The Reasonables and the Extremists

20 Feb

So … my health went downhill yesterday, leaving me depressed, cranky and unable to concentrate on the current story, so I decided to write a political post when I finally managed to drag myself out of bed. This is my take on what’s gone wrong over the last two decades of political discourse.

Take a political issue. Any issue. It doesn’t matter what it is. Gay marriage, gay scoutmasters, transgender bathrooms, gun control, immigration, abortion … anything you like, as long as it’s controversial.

Now, for each and every one of these ideas, there will be opposition. There will be people who will dislike the issue, and/or the steps proposed to tackle it; people who are unwilling to let other people dictate how they should feel about the issue.

And this opposition can be divided into two subcategories: the Reasonables and the Extremists.

The Extremists are the bad guys. They’re the ones who are adamantly opposed to any change and will fight tooth and nail to prevent it. They’re homophobes, transphobes, racists, sexists, you name it. Extremists and SJWs have an awful lot in common, but neither one will admit it.

On the other hand, the Reasonables have reasonable reasons for being concerned. They’re the ones who don’t want to ban abortion completely, for example, but also don’t want to see it used as a form of birth control. They’re the ones who aren’t adamantly opposed to immigration, but want to keep it under control (and keep undesirables – criminals, terrorists, etc – out of the country.) The important point to bear in mind about the Reasonables is that they are often prepared to compromise; sure, you can allow immigration, provided you vet the immigrants beforehand and evict them, later, if it turns out they actually do have criminal tendencies.

Now, imagine that a democracy is a car driving down an icy road. It hits a patch of ice and starts to skid right. Now, the instinctive reaction is to yank the wheel left. But this tends to make things worse. Counter-intuitively, the real answer is to turn into the skid, regain traction and then return the car to the centre of the road. Put bluntly, if voters don’t like your policies, they will tell you so at the ballot box … and, if you want to stay in power, you should adapt your policies accordingly. Democracy is a crude, but effective feedback system.

From a political point of view, you turn into the skid by addressing – effectively addressing – the concerns of the Reasonables. This keeps them from siding with the Extremists, which – in turn – keeps the Extremists out of government. It also has the added benefit of keeping the other set of Extremists – yes, your extremists – out of government too.

But this requires, among other things, a willingness to accept that the Reasonables are not evil, at least in their own minds.

This sort of willingness has been lacking over the last two decades. Instead of accepting that the Reasonables are reasonable people, the Reasonables and the Extremists have been blended together. Anyone who is opposed to uncontrolled immigration, for example, is smeared as a racist, instead of someone who has reasonable concerns. There is no acknowledgment that the Reasonables might have a point, which drives them towards the Extremists. If you want to know why the Far Right is on the rise across the West, you just have to understand that the Traditional Right has proved itself unable or unwilling to accommodate the concerns of the Reasonables.

The problem is deeper than you might suppose. The charge the Alt-Right levels against the Traditional Right is that the Traditional Right has been unable or unwilling to either pour water on the flames (by making it clear that such political tactics will get their users nowhere) or fight fire with fire (by giving the people who use such tactics a taste of their own medicine). And while this may sound absurd, there is a considerable amount of truth in it. The Alt-Right is gaining in power because the Traditional Right has abdicated its responsibilities to its reasonable voters, which drives its voters to the Extremists.

Why does this happen? Well, it’s easy to smear someone. It’s certainly easier than proving them wrong or accepting their point of view. Shout “RACIST” and win the argument. It works! But it also alienates people from you. It convinces them that you are not only incapable of playing fair – i.e. by treating people with respect – but that you are fundamentally wrong. If you are right, prove it. And if you can’t prove it, maybe you’re not right. But this sort of conduct has smashed the middle ground.

Extremists make people nervous. They make me nervous. But if the alternative to taking an Extremist’s hand is death, which one would you choose?

25 Responses to “The Reasonables and the Extremists”

  1. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard February 20, 2018 at 8:03 pm #

    But but… My ideas are completely Reasonable! There can’t be any Reasonable disagreement with my ideas! [Very Big Sarcastic Grin]

  2. Gardner Friedlander February 20, 2018 at 8:35 pm #

    Although I disagree with you on a wide range of issues, I think that here you are getting to the main point. Shouting at and giving negative labels to your opponents can only make things worse–there can then be no listening, no true exchanging of ideas.

    • chrishanger March 4, 2018 at 9:21 am #


      That’s why i support free speech – we need to discuss ideas openly (even if they’re bad ones.)


  3. Bob Stewart February 20, 2018 at 9:00 pm #

    The Republicans have, for almost three decades now, proven themselves to be incapable of translating their “reasonable” policies into language that would garner support from the lower half of the economic spectrum. There are many examples of this, Romney’s “47%” analysis of his challenge as a Presidential candidate being the clearest. In addition, these “reasonable” candidates are cowards. Again Romney didn’t stand up for his points about Benghazi and his concern over Russia. He just lost gracefully when challenged by Obama and the moderator. The Democrats have never been lacking in their willingness to pile lie upon lie, whatever is needed. Pelosi’s argument that every $1 spent on unemployment would yield $2 of GDP growth is completely bogus, but that didn’t stop her from doubling down when needed. And before our very eyes, we’re watching the Democrats fabricate a fantastical conspiracy about Russian activities in 2016. Spokesmen for the Dems are aligned in suggesting that millions of dollars were spent every month by the Russians on social media, despite the fact that Facebook has stated that the total expenditure on their site was just $46,000. It goes on and on.

    So the question is really, what would a reasonable conservative do in such a situation? I supported Cruz until he flamed out, and then I had to make a difficult choice. Trump has worked out better than I expected, but I am constantly amazed at how deep opposition to him still runs among other conservatives. Things will get very ugly if Republicans continue to be spineless pretenders. We need men of strong character who will not apologize for their beliefs. They need to make the case that working is preferable to being the client of a massive welfare state. And it isn’t that hard if you actually know someone whose life is controlled by Medicaid and subsidized housing rules. These benighted people spend all their waking hours trying to figure out how to make a few bucks “off the books”, be it small time gambling to dabbling in drugs to small cash infusions to fly by night enterprises. They are engulfed in a black market that provides no upward mobility into the main stream economy. And now we have a generation of millennials with $100K student loans that are limiting their opportunities in the most crucial years of their careers. Many work as cashiers in big box stores or coffee houses. They should be planning on their future, but they are just marking time. Trump’s policies are likely to change much of this, but it will be a mixed blessing. If inflation finally appears, the higher interest rates will kill the housing bubble. If Republicans can’t withstand the phony arguments that will be levied against them, which, historically, is the likely outcome in any crisis, then we will be right back where we started.

  4. Andrew Clayborne Jones February 20, 2018 at 10:43 pm #

    Extremists want it all.
    Reasonables are willing to compromise.
    The game is iterative.

    Playing as “willing to compromise” is a looser strategy against an Extremist.

    If you are a Middle Ground player, your best bet of succeeding in getting your way is to have two Extremists at each other’s throats trying to get you to reward them. If one gains a sustained upper hand, you should shift to support the other. This only works if neither Extremist can get their way without you.

    Sure, it’d be great if everyone were reasonable and we could all go to the forum and engage in reasoned debate, but “extremism” works. The incentives are obvious, and, in politics, the costs obscured or delayed.

  5. jh February 20, 2018 at 11:29 pm #

    there is a question of the overton window as well. what was considered extremist in the republican party 30 years ago is now considered the norm. I get the conservative mindset – but I really don’t care for the social nonsense they demand. I say live your life and stop meddling and obsessing about other people’s lives. When in doubt, verify that your concerns are legitimate. For example – don’t blather about gay marriage somehow destroying traditional marriage (which is absurd considering the various marriage “styles” humanity has engaged in) when the divorce rate in “traditional” marriage is so high.
    don’t blather about abortion when there is the Hyde Amendment that prohibits federal funding for abortions and we do have some solutions to reducing the abortion rate by making birth control cheap and easy. (BTW – I would like it if my federal funds weren’t used to subsidize certain things that conservatives love. For example, I look at the defense spending and I see absurd spending levels. When the army says “No thanks” and yet, congress and senate approve the purchase of tanks, you have to wonder why. You have to wonder why we waste so much money and outspend so many other countries combined.)

    Hey – I’m all for investing in science. Science has a ROI over 100%. But I don’t see that kind of ROI when it comes to many conservative causes. But then, I’m a numbers person. Facts matter to me. If something bothers me, I question why it bothers me. (And the kind of science doesn’t need to pass some weird conservative sniff test. I look at the story of the Post It as the reason why we shouldn’t vet scientific research based on future profit.)

    And frankly – the world has changed. Conservatives can’t demand that the world stay still or go backwards in time. (I was laughing at the chumps who fell for the “we’ll save your coal jobs”.) While they pine for the past, the rest of the world is accelerating towards the future. I regularly bemoan the fact that the US didn’t invest in renewable energy especially now that China dominates 80% of the solar panel market. That’s money that the US lost out on because “Coal is king” or some similar nonsense.

    Yeah – there is a radical SJW fringe. But that’s exactly it – a fringe. They’re mocked as ruthlessly by liberals as they are savaged by the conservatives. They haven’t been allowed to metastasize into a cancer. In contrast – we had republican politicians winking and nodding at the alt-right birther nonsense. (And if you didn’t think that’s racist, I question your intelligence.)

    • Bewildered February 22, 2018 at 12:54 pm #

      Is there an extremist SJW fringe? They may be mocked by the Right – Breitbart etc, but the Left seems to idealise them as champions, and pack leaders. As for insisting the world remain the same, which conservatives do that? Technology changes, but morality doesn’t. Some things need to remain the same, other don’t, and perhaps shouldn’t. As for the Hyde Amendment, it really doesn’t offer the protection you think it does. The right hand may be prohibited from accepting money, but the left hand is still open. As for subsidising birth control, why? And remember many of those opposed to abortion are opposed to sexual immortality and birth control. As for homosexual marriage destroying traditional marriage, there’s actually a universal definition of marriage – between a man and a woman. It’s only the West that denies that. Yes some cultures throughout history have said a man may have more than one wife, but the fundamental concept of marriage remains unchanged. It is interesting you mention the overton window. I’d suggest that 30 years ago things the Democrat Party now advocates as fundamental human rights were values they’d have officially rejected. I get some of the liberal mindset, but I cannot stand the socially destructive nonsense they’re imposing on an imploding West.

      • Sprout February 22, 2018 at 11:28 pm #

        Depends on where you look and what kind of bubble you live in. Personally I’ve seen plenty on the left who point out the more extremist sjw behaviour as counterproductive and distance themselves from it.

        Most people are in the middle, regardless whether they’re left or right, up or down. If you grab a random guy off the street, you can generally have a conversation with them, even if you don’t agree on everything.

        I think the internet and social media kind of provide a twisted picture of how people generally are and exasperates the situation because of how easily callous people over here can be.

  6. Wazman February 20, 2018 at 11:38 pm #

    I hope you feel better Chris and it was a really thoughtful article.

  7. Anarchymedes February 21, 2018 at 12:16 am #

    Smearing soneone is a part of an old technique: this is what the demagogues do. They play on the mob’s emotions, superstitions, religious prejudices – in short, anything but logic to win debates. And yes, it works. And it alienates no one but the intellectuals – who are now in big disfavour, on par with the establishment and ‘the lefties,’ whatever that means.
    Unfortunately, in the public mind ‘reasonable’ has come to mean ‘dithering’, ‘indecisive’, and ‘lacking integrity and authenticity’. Or, even worse, downright ‘corrupt’. Besides, the mob wants simple solutions to complex problems, and simple answers to complex questions now, as much as ever. Only education changes that, giving the recipient sufficient broad-mindedness and sophistication. But – see above, about being in disfavour. Besides, IMHO in modern schools, the students are getting training, not education. They get the necessary skills honed to the necessary level – and no one cares about the rest. But this is a different story.

  8. PhilippeO February 21, 2018 at 3:08 am #

    as jh and Bob Stewart already said, for US at least, this is complete LIE.

    Republicans in US had become more and more extremist since Newt Gingrich. Obamacare is Romneycare, a program to the right of Nixon, but Republicans rejected it wholesale. 70% of NRA support background check, but NRA and Republicans again rejected it wholesale. In government Norms, they become even more radical with Merrick Garland (a centrist) is rejected wholesale by Republicans. on immigration, Rubio and Jeb Bush both support some amnesty (which considered by many is still too right-wing), then Republican base become even more radical and reject any kind of amnesty deal (even Dreamers) and elect Trump.

    the Extremist Right, in the last 30 years had gain they own ecosystem (from think tank, to Koch foundation, to Fox News and Breibart) and managed to push their will into Republican party. they demand become more and more radical, and Reasonables had done nothing but close their eyes and do nothing. turning Republican party from conservatives into reactionaries party.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard February 21, 2018 at 3:19 am #

      LOL 😆

    • Andrew Jones February 21, 2018 at 5:57 am #

      See, when you say the Koch Foundation is extremist and right wing, it makes me wonder what your perspective is. I don’t normally think of the Federalist Society, much less Reason Foundation, as extremist and right wing and these tend to be the sorts of things the Koch Foundation(s) support.

      When Reason is a hotbed of right wing extremism…I have to conclude we’re working with very different definitions.

    • Bob Stewart February 21, 2018 at 6:06 pm #

      The two things you cited as examples of extreme rightwing thinking, rejecting “Romneycare”, and concern over unrestrained illegal immigration, are not extreme at all. The very notion that there is a “right” to healthcare, as in Oregon this year, is a fallacy of the first order. Healthcare is provided by the efforts of other people and represents an economic choice by the recipient. To presuppose that anyone has an unlimited right to the work of selected others is to assume a state based on slavery. It would be far different to implement a policy that provides individuals with monetary resources of a finite amount that they can spend as they wish. Those who are concerned about healthcare could then hope that the recipients would spend it on (some) healthcare and (some) catastrophic healthcare insurance. This would create a market for the expenditures, and buyers and sellers could enter of their own free will. But this isn’t what progressives want. They presume most of the unwashed are incapable of taking care of themselves, and they need the guiding hand of elite masters who know just what sort of healthcare ought to be provided. These progressives are in fact advocates of slavery by both the buyers and the sellers in this utopian healthcare world. The great laugh that underlies this philosophy of rule by elites is that our most incompetent and least able are the ones who presume that they are the elite who will be making these decisions. All those millennials with “college educations” working as baristas and cashiers at box stores, burdened with huge student loans, are still far short of adulthood, and yet they will unthinkingly support such totalitarian policies.

      The notion that Nixon is an example of a “conservative” Republican is yet another fallacy. The conservative politicians of the 60s and 70s were Goldwater and Reagan, and they were distained by the traditional core of the Republican party, which basically advocated progressive-lite policies, the assumption being that Republicans would be better managers of centralized control. My position is that the Republican base has been abandoned by those who have attained position of power in the Party, and this has been going on since Hoover (who was a progressive.) Reagan was the only advocate of truly conservative policies since 1928. And the failures of the Republican Party, beginning with HW Bush, combined to create our present situation. Trump is the result. He, at least, is aimed in conservative directions on some issues.

      • PhilippeO February 22, 2018 at 3:05 am #

        Romneycare once gotten support from Republicans, so does Rubio and Jeb immigration. Both once acceptable to Republicans.

        the fact that once common position now abandoned show move to extreme.

        and if you argue that President chosen and supported and voted by Republicans less than half century ago is not conservative, it itself very extreme position.

  9. PhilippeO February 21, 2018 at 3:30 am #

    chris: ” But if the alternative to taking an Extremist’s hand is death, which one would you choose ? ”

    jh: ” And frankly – the world has changed. Conservatives can’t demand that the world stay still or go backwards in time. ”

    I think this is better reasons for why Extremist Right winning than incompetence of Traditional Right or Left Wing smear (both not true).

    Many Right-wing is essentially pinning for a world and culture that already dead.

    improvement in Shipping, containerization, cheap air travel, secularization of society, new medical care, Interstate and other high-speed roads, the pills, changing expectation of women, television, etc.

    All of this had change society, government roles (NAFTA or Immigration Bills) is simply too small or late or simple acknowledgement of changing society. There can be no change done by government because government had limited ability to change the world. Even rather closed and conservative society like Japan had to deal with massive change.

    there are nothing any government (even Trump or Orban or Putin) can do to reverse the world, so Extremist Right is essentially had impossible wish They blame many things (Liberals, women, immigrants, jews). They become more and more radical. But it all come to naught. The world change, and they keep dreaming for world that already death.

    • Bob Stewart February 21, 2018 at 6:20 pm #

      You simply project your own feelings on those who disagree with you. To learn from history is not the same thing as “pinning for a world and culture that [is] already dead.” Weakness encourages aggressors, centralized political control devolves into totalitarianism, and political systems that presume rights are granted by the state are fundamentally totalitarian. The EU would be regarded as a good first step by Napoleon. It only requires a master’s hand at the controls, and he knew who that would be. Sexual liberation is not of concern to me, although I think many younger people are hopelessly ignorant of the dangers they face if they fall into a lifestyle based on such activities. Ditto drug usage. And then who is take care of those who didn’t have the wisdom to discipline themselves in such matters? This is not pinning. Its concern based on knowledge.

      • PhilippeO February 22, 2018 at 3:18 am #

        Many supporters of Brexit is wishing Britain to return to past economic glory, not concerned about Napoleon.

        for that matter, many social conservatives blame 60s for youth sexual behaviour and drug use, and wish to return to 50s mores.

        You cannot deny that Nostalgia is powerful stuff in Right, just like Utopianism is in Left.

        and since both more influenced by technology (cheap shipping, containerization, loss of technological advantage that create British Empire, the pills, and cheap pharmaceuticals) i do consider it pinning for the past that no longer exist. You couldn’t return England to its previous position by Brexit, you need Maxim gun when everybody else don’t. And as long as contraception pills is legal and cheap, i don’t see how sexual liberation can be stopped. For drugs, ease of transport from outside and availability of pharmaceutical knowledge would make attempt to stop it futile.

  10. Pyo February 22, 2018 at 6:47 pm #

    It’s all very well to say that one should work with reasonable positions and deny extremist positions, but all that’s doing is starting a debate as to what is reasonable and what’s extremist.

    For example, homophobia is managed, and for me anything but full equality is utterly unreasonable. But I can look at for example the civil union system Germany uses, which would be a “reasonable compromise” – compared to, say, outright perspective homosexuality.

    But it’s still government-legalized discrimination against it’s own people, and there’s still nothing reasonable about that.

    And you can do the same sort of arguments for any of these things: just because you think your argument is reasonable (which of course you do…) means it’ll be reasonable to others.

  11. Vapori February 23, 2018 at 6:49 pm #

    For me most of these controversial topics are more or less distraction anyway.

    as theese so called controversial topics, might be very emotional or but, otherwise there are many more pressing matters that get ignored for hot debates over stuff that effects very few people directly or hardly. I mean transgender bathrooms… how many are really affected by that? That topic is way overblown by both left and right wing media. and so are many others.

    Like we don’t have bigger problems.
    the big gap between some areas in the same countries, or how the union inside the nato or the EU slowly breaks appart.

    That the UN Security council isn’t working in it’s current state.
    Then the fact that some countries will face gigantic financial problems when the babyboomers go into pension. and are ill prepared for that. Always delaying that one more voting period.

    That lack of foresight is in my option the biggest threat to the current western nations.

    Well maybe beside that is that the mass news media always points the finger at the problems but not at all the things that went right, after all many things did but it’s ignored by most people. But i get things that worked as expected or even better then are kinda boring.

    Look at houses build in the 1970’s for example on average ~30 smaller and still less efficient.. also cheaper of course.. but more people have money for new houses now then back then. Same for cars life expectancy even free time to some degree. And that all while china was on the rise.

  12. Tarun Elankath February 25, 2018 at 6:05 am #

    I find US conservatives ridiculous and unmoored from reality. The southern state of Louisiana is being eaten up by the sea, several islands are already under water and even the official state planners see most of the state being lost in the next 50 years and have already planned for the contingency. Yet the conservatives are still denying climate change.

    Besides, I simply don’t get the logic of denying gays the right to marry and women the right to abortions. If you want freedom and government non-interference for yourself, you should really want the same for others too.

    And the plan on arming and training teachers with weapons to prevent school shootings…well every potential school shooter knows where to find a gun now. No need to even go to a gun show. I don’t why a ban on assault weapons breaks the second amendment. The US already had a ban in place from 95-04 . The right to bear arms doesn’t include RPGs. If you ever picked up one of the founders, show them a modern automatic assault rifle manufactured today and they would certainly agree that distribution of such arms should be regulated.

    • Pyo February 25, 2018 at 1:26 pm #

      The biggest joke is what’s right in the name: AMENDMENT. It was a change in the first place, not some unassailable truth that’s set in stone and can never ever possibly be changed again.

      And anyway, it’s not like even modern assault rifles will defend you against either the state or foreign invasions, which kinda was the point. When national armies have everything from nukes to stealth fighters to satellite-guided artillery your M4 is about as useful as kitchen knife.

      But eh, lots of money in the selling of weapons, so who cares about these things …

  13. Kalenath March 2, 2018 at 12:54 pm #

    Just read this today. I have been AFK for a while and am catching up. Survival will beat out morals in 99.99% of situations.

    You are right.

    Reasonable is bad. Compromise is worse. Anyone who disagrees with the flavor of the week or flavor of the month is evil and must die in fire.

    This is what I get from ALL media these days, not just mainstream. Oh, there are few places that try to be reasonable, but they are fewer and fewer, because NO ONE WANTS TO HEAR THAT. Shock sells. Horror sells. And money is the only thing that matters.

    Extremists scare me too. As a student of military history and the son of a soldier, I know what comes from extreme view taking complete control.

    Democracy was never supposed to be only about ‘I am right and you are stupid!’. It was supposed to be about differing view achieving compromise. Unfortunately, Extremism as the sole way to be seems to be the way things are going.

    God help us all if that does happen. We have already had law sanctioned witch hunts in the US. Now? It is illegal, but that doesn’t stop extremists from burning houses with suspected witches inside. (Yes, it still happens, but doesn’t make the media so it DIDN’T HAPPEN!) If such horrors become legal again? We haven’t seen bad yet.

  14. PaulM March 2, 2018 at 6:41 pm #

    Unfortunately, on many of the issues you listed, the only difference between the ‘Extremists’ and the ‘Reasonables’ is patience.

    An ‘Extremist’ wants it all their way now. A ‘Reasonable’ is willing to get there in stages. All too often ‘Reasonables’ become ‘Extremists’ when they come to realize their opponents will never stop, and compromise often merely delays total defeat.

    The following link is to a cartoon illustrating that what’s called compromise of truly isn’t. It’s often one side loosing less than everything, while the other side gives up only total victory – and only for now.

    While the cartoon is about gun control, is could easily be about most of the issues mentioned – and others as well:

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