Friday, February 24, 2012

The Third Position of Centrism

In the United States, there is this mythical existence called "centrism." If you listen to our media, or our political parties, there's always a call for bipartisanship. There's always this idea that, if you call the right out for being the frothy fucking liars they are, then you've got to be "balanced" and reassure the population that the leftists are just as bad. You have to appeal to this mythical centrist unicorn; this rare, neigh invisible creature that exists less as a corporeal entity and more as an idea that is aspired to.

It isn't an idea we need to aspire to reach. Centrism is not a good thing. Being middle of the road doesn't make you more "mature", and it doesn't mean you put anymore thought into your positions than someone on either extreme of the political spectrum. A centrist is someone who hasn't decided anything, doesn't believe in anything, and doesn't take a stand for anything. A fence-setter - that is, someone who always answers poll questions like "Do you think the sky is blue" with "undecided" - is a centrist. I'm not saying you need to be an extremist, I'm just saying that centrism is not a state to aspire to. In a way, centrism is every bit as dangerous as extremism.

Centrism is not revolutionary. Centrism is reactionary. Centrism is a toxic, destructive force - it is not "capitalism with a human face." It's "corporatism with a Citizen's United mask".

In the United States, at least, the so-called "Centrist" alignment has been always closely identified as not being absolutely centrist but right of center. Nixon's "Silent Majority" - the people who supported the Vietnam War, who wanted to maintain "traditional values" in the face of the radical left asking for things "unnatural" and "immoral" things like integration and racial/sex equality, and - were the epitome of the "centrist ideal." If you look at centrists in the United States, and a lot of positions that self-described centrists take, they're actually on the political right. They may not be as far right as the people I usually criticize, but they are on the right. They take umbrage with you calling liars liars. They say you can't call someone who is clearly a toxic idiot an idiot. "You call your opposition idiots," they say, "therefore, you loose all credibility and prove that the left is just as bad as the political right." Never mind there's nothing else I can call them.

What do you call a man like Santorum? Evil? Wretched? Abhuman? A fucking movie projector, complete with screen? You can't call them any of that, according to the centrist, because it's uncivil and it damages the debate (what debate? You don't debate with petulant six year olds. You don't debate with Republicans, either). Because the centrist uses a shorter stick to measure the left than they do the right, which makes sense since many centrists are right of center. So why aren't they noticing it?

There's an interesting phenomena happening in the United States right. There's a political theory called the "Overton Window" - which describes a metaphorical "window" for public discourse. To move an Overton Window, all one needs is a weight on the other end. The Overton Window in America has slid to the right. It know it seems count of counter-productive, when you think about it: all of the greater menaces to society are right-wingers. It's obvious they're right-wingers. They make no bones about it. Why on Earth would they pull this country to the political right?

It's actually pretty easy to understand. See, my theory on this is that as long as the extremists are identifying as Right-wing, the so-called "centrists" don't have to. They can shuck the label, pointing to the extreme right and saying "see them? that's right wing. Those fuckers are nuts. I'm not like them. I'm a centrist, because I oppose their policies and I oppose yours, you dangerous radical leftist." In no longer being forced to identify as that label, they can still adopt some things that they feel sympathy for - that is, the belief in "traditional" marriage, lower taxes all around, privatization and smaller government while saving the unborn babies - without having to identify as politically right. When the political right is collapsing and blowing up gynecologist offices and punishing women for being women, the centrists can shake their heads and go "tsk tsk tsk, shame on you" without demanding that they stop. They can support cutting the pay for politicians, because clearly they don't do their job, and it never seems to occur that by cutting pay you'll get the ones who really do know what they're doing out there, and the crappy ones will find other ways to make up for it (plus, this becomes a race to the bottom. I didn't think we were trying to get there any faster than we already were. Instead of cutting their pay, how about raising ours and trying to teach them empathy - or, better yet, electing ones that know what they're doing?) This is similar to what you see with racists and sexists; "I don't go around calling people cunts, so obviously I'm not a sexist. Never mind that I don't like listening to women talk about stuff that isn't important to me, that they shouldn't have any say about what happens in entertainment not clearly directed at them (like comic books or video games), and that they noisy ones propagating misandry[1] in our culture." Or, "I obviously haven't called anyone a 'nigger' lately, so clearly I'm not racist. I just wish you Black people would be quiet about racism, because it makes me uncomfortable, and stop reverse discriminating against me as a White guy." In my mind, it's the same thing. "I haven't blown up an abortion clinic, so clearly I'm not right-wing by any measure, never mind I'm undecided about Global Warming, thing we need a smaller government, unions should be illegal because they kill competition, we should make abortion illegal in all but a handful of circumstances, and don't think gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry."

Not helping this is the toxic notion of "balance." This drive for "balance" is what causes CNN to become FOX news lite by hiring people like Dana Loesch. It's only "balanced" if you point out that the left wingers are just as bad as the right wingers, but never call the right wingers out for being the lairs they are and let their claims go unchallenged. Our Media strives for this centrist bullshit, likely thinking that they can appeal to the majority of people by "letting us decide" without giving us all the facts of the story for fear of being biased. This is generous. In some cases, these networks are outright lying because they have their own agenda, but even when they lie, they play to that centrist image. For example, CNN.

Centrism in the United States is polemic and empty populist rhetoric. It always is. And the scary thing is this - I don't see the United States moving any further to the left anytime soon. The Right is going to collapse, but in the process, the only remaining party will be a centrist one. And given how centrism has slid to the right over the past 20 years, where do you think we'll be in another 20 years, providing we even last that long? Will "centrism" continuing moving further and further right?

Another dramatic shift will send this country careening off of the right end of the spectrum. Polls reveal that the population is taking some liberal positions on some issues, but how long will those last? Until the centrist window is moved further away from them? Until the centrists decide that arresting gays and lesbians is a good position to take, and they're not extreme right because the extreme right advocates killing them?

I can't say. All I know is that these next few decades may be some scary ones. Fasten your seatbelt and hold on tight, kids. The "warning: turbulence" sign has flashed on, and the ride might be rather bumpy. In the meantime, we should take to shouting down centrism where we find it, too - since centrism is just a "less toxic" version of the greater evil that we're already struggling against. There are certain things you cannot compromise on: racial equality, marriage equality, gender and sexual equality, civil rights, and reducing economic disparity. And we shouldn't even attempt compromise here, regardless who is calling for it - centrists or extreme-right wingers.

[1] I am both amused and delighted that Java doesn't recognize this stupid word. While there may be a few cases of misandry, to claim that there's system-wide misandry is ridonkulously stupid and just another show of male privilege. "Misandry" is like this ghost called "reverse racism." It's what happens when stuffy White guys get their undies in a bunch because they have to share with POCs and women (and heaven forbid they be women POCs who are also GLBTs).


  1. I cannot agree that Misandry is a ghost. I must direct you to , being that it is a Masculist blog, wholly unconcerned with Patriarchal Privilege.

    Because we must put our own house in order before setting the world to rights! (Lefts?)

  2. Well played. I should've worded that better - systematic, social misandery doesn't exist in the same way that systematic, social misogyny exists. The Patriarchy can be just as misanderous as it is misogynous, but on a whole, it's not a systematic thing nor is it wide spread in society like misogyny is.