Monday, July 21, 2008

the Myth of Centrism

Definitions of centrism on the the web:
  • a political philosophy of avoiding the extremes of left and right by taking a moderate position or course of action
  • In politics, centrism usually refers to the political ideal of promoting moderate policies which land in the middle ground between different political extremes. ...
  • Any moderate political philosophy that avoids extremes
  • But, as George Lakoff knows, that center is something of a myth.

    Jim White (noted UT commenter) attended Netroots 08, and shared with us in a post at AchievingOurCountry his experience at a session videotaped for DFA's night school. The session was based on work from Lakoff's latest book, The Political Mind.

    Jim writes:
    To illustrate the concept that there is not a linear scale, Lakoff holds up the brilliant example of Senators Joe Lieberman and Chuck Hagel. The popular press incessantly describes both as “centrists”, yet they share virtually no views. On social issues, Lieberman is consistently progressive and Hagel is solidly conservative. On the war, Lieberman is conservative and Hagel is progressive. They share views on nothing, yet both are branded as centrists. How can there be such a thing as a centrist, or a center, if these two agree on nothing?

    And isn't it interesting how often we use words that are just as likely to be Reality-challenged as if they were everyday items? As if they were things that you can use and touch.

    So, that mythic centrist space doesn't really exist, especially not as a spot in one-dimensional space. After all, in politics, even three dimensions can seem inadequate for describing what the hell is going on.


    John Cowan said...

    A doughnut has a center point even though it's empty.

    Karen M said...

    Yep, it does. And, you can buy that center as a separate purchase, if you like.

    Actually, a doughnut's center would make more sense politically. At least it's not measured along a single dimension.

    Jim White said...


    More magic from Lakoff on the mapping of metaphor into language:

    He notes that language regarding affection often relies on words conferring the notion of warmth. He traces this back to the universal experience of the literal warmth that an infant receives from a mother's embrace. Yet, magically, that mapping is unidirectional, as he notes that we would never refer to the soup in a pot on the stove as becoming more affectionate.