The Perils of the Moderate …

Everyone hates moderates.

Whenever you have strong ideologies or even positions on any topic, you will find moderates. And those people who are passionate about any of the options will always despise and criticize moderates for many, many reasons. We, in fact, have an entire fallacy dedicated to criticizing moderates the Argument to Moderation or “Golden Mean” fallacy, that ends up casting the moderate positions as fuzzy “middle-of-the-road” positions, taken for the sake of taking a middle ground. For the most part, moderates are seen as refusing to take sides, and even as aggressively defending their right to not take either side and to sometimes engage in “bothsidesism”, where they invalidly insist that both sides are equivalent, presumably mostly to maintain their fuzzy centrism and their ability to feel superior to both sides.

It is rare that anyone considers that most moderates might, well, be moderates because that’s the position that they actually believe. And even rarer that they deign to concede that that position might actually be correct.

Here is my argument: given two or more passionately held conflicting positions on a topic, most of the time some kind of intermediate and thus moderate position is going to be the correct one.

The reason for that is this: assuming that everyone is being honest in expressing their positions, in order for them to get passionately attached to their position there must be some sort of issue that drives that. There is something they want or, most likely, some kind of problem that they at least consider to be serious that they want solved. And in order for there to be any kind of passionate conflict between these positions, it has to be the case that the solutions to those problems have to at least be seen as being mutually exclusive, where if you solve the problem that is bothering one side you either can’t fix the problems of the other side or in fact end up making them worse. Thus, in anything that becomes any kind of passionate conflict, what you have are the various sides arguing for something that the other side sees as unacceptable given what they want.

Moderates, in general, often get torn between these sides, because they can see that each of them kinda have a point, and often understand the problems of all sides in ways that their opponents don’t. And they would like to see all of the problems fixed, and don’t want to see one side “win out’ over the others. Even when it comes to “bothsidesism”, for many moderates that doesn’t come from an insistence that all sides have to be equally bad, but instead noting that their actual problem is, say, with the tactics used, not with the causes being espoused. For example, my own personal objections to the “alt-right” using what they consider SJW tactics is that I hate the tactics and see their use as being a problem, not because I consider at least their stated goal of opposing the imposition of dubious values as being necessarily problematic, just as I consider the SJW tactics problematic but don’t oppose their stated goal of aiming for equality. I see identity politics as being harmful in and of itself, and so want that stopped, no matter what reason people use to justify using them.

Now, you can say “Well, what about the cases where the other side is hiding their real motivations, which we can all see because we’re perfect and telepathic and just utterly brilliant and that you somehow can’t see because you’re caught up in all of this ‘bothsidesism” that you cling to like a life preserver?”. I’d really rather people wouldn’t say it like that, but that’s pretty much only a mild exaggeration of what people actually say, with some slight sarcasm tossed in. Anyway, the problem is that once people become passionate about an issue there is always a risk that their stated motivations and their actual motivations won’t match up. For some, they will justify being deceptive on the basis that the mild deception will help them further their cause. For some, they will be prone to rationalization if they get accused of having less noble aims than they think they actually have, and thus being deceiving unintentionally and subconsciously. The issue here is that, in my experience, the problem is in the passionate attachment, not in the cause itself. If they can present a cause that at least seems reasonable, then their position has some justification to it, and so appealing to hidden motivations doesn’t actually change that the position, as presented, needs to be considered. And if you get into accusing your opposition of having hidden motives, you probably should take some time out to look to see if you happen to have a log in your own eye, just in case.

At the end of the day, though, passion or the lack of it is irrelevant. All that matters is coming to the right or best solution. So, given an opposition between strong views and an unconvinced set of moderates, the only right approach is calm and rational reasoning, teasing out the consequences and implications of each position and figuring out which is the right approach … which is what you really need to do to convince moderates that your position is right or at least more right than the other options.

That many people who passionately hold positions seems to bristle when it becomes clear that they would have to do that and instead insist that moderates are either apathetic or secretly support their opponents is indicative, it seems to me.

3 Responses to “The Perils of the Moderate …”

  1. Crude Says:

    One problem with your view: the historical (and recent) tendency for self-described ‘moderates’ to collapse and change position when the tide turns.

    See: the rise and fall of the civil union position. That used to be primo ‘moderate’ territory, the sweet spot between ‘There should be no gay marriage’ and ‘gay marriage now’.

    They’re all gone. And quite a number of those people – surprise, surprise – collapsed into full-on ‘gay marriage is a basic human right’ the moment the momentum seemed to be on that side.

    Maybe you can argue that the moderates, at least at that particular time, truly DID believe that theirs was the most legitimate position – and sure, these people tend to change in seeming correlation with the momentum and tide of the world, but that’s just how it turns out, not due to dishonesty on their part. But if that’s the case, then it seems that the people who regard them as taking a position that’s tantamount to a bluff is either accurate, or at least more accurate than regarding them as sincere or even having a good argument worth considering.

    How good can moderate arguments be when their own advocates are historically known for abandoning them?

  2. Crude Moderation … | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] Crude wrote a comment on last week’s post about moderates that on reading it I had too much to say to just reply as a comment, so I’m turning it into a […]

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