jducoeur: (Default)
[personal profile] jducoeur

Just finished this interesting article from Yonaton Zunger, which tries to break down the major groupings in American politics, in the context of the rifts we see in the Democratic Party. It's not a bad analysis, and much of it is correct, but I'm particularly struck by the way he lumps most people who don't belong to one of his six major activist groupings into the "Comfortable Middle".

I'm honestly unsure whether he intends that term to be pejorative or not, but he is explicit that:

Unlike the other groups, this group’s most salient feature is that politics is not at the center of their lives.

I see this a lot, and I confess, it gets under my skin, because of the implication that being moderate means being politically passive. And that is bullshit.

I've always had some difficulty summing up my political leanings, but I've gradually come to some variation of "Classical Liberal" (by the European definition of that word, not the American). Or simply "Economist reader".

The term often used in political writing is "Technocrat", although I dislike the connotations there: the word has a flavor of being cold and unempathetic, which misses the point almost completely. My viewpoint is passionate about both social and economic justice -- but on the large scale, recognizing the massive inequities around the world, not just the ones at home.

The "technocrat" term is correct in that it's a viewpoint that is focused on what works, empirically, without the BS economic religions that both the left and right are prone to. It is a passionately globalist viewpoint -- again, because the world works better all around when countries are working together and trading together, not retreating into little nationalist fortresses. But that doesn't imply the sort of ruthlessly (and short-sightedly) Darwinian approach of the Corporatists, mind -- open trading must be paired with deep investment in trade adjustment, education and retraining, something the right wing tries desperately to ignore.

Most importantly, there is nothing passive about it: it's a viewpoint that demands active thought and engagement, understanding that reality is complicated and that overly simplistic solutions will usually backfire, often tragically.

Really, I'm increasingly fond of the term "Radical Moderate". For all that it sounds like a contradiction in terms, it's exactly right, recognizing that the middle ground isn't just a default stance, it's a position to be argued for with every bit of fire and passion one has. And it doesn't mean fuzzy-headed muddle: it just recognizes that the extremes are usually wrong, and that the best position is weighing and balancing the concerns.

Not that either American political party has any damned interest in advocating that viewpoint nowadays. I'm genuinely tempted to see whether the American wing of En Marche! has been created yet...

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-07 10:46 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] serakit
I think he's still right about where the majority is, and people like you are a small enough group that they don't even make a whole circle. Because I don't read his description of "Comfortable Middle" as implying that they're moderates-- I read that as the majority of people are like the bread-and-circuses of Rome; they don't care *what* you do to the people on the margins as long as their lives day to day are unaffected. That's not being a moderate; that's being ignorant. They'll support moderates because moderates don't threaten the status quo too much, but that's not the same as being moderates themselves.

Unfortunately, I do think he's right about the majority of the country being like that-- remember that half of the eligible voters in the country didn't, and I don't think that was *all* voter suppression.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-08 12:41 am (UTC)
metahacker: (doyouhas)
From: [personal profile] metahacker
I hate "middle". Middle implies that there is a sensible space between two viewpoints, and that may not be true. Taking Yonatan's point and applying (even more) math geekery, this is a high-dimensional space, and treating it as "left vs. right" is a disservice; but what he skips over is that it really isn't continuous.

The current easy-at-hand example is "I don't think you are a person" / "I disagree": there isn't really much space between those viewpoints. (E.g., "I think you're partly a person" is nonsensical, or a way to say "not a person" without admitting it.)

The "moderate majority" is a group that doesn't really exist; it's all tiny little pockets of color, and only when you zoom out do you get the blurry purple mess that we see on electoral maps. That's a bad mapping of a high-dimensional space onto a continuous, single-axis representation. Feh. There is no "moderate", there's poorly aggregated data, reified into law by FPTP voting and a two party system.

I think what "moderate" hides is really little-c conservatism: the belief that, if we make small changes, we can get to a better place without too much disruption, and the worry that reality is far to complicated for us to understand the impact of simplistic or extreme measures. This is also a belief structure, one not shared by radicals on all sides who push for large changes (or on the far side, by reactionaries, who want NOTHING to change). I don't know if it's valid; it may be we need disruptive change to shake up ossified power structures. I do know that this viewpoint is easier to maintain if you have, or believe you will have, a moderately comfortable life, and that it's easy to take advantage of people who are in this mindset.

As for your post: what you're espousing is what is called in this country "liberal", or even "bleeding heart liberal", at least on the current USA scale. Even admitting there IS rampant inequality, let alone that there might be structural (and not just individual) reasons for it, and that it might be baked into society as constructed, precludes you from membership in Moderate-land.

Economic policies are slightly easier to, err, moderate, but even that requires believing that changing X will change Y. (E.g., "tariffs" and "domestic unemployment", "reparations" and "social inequality", and so forth.) Then you can dicker about how much to spend--and most of politics comes down to these dickers--but the structure around the negotiation is inherently biased from the get-go...

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-08 04:41 am (UTC)
alexxkay: (Default)
From: [personal profile] alexxkay
E.g., "I think you're partly a person" is nonsensical

While I agree that this is nonsense, my inner pedant has to point out that it's nonsense that was nonetheless a part of the U.S. Constitution for multiple lifetimes.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-08 03:49 pm (UTC)
alexxkay: (Default)
From: [personal profile] alexxkay
I have no truck with the fashionable liberal notion that we should just hike the income tax rates on the rich up to 70-80%

I would be interested in hearing this unpacked somewhat. I don't see an obvious fallacy, though I'll grant I've almost certainly put less thought into this than you have.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-08 08:57 pm (UTC)
drwex: (WWFD)
From: [personal profile] drwex
I'm fascinated to read this after reading "a viewpoint that is focused on what works, empirically, without the BS economic religions that both the left and right are prone to"

Perhaps you mean something different than I thought by "BS economic religions" but I would argue that "what works" is emphatically and inextricably tied to peoples' deeply held beliefs about economic (and social) systems.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-09 12:56 am (UTC)
drwex: (Default)
From: [personal profile] drwex
I think we're talking at two very different levels. You're focusing on your idealized versions of various positions which is kind of OK but I'm not seeing any reference to people actually holding or advocating those positions. But that's separate from...

I'm talking about work by people like behavioral economist Dan Ariely whose approach to economics discards traditional notions of so-called rationality in favor of noticing that people actually behave in a variety of wildly irrational ways, for what seem to be very good reasons.

For this reason I reject analyses as simplistic as pendulum swings and would argue that what you're classifying as "religion" is in fact people behaving in predictably irrational ways. I further believe you (and frankly anyone) aren't going to get people to stop doing that, so railing against those 'religions' misses fundamental aspects of human nature and is sort of shoveling sand against the tide.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-09 04:57 am (UTC)
alexxkay: (Default)
From: [personal profile] alexxkay
Thank you.

(no subject)

Date: 2017-08-09 11:38 pm (UTC)
metahacker: (doyouhas)
From: [personal profile] metahacker
I think there's two things in here:

1. You want to label yourself a moderate.
2. You have listed a set of beliefs.

In my head, these are contradictory; the set of beliefs you mention doesn't make you what I see being labeled a 'moderate'. They make you a middle-of-the-road liberal, mostly. You're not an *extreme* 'liberal'--you say you're not in favor of 100% taxes on the rich--but that leaves a huge ground between 'middle' and where you are.

But liberals, like any other group, are largely seen from the outside based on what the shocking and/or loudmouths do. And to a certain extent that's good; my tugboat theory of politics requires a few extremists out there pulling the giant iceberg of society in a direction, while more moderate (heh) liberals provide the bulk of the thrust in a less egregious way. Perhaps that's where you fall.

The other half of my argument is about these 'moderates' I read about, who you aren't; they are, to me, by and large conservatives in disguise, because we have been trending in a liberal direction (sort of); and so clinging to an extant power structure inherently retains or enhances sharp inequalities.


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