“I was a no party man myself, and the first wish of my heart was, if parties did exist, to reconcile them.”
Balance is the key to life. You have heard these words pontificated in many aspects of society. We are constantly lectured and bludgeoned with this axiom of balance. We see this in our society through the mediums of film, literature, and motivational haikus on social media. Yet, do we really want balance? What does this actually look like for each individual person and for society at large?
Balance is a necessary adhesive for tyrannical hierarchies in society or for societies wherein chaos reigns. We see this striving for balance everywhere in life. Physiologically, individuals require homeostasis for their body, and, in fact, we have numerous systems designed to aid in maintaining homeostasis. There are various brands of homeostasis for most living organisms. Analogously, the systems that we create also need balance and homeostasis. Our politics is in need of balance as well. I will argue that our current societal imbalance is not because of politicians and leaders (although they play a part), but as a result of our psychological dysfunction as individuals within our society. My optimistic view is that we have the power to correct this dysfunction and I am positing that answer lies within a balanced system. A balanced system requires a new kind of centrism, a radical centrism.
Radical centrists typically have been on both sides of the political spectrum at various points in their life. Radical centrists are able to hold conservative or liberal ideas at the same time. There is an appreciation, understanding, and value placed in people that hold some of their own views and the views of those with whom they disagree. Intrinsically, centrists have a balance within themselves. There is a resistance to being reactionary or needing to have a “hot take” on every issue. There is a spirit of internal calm and a focus on pragmatic solutions. These individuals aim for pragmatism because they live and act pragmatically within their own lives.
Radical centrists are better positioned to see the uniqueness of each individual. They are not filtering people through a particular ideological lens. Rather, they are attempting to examine ideas and affirm or deny those ideas on their own merits. Ideology has its value and its place, but it is often ripe for critical blind spots. The individual is the core of the person. When we strip away all the demographic traits of a person and place them on the shelf, only then can we examine, know, and accept the core of a person.
Radical centrists do take strong positions on various issues. This is the major difference between centrists and radical centrists. For radical centrists, there is typically a calculated appraisal of each particular issue and a respect for the ideas affirmed by others. In some moments there could be a more strongly held position and, in other moments, a more balanced position. Centrists typically are the median on most topics. Conversely, radical centrists will have a mix of conservative and liberal principles held on social, economic, and governmental issues. Radical centrists are not obfuscated by ideology. Instead, pragmatic decision-making based on ideas themselves instead of residing in the middle on each idea or having ideological platforms think for them is the guiding principle. Conservatives and liberals have ideological platforms. Radical centrists do not have an ideological platform. Their “platform” is the issues themselves. Not abiding by a rigid ideological platform exclusively allows for more freedom, curiosity, and diversity of thought.
Therefore, radical centrism is an openness to ourselves, our fellow humans, and ideas. We cannot progress forward without these three following principles being our compass. I submit that these three principles can help reconstruct a centrism that is forward thinking and invested in all ideas. Let’s examine these three principles.
1. A spirit of openness and creativity
For most of us, we become locked within ourselves. We have our ways about us. We all come from different backgrounds, different cultures, different experiences, and different mindsets. What we know based on our environment is familiar to us and wanting to seek change is challenging. Being open to exploring the potential uncertainties within us is a scary place. We fear ourselves. We fear finding out about ourselves before we fear the world around us. Yet, we cannot afford to operate this way because of the negative implications this has for our personal growth and for the advancement of our society.
The terror of uncertainty
Life is difficult. Life is messy. Life is complicated. And life is uncertain. Despite the human species developing abstraction in our brains, we have such an aversion towards uncovering and unveiling what is locked within us. People will throw themselves into work or hide behind the value of family to crowd their life and distract them from discovering themselves.
Imagine a house with 16 rooms. Now imagine that every time you enter that house, you only enter the biggest room. You never go into the other rooms and you never explore what is within them. In an analogous way, we do the same thing when we avoid exploring our inner lives and uncovering the various rooms within us. This happens for two reasons: First, people are scared of the uncertainty of life, and rightfully so! Life is the most known unknown. The terror that grips us as individuals is that we are scared about what we may unlock in these hidden rooms within us. Second, we avoid this because we do not have a blueprint or a map to detail which rubric to understand all of these aspects of ourselves. It is far easier to follow the guidelines given to us in the structure of work or the high value we hide behind in “doing everything for family.” Yet, this is most unfortunate because we are leaving our potential value uncovered within us. Only we have the keys to each of the doors in the home to unlock the potential value hiding behind the other side of the door. Our imagination runs wild and imagines a dark abyss, a black hole that awaits us in each room. That black hole is always a possibility, but what is also a possibility are the beautiful points of value that we could have for us in each moment. We need to foster calculated risks to explore these various rooms within us, to find and then accept the pieces of ourselves. Once we do this, we become more open to different ideas and other beliefs for ourselves and for our society.
But what could be obstructing our pathway to unlocking this openness and creativity? Values, along with culture, are the scaffolding for us as concrete human beings in development. As we evolve into abstract human beings, we have less of a need for the scaffolding that is afforded to us. This artificial structure of absolute moral values from traditions, religion, or culture are less salient. This is not to say that these things are inherently right or wrong. Nor does it mean that we have to abolish these structures. Rather, an over-reliance of these elements can provide a significant obfuscation and psychological apoptosis of unlocking our individuality. We have to resist the unnecessary scaffolding from the pedagogical attempts of others. Values are designed to open one’s self to the world not close one down. If one’s values close them off to the world, then the validity and efficacy of these values should be reconsidered. We have to rise above the preset values and traditions we inherited from development and find the morals and values from within each of us. Maybe we will still arrive to the same or similar values we were raised with, but the difference will be that we made a choice, a journey of our own to find and own them. We cannot allow others to do the work that only we can do. Only we have the keys to each of the rooms in the house of our inner being.
Instincts and Creativity
And what may we find in the rooms of our inner being? This is unknown and only each person can find this, but one hint is creativity. Nietzsche believed that our instincts are the will to power, the life force of the human condition. For too long we have suppressed our instincts and have been misguided by preset systems and notions that condemn the very force that has allowed us to progress — instinct. This is the fundamental problem with our society. When we neglectfully waste unlocking our individuality, we hand over our power to others to seemingly make choices for us. We do this because it is difficult and scary to explore and then accept the inner parts of ourselves, yet we are the only ones that can do this. Allowing society or systems to do this for us is not only inaccurate, but it is also insufficient and limiting.
The solution is exploring the rooms of our inner being to unleash our instincts that can be motivated by the creative spirit. The counter argument is that living a life only on instinct alone is impulsive and potentially catastrophic for the individual and society. This counterargument is correct, but this is not what I am suggesting. I am suggesting that we reverse the order of processing, with instinct at the top, rather than repressed by absolute morals determined by our society or our religions. We need to have our instincts lead, but only if they are rooted in our cognition and emotion. Far too often we (inaccurately) overemphasize cognitive capacity or indulge in unbridled emotional reactionary responses. A reliance on either alone is inaccurate and harmful. The homeostasis we need to seek is having our instincts as the balancing force between cognition and emotion. It is our instincts that have allowed us to progress on our evolutionary journey and to develop, create, and build so many things. Why would we not continue to have our instincts lead, being appropriately anchored in our cognition and emotion? Our instincts are the balancing life-force of what it means to be a truly individual human being. We need to shift from a society that suppresses instincts to a society that maximizes instincts and anchors them firmly in our individuality.
And what do we find when we excavate our instincts? We find the authenticity of being-in-itself. We find unlocked creativity that can be expressed in our art. Many philosophers and psychologists, Nietzsche and Heidegger specifically, held the utmost regard for art. They both believed that all truth was unlocked within art. The reason for this is because true art has no agenda. It is allowing for the self, for being-in-itself, to be uncovered. When someone paints a picture, writes a song, or creates a film, they are attempting to release the images or words or sounds internally and place them in an external, concrete object. And they share this with the world. This is being on display. This is unbridled and pure truth in concrete form. We need every person to seek various ways in which they can unlock their instincts and explore the potential possibilities that can be derived from being in-itself.
Intra and interpersonal openness
What I have discussed thus far is about the individual and personal perspective that all of us need to work towards. My thesis is that the ability or inability to do this is mirrored at a larger scale within our society. If we are failing to focus on unlocking our potential for openness, how could we possibly be open to the individuality of others? This is part of the disconcerting landscape in our current society.
Ignoring or avoiding our own individuality makes us incapable of allowing others to find their own individuality. At present, there is an avalanche of judgments and criticisms about the personhood of others. We lack forgiveness. We lack redemptive qualities towards others. We show a projection towards others that is veiled with a true narcissism. Judgement towards others when they fail or make mistakes only exposes our own insecurities and arrogance by claiming that we would never do certain actions. We make inaccurate judgments about the totality of a person based on actions or mistakes they may endure. Are we any different? Show me one person that has not failed or made mistakes?
When we quickly condemn and judge others’ personhood, we create a society where it is impossible to uncover the unique individual qualities of each person. I believe we do this because we are ashamed and afraid to find our individuality, so we “cancel” the other person to alleviate our own internal anxiety about our unknown individuality. How long can we do this? We have to judge and critique actions, words, behaviors with a graceful and total understanding of the human condition that is always progressing and evolving. We cannot continue projecting onto others but must resolve to find the balance within ourselves and with others.
A radical centrism promotes parsing out the actions from the person. Both are important but life is messy and people are multivariate complications. No person is going to be 100% perfect. We can engage with the ideas even if the individuals that hold them are morally insufferable to us. There is an appropriate mental discrimination and segregation we can learn in parsing ideas from the people that may hold the ideas. There is certainly a time and place to condemn various actions, and yes, sometimes a person may need to be appropriately adjudicated by society. But, in most cases, there should be a mechanism that allows for re-entry into society to engage with ideas and improve their being.
The main point is that when an individual has openness to themselves, they are more open to others who are different than themselves. When we find instinctual balance between our cognitions and emotions, we are able to do potentially the same for others in our society. We have more grace and more understanding of their personal journey because we also have experienced this. If we have not engaged in this with ourselves, it will be extremely difficult to do this with others. When we unveil the creativity within ourselves, we can be more open and accepting of the expression and creativity of others. This radical centrism allows the balance one finds within themselves to be replicated and applied to society. This can be challenging because of the (seeming) struggle between the individualism of the west and the collectivism of non-western countries/cultures.
2. Individual Collectivism
There is a false dichotomy between individualism and collectivism, as if these two constructs have been mortal enemies since the dawn of time. It is well-documented that western society is heavily individualized. This is partially by design. There is a preponderance of influence by culture and environment that has contributed to the west being heavily individualized. There are many pros and cons to individualized countries. Let’s examine both of these constructs.
Individuality is accepting the choices we have in front of us. Acceptance is letting things be — that we acknowledge its existence. Attempting to spin difficult experiences prematurely is not acceptance. Acceptance is sitting with the realities and suffering of life and allowing those realities to run their course while being honest with the subjective feelings about it. Why not reposition yourself instead of trying to change the situation? We cannot derive value from suffering if we are perpetually trying to change or avoid it. Instead, it’s important to accept the experience of suffering and adapt and change accordingly. But there is a problem. People don’t really want individuality. They enjoy the idea of individuality but not the work attached to the concept.
When one has true individuality, they are placed in positions to make choices. People do not like the choices they have in front of them. Because one does not like the choices does not mean they do not have individuality, they just don’t like choosing. No, individuality is accepting the realities of life, which will inevitably, place us in positions of choosing.
We are all faced with choices every day. We choose to like a tweet, re-share a Facebook post, or engage with the outrage on social media and within society at large. But these are choices. The selection of one choice (i.e., choosing to comment about a post or choosing to respond to a friend) as opposed to another choice is us exercising our individuality. We can blame politicians for all the problems in the world, but, in reality, the decisions and choices rest with us to engage with the outrage in our society.
No one is forcing us to be outraged. No one is forcing us to be reactionary to everything that arises in our news feeds. No one is forcing us to give our attention to every moment. No, outrage about everything in our society is the biggest deflection from ourselves. There is considerable attention given to the actions of our fellow humans that seem to demand a response. Most actions are not worthy of the attention, nor a response. The foul and repugnant deprivations of the human spirit are the ones that seek the largest audience. It behooves each individual to exercise self-control over the miasma beset upon us. We debase ourselves and show indirect pity when we give vile behaviors a platform. Why give our voice to the cacophony of the herd with their compass directed towards their slave morality and slave religions? We become equal with the very same fools we beseech! We must find the strength within ourselves, from our being-in-itself. The reactionary outrage is junk food for our socialization and can only be ameliorated by a healthy individuality that fights for values. It is, as Erich Fromm put it, “escape from freedom.” It’s much more difficult to focus on our own growth and our own individuality. We are psychologically slothful to dedicate our energy towards voyeuristic simplicities instead of our individuality.
We have to transition from a society that is reactionary to a society that is reflective. We need to make it normative to not have a final decision (and double down) about something we saw five seconds ago. We have to sit with our thoughts, assess sources, consider alternative perspectives, and tentatively make conclusions.
This is a serious problem. We effusively proclaim our allegiance to individuality in the west, but how many people actually engage in this? We are so preoccupied with the banalities of societal illusions, the perversions of slave morality, and the ultimate escapism of the self. Imagine if all the time and energy devoted towards the actions, behaviors, and personalities of others, both with our intimate relationships and with celebrities, was spent directed on ourselves. What if we devoted our time and energy towards uncovering and unveiling all the potential possibilities of intrinsic value from within our own being instead of engaging in a voyeuristic pornography of our psyche with others? This is too difficult. We want simple. We want microwave solutions to slow-cooked problems. The moral ineptitude rests within the individuals of this country and not the politicians or the celebrities or the extremists, but it is us as individuals. How can we find solutions when we abandon and neglect our individuality every day? How can we find the resolve to make good decisions when, as Heidegger remarked, “we hide out in the anonymity of the average everydayness?” We cannot allow society or systems alone to make decisions for us. We are too comfortable hiding out in the preset modules placed before us. Our morals and our values, our faux empathy with “good” intentions are wasteful if we neglect our own individuality. Our pusillanimous spirit is the main ingredient for the denigration of our society. We are all charlatans to ourselves and others unless we suffer, and suffer well, in the pursuit of finding our unique and specific individuality.
Read this and you will commit the same cognitive bias. “I know others who do this, but I do not.” No, we all do this! We all own this. We have to accept that our individuality is dead in our current society. The corpse of individuality awaits to be resurrected by balanced, moderate individuals who have a radical penchant towards an individualistic collectivism. At the moment, the problems with our society are a result of ignored individualism and the allure of the magnetic pull of extremism. My hypothesis is that we cannot change the extremities and polarization in our society because we have been unable to change the extremities and polarization within ourselves, with being-in-itself. The inflammation we see in society at large is but a maximized externalization within each of us. The prescription for reducing this inflammation in society is the same for the individual. We need a radical centrism that implements balance as the active ingredient. As we embrace healthy individualism, we will have healthier collective communities.
Collective societies are a bit older and operate from a concern for their fellow man in the group. This is also a product of evolutionary culture and environment. It is interesting to note how various cultures and environments can include individualized and collective cultures. Again, while these are two different constructs, it does not mean they oppose each other. There is an abundance of literature on how collectivism is embedded in us as social primates. Anthropologists, along with evolutionary and social psychologists, have been informing us for many years about the connection that individuals have with their fellow man in groups and with their kin. In fact, kin selection is primarily focused on understanding families and communities. More recently, there has been a healthy examination on how the west has become individualized at present. This is by design. Again, this is not a false dichotomy or a rivalry about individualism vs. collectivism. Rather, all humans have embedded in their evolutionary code a sense of community within their localized groups. The differences are based on natural selection from the environment, and, according to some, group and cultural selection.
Why does all this matter? This matters because to be human is to be the unique individual that all of us can be, but it is also being part of a group that is very human as well. At baseline, we are social mammals that need others to help us survive. This is the history of our species. Our ancestors have been operating in pods, packs, and groups to help us navigate our ever-changing planet. The human story is one of social connection where community is essential to survive and live better and longer.
The fundamental difference is that some societies have maintained this collective approach until present-day. Other societies, such as our own western society, have evolved (naturally and culturally) to focus on a more individualized framework. Again, these are not in competition. And yet, there are significant difficulties in attempting to have both frameworks cohabitate. At present, this is a simplistic notion of us vs. them. For example, coastal, liberal elites are seen as peeking down from their ivory towers with their sanctimonious attitudes towards people in “fly-over states.” Conversely, many people that live in rural areas or in middle America have a distrust and distaste towards these attitudes from coastal elites. There is a mutual dislike for these groups of people. The problem is not the distrust or dislike, the problem is the polarization and blindness towards understanding how similar we all are.
For most conservatives, there is an emphasis placed on communities and families. They have concepts such as good strong borders, allegiance to their country, individual freedom, and a value system for the well-being of others. For liberals, there is also a strong emphasis on the well-being of others. Their emphasis is typically on oppressed or disenfranchised groups from the dark chapters of our history that ripple into our current society. Liberals place a stronger emphasis on diversity and inclusion of different groups of people for potential opportunities in our society. There are healthy intentions to having everyone’s voice heard and to create a welcoming environment. Do you not hear the parallels? We all want the same thing, but our tribalism and unbridled passions obfuscate our ability to listen to each other. Both sides deeply care about humanity. They each have families and care about the well-being of their families and those within their communities. They each care about strong value systems and care about finding ways to have a better society. There are most certainly fundamental differences on values and policies. But the aspirational and big picture goals are the same. These are our fellow Americans. Using the spirit of radical centrism and the prime ingredient of balance and pragmatism can generate unified goals. Radical centrism has this marriage of individual collectivism at the center of its ethos.
Individual collectivism places you as the individual as primary but within the context of other individuals, our fellow Americans. Yes, we cannot be better for others if we are not for ourselves. But we can also not forsake or erase thousands of years of evolutionary coding that has given us the life-force for surviving and thriving on this planet. We do not live on islands of individuality; we all need our community. The challenge is unlocking and exploring one’s own individuality within the context of others doing the same. We live in a country with our fellow humans designed to create and find value independently and cooperatively.
We have to place communities over groups. Individuality without our fellow humans is isolation. We must and should seek moments of solitude but not be allured by the internal or external dark side of isolation. We can find the balance of our individuality among our communities and families and groups of people that we create. We cannot be misled by this fantasy and obsession on categorizing people on their perceived group (i.e., race, gender, orientation). We have to focus on building groups of communities with a collection of different individuals. It is my belief that when we have strong families and strong communities, with healthy individuals, that we can explore the larger group distinctions. We have to build a support network of believing the best in others and an openness to seeing others’ perspectives and ideas. We do this through dialogue, not violence. In my view, these are our only options. Dialogue with our fellow humans allows us to find a spirit of respect, compromise, and honor. We need strong, healthy individuals that can provide a check or safeguard against group think and develop strong, healthy communities. History teaches us that an overcommitted allegiance to an arbitrary group, political party, or ideological system will not allow us to reach out to others that think differently than us. People on both ends of the spectrum need to do this. A radical centrism aims to do this in a truly inclusive and wholistic way.
3. Ideas, Not Ideology
The key benchmark for radical centrists is a focus on ideas and policies themselves. Pragmatism is the key ingredient for centrism. When one is aligned with a political party or with a certain ideology, these systems occupy the headspace of myopic thinking. For many, to be a liberal or a conservative means a variety of things. There are certain values and principles that define one as aligned with either system. The problem with having value systems determining your ideas is that it can cause a blinded groupthink, a tribalism that is unrefined and unmarked. Ideology and parties become less and less about amorphous values and more and more about tribalism. This political entrapment disallows one to truly focus on the ideas themselves. In principle, we would have liberals and conservatives who are faithful to their political party, but who can also rationally critique and not believe certain ideas or policies.
Now, I am not attempting to criticize or demonize anyone that is affiliated with a system. My criticisms are aimed at the systems themselves and not the people involved within them. There are some valid arguments for having a political ideology, but, as we see in today’s society and in societies previously, these polarized ideologies are more about allegiance to the idealism and less about the ideas themselves.
Critiques of Centrism
There are some fair, but, in my opinion, misguided criticisms of centrists. One main criticism is that centrists have their own elitist presence of rising above parties and having a superiority of others that are within a system. While this may certainly happen, this seems like a generalized ad hominem attack. I fail to see how taking things on the issues is an elitist notion. Radical centrists have strong opinions and positions. The difference is that they allow these to come from within individuality not from a political party or ideology.
For example, a centrist may believe in the “liberal” principle of a strong centralized federal government but may understand different points of view and agree that for some states a limited form of government is more accurate. You can take this from issues like climate change, 2nd amendment rights, abortion, and taxation laws. There is not a codified answer on any of these major issues, but centrists aim to hear and understand both sides of these positions and determine what makes the most pragmatic sense. The problem with political ideologies is that this is next to impossible. Political systems and ideologies have become allegiance tests for that particular tribe. It is a type of loyalty hazing for potential members of a group. If someone deviates slightly from a conservative or liberal platform, they are immediately ostracized and cries such as, “you aren’t really a liberal or conservative” are brandished. How is any of this helpful? How is taking things on the issues in a centrist way elitist and promoting a false superiority?
Another charge against centrism is its complacency and stagnation. This is a very fair claim against centrism. I agree that centrists need pressure from different factions of different parties. Again, radical centrists are not the mean or median on every single issue. Radical centrists can and should hold strong opinions on various policies and ideas. The distinction is that they are not beholden to ALL of the policies or ideas of a particular party or ideology. For liberal centrists, they need the progressives in their party to push them to dream bigger and to avoid stagnation. For conservative centrists, they need the extremism of the right to hold them accountable on themes of borders, immigration, taxation, and foreign issues. Radical centrists do not aim to be stagnant or fulfill the status quo. Rather, they aim to entertain and openly listen to conservative and liberal principles and ideas and make a decision with both in mind. This is not making a compromise on every issue, every time. In some moments, radical centrists may align more with liberals on certain policies and, in other moments, may align more with conservatives on some policies. This is extremely difficult to do when one is aligned with a political or ideological tribalism. Being freed from a strict allegiance to an ideology or party allows one to have a more wholistic and representative decision that considers the whole country’s desires.
We need to have an openness to all of our fellow Americans. Openness to other opinions, policies, ideas, and political parties does not mean centrists do not have their own ideas or opinions. Not aligning with one ideological system of values does not mean that centrists have no values or opinions. Of course, centrists have values! The difference is that radical centrists use their values to create a space of openness and dialogue, not one of repressive mandates. Radical centrism is not attempting to rise above major parties but to commingle with all of them to find common ground. Radical centrists are not immune to tribalism or passionate beliefs; it means they are anchoring those passions in the ideas until they are no longer pragmatic or tenable. Admitting defeat or acknowledging that one gets something wrong is extremely difficult when attempting to win political points with your loyalism to a tribe. Radical centrists are more likely to do this because there is less tribalism implicated. The way we have progress is how we have had progress in many years past.
We must critique ideas. We must have compassionate but direct and honest dialogue with people. Labels have power, but individuals have a will to power that can surpass any label. We must condemn ideas but not condemn people. We are all fallible human beings that are progressing in life to find our most accurate individuality. If we preserve the individuality and essence of a person’s being, we have more authority to critique their beliefs and ideas. We must build a coalition that is inclusive of all ideas and allow our pragmatism to determine the best choice in that moment. A radical centrism does not defend the status quo, it allows values to open people, not shut them down. The focus on ideas, not ideology is what allows radical centrists to govern well and to include and consider all ideas from different points of view. A country that is founded upon “we the people” should have this radical centrism at its heart.