I would like to promote a controversial, new life philosophy called The Extreme Middle Way. It is Friday after all. Now, has everyone had their coffee? Mid-morning nap? Good. Because if you’ll allow me explain The Extreme Middle Way, then I think humanity can be saved. Ahem. So.
Most people think taking the middle is NOT extreme, that it’s a position of weakness and compromise; a position for people who are mealy mouthed. Only, I don’t see myself as a person of compromise, and certainly I’m not mealy mouthed. Most folks, after spending an hour with me, say that I’m a little off the rocker—I use paper towels to pull open door handles, and only drink water that comes in a dark green, glass bottle—or is that not that we’re talking about?
But really, I’m in the middle on almost everything; in the middle on politics, and in the middle on bacon–honestly, could take it or leave it. My favorite movies are all PG or PG-13. And yet, people sometimes say I’m the one with a mental problem. What gives? What gives is that being in the middle is more extreme than being on the ends these days. It’s the single most controversial place to be in, because you’re attacked from every side. Nuance—it seems—is not what it was. So, if you’re going to be in the middle, you’d better be ready to defend yourself.
But The Extreme Middle Way is not a set of beliefs. The Extreme Middle Way is merely a sign that a person is willing to think things out for themselves, and not follow blindly behind a group of angry fanatics, or succumb to the social pressures of the day. Let’s take the topic of politics. I’ll tread carefully, I promise. Because I know most of you are still waiting for me to unleash that one very pointed political rant, so you can know once and for all what Pat Flynn is really about. Don’t think I’m not on to you!
So, the problem with being too far in any direction politically is that most positions of most parties are just not all that related to one another. Why, for example, should someone’s view on monetary policy have anything to do with how they feel about abortion or taxation or climate change? The truth is these are often separate matters, and should be considered as such. (Of course, many issues come to together at some point, but you shouldn’t assume any position ipso facto of some prior belief.) People who dwell on the extreme ends of politics tend to come in on one issue, and assume the party line on every other issue, even if they wouldn’t have otherwise—even if they believed something else, beforehand. Why? Well, it seems to me, so they can confirm a bias. But people who think through issues freely, tend to wind up somewhere in between, holding some views on the right, other views on the left, and so on. This doesn’t mean people in the middle don’t hold any extreme views. Often, they do. But not all of their views—extreme or otherwise—are one sided. And please—please!—don’t tell me you’re “socially liberal, but fiscally conservative,” and think that’s what I’m talking about. Because—now, let me guess— you’re also, “spiritual, but not religious.” Got it. No, that’s fine. You do you.
The Extreme Middle Way is not about appeasing everybody by only saying the most obviously (read: obnoxiously) agreeable things—that’s pretty much the opposite of what I’m talking about, now. The Extreme Middle Way an uncompromising commitment toward the attainment of truth, however unpopular, however unpredictable. It’s the removal of error, first, by admitting that no “one side” ever gets it right—at least not fully—and the realization, second, that truths tend to lie somewhere in between—that is, in the middle. This is not conflicting of what some would say, which is that truth tends to lie in the extreme, only conflicting of the conclusions of many who read a statement like that. I would agree that truth tends to lie in the extreme, but I would disagree that “extreme” lies only on the outermost ends of the ideology. I would say that’s where stupidity is, but being stupid is not being extreme. Being stupid is being incapable of thinking straight, and that’s no more extreme than driving on the righthand side of the road. There is nothing “extreme” about it. It’s just the way society is.
Nutrition, if I may, would be another example. It’s the people on the farthest ends who are wrong a lot more than they are right (although they also tend to be the most listened to, as in politics). They sell the most books; they have the most popular and horrendous podcasts. These are the people who push one way of eating for everyone, whether it’s an indigenous diet of some long-extinct clan of cannibals or only consuming fruit that’s fallen but not been picked from a tree, because that’s the moral imperative, you see. The Extreme Middle Way would argue there’s something to be learned from (almost) all of these, and that any nutrition strategy can work, because any nutrition strategy has worked. (I remain skeptical about hardcore fruitarians, however; even more so than cannibals.)
Now, I don’t pretend The Extreme Middle way has the answers to everything. In fact, The Extreme Middle Way posits no answers, specifically; if anything, it’s an assessment. Because it’s certainly possible somebody could assume all the wrong positions from every side and still wind up somewhere in the middle, which would be, well, embarrassing. But I would argue that’s also unlikely, and not the problem you typically see. The problem you typically see is people holding persistently to positions that are arbitrarily opposed, never seeing faults in their view that could be fixed by swapping just a few ideas with the other side.
Here’s to my fellow extremists.