromises that force me to compromise my morals completely in the name of considering some right-wing madness. I call it madness, because I believe it to be nonsense. Asking me to find some arbitrary half-way point that doesn't achieve any of my goals but gives the people I disagree with ways to continue enforcing their reign of terror is absurd. There's no half-way on civil rights. There's no halfway on accepting the poor, people of colour, the unemployed, women, trans people, queer people, the disabled or anyone else as people deserving of full treatment as such. There's discussion around the best way to do that, discussion that never ceases and probably never should. That's not what centrists, as the term is used, are about.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 2:15 PM on May 26, 2018 [7 favorites]


What do you call the idea that every issue has only two sides, and they're always the same two sides ("the Left" and "the Right")?
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 2:16 PM on May 26, 2018 [16 favorites]


256, that's a pretty generous interpretation of the conservative view of abortion, which I have always seen as "Human life begins at conception. Abortion is the murder of a human being."
If you would like to expand on where you got your conservative view I would be interested in listening.
posted by evilDoug at 2:17 PM on May 26, 2018 [3 favorites]


Wrinkled Stumpskin’s RMS example was a nice one, and reminded me that pragmatism gets confused for centrism a lot, or rather that pragmatists are accused by idealists of centrism, either explicitly or through insinuation. As far as I can tell, it’s one of the main elements of the liberal circular firing squad. (Perhaps the right have a version of this as well, but I don’t visit whatever places they frequent.)
posted by jklaiho at 2:23 PM on May 26, 2018 [9 favorites]


I'll expand on my previous, non-joke, comment by using an example (borrowed from Max Temkin on the latest "Do By Friday").

There's a push to raise the minimum wage. The position on the left is to raise it to $15 an hour. There's a push on the right to remove it, or keep it as is, but if they have to raise it, they want to do it as little as possible. Let's assume, $10 an hour. If the left-wing party tries to legislate a wage increase to $15 an hour, the process of compromise should result in a "centrist" $12.50 an hour.

But when the left doesn't have the ability to legislate, and you have the right and the "centrists" starting from a proposed $12.50 an hour wage, the result is going to be a $11.25 minimum wage.

Because the "centrists" know that $12.50 is an achievable outcome, they choose to start from there, but the nature of politics and political compromise means that their starting position will immediately be compromised on. If you're going to lose ground, no matter what, why not take a position that asks for the most you could get, and walk back from that, rather than lose ground from the middle?
posted by SansPoint at 2:27 PM on May 26, 2018 [13 favorites]


Centrists Are the Most
Skeptical of Democracy
NYTimes.
Here's the paper itself.
In a way, I respect the right a lot more than I do centrists. Sure, I'll never work with them, I'll work with centrists sometimes to fight them, and I consider the right's positions to be disgusting, but at least a lot of people on the right actually hold their beliefs about the best way for humanity to exist and fight for those beliefs.
A hardcore AnCap who truly believes markets will free people is more understandable to me than a centrist who doesn't hold that belief but advocates for those policies to protect their own wealth and position.
Fascism arises in times of crisis because the center is disgusting. Fascists have the absolute wrong ideas about how to change the world for the better, but they want change, they're just mislead about how to achieve that and blame the wrong people.
None of that changes the need to oppose the right vehemently and the center slightly less so.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 2:28 PM on May 26, 2018 [5 favorites]




Agreed, we should be inventing extreme positions that no one has ever held and then declaring our actual beliefs to be in the center.

But by the teachings of Horseshoe Theory, the extreme positions of the left and right are equal. Since we know the extreme position of the right, we can therefore deduce the extreme position of the left, even if no one has ever promoted it, and from that we can identify the ideal centrist position.

Anything else would be to admit that Horseshoe Theory, and indeed all centrist political philosophy, is bullshit that serves no purpose other than to protect the status quo.
posted by Faint of Butt at 2:32 PM on May 26, 2018 [16 favorites]


I have never encountered anyone who claimed to be a centrist who was not actually a right-winger who did not want to be pegged as a partisan extremist. The claim is always identical: a) "I like to consider the evidence before making a decision;" b) "I like to consider the views of both 'sides' before making a decision." Naturally neither of these things ever happen and none of the positions they eventually hold are distinguishable in any meaningful way from generic right-wing positions. (To the extent they do, the evidence from the "left" is the New York Times. The evidence from the "right" is Breitbart.)

So this shapes my personal view of centrism as a concept and centrists as people. The idea for me is that giving a label to something that never occurs in nature is counter-productive. To quote the patron saint of centrists everywhere, "stupid is as stupid does."

And on the issue of compromise: it's incorrect to pretend that a so-called extremist who would accept compromise is a centrist. All political positions are aspirational and all are complicated by on-the-ground realities. Moving toward the ideal by interim measures and splitting the difference are two entirely different things. My position on abortion is "any time, any reason, no cost." Many people, including those who support access to abortion, would oppose that, and I'd be comfortable with certain limits if it meant the expansion of access to abortion. That does not make me a centrist, nor does it change my position on the issue.
posted by klanawa at 2:34 PM on May 26, 2018 [30 favorites]


Abortion is the frigging easiest one.

Well, no, obviously.

But in the terms of the article a woman having bodily autonomy versus outsiders wanting a say on that on that would be an asymmetrical case - it's the woman body, so having choice about it is of critical importance to her, versus those making the antichoice argument who have no skin in the game. The article pegs asymmetrical cases as ones where "centrist" solutions are going to be unhelpful and disproportionately unjust and here I'd have to say it's right on the money.

(The more complicated cases mentioned where one of the parties is lying also come into play here)
posted by Artw at 2:39 PM on May 26, 2018 [4 favorites]


Christmas party at Dave and Sam's!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:39 PM on May 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


I can't foresee any scenario where using the median instead of the mean would create any issue whatsoever.
posted by T.D. Strange at 2:45 PM on May 26, 2018


Does the unborn baby have skin in the game? Who speaks for them?

I mean, I am firmly on Team Abortion Legal Everywhere Forever. But it's not because I think this is an easy moral quandry. It's fucking intractable. Rather the reason is because of all the actual and obvious harm that illegal abortion causes to women. Any doubts I feel about the subject are quickly trumped by these real consequences.
posted by 256 at 2:47 PM on May 26, 2018 [6 favorites]


JFC, can we just delete this thread? Let's add Centrism to Weight Loss and Israel/Palestine to Topics Metafilter Can't Handle.
posted by tclark at 2:51 PM on May 26, 2018 [8 favorites]


We seem to be handling it just fine.
posted by klanawa at 2:55 PM on May 26, 2018 [12 favorites]


Extreme Left: Abortion must be mandatory under all circumstances.

Name 10 of these hypothetical people.
posted by 256 at 2:56 PM on May 26, 2018 [4 favorites]


the wise man bowed his head solemnly and spoke: "theres actually zero difference between good & bad things. you imbecile. you fucking moron"
wint @dril
A classic that always comes up in Twitter threads about centrism.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 2:58 PM on May 26, 2018 [19 favorites]


It's fucking intractable.

Well, we can argue the toss on the baby personhood argument but I think at the end of the day we've both come round to the centrist dialectic not having been particularly useful in decision making here.
posted by Artw at 3:01 PM on May 26, 2018 [3 favorites]


it's incorrect to pretend that a so-called extremist who would accept compromise is a centrist.
klanawa

Yet that's often precisely what happens, as jklaiho notes above. And, I think, this conflation both without and within is the source of conflict on this topic, including in this very thread.
posted by Sangermaine at 3:08 PM on May 26, 2018 [2 favorites]


Right: Why is the moment of emerging from the vagina the point where we draw the line between murder and not-murder.

That is not the right-wing position. The right-wing position is, “ You become a person at the moment of conception, with a right to life that nullifies any counter desire by any other person (read: the woman who must carry the pregnancy to term).”
posted by Big Al 8000 at 3:15 PM on May 26, 2018 [19 favorites]


Name 10 of these hypothetical people.

They're all dead because the birth rate dropped to zero and we're extinct. Bye.
posted by klanawa at 3:19 PM on May 26, 2018 [3 favorites]


Ah, abortion. The “debate” reasonable people must have with religious zealots who don’t understand ontogeny.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 3:19 PM on May 26, 2018 [8 favorites]


this conflation both without and within is the source of conflict on this topic, including in this very thread.

I should clarify that I think that actual centrism and centrists do exist and that my earlier comment was not meant to imply that pragmatist liberals confused with centrists would be the sole group of extant ”centrists”. My point was mainly to illustrate how it’s easy to conflate things.
posted by jklaiho at 3:21 PM on May 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


If "centrism" is the opposite of whatever Owen Jones is, I'll take it!
posted by JamesBay at 3:47 PM on May 26, 2018


Extreme Left: Abortion must be mandatory under all circumstances.

The only person I've ever heard of espousing this position is David Benatar, and he's not, as far as I can tell, vocally aligned with anything else that is regarded as leftist except arguably on ecological issues; antinatalism brands him as basically a kook even to the most extreme political positions.
posted by jackbishop at 3:49 PM on May 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


Ehhh.... I think per above we've ruled out the abortion example as a case where centrism is all that useful. Even if you accept it as two equally weighted strongly held opposed views, the case 2 and case 4 of the article, where centrism is unengaged and unhelpful. This seems to map onto what seems to be the actual real world centrist take on the subject: hoping the question never comes up and dodging it like crazy if it does.

(And if it becomes an argument about when the bundle of cells becomes a person then opinions on that aren't really anything you can split the difference on.)
posted by Artw at 4:15 PM on May 26, 2018 [3 favorites]


Centrism is a concept that exists to make it seem as if challenging the status quo is a form of extremism. Centrism doesn't exist. Purge the word from your vocabulary. Centrism is the easiest thing in the world. It means you get to pretend to have carefully considered opinions without doing any of the thinking to come to those positions. Centrism is when you judiciously decide where to divide the baby.

so what I'm wondering now is, what would be centrist position between all this and what the write-up in question is actually getting at?
posted by philip-random at 4:15 PM on May 26, 2018


Extreme Right: We want to drive everyone not in our preferred ethnicity/gender/race/religion/belief system into the sea at gunpoint.

Centrist: You need to be more tolerant of their desire for you to go swimming more often.
posted by delfin at 4:20 PM on May 26, 2018 [25 favorites]


I have never encountered anyone who claimed to be a centrist who was not actually a right-winger who did not want to be pegged as a partisan extremist.

...

Centrism doesn't exist.


In the contemporary political landscape it's true that just about anyone who self-identifies as a centrist is just a conservative, and that's primarily because most self-identified conservatives turn out to be authoritarian militaristic fascists if not white supremacist patriarchists.

One confusion here that I think arises is that there are certain issues about which there can be no compromise, and therefore where centrism is a meaningless term.

There's no centrist position on slavery or universal suffrage. If you think people should be slaves, sure, you're probably willing to accept reduced or attenuated versions of chattel slavery to preserve the institution. You might even call that "centrism". But that's not centrism on the issue from the standpoint of someone who thinks it's a moral evil.

But there is a legitimate centrist position on some political issues, and it's not hard to identify. If you think the social changes necessary for progress should take place gradually so as not to disrupt the contemporary political order and throw everything into chaos, you're a left-centrist.

If you think the perils of contemporary life can be mostly fixed through assistance programs which don't change the basic structure of the contemporary system but just put bandaids over the wounds it inflicts, then you're a right centrist.

What's so wild about American politics, is that the furthest left position that has any power is basically the "right-centrist" position: Capitalism, with bandaids.

Extreme Left: Abortion must be mandatory under all circumstances.

Let's get more extreme! Abortion should not only be mandatory, but legal into 300th trimester. Purge: Extreme Leftism coming to a theater near you!
posted by dis_integration at 4:21 PM on May 26, 2018 [9 favorites]


My roommate wants to steal everything and shit in my bed. I want him to stay in his room and leave my stuff alone. The centrist says he should get half my stuff and gets to piss in my bed.

This is not a bad description of our current robber barons, who think all taxation is theft, but they should be free to steal and pillage freely.
posted by benzenedream at 4:25 PM on May 26, 2018 [19 favorites]


Centrism is a concept that exists to make it seem as if challenging the status quo is a form of extremism.
— posted by Morpeth


Can I buy some extra favorites for Morpeth?
posted by sjswitzer at 4:26 PM on May 26, 2018 [11 favorites]


I agree with Artw that the abortion discussion in this thread is generating more heat than light.

Still, I would claim that indeed the case 2, 3, 4 scenarios that the post author dismisses as unhelpful, unjust, or idiotic/superficial are nevertheless useful in any number of ways that explain why you might frequently encounter them in the real world despite their apparent deficiencies. (this is observation, not endorsement BTW)
posted by ubermuffin at 4:30 PM on May 26, 2018 [2 favorites]


That's a pretty thin blog post. Why does Pat assume the parties have reconcilable positions? If they feel that strongly about the room colour, maybe they shouldn't be living together. Maybe one or both of them are using the issue as a proxy for a more substantial conflict that they can't address directly. Maybe one of the parties doesn't want to (or can't afford to) have the room painted, and they're bringing up the colour as a way of blocking progress on an outcome they don't want.

Negotiation Theory is a well-studied academic area and I've never seen anyone suggest that "centrism" is a meaningful way to resolve disputes. So where does the idea come from? I think it's often just marketing: some people describe themselves as centrists because they want to carve out room for their own preferred position; some people describe their competitors as centrists because they want to associate them with a third, obviously unpopular position. Most commonly, though, it's a way for people in authority to avoid responsibility: by saying that they gave something to both sides they defend themselves against accusations of bias and at least give the impression of having provided a nuanced solution.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:50 PM on May 26, 2018 [8 favorites]


and if it's a definition of extreme right and left you're looking for, a friend of mine's dad used to peg it as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 23-August-1939 wherein Stalin's Russia and Hitler's Germany agreed to let each other tear up Eastern Europe for a while. Death to all Extremists!
posted by philip-random at 4:52 PM on May 26, 2018 [2 favorites]


Have to say thank you for all the comments brilliantly articulating the problems with centrism. Great thread (abortion derail excepted).
posted by blue shadows at 5:00 PM on May 26, 2018


One human's shit brown is another human's chocolate caramel.
posted by y2karl at 5:11 PM on May 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


And I have to say screw you for all the comments that completely miss the point about the problems with centrism. Horrible wreckage of a thread (but the abortion derail is great!).
posted by FJT at 5:42 PM on May 26, 2018 [3 favorites]


Centrism or contrarianism?
posted by blue shadows at 6:15 PM on May 26, 2018


I blame myself for the abortion derail. I meant "where to divide the baby" in the Judgement of Solomon sense. There are things we simply won't bargain away or give an inch on. Centrism's conceit is "well, evil can't be all bad." I agree with the poster above, it's gambit for supporting the status quo.
posted by SPrintF at 6:18 PM on May 26, 2018 [6 favorites]


There are things we simply won't bargain away or give an inch on. Centrism's conceit is "well, evil can't be all bad."

to which I guess I'd respond with, well, what's your definition of evil? I'm pretty sure that there are very many on the so-called right who consider what we're up to here as some kind of evil, which I'm pretty damned sure they're wrong about. So it follows that I should be at least a little careful about whatever (and whoever) I'm tempted to dismiss as evil over on their side.

it's gambit for supporting the status quo.

Is the status quo always wrong? Getting back to the article in question, of the four examples it offers, it only gives one a pass, and even that's conditional ("It's not the only possible resolution, nor even necessarily the best one, but it's OK."). So what if say, 10-percent of the time a centrist solution may just be the best option toward resolving a conflict (the perfect being the enemy of the good and all that)? Should we just throw those ten babies out with the bathwater because well, evil is evil?
posted by philip-random at 6:44 PM on May 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


Hi, I'm a centrist (or maybe a pragmatist?). But unlike the caricatures in this thread I don't consider the extreme left and right positions and stake my claim somewhere in the middle. To do so would be absurd and I literally do not know of anybody that does that. Polarizing issues almost by definition have no center, so I'm dumbfounded that people are using those to prove some kind of point about centrism. For the record: I am pro choice, pro immigration, pro defense and pro business (to a point). I'm pretty far to the right compared to mefites, but pretty far left when compared to my family. I dunno, maybe there's a newer or more nuanced version of centrism. On a quick check of wikipedia, I would say "radical centrism" isn't too far off the mark for me. So yeah I'm a centrist, but that doesn't mean I'm in the middle or that I'm trying to find common ground with extremist views.
posted by forforf at 7:00 PM on May 26, 2018 [5 favorites]


Centrism could certainly be a useful idea at times, but not much the way things are right now for the many reasons already listed above.
posted by blue shadows at 7:26 PM on May 26, 2018


Ehh... if we’re going by Wikipedia it has centrism as “a political outlook or specific position that involves acceptance or support of a balance of a degree of social equality and a degree of social hierarchy, while opposing political changes which would result in a significant shift of society either strongly to the left or the right.”

Radical Centrism it has basically that plus MARKETS as secret sauce, which sounds an awful lot like neoliberalism.
posted by Artw at 7:34 PM on May 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


See I consider the whole pro-defense thing to be a glaring example of where centrism panders to the right. The left has been pretty solidly pro-peace for a darn long time. Unions fought against their countries joining the Imperialist first world war. Yet the centrist middle is perfectly fine with constant military exercises, invading the middle east every couple of years and other aggressive militarism in the name of being pro-defense. Bombing civilians, drone strikes and terror. Supported even by 'centrist' governments in succession.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 7:36 PM on May 26, 2018 [2 favorites]


Yeah, to answer the question, never when one side is trying to burn down the house after robbing it first.
posted by blue shadows at 7:40 PM on May 26, 2018 [3 favorites]


Centrism is very, very useful for the Republic of China (Taiwan). Because reunification would mean losing sovereignty to the People's Republic of China while a declaration of independence might trigger World War III.
posted by FJT at 7:59 PM on May 26, 2018 [3 favorites]


The best defense of "centrism" I can think of turns on trust. Most of us don't have the time, information, or inclination to figure out most policy details -- everything from "what's the best way to expand healthcare without socializing it" to "does illegal immigration reduce existing jobs and wages" to "what's the liberal position on maritime property law." The sensible thing to do in these cases is to find a trusted party and follow their guidance. In politics, that's often a literal Party -- the Democrats or the Republicans. And that's perfectly fine -- we're not climate scientists so we trust the scientists to tell us; we're not policy experts, so we trust our party's experts, and we trust the party because for the various limited domains we do know, our party seems to represent our interests better.

But what happens when you trust neither party because neither seems to match your interests in those domains for which you have well-considered views? In particular, what do you do when your well-considered views often seem to mix and match elements from the two parties, or for issues on a continuum (eg, spending or taxes) your well-considered views seem to occupy some ground in between the two parties? Well, that makes you a moderate. But what makes you a "centrist" is looking around and seeing no major party or group representing your views that you can trust and take direct cues from, and so for issues about which you know nothing much (eg health policy, immigration, maritime law, whatever), the best you can do to find a quick cue on what the moderate position is, is to look at the left and right parties, see what their positions are, try to estimate what the midpoint of those two positions are (inasmuch as that is possible), and take that as your default position. This is not much different than taking your cues from the Democratic or Republican parties, except that you have learned that neither party tracks your well-considered views well and that your own well-considered views are often in between the two, and therefore that the best shortcut absent a trusted party to take direct cues from is to split the difference between the two existing Parties. Maybe we all want everyone to work out their every political view from scratch based on personal research, but realistically, we all take lots of cues from our party or other political leaders, and if there are no major representatives for the middle, taking your cue from both parties in order to approximate a mid-point seems equally reasonable.

[Note that I personally have various criticisms of many aspects of this logic, but I think it's a reasonable account of what centrists consider themselves to be up to.]
posted by chortly at 8:13 PM on May 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


In the abstract it makes some sense, but as already mentioned, it frequently amounts to another version of neoliberalism. If everything hadn't already been poisoned by so many bad faith arguments that would help too. I guess what I'm saying is under the circumstances, which show no signs of going away, Centrism as an overall political philosophy is something I cannot understand to put it lightly.
posted by blue shadows at 9:02 PM on May 26, 2018 [6 favorites]


Heh, FJT, I dunno if the Taiwan situation is centrism so much as just the geopolitical version of a cartoon character accidentally running off a cliff, and deciding not to look down in case they make it across to the other side after all
posted by DoctorFedora at 12:40 AM on May 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


I stopped believing in that "two sides" bullshit when the president used it to justify a Nazi invasion of my sleepy little college town last summer.
posted by basalganglia at 2:24 AM on May 27, 2018 [10 favorites]


In the contemporary political landscape it's true that just about anyone who self-identifies as a centrist is just a conservative, and that's primarily because most self-identified conservatives turn out to be authoritarian militaristic fascists if not white supremacist patriarchists.

Maybe in the US, but there are plenty of places where there are a range of parties with views which go from the left to the right, with plenty in the centre ground who do not have the same views as those further to the right and which are not remotely either of the things you suggest.
posted by biffa at 5:41 AM on May 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


Centrism seems, at best, to be a defense of the status quo rather than any actual political philosophy.

Without strawmanning centrism as believing that only half of black people should be enslaved, note that during the build up to the civil war the centrist position was basically that slavery wasn't good but the freedom of black people should be an issue decided at the state level. Basically, status quo and however unintentionally siding with the conservative pro-slavery position.

Far from being split the baby advocates, centrists tend in practice to be "leave the baby with whoever has it right this second" advocates. There seems to be no issue on which the centrist position doesn't basically come down to leaving things roughly as they are right now with, at most, a bit of judicious nibbling at the edges after a great deal of study.

Centrism, at core, is apathy disguised as virtue.
posted by sotonohito at 6:35 AM on May 27, 2018 [11 favorites]


As mentioned above, as the Overton window has been moving steadily to the right due to Centerism, and I fear it will have a near-permanent effect. If and when, eventually, the GOP and other conservative parties around the world move so far that they become unelectable and lose power, they can smoothly move over to and take over the opposition party, which by then (as is the case now) will have become far more conservative and right wing, forcing the left and liberals to start over with a new, unrecognized party. Wash, rinse, repeat, and they can keep this up forever. IIRC, that basically happened in this country (US) back in 1856 when the Whig party collapsed.
posted by Blackanvil at 6:51 AM on May 27, 2018 [4 favorites]


sotonhito: A single 150 year old example of centrism seems like a pretty weak foundation for defining what centrism is, and that it is apathetic. I'm not a particular fan of the third way of the 1990s, but it at least serves as a reader for political approaches that start at the centre.
posted by biffa at 7:25 AM on May 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


I was citing the civil war as an example, not claiming it's the only one.

The 1990's third way shows more how centrism is more easily directed to the right. It undermined welfare, justified tax cuts for the very rich, and accelerated the War on Drugs. Basically the status quo plus some extra right wing gimmies.

America Centrism is always doomed to be more rightward simply because the American Right is extremely good at being very noisy and demanding, and they own a lot of outright propaganda channels. They're able, in other words, to present a false center that is right wing.

Look at the state of the political parties. The Republicans are an extreme far right wing party, and the Democrats are a center right party. Note that the left wing is completely unrepresented in the supposed center between the two.
posted by sotonohito at 8:09 AM on May 27, 2018 [4 favorites]


But, so we're not talking past one another, can you provide examples of what you consider to be useful or proper centrism so I'm not strawmanning you?
posted by sotonohito at 8:14 AM on May 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


to which I guess I'd respond with, well, what's your definition of evil? I'm pretty sure that there are very many on the so-called right who consider what we're up to here as some kind of evil, which I'm pretty damned sure they're wrong about. So it follows that I should be at least a little careful about whatever (and whoever) I'm tempted to dismiss as evil over on their side.

I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt here and assume that you do hate smearing your own shit all over your face, but if not just switch the two parties in this example: let’s say you meet someone who hates not smearing their own shit all over their face as much as you hate the opposite. I somehow don’t think you’d be reevaluating your own stance on shit-smearing just because you and the deuce dauber feel just as strongly about the issue if in opposite ways. It’s just as facile in the context of politics.
posted by invitapriore at 5:19 PM on May 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


Is the status quo always wrong?

For the last several thousand years of human history, yes.
posted by AlSweigart at 7:29 PM on May 27, 2018 [6 favorites]


That is not the right-wing position. The right-wing position is, “ You become a person at the moment of conception, with a right to life that nullifies any counter desire by any other person (read: the woman who must carry the pregnancy to term).”

I feel that it is incomplete to leave out the accompanying right wing beliefs that sex is meant to create babies and there should not be a way to have sex without accepting pregnancy as an outcome.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 9:31 PM on May 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


Is the status quo always wrong?

For the last several thousand years of human history, yes.


I had assumed status quo meant the accepted way of doing things, which is not always wrong. But according to the interwebs, a more accurate definition is the existing state of affairs. In which I case, I guess I agree, that's pretty much always wrong.
posted by philip-random at 9:32 PM on May 27, 2018


Is the status quo always wrong?

As good as things are, they can always be better. In that sense, the answer cannot but be yes. Technically, everyone is liberal to the extent that progress is a liberal impulse. But for those who don't want progress to be distributed fairly -- to maintain the status quo in terms of inequality -- there's conservatism. (I guess the centrist position on that would be, "equal, but not too equal. Let's not get crazy with all this equality stuff!")
posted by klanawa at 9:50 PM on May 27, 2018


It seems worth distinguishing whether centrism is right from whether centrism is uniquely incoherent as an ideology, especially as regards the process of forming opinions. I myself think that most centrist positions are wrong -- taxes and spending should not be judiciously lowered; abortion should not be available yet carefully restricted; wars should not be entered into carefully yet firmly; gradualism is not the best way to build good policies; etc. But disagreeing (with good reasons) with those positions is different from saying that centrism is in some ways more non-sensical that rightwing ideology, where the argument there is generally that the latter at least proceeds from (terrible) ideas, whereas the former is purely constructed out of the social behavior of those around you. Nazism is evil, but centrism, which upon the emergence of the Nazi party suddenly decides that half-Nazism is ideal, is terrible in its own way, and in some ways more maddening for being so stupid.

Anyway, that's the argument as I understand it -- that centrism is not just wrong or evil, but uniquely incoherent in that its positions are drawn not from an underlying ideology, but just from looking at those around oneself and choosing some incoherent, shifting-in-the-winds middle. I've ranted about this myself many times here over the years, but after years of seeing how even the left and right shift their views on numerous things based on elite cuing (economy bad, oops Trump's president now, economy good; Romneycare and the mandate bad, oops Obama's pro-mandate now, mandate good; etc), I've come to appreciate that that process is not just incoherent in-group/out-group logic, but actually a reasonable behavior when dealing with huge numbers of shifting political issues. Cuing from trusted parties is quite rational, and in a world where the elite are much more polarized than the masses and therefore there are few moderate leaders to develop a coherent ideology, it makes sense for unrepresented moderates to adopt the "centrist" logic of splitting the difference between the parties as a rough approximation of what they would do if there were a proper moderate leadership to cue from.

That doesn't mean that such a leadership or ideology would be right! Far from it, in my view. But we don't need to defend the moderate's views in order to defend their process of middle-finding. Working it through yourself and realizing that your ideas are incoherent, counter-productive, and anti-empathetic would be better; but failing that, we all take shortcuts by following trusted parties, and absent those trusted parties, a split-the-difference approximation isn't the worst of shortcuts.

Finally, regarding the status-quo bias of centrism, that's definitely there. But liberalism (and conservatism) have a similar bias: how many liberals were in favor of a $15 minimum wage and single-payer healthcare three years ago? Should such things come to pass, how many will become in favor of a UBI or a federal job guarantee, or reparations, etc? As the window of possibility shifts, so too does the mass on the left, who tend to keep their eye just one or two notches beyond the status quo. (Votes for black men in 1865, sure, but women, that's crazy talk...) And most defenses of that practice as just being sensible pragmatism could similarly be deployed in defense of most centrist positions as well. Eg, most centrists don't think the status quo is perfect, they just think that it's dangerous to change things quickly and practically speaking change is unlikely to happen, so best to focus on narrow improvements to the status quo and on preventing backsliding into even worse situations.
posted by chortly at 10:13 PM on May 27, 2018


Let's add Centrism to Weight Loss and Israel/Palestine to Topics Metafilter Can't Handle.

This. I actually find this thread scary in its display of ignorance against Centrism. But that’s probably grounded in the religious war that passes for politics in a certain big country.
posted by Kwadeng at 11:05 PM on May 27, 2018 [2 favorites]


I feel I should mention that I find there's a lot of dissonance between how we're talking about Liberalism here and how we talk about Liberalism in my, admittedly Marxist/Queer anti-capitalist political circles.
To be clear, I'm not referring to the Australian Liberal Party, which is an distinction confusion has arisen from on this topic on MeFi before, but the ideology of Liberalism, the dominant ideology of your US 'left' party and what people seem to be treating as leftist here.

In my circles, we often use Liberalism and centrism as almost interchangeable terms. We tend to think of Liberalism as an inherently centrist ideology.
I think we would say that our Aus. Labor party practices Liberal politics, and is centre-right. We do not tend to recognise Liberalism as significantly distinct from most centrist politics. Liberalism with its focus on the idea of the supposedly rational, free individual actor is opposed to our analyses which place the influence of systems of oppression and the operation of society according to structural forces at the fore, with the individual actor limited in their agency.

"Technically, everyone is liberal to the extent that progress is a liberal impulse." is a statement I'd disagree with. I think most of the progressive aspects of Liberal politics come from the influence of Marxist and other radical politics, such as Queer liberation, feminism and anti-colonialism, often due to the two-party structure of most democratic political systems placing these politics on the side of Liberalism, as such.

I'm not the best explainer of these complex ideological distinctions but I find it really odd that people are consistently putting Liberalism on the left of centrism.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 1:47 AM on May 28, 2018 [2 favorites]


The 90s, known for the third way, was also the era of triangulation, which is again that whole thing of splitting the difference between two positions to produce a supposedly pragmatic compromise.

Some real shitty policy case out of that.
posted by Artw at 8:12 AM on May 28, 2018 [3 favorites]


Kwadeng If you have the time and inclination, could you link to a resource on the sort of proper centrism you mean?
posted by sotonohito at 9:35 AM on May 28, 2018


Speaking of Moderates ... every time I heard that word, this memory pops up ...

A few years ago, I stumbled (pretty much literally) into a talk that Tom Hayden (60s "radical", one of the Chicago Eight, Jane Fonda's ex,) was giving in Vancouver. Long story short, it was a low key thing, part of a book tour as I recall. But he did touch on one point of maturity (I believe he used that exact word) that it took him many years to arrive at -- that the only meaningful long term resolution of extreme conflicts comes from the moderates on both sides of a given divisive issue finding a way to work together.

I wonder if some of the confusion about centrism is mixed up with those who take their moderation* (in politics) seriously.

* final word to Oscar Wilde here: "All things in moderation, including moderation."
posted by philip-random at 9:49 AM on May 28, 2018


To be clear, I'm not referring to the Australian Liberal Party, which is an distinction confusion has arisen from on this topic on MeFi before, but the ideology of Liberalism, the dominant ideology of your US 'left' party and what people seem to be treating as leftist here....
"Technically, everyone is liberal to the extent that progress is a liberal impulse." is a statement I'd disagree with.

Given the enormous variation in the background assumptions people are making when they use the word "liberal", I have found that it's not terribly useful to use it at all without some shared work beforehand - a good minimum would be wikipedia's page Liberal - disambiguation, but for serious discussion I'd also add Liberalism and Liberalism by country, if you are talking to people from different countries.

Or you could skip that and just use a complete sentence like "people who believe that social justice is important but the best way to achieve it is through the actions of the market", and then add a complete sentence for every other position you'd like to define on the possible political spectrum, and then it would be easy to figure out why you see a position as on the center of the spectrum (which is not necessarily the same as 'being centrist'!) and someone else sees it as being on the left of center.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 5:08 PM on May 28, 2018


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