Ah centrism: Sweet intellectual refuge from the bigotry of the right, the self-righteousness of the left, and the logical fallacies and false dichotomies of modern political discourse.
Queue the accusations of false equivalence.
If you’ve turned on a TV lately, or scrolled through your Facebook or Twitter feed, you could be forgiven for getting the impression that our society is being faced with a stark choice between good and evil, and that nothing less than the survival of our species is at stake. Call it “polarization”. At least that’s the term that mass media seems to prefer. Personally, I’d call it “stupidity”, “irrationality”, “hysteria”, “ideological supremacy”, or some combination thereof. But what does it matter? As a self-professed centrist I’m just going to be dismissed as an elitist/globalist/neoliberal by the lot of them anyway. At least they have something in common.
You see, in today’s world, you’re either with us or against us. “Centrism” is just some meaningless, theoretical label that douche-bags use to make themselves feel smart and important; or so goes the narrative. We claim to be guided by logic and careful analysis, but really we’re just ideologues like the rest of them, right?
Centrism is NOT a complete rejection of all ideology. It is a rejection of totalitarianism and policy by emotional appeal.
Centrism is NOT compromise for the sake of compromise. It is a concern for consequences and implications.
Perhaps most importantly, centrism is NOT equivocation. It is criticism of lazy logic and a rejection of means to an end as a line of reasoning.
These concepts appear to be lost on a significant majority of the general population.
Not surprisingly, such insistence on logically sound reasoning, irrespective of moral considerations, tends to frustrate those who espouse a brand of populism based on little more than claims of moral high-ground and anger at an imperfect system that more often than not errs on the side of individualism. On one hand, we’ve grown accustomed to attacks and belligerence from nationalist, racist-types who see traitors everywhere… but those idiots are easy targets. Increasingly though, the very notion that moral superiority is not a be-all/end-all has found the fury of the self-styled progressive left.
Take for instance Mr. Owen Jones. Like many others around him, Mr. Jones has chosen to conflate criticism of brash generalizations and appeals to emotion, with passive tolerance of racism, xenophobia, and economic exploitation. The problem, in the view of Corbyn-ists and their Bernie-bro cousins, is that the post-Thatcher/Reagan era of political moderation has lulled us into a false sense of security, while the “elite” have endeavoured to rob us blind with the help of our own “centrist” complicity. Any and all inequality is seen as a direct failure of governments to adequately dictate a “fair” economic framework. Recent economic stagnation that has provided a pretext for the new-found confidence of the far-right is clearly the fault of “centrists” who failed to sufficiently regulate the financial sector, build enough social housing, and generally improve the lot of society’s most vulnerable.
Now let me explain to you why that’s fucking absurd.
Let’s start with the obvious. Basically, the argument is that all of the bad things that have happened in the world in the past 30 years are either the result of, or were enabled by, uninspired leadership (to put it euphemistically). Wars, recessions, terrorism, social unrest… all made possible by such grave sins as attempting to balance public welfare spending with the interests of the private capital that ultimately bankrolls it. Nevermind that crime rates, on average, have been consistently declining during these same decades, or that public health and life expectancy have seen major gains (both facts that these same critics will gleefully point out when responding to anti-immigrant fear mongering). And nevermind that the problems that we’ve faced are neither new nor are they confined to countries that have followed a capitalist model; there’s a short-term correlation and cheap political points to score! “If only those in power had been more caring or empathetic to the plight of the nation’s Joe Plumbers, they would have never been swayed by someone like Donald Trump!” How cute. By making this argument, proponents of a more ideologically socialist model must be insinuating that all of these problems could have been avoided if only the private sector had been more heavily regulated; otherwise they’d be hypocrites. It’s not like self-professed leftist governments have ever been responsible for economic disasters, or had authoritarian or nationalist tendencies… That’s sarcasm if you can’t tell.
If Mr. Jones and his ilk are to be taken at face-value, the solution to the current sorry state of affairs is simple: the state must impose “fairness” by force (arbitrary definitions of “fairness” aside). Increase taxes on corporations and the proverbially “elite”. Eliminate post-secondary tuition and anything else that might look like a user fee. Force companies to hire and “train” unqualified graduates with irrelevant degrees. Hire more doctors (but don’t pay them so much, and make sure to demonize them if they dare complain). Open the borders to economic migrants. Close the borders to foreign investment. Outlaw speech that offends our sensibilities. You get the drift.
The problem with this logic is that it is always incredibly short-sighted and ultimately never has any basis in rationality. These leftist point-men love to cry foul any time their affinity for peddling easy answers is compared to the xenophobic right, yet all you need to do is poke a few holes in their bold proposals and watch with amusement as these self-styled progressives become progressively more authoritarian in their stance. Yes you read that right. Their broad pronouncements are not “poorly thought ought”; they’re bold (God I hate semantics). Suggest that businesses and high-earners will simply relocate if faced with substantially higher costs, and they will fire back with suggestions of arbitrary financial penalties or retroactive taxation… I can only presume that exit visas are not too far down the list. If their hell-bent attacks on private sector profits dis-incentivize long-term investments and R&D spending, they’ll just nationalize (read annex/occupy/seize) entire industries, and as a corollary, outlaw competition. Point out that tax increases have historically never generated the promised level of revenue, and they’ll begin to rant about loopholes and imprisoning bankers and CEOs. And so on and so forth.
Here’s the best part, and the crux of Mr. Jones’ article and others like it. Because I don’t share their social-spending-at-all-costs philosophy, I am the extremist; A petty, simple turn-about. Effectively “No YOU’RE stupid!”, transliterated into roughly 1,000 words. Because I demand a practical examination of the costs of their proposals, I am out-of-touch. Deflecting criticism to a monolith of successive governments of a not-sufficiently-progressive persuasion is pathetically facetious, and ironically a prime example of the false equivalence we in the centre are accused of on a daily basis. But then, these are the people who will openly suggest that assault, arson, and vandalism are nothing more than “passionate repudiation” of racism and fascism (when directed conveniently at groups of their choosing). Who could possibly argue with that?
Don’t let our derision fool you. We are fully aware of the political abyss being faced by “centrist” governments worldwide. It turns out that a majority of the general public likes easy answers. What a surprise. But to those people I would say: don’t let these snake-oil salesmen fool you. Occam’s razor does not apply to running an economy (nor is it really a logical basis for anything, but that’s beside the point).
I recently saw a pro-Trump bumper sticker that read “don’t underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups”. Go figure.