As Reddit goes, it's a fairly not-stupid group. Like with a lot of online communities where much of the ideology is expressed through memes, it's a little tough for me to follow the logic sometimes. The community makes frequent use of a kind of irony where you have to be very careful about whether the speaker isn't saying what he really thinks. Even its name is ironic, making fun of those who smugly think they're coming up with an enlightened via media between conservatives and liberals. Often, the meme you see isn't the poster's true feelings; it's meant to be an example of the bad thinking the community opposes, only it's not labelled that way. You have to read a lot of the content to get the hang of it. (If it weren't for my son having taught me what little I know about memetics, I don't know if I'd understand half of the Internet.)
Some example content:
|I'm guessing this one is an example of what the group DOESN'T believe in|
|Whereas the group probably DOES support the theme of this political cartoon|
One particular target of the community is the concept known as "horseshoe theory," the idea that the far left and the far right are closer to each other than they are to the center. The group likes to point out examples of people using horseshoe theory to lazily dismiss debates with a knee-jerk "both sides are wrong" assumption. Trump's putting blame on "both sides" during the "Unite the Right" Rally in Charlottesville in 2017 would be perhaps the best example of this kind of stupid equivalence.
Centrism that makes sense
The group's main points are pretty strong. I'm never unaware of the pitfalls of a would-be centrist, although keeping them in the back of my mind doesn't mean I never fall into them. I had to fight hard not to fall into them in the post I did just before this one. It's always possible that in the hopes of maintaining an open mind, I might end up overlooking that one side in an argument is actually right. I also have to be aware of the temptation of wanting to be the good guy, the peacemaker, when actually what is needed is not a peacemaker, but someone willing to very much take sides.
So here are some principles I think are important for a would-be centrist to keep in mind:
1) My centrism was once somebody's radicalism: The right perspective isn't always in the middle. Belief that all adults should get a vote is normal now, but it wasn't always a normal belief. It's fine if most of my political beliefs fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, but if every single belief I have is centrist, then I probably have a problem. Surely, something in society is wrong enough to need radical alteration. Centrism without self-reflection can easily become a tool of conservatism, as it can be subject to the same aversion to change.
2) Truth is usually "somewhere in between," not "somewhere in the middle": Realizing that all sides have a good point or two to make is not the same as saying they're all equally valid. "In between" Chicago and New York might mean Gary, Indiana, not Ohio. Sometimes, getting a good argument to be a little bit better means moving it a couple of feet, not hundreds of miles.
3) Centrism is hard, so if it seems like the easy answer, you're doing it wrong: The 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia had to deal with a tension inherent in any political union. The greater number of people you can get to cooperate, and the more closely you can get them to cooperate, the stronger the power of the union relative to other political bodies will be. At the same time, the presence of all those people being forced into a position of greater uniformity also makes it extremely difficult to get the group to stay together for long. What makes the political body strong also makes it weak, as the very need to sacrifice individual tastes for the good of the community also makes people wonder if the benefit they are getting from the community is worth the sacrifice. It's a lot like how a sun is held together by gravity, but the nuclear fusion that gravity creates also threatens to blow the sun apart. A political body is a dance, a continual back-and-forth of centripetal and centrifugal forces. It's not easy, and if a proposal is being put forth as the easy solution, then it's not really centrism. It's just an easy stopgap meant to avoid dealing with the problem.
4) Centrism will, however, mean accepting things you really don't like sometimes: A few people on the Enlightenedcentrist sub-Reddit had a go at Abraham Lincoln. One seemed to suggest that his "if I could keep the Union together and maintain slavery, I would do it; if I could keep the Union together and abolish slavery, I would do it" statement was an example of bad centrism. To the community's credit, that post didn't get a lot of traction, and some people pointed out that Lincoln's views on slavery were fairly complicated, but that at the heart of it, he didn't think slavery could be maintained forever.
In Lincoln's debates with Stephen Douglass, Lincoln made it clear why slavery, combined with the Fugitive Slave Act, made it impossible for the current slavery compromise to hold. If a Southern slave owner could bring a slave with him into the North, and the North was bound by law to uphold the slave owner's claim to the slave, then essentially, the South could just export slavery into the North one slave owner at a time.
Nonetheless, as President, Lincoln tried to keep the union together, which meant making a number of conciliatory gestures to the South, even on slavery. In fact, if Lincoln hadn't been so conciliatory toward the South, it would have been much more difficult for him to fight the war. The fact that Lincoln showed patience as Southern states seceded, coupled with Southern impatience that led to them attacking first at Fort Sumter, helped galvanize Northern sentiment in favor of a war to preserve the union. Even then, Lincoln still offered a return to the status quo. It wasn't until nearly two years of the war went by that Lincoln realized the costs of compromise outweighed those of moving forward. To Lincoln's immeasurable credit, when that time came, he realized it and led the push for permanent dissolution of slavery, putting forth the Emancipation Proclamation and changing America forever.
Lincoln deserves great credit for being willing to take a bold step that destroyed the status quo. But it would have been impossible for him to argue for that change if he hadn't already bent over backwards in the direction of compromise. It would have seemed too cruel and aggressive. He was bold in compromise and bold to end a compromise. Having won the war, his initial instinct was to move to restore the union. There are two inscriptions at Lincoln's Memorial in D.C. One is the Gettysburg Address. The other is his speech at his second inauguration. After considering that the war might be God's punishment on a country that allowed slavery to continue for so long (a consideration that shows how far Lincoln's thoughts on slavery had evolved, perhaps), he concluded with these words:
With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.
That's the centrism I try to follow. "Charity for all" means I try to keep in mind the opposition's best argument and assume, if not "noble intent" (a phrase I'm growing to hate), at least not assume ignoble intent. I will have firmness in the right but only as God gives it to me to see it, which is to say I will always be at least a little skeptical of my own beliefs until they are so overwhelmingly clear to me I can't picture a scenario in which they are wrong. More than anything, it means keeping in mind the point of any political union is "lasting peace." It's to keep gravity and fission both in a point where the sun gives light and heat. The only other choices are for the whole thing to blow apart or the whole thing to crumple in upon itself.