When discussing extremism, we must remember that there is an extreme middle position. Oxymoron? Not really. There is a difference between healthy balance and an ‘extreme,’ compromised middle. In fact, the erroneous middle is a classic logical fallacy, often called the Middle Ground fallacy:
- Position A and B are two extreme positions.
- C is a position that rests in the middle between A and B.
- Therefore C is the correct position.
But I would like to explore this error in more detail, so that we can also identify a healthy compromise.
1. Truth – Lie
When one of your propositions is untrue, a compromise between them is not possible. For example, if I say murder is wrong, and someone else says that it is OK, shall we allow murder sometimes (self defense and the death penalty aside)? While we may find exceptions for certain truths, compromise with a lie is not really smart, and is one of the conditions that I call ‘the extreme middle.’
2. Lie – Lie
Of course, if both positions under consideration are untrue, then a compromise between them will not be any closer to the truth.
3. Truth – Truth
A healthy compromise is one where your two opposing opinions are really to halves of a truth paradox – a typical situation that we see in many profound truths such as the good/evil of man, or in the need for both punishment/rehabilitation of criminals. When both sides have a bit of the truth, a compromise, or balance between them is called for.
Interestingly, though, it is not always a 50/50 split, and determining how much to emphasize each truth can be problematic. For example, when a criminal is put in jail for murder, how much should they be punished, and in what way, and how much should we try to rehab them? Which persons are beyond rehab and how do you know? Such questions are the subject of much study, debate, and trial and error. We can make some rough philosophical guesses at the relative proportions, but at least let me say, it is rarely 50/50, since one truth proposition will carry a little more power when it comes to application. Don’t ask me why, I have just seen it so.
With that in mind, it may be MORE correct to be either “left” or “right” on an issue.
Also worth mentioning here is the slippery slope argument. When those at the two poles of an argument refuse to compromise or acknowledge the other truth involved, they often invoke the slippery slope argument. The problem with this is that, rather than do the necessary mental work of defining a compromise position that prevents the ‘inevitable’ slide towards the other pole or various abuses, hardliners refuse to budge, instead promoting the fearful view that any compromise will lead to inevitable ruin. So what you get is a half truth, defending itself against balance, and doing damage to those who need the balanced truth.
4. Truth – Truth – Truth
One other condition that makes compromise between two positions erroneous is when there are are actually more than two truths involved. The error of black/white thinking, a.k.a. ‘false dichotomy’ or bifurcation, states that there are only two positions, when there are actually more.
In this case, the false middle would assume that the correction position is a compromise between the two, when in fact, it may be between three or more positions. While this type of condition is rarer, since many, if not most profound truths can be boiled down to a truth-truth paradox, we must be aware that sometimes, a compromise between two true positions may still be incorrect when more than two truths are present.
I have outlined the “extreme middle,” not because moderates actually act like extremists (though they can), but because this somewhat inappropriate label for moderates brings to light the possibility that a moderate position is not always correct, and even when compromise between truths is best, the proportion we assign to each pole makes a difference. I will explore the methods we can use to determine correct proportions in the future – I am still mulling over that. Any suggestions?