Extremism gets a bad rap in the press. It’s become a slur for anything that’s too far gone or too partisan. So in honor of sanity let’s explore being moderate. Obviously if the wrong thing to do is be extreme the right thing to do is be moderate, right? To start off, a clearly moderate thing to do is compromise. Moderates should not allow partisanship to stop things getting done. In any dispute if you want to establish trust you must compromise in good faith. Occasionally there are binary situations but those are few and far between. Often you can find a work around. Why then is compromise so hard? Well some people have principles, no goes for what they believe in. I know it’s hard to understand in 2015, but some people tend to act based on those principles. Sometimes even people without principles act on principles. Why, because not compromising might cost them little, but give them a gain in signaling to their chosen audience. There are a number of incentives for not compromising but let’s take the principled path (the principle that moderation and compromise are preferable to extremism).
One of the initial problems with moderation is trying to find the middle. Obviously it is easy when you have two clearly defined opposing sides on an issue, but what if you don’t? Out in the wild it may be hard to neatly bifurcate the world. We may face multipolar multifaceted issues. Clearly our first step is to determine, the centers of gravity, our poles. First we should start by evaluating group opinion and from there establish sub-groups and heuristics to estimate what their average opinion would be. Next because extremists are always wrong we should take any extreme outliers and disregard their opinion. Preferably we should duct tape their mouths. If they know sign language we could also duct tape their hands.
Next, like a good moderate, we should make decisions based on the averages of the various sub-groups opinions. The compromise should always be as close as possible to the center of the group’s opinions. This is of course the best solution for remaining moderate. We believe in self-governance of course. However there are certain edge cases with this approach. What if we have extreme outlier groups? If being a good person means having an opinion close to either the center or one of the poles, then having a group who are extreme outliers to the other groups makes them extremists. Clearly if we ostracize and mute individual outliers we should exclude extreme outliers from discussion. These outliers can be identified if their average opinion distance from the group is significantly higher than the average distance from one group to the other. I.e. we have a few solid groupings of opinions but one group is, for example, at the nearest three times the distance from any other group as they are to each other. Clearly these outlier groups should also be silenced.
Another edge case is a number of people who exist on an opinion continuum. The problem is that on a continuum any division delimitating the extremists from the moderates is somewhat arbitrary. To start we want to find the average opinion. That will be what we consider “moderate”. Now how do we decide who to silence? Here we must introduce the principle that we want to hear the majority of the opinions. Obviously being good citizens we want to maximize suffrage. Given a somewhat equal distribution along a continuum the outliers shouldn’t upset this too much. Then since 90% is a solid goal for suffrage we should find the 10% which are furthest from the center and then summarily execute them. We then iterate this process till we have a nice group which has no clear outliers thus solving any overpopulation in our group in question and getting rid of all those dirty extremists. I mean we want to solve the continuum problem, right? What good is allowing people to express themselves if they aren’t neatly arranged in a tight grouping? You do hate extremist’s right? I mean who would defend their rights?
Another edge case is, of course, a shift in opinion. Given that groups drift in opinion we must deal with the inevitable case where a clear grouping is broken up and the center of opinion drifts towards what was previously an outlier. In this case we must rehabilitate the previous outlier and suppress the opinion of the new grouping which is furthest from the new center of opinion. This is of course a trifle, we being moderate simply call the new outlier extremists. I must pause to make sure you are still with me here. If any of this seems a bit unserious, be assured I am taking moderation very seriously. I am of course not the first person to take moderation very seriously. Jonathan Swift had his own ideas about taking moderation seriously.
““When parties in a state are violent, he offered a wonderful contrivance to reconcile them. The method is this. You take a hundred leaders of each party; you dispose them into couples of such whose heads are nearest of a size; then let two nice operators saw off the occiput of each couple at the same time, in such a manner that the brain may be equally divided. Let the occiputs, thus cut off, be interchanged, applying each to the head of his opposite party-man. It seems indeed to be a work that requires some exactness, but the professor assured us, “that if it were dexterously performed, the cure would be infallible.” For he argued thus: “that the two half brains being left to debate the matter between themselves within the space of one skull, would soon come to a good understanding, and produce that moderation, as well as regularity of thinking, so much to be wished for in the heads of those, who imagine they come into the world only to watch and govern its motion: and as to the difference of brains, in quantity or quality, among those who are directors in faction, the doctor assured us, from his own knowledge, that “it was a perfect trifle.” “
Obviously we are a ways away from swapping brains between politicians, but it is something to take note of. Partisan gridlock is clearly a serious problem. Moderation is always preferable to doing nothing. It would be easier if people could argue it out within their own heads. I’m sure this would lead to more getting done and tamper down on infighting. Or at least make partisan argument a lot quieter.
One pertinent question when dealing with proper moderation is: who is to be sampled? Obviously the initial starting point is the population of the nation. But what if there is an international conflict? Do we sample the entire world? The relevant parties? Maybe the relevant parties and a couple of neutral outsiders? Let’s look at a microcosm of moderation and see what we find. In the age of “universal suffrage” we seem to have drawn a number of boarders. Governments can only offer services to those within their borders, but in the interest of moderation shouldn’t everyone’s opinion count? After all any subgroup can be extreme, why shouldn’t we pursue the opinion of the largest group in order to induce the most moderate position possible? I mean self-representation is important and borders are antiquated right? Maybe next time we have a conflict between the houses in America we can just take a worldwide poll. Then as before, knock out the outliers and find the moderate position? Let’s see if we could solve say gay marriage by applying this technique. If we knock off the outliers in a world survey on homosexuality, assuming of course that views on homosexuality are correlated but lag behind the support of gay marriage, we see that it would never pass. In fact if we used the world as a barometer we would probably have to implement laws banning sodomy. This presents a problem clearly we can’t just poll the whole world to solve problems. That seems to present extreme results. We should be choosing the principled and enlightened people right? Should we subject ourselves to the wills of a mass of unenlightened bigots? For now I guess will have to limit ourselves to polling in enlightened countries. But isn’t enlightenment based on principles, what principles are we talking about?
If being moderate seems a bit extreme, you might be right. One might think we should be applying some moderation to our being moderate. Maybe there is something bigger than relativism? I’m sure when you talk of being moderate you in no way imagined what have I described. So what do you actually mean? Maybe instead of leaving our fates to the wind in moderation we should adopt some sort of principles and philosophies to work off of? Oh wait, isn’t that what got us here in the first place?