The Extinction of Moderation

Way back in 1996, as I sat in WUJS Arad, my very first home in Israel, I was sitting around in my Jewish agency apartment, drinking cheap wine out of a plastic cup with friends and was asked to describe in one or two words my political views.

I thought for a mere second and spit out the following:  militant moderate.

My friends rolled with laughter at my description since it was a total contradiction in terms.  Moderation by its very nature would seem to shun militancy.

Still, 16 years later that is still how I would describe myself and, in my humble opinion, the term is even more apt now than it was in 1996, since moderation seems to be going the way of the Polar Bear, heading ever so toward extinction.

OK, maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but the point is that we have entered into an era where more people seem to be clinging to the extreme points of view within a given ideology, or at the very least, it is the extreme views that get the attention.

Yes, I am a liberal, my views on economics, politics and religion all fall on the left side of the spectrum to varying degrees. I am not a one-issue voter.  I look beyond grand gestures and sweeping statements. I try to vote for the America (or Israel) that I want to see emerge, the one that fits best with my own personal vision, values and core beliefs.  My politics are personal, just like they are to everyone else.  I accept that others think differently than me and that they also vote for the society that they would like to see emerge, they vote on the basis of what is important to them.

Since 1996,  the world has become even smaller, with the Internet making us all one big virtual village.  The Internet has opened up the information superhighway for all and social networking has gotten the whole world talking to one another.  The very nature of social networking allows us to say what we think without filters, without tone of voice, without eye contact, without fear of offending someone else.

Without civility.

As time goes on we get more polarized, the media, society and we ourselves fall into the trap of naming, blaming and shaming instead of allowing that the other side might raise some valid points, even if you don’t agree with them.

I’ve seen this play out all over the blogs on TOI.  It’s brutal out there.  Basically if you don’t agree with someone’s opinions, that person is an idiot, they cite the wrong facts, use the wrong sources.  Just a couple of hours ago I was perusing a comment thread I had commented on a day or two ago.  A fellow commenter cited a piece in the New York Times to prove a point.  His counter-point commenter said he doesn’t recognize the New York Times as a legitimate source.  Come on, it’s  The New York Times.  Sure, they can make a mistake, and you might not agree with their general point of view,  but acting like they are some underground-printing press-cranking-out-smack-on-a-ditto machine?  That’s overboard.

What happened to moderation?  What happened to pluralism?  Pluralism packed it’s friggin bags and rode out of dodge a long time ago.

What we’re left with are the extremes, lots of voiceless people who feel the need to be heard, and a societal setting which rewards those who scream loudest.  The more voiceless you feel, the more extreme your views tend to get.

I don’t like it.

I don’t like what I see happening.  Even among Jews, we’ve resorted to name calling and vilifying and all sorts of nastiness.  Jews have always been forthcoming in their opinions, proving the old adage true, that put 2 Jews in a room and you get 3 opinions.  That’s fine but we’ve gone way beyond passionate debate and discourse.  As a friend recently wrote to me saying how awful it is that even within Judaism, we have resorted to a no-holds-barred spewing of nastiness.

As a liberal and a fair minded person, I am willing to admit that the left side of the equation has also its fair share of extremists and hate mongers and people who distort facts for their purposes.  Those who feel this kind of thing belongs only to one side of the argument are deceiving themselves.  Hate, intolerance and bigotry are still hate intolerance and bigotry no matter what political philosophy you wrap them in and wrapping them up in religious fervor can’t wash them clean of being hate, intolerance and bigotry.

Coming up with a world view is more than just a summing up of facts.  Facts and statistics can be manipulated to support or deny any claim that you want to make. You can find facts to support any assertion out there.  Talking in facts, to me, almost becomes useless.

More and more I measure someone else’s view on not whether they are a red state or a blue state, whether they are Likud or Kadima, Shas or New Meretz (or whatever they are calling themselves these days), but how open and tolerable they are of other views.

Because the mark of a true intellectual is not someone who can spout off facts at a moment’s notice, and who can win arguments.  It is someone for whom learning is a constant process, where your views are continually emerging and being redefined rather than just finding stronger arguments to prove that you are right.

My experience blogging on TOI so far has largely been negative, due to some of the truly cruel and vicious comments left by readers.  Comments, so full of hate, scathing and insults  you have to wonder who the people are vomiting this much hate and blame all over the place?  I take the responsibility for my reaction to it.  I really should have understood and been more prepared for it so as not to let it effect me the way it has.  I mean really, who needs all that negativity?  I don’t write for a living, I have a career, a home, a family and lots of other things I can spend my time on.

Why subject myself to it?

Why?  Well, I think if I don’t, I will be just yet another moderate voice which was extinguished and I will be just as responsible for the extinction of moderation and civility as those clinging to the extremes.

It’s definitely time for moderation to undergo a renaissance.


About the Author
Dana has made it her habit to break cultural barriers and butcher languages wherever she goes. Born in Pittsburgh, Dana lived and worked in Tel Aviv for five years, before moving to the Netherlands where she lives with her husband and daughter in Amsterdam.