A Centrist’s View of the World.
When I was a kid, the vast majority of my television time was filled with cartoons. Naturally, my conservative parents did not like many of these shows, of course. They were often violent and contained images that were considered “demonic” and “unrighteous”. Childhoods like mine are littered in the lives of literally millions of children and that is not a unique position to be in. What I, and presumably many other children, realized quite early is that many of these shows depicted straightforward battles between good and evil, and they contribute significantly to how we perceive the world in binary and opposing views as opposed to the spectrum that it actually is.
My view is that we eventually tend to split off into two separate but equal groups: the optimists and the pessimists. Those that watched these titanic battles as children but grew up to see life smash everyone down became pessimists and those that still have the vision of good ultimately defeating evil are the dreaded optimists. Of course this is the vision of the world as a boy sees it. Splitting the world neatly into optimists and pessimists was a simplistic way of trying to understand the world and putting people into neat little boxes in order to clarify how they fit in the world. But the reality is that people are far more complicated than that and despite all the noise of partitions and ‘sides’, we a race of complicated individuals and [some of ] the things that form our essence can sometimes be in direct opposition to themselves.
I have obviously since realized that far from the binary nature I was led to believe, humans are unique in our composition. The same person can be an optimist and a pessimist, even though one seems in clear opposition to the other. The dominant world views are conservative or liberal and the commentary surrounding both tends to force people to pick either side and also tends to ensure people that have picked a side ALWAYS have opinions that are centered around the side they have picked. For a time, I understood the necessity of this but I realized that I could not pick either of the two sides because there were valid positions present in those two as well as the excluded middle positions that incorporate elements of left and right into a distinct position. This is Centrism.
Centrism is not difficult for me to conceptualize but it certainly can be difficult to explain, largely because there are preconceived notions about what it is and inaccuracies about its nature i.e. ‘sitting on the fence’/’being indecisive’. This is simply not true. Centrism is a tasking position on many issues and at its core is the belief that the problems we face are extensive, complex and have multiple layers, and it is not simply enough to view the world solely through conservative or liberal lenses.
I feel like this distinction is an important one for me to make, for myself, because it is easy to get swept up by either side. Centrism is not an easy position to make your own because of the amount of work it requires. It requires the ability to hold opposing (or seemingly incompatible) views while judging them simultaneously in order to figure out if the best position is either of them or a combination of both.
In areas of economic policy, for example, it is easy to claim that the private sector is the engine of the economy and all that is required for successful national/regional growth is liberalization of economic policies and limited regulation. It is also easy to claim that the profits of the capitalist system are obscene and that we must shoot these companies in the knees for social/public development.
As a centrist, I am not inclined to accept either position as absolute and indeed, seeing them both, side by side, I am reminded about the illusion of choice. Capitalism works well for all involved under a specific set of circumstances and these are necessary to drive growth and cure poverty. We only have to look at how the IMF loans and Western requirements for loans affected African countries post independence in such a way that ruined economies, sometimes for an entire generation. Those loans and the lack of understanding of the local areas and their systems, and their insistence on a specific mode of development caused many of these countries to struggle and forced them to regress significantly.
On the other hand, the left-wing economic philosophy that permeated much of the African continent post independence, did not do African development any favors. Julius Nyerere, Modibo Keita, Leopold Senghor, Kwame Nkrumah and Sekou Toure are only some of the names that proudly paraded our very own “African Socialism”. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari is a result of that class and his views on the role of government are evident in his policy decisions. We can see that many of the policy results of these men have not been as they claimed and indeed in some of these countries, policies have backfired and caused poverty.
And more than a visor for economic issues, Centrism is useful for adjudicating issues of moral virtue as well. Sometimes, Centrism means taking a liberal position. When it comes to whether or not gay marriage should be allowed, clearly the liberal position is the correct position and for me, it would be virtually impossible to change my mind on this. Other times, more complicated issues like abortion require a more extensive opinion like the one I outline in my article on the subject here. It is almost completely leftist, liberal and pro-choice, save for tiny sprinkles of conservatism there.
Centrism is one of the things that allow me to navigate this world based on the premise of our world’s complexity. It allows me to straddle pessimism, optimism and realism quite easily, often times even accommodating them simultaneously. It is part of what allows me to see the Nigerian possibility and how we can get there while also realizing the reality of the Republic but expecting every single thing to go wrong because it’s Nigeria and sometimes, shit happens.
Centrism gets a bad rap and gets run down in a world that seems content to only either be left or right. But it is clear that we understand the concepts of combining many different views because, as humans, we know that we are multi-layered beings. And so the usefulness of Centrism is immediately obvious to me. It allows me to evaluate ideas based on their merit alone without the bias of left or right philosophical positions.
Some of the accusations leveled against Centrism are actually valid. Some centrists tend to use the cover of centrism to pursue and push right wing policy and philosophy. We have also earned the distinction of being ponderous but that is not a critique that I find particularly disconcerting. It is a position that caresses the duo of logic and faith expertly and melts into my atheism with little fanfare. Centrism, like atheism, forces me to be consistent because I have no choice but to thoroughly feel my way through every available part of the area I have chosen to form an opinion on because there is no readily available ‘centrist position’. This means that while we might ponder on the weight of the process, when we arrive at the climax of our sustained pressure, we are released, free to be relentless in pursuit of what we believe to be the truth. So, maybe Centrism is the refuge of cowardice, of a mind unwilling to choose between two difficult positions. I challenge that assertion though. Rather, I think that in the pursuit the pursuit of liberty, equality and justice, Centrism is one of the tools we can use to appropriately apply effective solutions to the myriad of complex problems that plague us.