John Avlon: The Scott Brown of the Center Left?

February 10, 2010 at 9:38 am (By Amba)

It’s obviously time for centrists to make their carefully crafted moves.  These moments have to be seized; they don’t necessarily last.  Political moods are fickle as March winds.  Fed-up independents may be ready for some stirring rhetoric of their own — common sense need not be bland and wishy-washy — and just as Scott Brown played it perfectly (he almost had me!) and got himself elected to the Senate, John Avlon, author of Independent Nation, is coming out with his well-timed new book, Wingnuts:  How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America.

Right out of the gate I question the title, because Avlon must know that “wingnuts” is generally used to traduce the fringe on the right; he means his brush to tar both “wings” equally, but it won’t be taken that way.  That makes me think it’s a center-left book.  If it just plays into liberals gleefully bashing “birthers” and the like, that’s nothing new.  I hope the book overcomes that impression and at least gives the center left a strong, sane voice, as Brown has the center right.  I’ve met Avlon once, he’s a smart guy, and I’m happy to see him making his well-timed bid for influence.

I’m going to post his press release and go back to work.  That way, while we’re waiting for the book, we can review the press release. :)


My new book, Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America, is now available from and Barnes and Noble.  It is also available in e-book and audio-book format.  It will be available in book stores next week.

What’s a Wingnut?  It’s someone on the far-right wing or far-left wing of the political spectrum – the professional partisans and the unhinged activists, the hardcore haters and the paranoid conspiracy theorists.  They’re the people who always try to divide us instead of unite us.

The book looks at the outbreak of extremism in the opening of the Obama administration — from the unprecedented government spending that spurred the Tea-Party protests to the onset of Obama Derangement Syndrome.  The book explains how hate-fueled rumors take hold (one section is called “How Obama Became Hitler, a Communist and the Antichrist”), examines the “hunt for heretics” that is taking place inside both parties, looks at the growth of the “Hatriot” movement and details the rise of increasingly hyper-partisan media.  It compares current merchants of political paranoia with past
fear-mongers and finds that we’ve heard much of this hate-filled snake oil before.  But the increased polarization of the two parties and the echo-chamber of the internet are helping the fringe blur with the base, making the Wingnuts more powerful than ever before.  Not to fear, though — more Americans are declaring their Independence from extremes on both sides, and the book ends with “How to Take America Back from the Lunatic Fringe.”

Buy a copy and please pass this email on to friends who would enjoy the book — we need to show that there is an untapped market for books [that] take on extremes from both sides.  It’s also the debut book from BeastBooks.  Below are the links to Amazon and Barnes & Noble as well as — and feel
free to write a review if you feel so inspired.


Barnes & Noble:


  1. PatHMV said,

    Two points. One, specific to the book, is to notice that all the actual examples of extremism given in the promotional copy are right-wing extremism. This does not bode well for the possibility of the book being even-handed. He certainly doesn’t seem to be marketing to anybody on the right.

    Two, to be successful, centrism (like both parties themselves) need to focus on what they are all about, not on the negative. I don’t see how somebody like Avalon things they can bring the country together by trashing any group of Americans. Candidate Obama (not a centrist) said he understood why people would be bitter and cling to their guns and their religion. Bill Clinton (a centrist) said he felt our pain. Same sentiment, in one sense (trying to express empathy and understanding), but one attacks, the other soothes.

    In putting out yet another diatribe against the howling wingnuts (of either side), I think Avalon contributes to the noise rather than helps move beyond it. One of the persistent criticisms of centrism is that it is not really for anything, that it is mushy and offers no specific policy solutions. Based on the promo, it doesn’t sound like this book will do anything to mute that criticism. Where’s the centrist book saying here is a solution which will please 90% of folks on health care, and here is a solution which makes progress on gays in the military and here is what a centrist stimulus bill would look like.

    I am generally deeply suspicious of those who try to proclaim that we are living in some age of unprecedented venom. With very brief periods of extreme prosperity aside (who needs to fight when resources are abundant), American politics has always had nasty, brutish, ignorant factional fighting. The only thing, if anything, that has changed in the past 20 years is that we now see in public forums the conversations that used to be had only in the barroom or in private meeting halls.

  2. amba12 said,

    Just as people will have marital brawls on their cellphones, apparently tuning out the fact that everyone can hear them, the Internet may often make us feel like we’re in a private meeting hall when we’re not!

    (That makes me irrelevantly flash back on a time when I was coming back on the bus from parking my car in New Jersey, and I called J on my cell only to find he was on the floor. I think I had to call a neighbor to go check on him when J didn’t answer the phone, and then have the neighbor give him the phone; I knew how to help him up at that point, but there was no way the neighbor could have done it. Can’t remember if I called 911 or just asked the neighbor to stay with him a little longer. I was too distressed to be discreet, so fellow bus riders were treated to the whole spectacle. To their credit, they were murmuring with compassion rather than annoyance by the end of it all.)

    I find it ironic that those (myself included) who call for an end to polarization can only do it by creating a new polarization and a new enemy: the fringe. That said, I think the foaming frenzy politics can rise to is one reason why the Hamiltonians mistrusted democracy and made this a republic! And I am very bothered by those on both sides who now put party above country, and are willing to exacerbate rather than solve the country’s problems just to keep the other side from getting ANY credit or electoral momentum from the result. (Boxers want to knock the other guy out and win, there’s everything in it for them, yet they mostly still embrace each other after a good fight.)

  3. PatHMV said,

    It’s not that you can’t be concerned about the polarization (I agree it’s not for the best, even as I think it’s not as worrisome as many find it). It’s how you go about it. Rather than assume they all are just trying to put party over country, assume that they simply differ over what’s best for the country. Credit (most) of them with sincerity, even if you think they are misguided. Indeed, in my experience, most of the really out there fringers are true believers in their fringe-dom, and truly believe that what they are advocating is what’s best for the country.

    The most dangerous people are the professional political class that has arisen who are willing to prey on the fringers, using them to achieve political power without actually having any intention of delivering on their stated goals. On the Republican side, you have Tom DeLay, for example, who adeptly exploited the “Religious Right” (and especially, in the end, poor Terri Schiavo and her family’s plight) to gain political power for himself, which he used primarily to make a lot of Republican lobbyists on K street wealthy, while never actually reducing the deficit or otherwise pursuing truly conservative goals. On the Democrat side, President Obama, during the campaign, was happy to run on a platform of closing Gitmo, pulling our troops out of Iraq, etc., etc., when any sane person who actually looked closely at such things knew that would not be possible. He fed on the Bush hatred and was happy to do so for his own political gain.

    So that’s what “centrists” need to focus on… not on disparaging fellow Americans, but on holding our politicians feet to the fire and demanding that they be HONEST with us. Let’s have REAL policy debates, based on what the politicians REALLY intend to do. Demand that the politicians make real campaign promises, and live up to them.

    Don’t like the wingnuts running the asylum? Then organize and outvote them. Show the politicians that they have more votes (and campaign contributions) to gain by appealing to you rather than to the “extremists.”

    The fundamental reason, amba, why the answer to your title query is “no” is because John Avalon is not running for office; he’s only writing a book… and it’s a book about the negatives of a subset of the American people. Scott Brown decided to do the difficult, run for office. And, while he expressed his strong opposition to Obamacare, he didn’t criticize any group of Massachusetts citizens, as I recall.

  4. amba12 said,

    It’s the professional political class I’m talking about (whether Avlon is or not)! I don’t think most Americans put party over country; I think they sincerely believe the set of ideas they espouse are best for the country. It’s the political pros (and I suppose we shouldn’t even make SWEEPING generalizations about them) who are just playing a giant Super Bowl game where the entire objective seems to be to get your team into power (and enrich your friends), by any means necessary.

    I had originally titled this post “John Avlon: Scott Brown of the Punditry?” I’m well aware that he isn’t running for office . . . at least not yet. (I don’t know if he has candidacy in mind.)

  5. realpc said,

    “With very brief periods of extreme prosperity aside (who needs to fight when resources are abundant), American politics has always had nasty, brutish, ignorant factional fighting.”

    During the Clinton-era prosperity, there was nasty fighting about his sex life. It goes to show you people will always find something to disagree about. I think contrast and conflict are inevitable in politics. Even though I believe trying to compromise, and in moderation, I don’t feel I can call myself a moderate. A moderate doesn’t stand FOR anything.

    And yes, his examples were all ring wingnuts, not left. He mentioned Obama derangement syndrome, but not Bush derangement syndrome (and I think BDR was much more intense than ODR).

    As for extremism being a political game, I don’t really think so. There are people who are on the left (or right) on every single issue. They complain about their party not being extreme enough. Lots of the extreme leftists are academics, molding our future generations.

    These academic leftists have not a trace of doubt about the correctness of their views. They are, after all, intellectually superior (and have degrees to prove it). They do not question any aspect of far left ideology. They only talk to each other and never get any contradictory evidence.

    The rightist extremists are largely a reaction against the snooty academic far leftists, and their wacky far-out followers. Far rightists love their god and and their country, while far leftists dream of a world-wide atheist anarchy.

    Moderates, centrists and independents either never heard of the current extreme ideologies, heard of them and hate them both, or else feel confused.

    I’m an independent because I heard of them and hate them both, and also because I feel confused. I know what I hate but I never have any simple answers. And without simple answers you can’t really convince anyone to join up.

    So, what I’m saying is there can’t be a sane moderate who can gather a big following and attain power. There could be someone who designs a new ideological framework that makes more sense than the two main idiot-ologies we have now. That person could attract a following. Not a centrist.

  6. amba12 said,

    I’m an independent because I heard of them and hate them both, and also because I feel confused.


  7. wj said,

    real, there is one other way to convince people to join up. And it is one which could, IMHO, get a moderate elected. It is just what you and amba have: disgust with the behavior of both extremes. Granted, it may take a while to work up to that level of irritation.

    Actually I think part of the reason Obama got elected was the perception/hope that what he was offering was just that. And while the behavior of the Democrats in Congress shows no signs of moderating, a case could be made that Obama himself is trying for the middle. Just one small indication: the screams from the far left (admittedly well practiced at screaming) about how he is “betraying” them by not ramming thru their preferred agenda in complete detail.

    The question arises, of course: can enough moderates get motivated to elect a majority in Congress, rather than just a President? On that front, the large numbers of individuals who are registering as Independent (in states which do not have open primaries) suggests that we may still be a long way away. After all, if the extremists successfully control the primaries, we won’t see much in the way of moderation in the general election.

  8. Maxwell said,

    As you know, I used to consider myself a centrist. I don’t anymore, and Avlon’s book looks like yet another reason to be glad I’ve left that behind me. The problem with self-styled centrists like him is that in their efforts to account for their inherent biases, they inevitably twist themselves into incoherent knots. Consider this report of his from the Tea Party convention – he starts off by making fun of Roy Moore and Orly Taitz, but then goes on to sing the praises of Generation Zero, a film I’m sure both of them would love. I mean, with (forced, IMO) enthusiasm he notes that it features “commentary from Amity Shlaes, Shelby Steele, Victor Davis Hanson, and Newt Gingrich, among others.”

    You know what’s a great example of centrism? The healthcare bill. It’s certainly not leftist – there’s no single payer, no public option, no capitation of doctor’s salaries. Nope, it’s 2700 pages (or whatever) of the best centrist compromises money can buy. That the Republicans have unilaterally opposed it says more about their political discipline and foresight than the level of compromise existing in the bill. See the now dearly-departed McCain-Feingold for another example of what “bipartisan” compromise gets you.

    True moderates, who don’t lean strongly towards one party or another, make up maybe 10% of all voters. Some of that 10%, such as you and Dave Schuler, are well-informed, principled people who work hard to not be swayed by irrational biases. But I’m willing to bet that the majority of that 10% are just swingers who vote based on the economy and the political winds. That’s just not something you can build a movement out of.

  9. realpc said,

    Yes wj I think I know what you mean, and the reason I voted for Obama was that his book convinced me he is not any kind of extremist. But there just seems to be some kind of philosophical problem with the concept of centrism. For one thing, you have to figure out what 2 extremes you’re in the center of, for each issue. So centrist depends on the extremists for its definition. Does this make sense? In other words, if there were no extremists there could be no centrists or moderates, so centrism just perpetuates whatever crazy myths are already in the air.

    Yes to some extent I think I am a moderate because I believe in moderation in all things, and balance, and compromise. I think the abortion issue could be settled with common sense compromises, for example. Capitalism vs socialism has the obvious answer of combining both — which we have probably been doing from the beginning, and certainly since the 1930s.

    But a new ideology would have to stand FOR something, and be in some way new, not just be a matter of finding a mid-point between already defined extremes.

    So when I think of myself as a moderate it really doesn’t feel right to me. I am someone who believes in balance and compromise, and also in facing reality and considering the facts. I guess I think of it as pragmatic, as opposed to utopian.

    But everyone, no matter what kind of raving extremist they might be, sees themselves as rational, pragmatic and moderate. Because whatever we are, that is what we see as normal. Whatever we are not is what we see as crazed.

    I have a relative who is always in a frenzy about some political thing, and always takes the far left position. She has no patience with my being a moderate who actually thinks about the issues before going insane about them. And then I wind up never going insane about them.

    And I never have any idea how I could defend myself to her. I don’t like to go into a frenzy, I think there is more than one side to the issue, etc. She says if everyone were like me nothing would ever get done and no problem would ever be solved.

    Is that true? Do we need to have people who go into a frenzy about issues they don’t understand because they have only considered one point of view?

    I have never been an activist but I could imagine getting involved in a cause if I had the time and felt it was worthwhile. I just haven’t done it yet. Does being a non-extremist prevent me from getting frenzied enough to sacrifice time for a cause?

    I really don’t know. I think getting involved in a cause could be fun, if I had the time and thought it was worthwhile.

    There definitely are things I feel very strongly about. I do spend a lot of time writing about them on blogs. Isn’t that a way of being involved?

  10. karen said,

    “Yes wj I think I know what you mean, and the reason I voted for Obama was that his book convinced me he is not any kind of extremist.”

    I wonder if you may have noticed, real– but, Obama ~changes his mind~ way too much to convince me of his position in the middle of the road as opposed to beyond the white line. IOW– he lies.

    I know i’ve been saying this for a couple of yrs now. I hardly believe anything i hear, anymore- pertaining to anything coming out of the WHouse because i feel it’s fabricated to look better than it is– fabricated, not merely manipulated.

    How can you lose 20,000 jobs and get an unemployment rate lower than what the month before stated? How can you take $$$$ from TARP and give it to a small business when it’s meant to pay down debt and call it decreasing the deficit? How can you say you are dead set against the war in Iraq, against the Surge– and then take credit for all the progress made in the democracy of a free Iraq? How can paying employers to hire folks they may not even need be considered good business sense- especially when it’s taxpayer money… that whole ~jobs bill~ creation is wacky and way left of the center, if you ask me. And how can you go to a Republican retreat and talk compromise when all you really want/say is: sit down, shut up and my bill is already written in the best interest of this Country….? How can you press a Global Warming agenda when it’s fact that much evidence is either false or computer generated? And then want to cap-and-trade or do the whole footprint gig?

    Obama is extreme, real. He really is.

    “But everyone, no matter what kind of raving extremist they might be, sees themselves as rational, pragmatic and moderate. Because whatever we are, that is what we see as normal. Whatever we are not is what we see as crazed.”

    I’m a Righty- not bad for a lefty, eh? Heh- i’m ambidextrous!!! I admit that, w/out moderation. I doubt i’m fringe- we just bought flooring for our house(home on the back road) and it’s bamboo. Over nice Maple!!! Sustainable:0)– ahhhh– renewable.

    And you, my friend- are Independent as hell and when you get cornered by your frenzied leftward relative– smile, especially when she maligns you w/insensitive and untrue sentiments. Know why??? Because it will drive her crazy and because she is dead-centered wrong:0).

  11. amba said,

    Interesting discussion. Seems that the only thing people dislike even more than an extremist is a centrist.

    Real has a good point: that to be a “centrist” implies you’re positioning yourself on an existing continuum. That means in a sense you affirm the terms of the debate and of the extremes. What people who are “neither/nor” may be in search of is a place off the prevailing ideological grid.

    The problem is that to have ideas, you kind of have to have an ideology — a framework. Despite our very different styles, real and I are both tending towards being post-thinkers — Taoists of a sort. (Exhausted thinkers?) We’ve both banged up against the ultimate futility, or more kindly put the limited utility (or more harshly put the seductive destructiveness), of human thought. This doesn’t necessarily mean know-nothingism. You can respond quite well to situations, sometimes better, without having thought them out in advance.

  12. amba said,

    Oh — I meant to ask Maxwell: now that you know you’re not a centrist, how do you define yourself? Or don’t you?

  13. Maxwell said,

    I think at this point I am pretty solidly an exasperationist.

    (Though that might be my religion as well).

  14. amba said,

    Oh, I love it . . . especially the solidity of it . . .

    May I quote you?

  15. realpc said,

    [to be a “centrist” implies you’re positioning yourself on an existing continuum. That means in a sense you affirm the terms of the debate and of the extremes. What people who are “neither/nor” may be in search of is a place off the prevailing ideological grid.]

    Yes I think so. I definitely have an ideological framework, and I don’t think it’s on the current grid. My framework is mostly related to system’s theory, which sort of overlaps with alternative science and new-agism. Sort of, but I don’t mean exactly. I have almost nothing in common with new-agers anymore.

    So I have this framework which, as Amba said, in some ways resembles hers, and it is at odds with the current frameworks, because it is non-mainstream.

    I think that anyone who has studied comparative religion and anthropology, for example, might have problems with the current mainstream frameworks. The mainstream frameworks evolved out of European philosophy and Christianity.

  16. realpc said,


    I think you’re expecting too much from Obama. He’s just a human being like any of us, with massively complicated problems to deal with. And he has to try to make everyone happy, which is impossible.

    I didn’t see anything in his book that I would consider in any way extremist. I see him as more or less realistic and not an utopianist.

    I don’t even know how anyone could label him as an extreme leftist, He has lots of extreme leftist supporters, who obviously didn’t read his book.

    You could say he pretends to be moderate, but I don’t really think so. I think he’s a politician, not a fanatic.

    I am not necessarily impressed with him, but I don’t know how anyone without magical powers could solve the current problems.

  17. Maxwell said,

    Sure, but only if you keep it in the original Exasperando…

    In all seriousness: when it comes to politics, I lean left, inherently (At least when I’m not completely exasperated with my own). I read conservatives, I take their arguments seriously, and I look for common ground. I’ve used the left-libertarian tag at times. But like most people, I lean.

  18. amba12 said,

    I don’t think I lean. When I lean either way, I recoil as if I touched an electric fence. I seem to agree with conservatives more just because I was raised liberal and I keep being impressed by the trenchancy of many conservative criticisms of liberals (although Karen seems to me to be not so much critical as just repelled; her emotions seem to have preceded her reasoning). But I also recoil from conservatives’ certainty that they are right, that business is always right and should be allowed to do whatever it pleases because anything else is taking away our freedom, that markets are a kind of god (it’s not that I don’t think markets have more wisdom than planners — it’s the extreme of the belief that allows corporations to despoil what should be the commons; if anything, government has to protect not only the public good but the conditions for competition).

    I guess the rhetorical positions that government is evil/business is evil seem disingenuous to me because everybody knows that we will always have a mixed economy, and the fight is over the balance between them. I am for far smaller government than the Democrats want, but it seems as utterly ridiculous to me to regard Obama as some kind of Stalinist schemer as to regard successful entrepreneurs as having stolen their wealth from the poor.

    Actually, I know what I think! (How about that!) I think culture is far more important and influential than politics or government and is much more the problem and the solution. Unethical business practices and the “culture of poverty” are both failures of culture. To the extent that the executives of corporations pride themselves on behaving responsibly and ethically, regulation is less necessary. The same is true of the pathologies of the underclass. The trouble is that the rewards of ethical behavior tend to be deferred, broad, and subtle, unlike the next crack high, power surge or profit rush. That’s always been the trouble.

  19. Maxwell said,

    I almost agree with that – except that I think economic incentives are more important than culture, and even create culture to a significant extent (though the reverse is also true sometimes). Creating either a more ethical business culture OR a more ethical government culture is impossible without changing the fundamental incentives that guide the leaders of either sector.

  20. amba12 said,

    Maxwell — I do agree about incentives. I was going to add something about figuring out how to reward people for doing “the right thing” — that is the definition of incentives. But I got exhausted. :)

  21. Rod said,

    True believers and skeptics might be a better dichotomy than centrist/extremist. If you measure all things only in terms of the left/right continuum, you will ultimately either internalize one view and ignore the inconsistencies of one of the extremes, or recoil from both sides and become a centrist. I believe some folks don’t fit on the left/right line at all. They may be incoherent thinkers, but they could also have their perspective organized by a world view that stands outside the single line. Take the late Pope. Was he a conservative or a liberal? On some social issues he was very conservative, but he also nettled many conservatives when he spoke about war or the plight of the poor. He was coming from a very robust perspective that intersected the left/right line at various points, but was not organized around that line.

  22. karen said,

    Repelled– yup, that is definitely true, amba!! Yet, i don’t agree that i expect too much of Obama– hell, i didn’t vote for him. I actually expect nothing– unless you count the many promises uttered from the man’s own lips. I know, i know– politicians are always promising, yet his seemed soooo sincere. Then, he’ll tell you in the next breath that a man should be measured by the promises he keeps and not by those he makes. You know what? That’s fu**ed, in my eyes.

    “But I also recoil from conservatives’ certainty that they are right, that business is always right and should be allowed to do whatever it pleases because anything else is taking away our freedom, that markets are a kind of god…”

    Unfettered capitalism is dangerous and i have it on very good Wavemaker authority that being for boundries, rules and limits(w/in limit) is just plain good business and common sensical(if that’s a word). W went to the Congress many times about Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac, if i understand correctly– since Congress makes the laws, etc– and he got nowhere in reining in the gluttonous habits of the fast and furious moneygrabbers. Last i knew, he was on the Right and Congress of tipped Left at that time. Caught up in the moment, i guess they were.

    The only answer i can see is grit my teeth and bear it and hopefully the next guy down the pike(or gal) will make more sense to me, because heads nor tails can i make of the man that now serves US in gov’t.

    And i believe you ALL know how i feel about the most powerful woman in our Country- the 3rd in line to take the helm. Holy crap. What’s bright about THAT??

  23. wj said,

    I think that being a centrist (at least as I use the term) is not so much a matter of what you believe as how you believe it.

    I was talking with one of my more far left friends some years ago, and she got off on a rant about conservatives and how terrible they all were. (Mind you, this was well before the Republican party got to its current condition.) I pointed out that after all I was a conservative, and she didn’t find me all that terrible. To which her response was “Oh, but you’re a tolerant conservative!” I treasure that comment.

    IMHO, the difference between centrists and those on either extreme is simply this: a centrist is willing to believe that those with other opinions are misguided, rather than evil. Those on the extremes cannot accept that someone might have a different point of view, and so they conclude that anyone who disagrees must be a minion of, and a force for, evil. They may not use that term, but the characterization is definitely there.

    So, it’s not a contortion to reconcile individual beliefs with an overall philosophy. It’s just a matter of coming to conclusions on individual issues, while accepting that you may not always be correct in your conclusions.

  24. realpc said,

    “a centrist is willing to believe that those with other opinions are misguided, rather than evil.”

    I would go farther and say a centrist believes those with other opinions just might have a different, but still valid, perspective. They might have information or insights the centrist doesn’t know about. And vice versa, of course.

    I know that, like everyone, my knowledge is incomplete, but also that I know things someone else might not.

  25. amba12 said,

    So what we’re talking about here isn’t centrism but, um, “epistemological modesty” — declining to equate any set of ideas with reality. Ideas are tools, ways of looking at a phenomenon from different angles; the more sets of tools one can use (unbidden flash on Clint’s garage in Gran Torino), the more rounded a glimpse of the phenomenon one can get. Contradictory, yes — but reality is, from our point of view.

  26. realpc said,

    “Take the late Pope. Was he a conservative or a liberal? On some social issues he was very conservative, but he also nettled many conservatives when he spoke about war or the plight of the poor. ”

    This kind of thing happens all the time. A person could be labelled a conservative because they are opposed to communism/socialism, because they believe in national defense, and/or because they value cultural traditions such as organized religion.

    A person could be labelled a liberal, or progressive, because they are opposed to unfair discrimination, because they think war should be avoided, and/or because they believe the government has the power and ability to prevent poverty.

    Some of us are independents because joining one side because we agree on certain points would mean rejecting the other side. If I believe national defense is important it doesn’t mean I love violence, or hate poor people, or think all non-Christians are going to hell.

    If I am against unfair discrimination it doesn’t mean I think the government owes everyone a job and a house and a car and free health care.

    So the lines are drawn in arbitrary ways that don’t necessarily make sense. If we had 4 parties instead of 2 that might help.

  27. realpc said,

    “Ideas are tools, ways of looking at a phenomenon from different angles; the more sets of tools one can use the more rounded a glimpse of the phenomenon one can get. Contradictory, yes — but reality is, from our point of view.”

    Yes that’s what I think.

  28. amba12 said,

    I also have the problem of finding some excellent principles on both “sides,” and thinking that perhaps those principles go too far towards extremes when they are unchecked by their “opposites.” That’s why I like divided government!

  29. amba12 said,

    Back to Maxwell’s point about incentives:

    Not all incentives are material. Many are social. In fact, social rewards are a big part of material ones — what’s the point of having stuff if you can’t show it off?

    When people can take more pride in their character than in their raw power, because their community values and admires character — that’s a powerful incentive, and that’s the work of culture. Note that philanthropy is the new black in wealthy circles; how much and (even more to the point) how effectively you give is a GOOD status symbol. (I’ve helped someone write a foundation mission statement, and we’ve talked a lot about how philanthropy is moving away from just having your and your spouse’s name on a big building with a flourishing bureaucracy in it.)

    I continue to think that the best thing Barack Obama may do as president is make committed fatherhood cool to the inner city.

    There are a set of rarefied incentives that might be called “spiritual” (not to go all Maslovian on you), but they are rare as radium.

  30. realpc said,

    “That’s why I like divided government!”

    The government has to be divided, or we are all slaves. Unless we are the government or its special friends.

  31. realpc said,

    “how much and (even more to the point) how effectively you give is a GOOD status symbol. ”

    But giving a lot means having a lot, and that means having raw power (or being connected with someone who does). So philanthropy is actually a way of saying “hey, I’m a big shot with power.” In addition to really wanting to be nice, etc.

  32. amba12 said,

    Sure, exactly; that’s why it’s an incentive.

  33. karen said,

    It all seems so contrary to the teachings of (my, at least) religion- when the poor widow tithed her last two coins as opposed to the wealthy giving(grossly, none the less) that which seemed muchly , yet was not above and beyond their margin of– pinchiness?

    There are many more incentives than what goes for culture, these days- IMhumbleO. And i really like the fact that our tone/state of mind and heart- has a lot to do w/our leanings:0).

  34. Norma said,

    If he thinks extremism started with obama, then yes, it’s way left of center. Don’t even need to read further. Centrist is usually a synonym for fence sitter, but he doesn’t seem to be one.

  35. realpc said,

    The trouble with the concept of political moderate is that everyone thinks they’re a moderate. We all see ourselves as reasonable and practical, no mater how insane we really are. We all know everyone should be moderate in everything, even politics.

    An extremist is someone who claims to be a moderate, and is fighting an opponent they perceive to be extreme. So extremism is a reaction to a perceived extreme.

    No matter what anyone believes, it seems to be common sense and obvious to them. To someone else it might be the most bizarre fundamentalist insanity.

    We don’t join an ideology or religion or political party because we want to become a fanatic. No one would ever join a group they perceive as fanatical.

    So this is why you can’t ever convince someone they are going to an extreme. They’ll say something like “But … but .. G. W. Bush is controlled by maniacal neocons who have a plan to take over the whole world!! Can’t you see it? There’s a Downing Street document. We have to do something right now! How can you call that extreme? It’s the maniacal Nazi neocons who are extreme, and if we don’t stop them now we will never get another chance ..” and so on, and on, and on, and on.

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