An old adage tells us, “the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle.”

Some old adages give us truth and wisdom. This isn’t one of them. In fact, it’s so not one of them that it nomenclated a couple logical fallacies (yeah, yeah, nomenclated is not a real word, but it was bandied about in my old job in aerospace, so I’m keeping it). Namely, the Golden Mean Fallacy and the Argument to Moderation Fallacy. Yes, they’re essentially the same thing, but why have one fun fallacy name when you can have two?

Nowhere is it more not-true than in politics. All around us, people fall into the trap of thinking that the two major parties offer us two opposing sets of policy pulls, that the parties have gotten too extreme (correction, that the other party has gone too extreme), and they long for the days of yore when “bipartisan” and “compromise” solutions were eventually achieved.

Setting aside that “bipartisan” is often code for “both parties are screwing us” and that “bipartisan” sometimes means that as little (few?) as one member from the other party signed onto a bill/law, there’s nothing inherently better about a compromise outcome. Quite often, both sides are wrong, so an “in the middle” compromise is still wrong. Quite often, one side is less wrong than the other, so a compromise is more wrong than the solution of the less-wrong. And, sometimes, one side is right and one side is wrong, and the compromise sucks.

Pragmatically speaking, however, accepting some of the suck is often necessary in order to move things forward. Pay a “price” for some gains, and try to remediate that paid price later on.

So, while compromise often produces a less than optimal solution, it may move things in the right direction (I stress “may” – as I opened, “the middle” is far from a guarantee of goodness or correctness).

Unfortunately, there’s an over-simplicity, a reductive mindset, and a tendency to absolutes that drowns out real discourse in play right now. This Manichean duality, born in my opinion of social media’s influence on discourse, excludes “middle” and “compromise” solutions, with anyone who advances them being deemed a traitor and threatened with expulsion from the tribe.

This leaves us with a broken legislative system. It should be no surprise, for example, that the federal government hasn’t actually passed a budget since 1996, and most government actions now are buried in omnibus bills, written largely by lobbyists, that seem deliberately designed to absolve legislators of having to “make sausage” and risk appearing side-by-side with their counterparts across the aisle.

It also leaves us with a broken political sandbox. The hard-liners, those who demand all and concede nothing, are the rock stars. Their minions treat all who might cross the aisle to achieve some imperfect progress are deemed traitors and threatened with excoriation or expulsion.

Legislative gridlock is often welcomed by folks such as myself, who believe that government that does a lot is government that does a lot of bad. But, what we have today isn’t really gridlock. It isn’t opposing sides debating about what to do next without reaching a mutually acceptable conclusion. The debates aren’t even happening. The loudest voices are the ones shouting past the opposition, more interested in hearing themselves and showing off for the like-minded than in swaying the debate or achieving some incremental successes. They aren’t the majority, not by any means, but they control the sandbox. They’ve taken moderation out of play.

In doing so, in instigating these “do-nothing” Congresses, they’ve created a vacuum, and that vacuum gets filled by Presidents with pens and phones. People decry excessive executive action when it’s the other guy doing it, but not only abide it, but often cheer it on when it’s their guy. We may scream hypocrisy, but hypocrisy and politics go together like bread and butter, so our screams are futile.

Is there a solution?

There is such a thing as human nature. An individual is perfectly capable of overriding his base, lizard-brain instincts, and it happens all the time. In the aggregate, though, in a population as a whole, it is our base motivations that dominate. They are influenced by the structures within which they live, and those structures evolve (and often rapidly). The emergence of social media is one such structure, and we see behaviors today that we didn’t see before because of it.

I don’t think we can argue our way out of this messy, middle-free situation. Instead, I think we need to hope that new structures emerge that foster cooperation over confrontation and divisiveness. What those might be, I have no idea.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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