The Strange Myths Surrounding Centrists
If you identify as a centrist, like myself, you’ve probably heard it time and time again:
“You centrists are lazy. You lack conviction.”
“Wow life sure must be easy sitting on a fence all the time.”
“What a privileged life you lead that you can be so selfish as to not consider anyone else.”
I’ve had friends on both sides of the political aisle address these criticisms toward centrists, including to me directly. Truth told, if I strip out the name of the person speaking it, it’s difficult to tell which end of the political spectrum they’re coming from. So I thought I’d take some time to address the problems with many of the criticisms, many of which taken from a thread on a Facebook page. Keep in mind this is all from my personal perspective, as “centrist” is such an ambiguous term and can represent anyone whether they lean left or right. Regardless, it is how I choose to embody it in my personal life.
Wikipedia defines 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.
I personally identify strongly with this, particularly as someone who believes in the importance of maintaining a merit-based hierarchy coupled with allow children and youth equal opportunity to engage in that hierarchy, and taking somewhat of a center-right stance on economic growth.
Taking it from the top now:
Centrists are lazy.
When I am told this, I’m often confused as to the meaning. I assume that those who accuse us of this mean it in such a way to suggest that because we haven’t chosen to plant ourselves firmly in the right or left, that it’s because we just can’t be bothered to. And while I’m sure that’s true of some self-described centrists, applying that to the whole is rather ridiculous.
As many a centrist can tell you, we’re regularly bombarded by ideological extremists on both ends of the spectrum with about equal levels of contempt as they view their ideological opponents. It can get nasty, and even outright dangerous sometimes. We often get accused of supporting AntiFa for suggesting that maybe white nationalism isn’t a very smart approach forward, and we’re often called Nazis for suggesting that maybe sucker-punching people and then gloating about it, no matter how wrong they might be, might invite further violence. Now, couple that with the fact that even those who are firmly in the left or right, but still moderate, also mock and belittle us, calling us “lazy” is a completely incorrect assessment of our day-to-day politic discussions. AntiFa types want to hurt me as much as the neo-Nazi types because I choose to think for myself instead of falling in line with a rigid political ideology.
Centrists lack conviction.
Perhaps, but that’s a difficult thing to measure. I know for a fact I have convictions, except I prefer to call them principles. I give everyone a chance until they prove to me they’re undeserving of said chance. I prefer to look at people as individuals rather than groups, except in cases where it appears they’re beholden to the mob, in which case I must view them as members of said mob.
But you know what they say about people with strong convictions, right? That their kids usually end up pretty strong convicts.
Centrists are fence-sitters.
I feel I’ve addressed this already, but while there is some fence-sitting involved, it’s a lot more temporary. I choose to sit on the fence as long as it takes to get an accurate picture of both sides of the story. I don’t sit on a fence when it comes to, say, Nazism. I’m opposed to it. Unequivocally. Likewise, I don’t sit on a fence when it comes to political violence in general. I take sides all the time. Just because they’re not sides that commonly come with left-or-right ideologies does not mean I’m on the fence. Sometimes I’m on the right, sometimes I’m on the left, and sometimes I’m just lounging in the pool or firing up the barbecue.
Centrists don’t choose sides because they have easy lives.
This one’s my favorite because it’s such an immature assumption to make. Ridiculously so. By what metric is this measured? How would anyone even know? Are there studies showing that centrists have few problems? Is there such a thing as centrist privilege? And if there is, is it better or worse than any of the other privileges? It’s such a puerile way to view things that it legitimately causes me to laugh. I’m just not sure if I’m laughing because it’s legitimately funny or I’m laughing because I’m nervous that the person saying such a thing might be so trapped by their beliefs that I might be in some sort of danger.
That said, I would probably be inclined to argue that I think the true mark of an “easy life” is being bothered more by the problems faced by others than one’s own. People who legitimately have problems often can’t spare the time, resources and energy to deal with their own problems, let alone the problems of a demographic they are not part of, or do not identify with. Empathy is great, but even empathy can become a pathological avoidance for one’s own problems. There is nuance in this.
Centrists are a joke.
Maybe. But at least we’re not the punchline.
Centrists are defending Nazis/AntiFa!
This one’s good too, because anyone with even the slightest skills involving comprehension of language can laugh it off. They’re calling out bad behavior whenever they see it.
Centrists think that AntiFa are as bad as Nazis!
Call me crazy, but I think if you strip out the political element, what you’re left with is people hurting people, usually people who might lean more toward one side than the other, but are still (and always have been) normal, rational-thinking people. And most of those people have no wish to harm others to defend their political perspectives– they just want to speak it aloud. I view AntiFa and neo-Nazis with the same general sense of disdain. I am not a part of either group, nor do I support either group. I never will.
Do I think one is as bad as another? Well it depends. I think Nazis are exercising their right of free speech, but have forgotten they have a responsibility to uphold the free speech of others. I think AntiFa is exercising their right to freedom of assembly, but have forgotten that inciting riots is a despicable thing to do.
Both sides believe, whole-heartedly, that they are the good guys. All I’m doing is saying that neither of them are. This is not supportive of one group or the other.
Centrists think they’re better than everyone else.
This accusation often comes from people who suffer from some sort of inferiority complex in my experience. They’re so concerned that someone else thinks they’re better than them that they wear their hearts on their sleeves. Certainly it’s not true in all cases, but I’ve spotted it quite a few times. It usually comes from people who have one, or very few talents they are proud of and involves no small amount of psychological projection.
I do not think I’m better than anyone, because again, how do we judge that metric? There are plenty of people out there better than me in say, writing, which I view as one of my strongest skills. Plenty of people better at piloting drones, which is one of my hobbies. But can I say that I’m objectively better than anyone? No, because even if I thought so, I could be wrong. Even an alcoholic street person addicted to heroin could be an amazing pianist, and I have no music skills whatsoever. Anyone rational about such things understands that measuring who is the “better person” is an exercise in futility, because there is no standard metric. Place a professional athlete at the top of her field up against a professional sharpshooter at the top of his, and I dare you to say one is “better.”
But I will say that I’d prefer the passengers stay out of the pilot’s seat. Merit in a particular field plays a huge part of how to run a functional society.
Centrists think the political spectrum is useless.
This is a stupid assertion that I’ve seen far too often. No. Flat out no. I can only speak for myself, but I view the political spectrum as a necessary part of a functional society. The work of Jacob Hirsh and Jordan B Peterson found a clear difference in personality traits and political alignment. For instance, left-leaning people were more often creative and high in trait openness, while more conservative people tended to be more orderly and lower in trait openness. The political spectrum is ingrained in the human condition. Whether it’s left versus right, collectivism versus individualism, or any other dichotomy you might think it, it’s intimately important to have at least two opposing sides for any social issue so that we can ensure the proper amount of discussion is had over it before a decision is made.
A good example of this was the introduction of birth control drugs into the population in the 1960’s. It was a revolution that freed many from the bonds of becoming unwilling parents, but it had horrible side effects that might have been avoided if the opposition had been at least entertained instead of ignored outright during the political argument surrounding birth control. Recently, a trial of a male birth control was pulled because of side effects, but then there was no large-scale political push for a male contraceptive.
Again, I can only speak for myself, but I want both sides, each with their own unique perspectives, to discuss these things. I do not want society to become too far left-leaning, nor do I want it to become too far right-leaning. I want that battle to rage one forever because my understanding of human nature leads me to believe that it the best possible way for society to continue functioning.
Centrists add nothing to the political discourse.
I disagree. I think centrists are just as vital as everyone else. Yes, the left and right should be talking to each other. But what about those times when the left and right refuse to talk to one another, instead resorting to political violence, dirty tricks, revenge, sucker-punching and worse? Many times it takes the louder centrist voices pointing out that both sides are behaving like lunatics to no good end. And certainly it makes them the brunt of many of these concerns, but it doesn’t make them any less vital in the discourse.