The great eroding middle ground
The Kansas City Star
The middle ground is dying, and we are the ones killing it. Not politics or religion or unions or health care or any other potentially inflammatory issue. Furthermore, it is dying not because we are uninvolved bystanders, but because we are actively wielding the murder weapon.
“With great power comes great responsibility.” For many this oft-quoted maxim paints a picture of the judicious use of physical, financial or social muscle. I would include “information” on that list as well.
Humankind continues to gain access to an ever-increasing volume of information. But because information arguably holds the spot as the ultimate form of power, and as more of it becomes available every day, we run the risk of abusing this access even if we may not be aware such a thing is happening.
We naturally zero in on the topics and viewpoints with which we agree and are most comfortable, unaware or unconcerned that with each successive piece of unchallenged, tightly focused data we digest we further doom one of our most venerable societal stabilizers, the middle ground.
Like a psychological centerboard for our collective consciousness, the middle ground provides the stability we need as a group when dealing with issues big or small. Its dampening effect helps keep us from venturing too far or lingering too long in the tenuous ranges at either end.
It’s easy to dismiss the middle ground. It’s ho-hum, the fly-over demographic in Gallup polls used to make the total equal 100 percent. You only hear about it in passing, and it rarely makes the headlines.
On its own it scarcely catches our eye, and when stacked against power hitters like the Olympics, election season, droughts, and hurricanes it’s almost invisible. Nonetheless we should be alarmed at its impending demise because without it we lose our common center of gravity.
The middle ground’s strength lies in its broad, deep spread of overlapping commonalities. But with our present ability to drill down to an increasingly minute level of information, we run the risk of setting up camp on a host of parochial data points that can flatten this important bell curve.
As the robustness of the curve wanes, so does society’s ability to maintain a flexible but ultimately stable course. This in turn provides the toehold for any potentially divisive issue to take root.
These issues are not bad in and of themselves and provide important grist for the mill. Alone and unchecked by the middle ground’s counterweight, though, they run the risk of having a greater effect than they normally would, or perhaps should.
If, after the tempering influence of the middle ground, an end-of-the-spectrum topic survives and progresses on its own merits to a position of influence that is one thing. If it arrives there simply by default that is most definitely another.
Divisive, inflammatory subjects will always be with us and are only detrimental if we allow them to be. With access to a vast store of global information we have the ability to not only preserve the middle ground but also strengthen it with our potential depth and breadth of knowledge on whatever topic we hold dear.
Refuse to be agitated on command. Don’t be drawn in by the shiny tinfoil of inflammatory rhetoric. Thoroughly research all sides of topics important to you; every unchallenged assertion we let into our brains is another lethal hammer blow in the flattening of the bell curve.
Dismiss the middle ground, perhaps, but extinguish it at our peril.
Derek Martin, of Olathe, has been a pilot at FedEx for 16 years on both domestic and international routes. To reach him, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Midwest Voices, c/o Editorial Page, The Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64108.