by / 5 Comments / 168 View / April 15, 2015

Being moderate is an increasingly novel idea in our current extremist political landscape.

What exactly does it mean to be moderate? We can view politics as ranging across several spectrums, and a middle ground within these spectrums as being moderate. Perhaps the two most descriptive and useful factors viewed on a spectrum are the Progressive-Conservative scale, which we refer to as Left-and-Right, and the Totalitarian-Anarchist scale, which we call Up-and-Down. Policies that are more progressive deal with more change whereas policies that are more conservative preserve the status quo. Additionally, the totalitarian wants more power in the hands of the rulers whereas the anarchist wants more power left to the individual.

America is becoming more polarized over time when it comes to politics. We more consistently exist in echo chambers, surround ourselves with like-minded individuals, and see opposing political parties as a threat to our nation. This is unfortunate. Perhaps the internet is partly to be blame; it is becoming easier to reinforce our own beliefs while filtering out unpleasant opposition. Even Congress has become more extreme, reflecting the voters’ preferences.

There are some obvious problems with this. People cherry-pick facts and twist reason to justify their already (and emotionally) established stances. (Facts and reason should, in contrast, be used to find objectively correct solutions.) We get emotional and make enemies over unimportant topics. And, considering that we are individuals living in a society, extreme positions place more strain on the rights of a greater number of citizens.

There are also, for good reason, fallacies in following the the progressive or conservative mindset; we refer to these as the Novelty and the Tradition fallacies, respectively. Novelty reasons that whatever is progressive is an improvement whereas Tradition reasons that whatever is established must be better. Clearly, both perspectives cannot be correct as they lead to inconsistencies and, in practice, neither is valid. The progressive might argue that the abolition of slavery and the women’s suffrage movement were progressive and therefore proof that “society moving forward” is always a good thing. However, this is a selection bias as it ignores failed progressive movements. In the early 20th century, eugenics was a progressive policy that would be considered an atrocity by today’s standards. In the 1980’s in America it was a great new liberal idea to say that single mothers were well-equipped to do it all, yet study after study after study has since shown that children raised by single parents (especially never married mothers) have more emotional problems, are at a higher risk of drug abuse, and are more likely to have sexual issues and become single parents themselves. There should be a push and pull between change and tradition, and we should not assume one direction is always the best.

A similar lesson applies to the degree of authority the state holds. Anarchy technically means “no rulers” but it is unclear how rules can be enforced without rulers (in that case, the “rules” are merely suggestions). Anarchists disagree on what anarchy really means, which makes it difficult to function as a system. Originally, anarchists were against all hierarchies. Their philosophy was “property is theft” as the anarchist movement aimed to destroy capitalism. The anarchist believed that property rights were an invention of the states and that no person should be able to own land. This is in contrast to a newer wave of “anarcho-capitalists” who believe that complete anarchy is the only means for pure capitalism (anarcho-capitalists say “taxes are theft” while claiming property rights are okay). There are arguments why authority is necessary (or at least, moral) in some instances. Consider negative externalities that imposes costs on third parties. Anarcho-capitalists, who are extremists within the libertarian movement, love “voluntary exchange” but ideologically ignore any possibility of a market failure (which negative externalities are). It is immoral to impose costs on unrelated parties of the voluntary exchange, and the best practical solution for this failure is to bring in an independent third party (namely, the state) to correct that cost imbalance. On the top end, we have ample historical evidence why totalitarian states are dangerous and I doubt I have to cover that direction in depth. Those who argue that the only logical solution is total anarchy or total tyranny are committing the Continuum Fallacy.

It is a mistake to argue for extreme positions. Many incorrectly believe that this is “logical.” In reality, logic helps us analyze problems and often leads to moderate, complex, and nuanced positions. Intelligent people are more likely to be politically moderate as extreme points of view (whether left, right, up, or down) appeal to dogmatism, which requires less thought. Politics on the far end of the scale also tends to use more coercion (whether that be the tyranny of the state or the tyranny of the masses) to force policies on others who do not agree to them. If we want to function as a society we have to learn to be more moderate.


5 Comment

  1. Just a correction. Anarcho-Capitalists that I’ve seen do not ignore externalities. They take into consideration that if you are harmed, you have a right to legal restitution, so the cost of the externality is actually included in the transaction cost between the two parties. If you hire a concrete contractor to redo your driveway, and he accidentally spills concrete all over my lawn, then either you, or the contractor would have to fix my lawn as restitution. The risk of these kinds of accidents is covered in the operating costs that are taken into consideration when negotiating price.

  2. Another correction. haha. I said “legal” restitution when talking about anarchists. Poor choice of words. But there are arguments for how “law” could be done in a purely voluntary society.

  3. Rhino, how would an anarcho-capitalist deal with pollution? Let’s say that I own a business called Company Z in Denver, Colorado, but I happen to live in Maryland. I sell a product, Good X, to you. That is a voluntary exchange between you and I but the poor folks in Denver have to deal with pollution created by my factory. The way we operate now is add costs to the company, such as through taxes, that wouldn’t be present in a voluntary exchange between two parties. Basically, I think “voluntary exchange” is too simplified.

  4. I think a lot of people are biased towards moderates/centrists because “extremist” has a negative connotation attached to it, even though an extremist position may be perfectly correct. I don’t identify as a moderate, but I do identify as pragmatic. IE in the long run I support having a total govt spending and taxes of about 20% of GDP, (as opposed to something like 35 now when including federal, state and local) which is considered rather “extreme” these days but I think its worth it from the increased growth. I also specified the long run because as a pragmatic, I don’t believe nearly halving government’s role in the economy overnight is political feasible or desirable, as a cut that large would have to take a huge chunk out of entitlements or welfare, hurting those who are dependent on them. That’s why I support gradual welfare/entitlement reform and cuts, so people aren’t severely harmed in the short to mid run in order to promote growth in the long run.

  5. We could also save money on healthcare (one of the largest parts of the federal budget) by simply making it more efficient. Currently, doctors have incentive to order any and all tests, which are expensive, since they get paid more even if those tests are unnecessary.

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