If you’ve been paying attention to current political issues you have have seen a small emerging movement of like minded people who’ve begun to try to make Centrism a serious consistent philosophical system. As a third alternative in this culture war between the social justice minded left and the nationalist minded right. From secular humanists like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins to self-proclaimed classical liberals like Dave Rubin they’ve generally taken on the mantle of the new center.
One of the more prominent websites of this emerging movement Quillette has published an article called Centrism: A Moderate Manifesto which attempts to make a coherent philosophy based on Centrism.
However with the more recent outspoken ideas of centrism it has also gotten a lot of criticism. Most of it based on a misunderstanding of centrism. You see a lot of people think either jokingly or seriously that centrism is this pitch perfect middle ground between the left and right. So some critics would say that between a clearly good and clearly bad dilemma the centrist would always pick a half-good half-bad compromise. However this is not what centrism is.
So let’s define what centrism is. Centrism is essentially a political view that seeks to solve political solutions through evidence and empiricism rather than ideology. It essentially takes the good ideas from other political ideologies if they’re found to empirically produce the best results and discard the ideas that are harmful to society. They oppose the idea that you need to hold political views simply because these views are associated with the same label.
Now that sounds great doesn’t it? Centrism is based on evidence and reality! This means that they’re always right on every issue that they pick because it’s the issue based on evidence. Everyone who isn’t a dogmatic ideologue should be a centrist right?
Well, I don’t think it is. Not only do I think that it’s a morally and ethically flawed viewpoint but I also think that it’s doomed to lose in the culture wars.
Now I could spend my time picking apart centrist ideas by pointing out the flaws of realpolitik which is what centrism is fundamentally based on. But that’s for a different time. In this article it doesn’t matter whether centrism is good or bad. It’s only purpose is to show why centrism will not win or even make a strong impact in the culture war.
But before we can do that I need to explain the nature of ideology as well as some concepts that should help you understand my point.
First we need to talk about memes. No I’m not specifically referring to internet memes. But memes within the framework of memetics. Memes refer to any idea, style or behavior that can be spread from one person to another within a culture. It functions like a genetic unit but for carrying cultural ideas.
Like a gene it is capable of mutating and responding to selective pressures. Memes are a vital part of human nature because as social animals they help us adopt social cohesive systems that allow us to survive and reproduce.
Now memes just like genes don’t just exist as singular units. They form and adapt in clusters, which for memes we call a memeplex. A memeplex is beneficial to single meme units because they can replicate more successfully in teams and reinforce each other. Take Christmas for example. Imagine if Christmas was only made up of a single meme, let’s say putting up a tree in your home. Chances are Christmas would not have even remote success. There is no inherent merit in putting a tree in your home. It just looks ridiculous.
But now let’s add more memes like presents, dinner, family gathering, songs, Santa, stories, candy. Now Christmas has become a memeplex and the combination of all these memes make it recognizable and timeless.
And all political ideologies are essentially a memeplex. When you think of a typical conservative for example what do you think of? Pro-life, judeo-christian values, opposition to radical progress, lower taxes, maybe hawkish on foreign policy. The ideology of conservatism is immediately recognizable because it has a memeplex that reinforces its ideas and branding. Same with progressives, libertarians, socialists. These all have a recognizable set of ideas that reinforces its position in the culture war.
But…what about centrists? What do you think when you think of a centrist? A pragmatist? The people in the middle of progressives and conservatives?
There is nothing that makes centrism remotely have any recognition whatsoever because it has no identity. It’s purely concerned with picking whatever they feel works based on their evidence criteria. Now whether or not you think that’s a good or bad thing doesn’t matter right now. The fact remains that it’s just not recognizable. People aren’t going to be interested in allying with a movement that doesn’t have a clear memeplex to transfer to other people.
And in the long term this is going to be really bad. Because memes have to adapt to potential changes within cultures. And when looking at the adaptability of memes I have noticed three types of memeplexes.
So let’s first start with the fragile memeplex. A fragile memeplex is well…fragile. This means that this memeplex is incapable of adapting as soon as there’s any rapid change within our culture, and thus the memeplex falls into obscurity or is forgotten. A good example would be an internet meme. Internet memes usually last at best a few years and at worst a couple of weeks before there’s a new trend and its forgotten about.
Then there’s the resilient memeplex. This is a memeplex that even during rapid changes in culture and disorder it’s capable of adapting and surviving.
A good example would be the christian memeplex which in the face of persecution, wars, cultural shifts and even entire changes in how society functions has managed to survive and adapt.
And finally there’s the antifragile memeplex. This is a memeplex that thrives and becomes stronger precisely when there’s chaos and rapid cultural shift. A good example here would be the despotist memeplex. Societal chaos and war often creates a vacuum for despotists to take over control.
Whether it’s a charismatic leader taking control during a depression or a despotist replacing another after a revolution.
As you can imagine, for a memeplex to survive long term it needs to be resilient or antifragile. A fragile memeplex even if successful will simply lose long term.
And centrism is probably the most fragile memeplex that you can imagine. Because its entire concept pretty much relies on the context of the history it exists as well as the ideas of the other ideologies. It needs to be able to sit in the center of whatever dominant ideologies there currently are.
Because of that it’s never able to lead or change the culture to their liking, they’re only capable of analyzing culture. Add that to the fact that centrism hardly has a defined memeplex I hope you start to see my point here. It cannot make any significant impact on culture in the long term.
As soon as culture shifts centrism as currently outlined in this manifesto will cease to exist while the other ideologies will adapt. Whatever will be centrist then will entire depend on how the other ideologies adapt meaning that centrism will look alien to what it looks like currently. If you don’t believe me then let’s go back in time to 15th century feudal societies in England. Now imagine trying to propose the centrist views in that manifesto.
Hell even try proposing a now universally accepted idea like democracy. You won’t be seen as a centrist, pragmatist, moderate. No you will be seen as a radical who’s trying to dismantle a system that to them works fine pragmatically. What was centrist in English feudalism was entirely different.
But wait, you may now be saying, if culture does change it’s not just going to be contemporary centrism that won’t adapt. Conservatism, progressivism, libertarianism, how do you know those ideologies won’t die out either? Won’t it just all be replaced with fresh new ideologies?
Well not entirely. Because as I’ve mentioned because these movements have a well defined and recognized memeplex that allows it to adapt and evolve. For example libertarianism may seem like a very new movement, but it’s really just a memetic evolution of classical liberalism, which in itself is a memetic evolution of Physiocracy, which is a memetic evolution of Agrarianism, ect. And all of them are based on the memeplex of self-sufficiency, property rights and minimal government intervention.
I can talk about the memetic evolution of all these ideologies and how they even share family trees but the point is that you can see a clear fundamental line of the same ideas but repackaged and refined. Which centrism has never been able to do. You cannot find any centrist ideas in history that has a line of fundemental similar ideas.
So sure maybe libertarianism will die out during the next cultural shift, or it might not. But it has the chance to adapt and because of that the chance to influence culture. Centrism on the other hand is already doomed to fail.
…or is it?
Well it probably is. However I can think of some solutions on how to perserve this current form of centrism. But they all have notable flaws.
1. The coalition system
If centrism as a political movement can’t function then why not force the other ideologies to come to a centrist compromise by making them work in coalitions? If progressives and conservatives have to work together in order to make society function it means that they have to get along. This means they have to moderate their stances and give up some ideological platform policies to get a compromise. That is the closest you could get to have centrism. The best example of this would have to be the Dutch polder model.
However there are some problems. For one while this may give centrists short term political victory a coalition system cannot bring about long term cultural victories. And culture is a viral aspect of politics, because before you can propose a political idea it needs to be culturally acceptable. So even if this centrism is capable on having the two ideologies compromise eventually those two ideologies will still adapt to cultural changes which means different types of compromise and again a different type of centrism.
2. Slow down cultural change
For centrism to be able to make serious victories it will have to make sure political changes very slowly or not at all. That way centrism doesn’t have to be forced to adapt. But this is going to be very challenging because centrists already have a difficult time influencing culture in the first place and cultural change whether we like it or not is inevitable.
3. Making it more resilient by adding an ideological memeplex
So we’ve established that centrism is too fragile to make any significant cultural impacts because it does not have a recognizable memeplex. So the answer would be to add one to it to make up for that. The best example of this would have to be christian democracy.
Christian democratic parties are generally recognized as being on the center of the political spectrum.
But thanks to its addition of the christian memeplex it has a unique recognition that allows them to target and appeal to specific voters. This means that centrism in its christian democratic form has resilience. However if you were to do that you would have to abandon the idea that policy making has to be evidence based, you need to have some form of set ideology to be recognized. With christian democrats being socially conservative.
So this would be the best way to perserve most of the centrist ideals but it wouldn’t be called centrism and it wouldn’t really be the type of evidence based centrism that you’d ideally like to see.
So ultimately whatever happens this current centrist movement will harshly put not have much impact on culture compared to the socialists, the alt right, the libertarians, the SJWs, ect. It’s simply too fragile and lacks the most important part that allows an ideology to last as long as it has. If it is going to become a serious movement it needs to embrace a specific set of rules and likely stop calling itself centrist. Or maybe this will be the one time where centrism is capable of truly changing culture. Only time will tell.