Middle ground, long seen as a key element to win electoral contest that made occupying it an absolute necessity, is now dead town. Nobody wants to be in the middle in this hugely polarised society. The creed now is either you’re with us or against us. There’s nothing left for those who actually are not “with us” nor “against us”. Being in the middle at the moment is seen as a indicator of cowardice and lack of courage to take sides, as if taking side is sine qua non in our practice of democracy.
While I think that being neutral in the face of extreme evil is reckless and highly irresponsible, I’d like to argue that middle ground has to be revived for the benefit of our public discourse. The legacy of the 2014 presidential election is not only a divided nation, but also the death of common sense. The very same common sense that is urgently required to stay mentally healthy in this increasingly toxic political environment. The absence of common sense prompts both side to race to the bottom because nothing points to the fact that the chequered flag is placed on the wrong side of the circuit.
It’s not hard to see that some part of both camps are actively engaging the electorates in questionable fashion. Disinformation. Misguidance. Anything to blunt people’s ability to perceive and decide what’s good for them, instead of sharpening it. From a strictly electoral politics perspective, it’s exactly what should be done to win a contest. But if this keeps going on and on, it will cause a severe damage on the society. I believe that well-informed voters are essentials in establishing ideal democracy. By misguiding the electorates, despite the short-term benefits of bringing in votes, we couldnt drag our democracy any further from the ideal.
In my previous writing on this site, I was encouraging a more pragmatic approach in order to win the election. I still stand by it and I do think in realpolitik, the biggest currency is power and how to seize it. In practical nature of politics, it’s true that ideals sometimes have to wait on the backbenches. But because politics is the means to achieve commonwealth and public benefits, it’s also impossible to ignore the potential psychological impacts on public. I’m one of those pragmatists who think that anything is fair within law. But on the other hand, I’m also an idealist who believe that in democracy, people are sovereign and their sovereignty has to be based on something right.
Finding the balance between these pragmatism and idealism is paramount. While we cant deny the mischieveous nature of electoral politics, we also cannot pretend that it has side effects that could hamper our learning process in democracy. There should be some element in this society that call out the bullshits and the nonsenses from both warring parties. Traditionally, this is the duty of media and journalists to step up and bark at any deliberate misconduct. While there are still some sections in our fourth estate that serve as vanguard against upper-level fiendishness, I dont think it would be too outrageous to say that in broader sense, the media is hopeless in fulfilling its barking role in terms of impartiality. (For the record, I dont believe in media neutrality. Let’s keep the fairytale for the classroom).
The situation is made worse by the polarised society. Nobody could say anything critical these days without being accused being on the other side. Being critical towards the incumbent, you’ll be accused of siding with the opposition. Being critical towards the opposition, you’ll be accused of being lapdogs of the incumbent. This highly unproductive practice of mistakenly taking critics as assaults is dumbing down our democracy onto a kindergarten playground level.
Somebody has to be able to be critical without being seen as deliberately undermining the target to benefit the opposite party. Somebody has to be able to be critical and when one does it, it has be seen as strengthening the electorates as whole and not weakening the receiving end. It doesnt bode well for us as a democratic society if you agree with anything you see and anything you hear. It seriously damages your sense of critical thinking if disagreement has to be hindered for the sake of loyalty. I dont think electorates should be loyal to anyone but their own interests. The lack of critical thinking could hamper the ability of the electorates to decide what’s in their interests and what’s not.
That’s why I truly believe that middle ground has to be revived. We should be able to be in the centre, totally impartial to anyone but our own public interests, and call out on bullshit when we see one. And when we do it, it has to be not seen as a scathing attack from the opposite party and rather as clapback from the governed to the governing ones. Common sense has to be resuscitated and when it’s back alive and breathing, it has to be guarded from anyone who take advantage of its absence.
The technicalities will be delicate to determine who could get to the middle because being in the centre requires some kind of public approval to ensure that one is really in the middle ground rather than just pretender from one side, but the importance of middle ground cant get stressed enough here. In this era of skewed facts and elastic truth, common sense could only be nurtured in middle ground. It’s the public ultimate weapon against political degeneracy.