4 June 2021

Rebecca Solnit on Sensible Centrism: “The idea that all bias is some deviation from an unbiased center is itself a bias that prevents pundits, journalists, politicians and plenty of others from recognizing some of the most ugly and impactful prejudices and assumptions of our times. I think of this bias, which insists the center is not biased, not afflicted with agendas, prejudices and destructive misperceptions, as status-quo bias. Underlying it is the belief that things are pretty OK now, that the people in charge should be trusted because power confers legitimacy, that those who want sweeping change are too loud or demanding or unreasonable, and that we should just all get along without looking at the skeletons in the closet and the stuff swept under the rug. It’s mostly a prejudice of people for whom the system is working, against those for whom it’s not. … Centrists in the antebellum era were apathetic or outright resistant to ending slavery in the US and then in the decades before 1920 to giving women the vote. The civil rights movement was not nearly as popular in its time as moderates who like the more polite quotes from Martin Luther King Jr think it was. … Was it radical to be correct too soon? What gets called the left is often just ahead of the game, when it comes to human rights and environmental justice; the right is often denying the existence of the problem, whether it’s pesticides and toxic waste or domestic violence and child abuse. There is no symmetry. A lot of what are now considered moderate — AKA centrist — positions were seen as radical not long ago, when this country supported segregation, banned interracial marriages and then same-sex marriages, prevented women from holding some positions and queer people from others, and excluded disabled people from almost everything. The center is biased, and those biases matter.”