As most of the left continues to lose its mind and the alt-right declares itself permanent god-emperor, I suggest you take a moment, step back, and consider moderation.
It’s funny that people think of moderation as the route of opportunists. In fact, moderation is currently the least profitable and most despised mode of thought. It doesn’t help that the popular conception of a political “moderate” seems to encompass the concept of pussiness: “Someone who’s too pussy to take a stand one way or the other.”
That is some serious confusion, my herd-animal friends. There is a difference between “someone who believes in the average of the talking heads on Fox and CNN” and what I call a “radical moderate” : someone who takes a stand based not on the opinion of the team he most often agrees with, but on what he himself knows, factually, and thinks, logically. I most often agree with libertarians and the moderate right, but sometimes I think they’re wrong–and sometimes I don’t even know enough to have an opinion, and sometimes I’m of two minds. SISSY!
But radical moderate ideas are not always safe; sometimes they don’t sound moderate at all. True, by coincidence, the radical moderate thought process does often generate results on a specific issue that aren’t very fringey, because most fringe thought is the result of a pissing contest between people who are trying to prove that they are more left-wing or more right-wing than everyone else on their team. But sometimes one’s own answer really is pretty fringey–usually because in the process of swinging wildly, one of the fringes accidentally hit the nail on the head.
But whether your opinion on any given subject is wild or vanilla, believe it or not, in this k-k-kraaaayzeee world fulla yahoos, it’s actually less pussy to go it alone. Even if your team is currently in the minority (and marginalized, boo hoo), there is safety and support in packs. The Internet can be a bitchy, nasty place (snif), and it’s comforting to have homies to get your back when those violent comments start flying. And yet, logically, radical moderation is obviously–obviously–the best way to go through life. You want to have the most accurate picture of reality in your mind that you can, right? If you think about it, it’s hard to believe that any thinking person would voluntarily commit heshit’s mind to anything else.
…Weeeeell, except there’s a wrench in those gears. Trying to paint an accurate picture is the best way to remain logically consistent, and thus to retain the integrity of your personality, and therefore your sanity. Sanity is great, but… well, there’s a big but in here, and I’m not just talking about Lauren Southern: it’s not particularly tactically advantageous.
Tactical advantage is on the side of yahooism.
As I was discussing with Davis Aurini a few weeks ago (I think it was him; December is always a hateful blur of darkness and vitamin D deficiency), the dynamics of social media are pushing people to be far more extremist in their political views than they would be if left to their own thought processes. People want, and cheer for, reinforcement of their political opinions. But agreeing with the group is a double-edged sword: if you’re saying basically the same things as everyone else in your group, then the only way to stand out is to come up with an extreme, cartoonish version of your group’s basic ideas.
There is a great deal of incentive, therefore, to say things for their shock and combat value, even things that you yourself don’t even agree with, if you’re being honest with yourself. And you know what they say about lies: If you repeat it often enough, it becomes truth. Well, if it’s you who are repeating it, then it becomes truth a great deal more quickly. There’s not enough time in the day to be well-informed on every issue, so it’s tempting to repeat the opinions you’ve swiped from the people you most often agree with; but in doing so you must trust that they have a reason for an assertion and didn’t just swipe it themselves. You might find out later that they were full of beans, but then you’re stuck with what you said. True or false, if you start repeating those opinions often enough, you’ll half-bake them into an axiom. I’ve seen people do this over and over and watched them slowly lose their minds.
At the risk of having an Aleppo moment, it’s probably healthier, if you aren’t well-informed enough to opine, to respond ‘I don’t know yet.’ It’s better for your sanity to deal with a moment’s embarrassment than it is to get stuck defending a stolen opinion that turns out to be wrong; then again, it’s better for your public image to always pretend you know everything about everything, and what’s more, you haven’t haven’t plagiarized any of your ideas at all.
So this is the choice we as writers–and everybody on the Internet thinks they’re writers–are making, whether we consciously think about it or not: Do we want easy stepping-stones to visibility, or do we want to keep our sanity?
It’s in no way an easy choice to make.
Originally published at annsterzinger.com on January 23, 2017.