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Take immigration as one example. It is an exceedingly complicated issue and any comprehensive immigration policy will include painful tradeoffs. If the rate of legal immigration is restricted, then many ambitious and morally upstanding people will be denied a chance to join thriving societies to fulfill their potentials. On the other hand, if the rate of legal immigration is dramatically expanded, then it will cause continued social and cultural disruption, resentment, and quite possibly lower wages.

There are many good-natured people on both sides of this debate. However, many on the Left not only disagree with restrictive immigration laws, they denounce those who support them. This is a pattern that is repeated for many policy debates: affirmative action, free speech, policing, criminal justice reform, pay gaps, and on and on. Imputing nefarious motives to people voicing well-intentioned concerns or preferences is an act of extremism because it causes hostility and polarization.

Those who are denigrated as knuckle-scraping bigots understandably become bitter and quite possibly more extreme. And as moral accusations fray trust and goodwill, the center falls apart. It does not seem unreasonable, and in fact, it is probably necessary, to regulate the bounds of acceptable political dialogue. This does not mean that society should use the law to do so. It means that societies can sacralize certain ideas, stigmatizing those who publicly renounce or contradict them.

So, for example, in the United States, the notion that all people are equal under the law and should be treated as individuals is a sacred value. Those who voice opposition to this sacred value should not be arrested, of course, but it does seem reasonable to stigmatize them.

However, it is crucial to guard against a kind of taboo creep in which ideas that are perfectly compatible with the ideals of a cosmopolitan society are stigmatized and those who voice them are publicly shamed and morally brutalized. Centrism accepts that humans are flawed: tribal, aggressive, hungry for status, and often prejudiced. But it also accepts that they can be prosocial, tolerant, and peaceful. It is useful to be skeptical of human nature in the broad sense, but to be charitable to individuals, especially in the domain of public discourse.

This charity encourages free and pleasant public debate and discourse; and, all things equal, free debate leads to the best solutions to complicated social problems. And it has caused some respectable Leftists to praise the extreme tactics of Antifa and other radical Leftist groups. The ugliness and extremism on display in Virginia should not provoke blind praise for equally extreme movements on the Left.

They are not, as some have suggested, the moral equivalent to soldiers storming Normandy to fight Nazis. And, in fact, many of their actions are repellent and deserve to be condemned.

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Centrism, properly understood, is not wimpy or unexciting. In fact, the vigorous debate that it encourages should be exhilarating. If its insistence on humility is something of a downer, its enthusiasm for and willingness to contemplate ideas from all sides is recompense. Civilization is a brilliant achievement, and the centrist wishes to celebrate it.

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Moral progress is undeniable, and future citizens will almost certainly find us as flawed as we find our ancestors. That thought should chasten us and cause us to be as tolerant of the failings of our fellow citizens as we wish our descendants to be of us. Perhaps this is what centrism really is: a tolerant smile at the recognition that we are human, all too human. Probably a good read but please stop using serif fonts for anything to be read on a desktop computer. Speaking of dogmatic positions! In your browser settings you can change the display font to whatever you want, or lacking that, you can copy-paste the article into your word processor of choice.

Because this piece perfectly captures my political attitudes. Not so much the first though, aside from mentioning the joys of contemplating ideas and celebrating civilization whatever that means.

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  5. I, personally, like contemplating ideas. Most people, including most intelligent people, react to alien ideas the way their white blood cells react to pathogens.

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    Especially if those ideas transgress some sacred value in their mind. So if being a centrist requires—not just encourages, but requires —a propensity for contemplation, that precludes most people from being centrists. Indeed, judging by our political discourse, most people are not centrists.

    Centrists, in fact, constitute a small minority. That is, so long as we are sampling the politically engaged. The politically apathetic are often mistakenly described as centrists.

    Humanist Manifesto II

    What to do about this? How to push against the psychology of sacredness and taboo, which moralizes everything it touches? Because right now, that psychology is running rampant, and is only ramping up. Centrism is not though, and never can be, by definition. So what to do? I have no idea. I would gladly read another essay by Mr. Winegard in answer though. Thanks for your kind words.

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    Your question is precisely one I have been trying to answer in my own head for a long time now. I think the answer is to simplify our beliefs. Eg like this: Multiculturalism is a dogma, Identity politics lead to a vicious cycle, Patriotism is not your enemy. But if we want our ideas to be spread, this is the way to go. I find it exhilarating. You have to replace it with a new founding myth or set of myths. The references to religion in the article hint at this: things not strictly factual, but essentially true regardless of the facts within the faith.

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    The belief in these myths allows us to build social structures on top of them. The problem is when dogma demands details that cannot be supported by simple observation, the myth erodes. The right to life. Justice before a just law and a just judiciary. But that could work, and might have for who knows how many millennia? Cf Ozymandias. Those pyramids, whether in Mexico or Egypt, are pretty impressive even today. Different myths kept for a lotta years. Well, I guess they do have a bunch of people they want to bomb in common.

    Classical liberal is a good place to start. Humanist libertarian? Good neighbor? Oh, I have it! Beats Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky. My husband calls himself a Hobbesian libertarian philosophically and an evolutionary republican in terms of preferred political structure.

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    Please note the small letters. Classical liberal does include us both. And Winegard makes such good points that at least Winegardian centrism should enter the vocabulary. I may be somewhat the optimist when I say that I think their days are numbered. I think it can also help to emphasize maturity and common sense as most people past a certain age still value these things and see them as central to their sense of self though this might be diminishing at least a little, unfortunately , and these things tend to lead to centrism.

    Most people, left, right or center, are not actively participating in the political discourse. Those that do are the vast minority. It stands therefore that what you hear in mainstream media, in academy or even around the cooler is not necessarily a measure of where most people are. Perhaps extremism and identity politics are so popular these days cause the Western world has forgotten how terror tastes, or what really matters. General skepticism and critical thinking evenly applied tends to lead to centrism.

    They stand in conflict with others held by someone, perhaps, who wants to set up an all you can eat bar supplied by his slain enemies.