Friday, September 2, 2022

Both Sides

I've been reading Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Climate Change, by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway. This new edition of the 2010 publication features a Foreword by former Vice President Al Gore, author of An Inconvenient Truth.

Scientist who fought the growing evidence that cigarette smoke was instrumental in causing lung cancer argued that we should all consider "both sides" of the question--this, after data had piled up very convincingly on the anti-tobacco side.  The authors point out that both sides are not equally correct. You can't insist on fairness when one side is simply wrong.

At a press conference on August 15, 2017 , then-President Trump responded to questions from reporters about his reaction to violent protests in Charlottesville, VA, "you also had people, that were very fine people, on both sides." This response has become the classic example of moral equivalency, or "both-sides-ism."

How can we look at this through the mountaintop image of Centrism? It’s very simple: there is not just one “other side” with a mountaintop (contrary to what the bear climbed up to see.) That’s what you’ve got when you’re down in the valley. From the top, it’s a 360° view in 3D. You see the whole picture. There are not two sides to the whole picture, but just the whole puzzle fit together.  Even if the whole view is not completely visible for some reason, there is not “the other side,” but the rest of the picture.   In almost every situation there will be further intricacies to explore, but not a different side.

This is what Centrism is all about: the full circle view.



Tuesday, August 23, 2022


Or, the Google Maps View


Going on with what it means to be a Centrist; today we don’t need mountaintops to provide the view from above.  We’ve got Google Maps!  Gone are the old atlases, and the paper maps we used to pick up at a service station when visiting a new place. (Or there was the visit to AAA for travel maps, of which I still have a box. I also have rolls of section maps with detail of the county I used to live in.  I love maps.)

But with Google Maps, as with GPS, there’s a caveat.  Following step-by-step directions to a destination is like living down at the base of the mountain: you’re only seeing the area close to you.  It’s like driving on your road through the valley, wondering how this river drainage fits with the next one.  To get the big picture, one has to spread out the map.

This Is what Centrism offers: the big picture.

You have a great little newspaper/news site that is pretty balanced, you think, and gives you all the news you need. Or maybe you just bounce around, picking the news you want to read. First of all, you have to trust that source. We all know people who don’t trust entire  sets of news outlets.

Trusting your source is essential, just as trusting your GPS is.  Ever been taken on a wild goose chase by a GPS? (I’ve ended up out in the wild at least once; another time got stuck going in circles in Turlock, California. ) GPS is great, but it’s even better to know as much or more than it knows before you start.

Same goes for your news source. If you know the basics of the situation before you listen, you can avoid being led astray by the innate bias of any source. This isn’t God’s voice thundering on the radio waves, but that of a human who might have been influenced by someone who knows less that you do, if you’re being your real, intelligent self.  That human might EVEN have an ax to grind, an ideology to promote, a wacky theory to air.  If you don’t know, you have to trust that voice; but do you?

Again, we’re not talking about the Middle of anything here. Think of the GPS again. The middle is wherever you are right now.  Everything fans out from there, and you can enlarge your screen to  see father out.

You can find graphs showing the relative left- or right-orientation of various media sites. I’ve shown these to various people, and there is a definite tendency to see your own views as moderate, no matter what they are. To gun-loving conservatives, PBS is way to the left; to a universal-health-care progressive, the Wall Street Journal is right-wing.

The Middle is relative to where you are coming from, in every sense of the word.  The Center is the big picture. It’s what you get when you drop the news site and go to the history book. Yes, book, and, ideally,  a book from someone who has put in time and research in order to get the facts in order.  And even there you will find bias, so it might take more than one historian.

Finding the Center is not a quick fix. Not just Googling an answer. Rather, it takes time to see how all the parts fit together. If you like puzzles, it’s fun!

Sunday, August 7, 2022

What Is Centrism?

August 7, 2022


For Climbing to the Center, I picture communities situated in valleys surrounding a high mountain. The valleys channel various tributaries of a river they all join downstream, but here, are separate rivers with very separate populations. One may support coal miners; another, orchardists. One is home to artists and hippies, another to retired folk. In one, German farmers raise onions and potatoes; in another, the crop may be marijuana.

People upriver are looked on askance, maybe objects of derision. More distant neighbors are less known, more of a mystery, and certainly not of great concern. Our own place among the mountain’s brood is not clear. It’s our mountain.

I lived in a valley in Colorado, where peaks above 14,000 feet stood about us in three directions. I was one to hike the trails, but claimed no interest in reaching a summit.  That was until one day, when a climber friend invited us to summit Mt. Sneffels. Reaching the top was a game changer. Suddenly I saw where we all stood, how it all fit together—which river ran into which other, where we sat among the other peaks, who our neighbors were. 

It was a lot of work and perilous climbing to the peak: boulders to climb over, narrow trails with sharp drop-offs, steep and unrelenting. At one point we had to step across a crevice where a misstep could have sent one hundreds of feet to the rocks below.

This is a metaphor. I’m talking about what it means to be a Centrist.

The term has been defined in various ways over the years, and from Wikipedia to The Atlantic and beyond. Wrongly so, I believe.

Here are some of the ways Atlantic forum writers have described Centrists:

·      The compromising centrist

·      The apathetic centrist

·      The ambivalent centrist

·      The impossible centrist

These titles are fairly self-explanatory, I think, but a reading of the article will clarify.

Writers from the Atlantic have also weighed in on centrism over the years, and their assessments give some idea of the, in my opinion, misconstruing of centrism.

·      “They’re popular,” wrote Matthew Cooper.

·      “They’re trouble,” according to Ross Douthat.

·      “They couldn’t care less about bipartisanship,” says Clive Cook.

But, says Molly Ball, they are principled advocates for a bipartisan republic (she calls them moderates). This comes closer to what I believe centrism is about, and what I aspire to as a centrist. And yes, I believe Philip Bump is onto something when he says, “It’s a vanity term.”

No, I don’t feel it’s vanity to stand out from the crowd, “to be part of a group not beholden to prefabricated opinions.” Add to that, the latest ideology.

So, seeing centrism as a mountaintop, and considering what it takes to get there, is a centrist merely a compromiser (I will just climb up to that shoulder, but don’t ask me to go onto the boulders)?  Is she apathetic (I don’t care if I make it to the top, because frankly I don’t care what’s on the other side of the mountain.)?  Is he ambivalent (Hmmm, not sure what I’m seeing out there, but maybe it doesn’t matter?)  Or impossible—too much to hope for (nobody can climb up there?)

I believe centrism entails a choice, an energetic commitment to find answers that work, to slog through the mud of indecision and brushwhack the confusion of conflicting ideas and fight the well-worn, easy downward paths of ideology, and to climb to a point where the truth of the situation can be seen clearly.

That’s what this blog will be about. In one way or another, I hope to write about situations that illustrate this principle in daily life.

I don’t claim they are the only ones, and hope readers can supply their own, or simply consider whether these examples have merit.

Both Sides I've been reading Merchants of Doubt : How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from To...