Thursday, October 06, 2005


[Cross-posted at AmbivaBlog]

Here, at The Gruntled Center: Faith and Family for Centrists, is some very, very interesting thinking on what centrism is all about:

[T]o define a centrist policy about anything, we need a category of social practice between the preferred and the prohibited. The natural thing to call this category is “tolerated.”

For example, historically and cross-culturally, marriage is the preferred institution in which to raise children, and incestuous unions are a prohibited way. What centrists need to be able to say is that marriage is preferred for raising children, and some other ways – my nominees would be single parenthood and same-sex unions -- are tolerated, acceptable, good enough. This is true of any social policy. The best way is still better, and social policy should provide incentives to promote the best way. But those who fall in the middle category, the good enough way, should not be penalized beyond the natural inefficiencies of doing something in a less than optimal way.

For liberal egalitarians having any kind of second class status is unacceptable.
For conservative perfectionists permitting any but the preferred way is to connive at social breakdown.
[my emphasis - a.]

The primary political and philosophical problem of centrism is legitimizing the distinctions among the good, the bad, and the good enough.

It seems to me that that's how the commonsensical center of America already operates de facto, but it's good and important to have it articulated, because the people who operate like that are constantly being assailed from both sides, hearing in each ear that their way is not good enough, for opposite reasons.

And here's what it means to be "gruntled," from a refreshing post called (in a twist on the apoplectic bumper sticker) "If You Are Not Outraged, Perhaps You Are Paying Attention to the Bigger Picture":

I have an informed hope that many things in life are getting better. The world, the country, my town, my family, are all richer, freer, healthier, and with a more open future than ever. Of course there are still bad things in the world. But more people have more capacity to make them better than ever before. One of the reasons that so many people have the option (indeed, the luxury) of being outraged is that many more problems can be ameliorated or even solved than ever before. Conditions in the world that can’t be changed are not “social problems,” they are facts of life. Sun spots are not a social problem; skin cancer is. Two hundred years ago polio was a bad thing that just happened, like a tree branch falling on your head; now it is a worldwide social problem that is nearly solved. Yes, there are very scary possibilities for the future. I myself am worried about the potential clash of civilizations. Yet this very danger also brings hope of an outcome – because civilization itself is a huge and hopeful achievement.

I have faith that Providence ultimately guides all creation. Of course, people use their God-given freedom to create problems all the time. I don’t know why bad things happen to good people. I also don’t know why good things happen to so-so people, like me. As my wife and I say to one another often, “it’s not fair.” We are grateful for our great kids, whom we did not create. Undeserved good fortune is as mysterious as undeserved bad fortune, and both are an argument for Providence – or nihilism and despair.

As for me and my house, we will have faith in Providence.

Cheerfulness, smarts, and common sense are a pretty rare combination. I'm going to be reading this guy -- Beau Weston, a sociology prof, Democrat, husband and father of three, Presbyterian elder, and author (Leading From the Center) in Danville, Kentucky -- and I commend him to you.


At 2:07 PM, Blogger Alan Stewart Carl said...

So, can we say that partisan liberals refuse to admit the existence (and necessity) of hierarchy while partisan conservatives refuse to admit hierarchies aren't always rigid and clear cut?

Centrists are threrefor those who believe in nuanced hierarchy, I guess.

But then, I think that's probably how our brains work--nuanced hierarchy. I mean, we all have favorite foods and could probably rank them if asked. But just because I like hamburgers more than hot dogs doesn't mean I think hot dogs are bad--in fact, I quite like them. Only not as much as hamburgers.

It seems then that the partisan liberal and partisan conservative views require one to actively force oneself to believe in something that is not naturally true. No one can live in an "invented" world all the time, so partisans only project their un-nuanced world view on the most contentious issues, such as abortion or homosexuality.

It might be intellectually simpler to see the world in clear-cut ways, but I don't think it's natural.

Centrists I think are more comfortable with complications. But I still wonder if centrism is a political movement or merely an ideological one. It seems to me that one could be quite conservative or quite liberal but still choose to see the world for what it is instead of forcing it into a simpler package.


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