Thursday, October 6, 2011

Extremism but in Moderation.

An old Clip of John Cleese decrying Extremism has been floating around. Basically he talks about how the far right and far left have become more brands for which enemies you want to decry and working against moderation and compromise.

Funny stuff... but a bit of context. Here's the full video, where we find out that it's from 1987 and he's doing a long form advert for the SDP/Liberal Alliance. And right there he's outright and open with how he wants his party (a fusion of Britain's social democrats and social liberals) to be the kingmakers between the other two parties (the Far Left Tories, who are part of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, and Center-Left Conservatives ). They would then later become the Liberal Democrats known as the Green Left.

Anyway, my point is not how crazy British politics are, but instead to look at the notion of extremism being bad. Via Glenn Reynolds we have this bit by A. Batron Hinkle. He talks about how politics is dehumanizing the other and compromise is dead. About how the media is stoking the fires of antagonism, by making it an us versus them binary choice. And then we get to the end...

Many in the media are glad to help them do it, by serving up an endless train of alarmist articles about how one side or the other is chock-full of bug-eyed nut jobs pushing hidden agendas and radical ideas: Christian "dominionism" (Rick Perry), anti-colonialist Alinskyite subversion (Barack Obama), Straussian neoconservatism (George W. Bush).

Of course, it might be true that in some instances, a candidate really is the "most extreme ever" along some axis or another. But does this tell us anything important? Not so much.

Suppose that, in 1955, a Southern political candidate had declared segregation obscene, laws against ethnic intermarriage odious and the notion of racial supremacy grotesque. Suppose he organized bus boycotts and lunch-counter sit-ins and marches for civil rights. Suppose he promised to overturn Jim Crow as soon as he took office. If any candidate had done that, he would have been widely denounced as the "most extreme" you-know-what-lover ever.

He also would have been right.

Huh... recall that John Cleese was talking about the need for compromise and moderation?

Yes on a strategic realpoltic level one can compromise even if you know it's wrong. See 3/5 representation, but that doesn't make it right. Just because there are two opinions does not make the middle the moral one.

Anymore than it makes one of the two extremes wrong.

Let's look at woman's suffrage. That was very extreme. Very radical. In fact in some places it is still an extreme and fringe position.

Durring, Cleese's advert he also makes a joke about homophobia on the part of a political party. Homophobia was mainstream in Britain. Alan Turing was bough up on charges for being homosexual and convinced for indecency.

This goes right to the crux of social, political, economic, hell any kind of reform. It was pretty extreme to advocate for Proportional Representation in Britain at the time, but Cleese did it. Was that bad? Why not?

Well, Cleese makes the case that PR is near universal on Continental (Western) Europe and therefore not extreme. That brings us to the question of how do we define what's an Extreme view? Do we cast the net to our country? Continent? Bigger? Smaller?

If we go by the whole world: representative government is the extreme position.

And what about time? Hinkle shows how what was once an extreme view in race relations is now the mainstream (and morally right one).

It would seem that those decrying extremism have a distinct geographic and temporal bias.

Sure X may be mainstream over there but they're just stupid foreigners. Or we have to do X it's all the rage in all those exotic foreign countries, we can't be left out.


Yes yes, people would never do X back in the day, but we're so much more enlightened now it would be extreme to not do X... And in the future people will look back on us and think we're monsters for thinking Y is okay.

It's almost Extremist is short hand for "Person with a view I don't like and want to shut up."

That's not to say that an extreme viewpoint means it has to be the right one.
Nor does it mean that a moderate viewpoint is automatically wrong.

Extreme/Moderate, Right/Wrong are orthogonal.

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