The old Stealers Wheels song says “clowns to the left of me – jokers to the right” , when I do watch the news I find myself humming “wingnuts to the left of me – nut jobs to the right” here I am stuck in the middle with you. Of course, it’s not that simple – nothing is.
Over a decade ago I read an amazing book called The Argument Culture by Deborah Tannen that forever changed the way I was able to see and participate in the toxic, adversarial, binary system that had evolved. It haunts me as I watch the political environment and media circus unfold in front of me.
The other day I stumbled across another good reminder from the past. Alasdair MacIntyre was credited with saying
all contemporary debates are really between conservative liberals, liberal liberals, and radical liberals.
I found this in a Dictionary of Theology, where the author added “Thus there is little room for the criticism of the system itself.” In a post the other day I said that “in the end the structure is nearly unchanged. The system is never in danger. The machine doesn’t even slow down. The Powers are never in jeopardy. It eats new ideas with barely a burp – let alone beginning to buckle.”
Stated simply: there is a real danger is assuming our inherited structures. When we presume the giveness of our constructed systems we are inflicted with a blindness that is more than debilitating to dialogue – it is corrosive to the very intent and virtue of our stated ideals. When the system is assumed:
- we begin to major on the minors.
- we create blind-spots that leave us vulnerable to critique.
The result then is that we either take on a defensive posture, turn aggressive, or become paralyzed and withdrawal all together. It is the social equivalent of the “Fight-Flight-or Fright” reflex .
When we don’t examine our inherited assumption or unwilling to engage our constructed social conditioned-ness, we open the door to something quite hazardous to the Gospel message. Beyond compromise and conflict as either/or options is a real cancerous effect on community.
Our political views and denominational persuasions are not the all or nothing ‘far right vs. far left’ spectrum with a huge gap in the middle that has been presented to us. They are kinds within the same system. They are not different in kind – they are only different in degree. And when we realize this, we are afforded the possibility to step back from the arena and gain some perspective on the structure as a whole. That is is the only way that system itself will ever be critiqued – the only ways that the Powers the Be will ever get challenged.
Just to be clear: There is no ‘middle’ because there is no ‘spectrum’ as it has been presented. I was playing off of ‘stuck’ more than a false concept of the ‘gap’ in the middle.
They are not different in kind but only in degree because that are essentially varieties of the same thing. MacIntyre is saying that since the French Revolution (roughly) all democratic republicans – or republic loving democrats (or whatever) – are not out the extremes and in diametric opposition to each other. The whole thing is bathed in falseness. For Protestant denominations it is ofter the same.
There is no objective. There is no removed. Questions can only be tackled from a specific position or by a particular perspective. The only danger is when we don’t do that work before we start talking. The problem is when we just start – and don’t take account of our assumption, inherited structures, conditioning, and the given-ness of our constructs.