For much of my brief adult life I’ve been a centrist fundamentalist. This most often comes up on issues I know little about or don’t like to touch upon. However looking back at the few political statements and comments on skeptic infighting I’ve made on this blog I can still see this coming out regularly.
Though possibly confusing, the term is not contradictory. Centrist fundamentalism is a symptom of wanting to appear to be reasonable by giving equal praise or blame to both sides of a debate no matter what’s really happening. The clearest example of this in the public mind is the constantly repeated claim that “if you anger both sides you must be doing something right.” This is well engraved in the minds of everyday people and many pundits but if you examine what the underlying premise of such a claim must be you should realize it’s vacuous. The only way this could be true was if all sides of all debates were always being, more or less, equally reasonable. However we all know this is not the case. Certain demonstrably wrong ideas gain popular support but this isn’t a reason to ignore the clear errors in reasoning which underpin them.
However in the face of such asymmetric divide in the assessment of reality the centrist fundamentalist will critique critique both sides, often for failing to come to a compromise. You often see this in those who advocate we not teach controversial subjects even if one side of the controversy is completely without scientific or philosophical merit. If you do this both sides will criticize you but that’s not proof you are being reasonable, if anything it’s proof you value being seen as being reasonable more than actually being reasonable.
This problem is most apparent in today’s political climate where any acknowledgement that both sides aren’t being equally reasonable can get someone labeled a harsh partisan by the side taking the brunt of that criticism. That side will then often essentially disregard this person’s views on the grounds that they are only being partisan at the expense of the facts, ironically often without actually even bothering to check if they have the facts right. This, if you can’t tell, is a trap. In today’s punditry either you sacrifice reality by always playing down the middle, whether or not both sides are being reasonable, or you take the risk of being labeled an unreasonable ideologue.
What’s really weird for me personally is I’ve noticed committing this error and I’m not exactly the person biting my tongue on controversial subjects. Still in the allure of avoiding my nemesis drama I’ve done so, even when what ends up here doesn’t reflect what I really feel. However I think, in the future, you’ll find those days are behind me. Now if only I could convince the rest of the punditocracy to join me.