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A Balanced View

Entry 1366, on 2012-03-07 at 12:45:31 (Rating 3, Comments)

Extreme views are rarely true. The world is subtle and in most cases, especially in the areas of politics and social issues, the truth usually lies between the extremes. In the physical world things are different. Although the universe can be extremely complex and nuanced the truth is as likely to lie at the extreme of current beliefs as it is in the middle.

Let me give some examples.

In politics there are extreme views in every area. Some people believe the government should be effectively non-existant and that personal freedom and markets are all that are necessary. Others think that a strong government should have ultimate control over everything for the greater good of society as a whole. The optimum solution lies somewhere in between but exactly where depends on the individual's priorities.

In physics it's different. It's just as likely that "totally crazy" stuff is true as it is that something that seems completely in line with common sense is. For example quantum theory and relativity are completely contrary to what common sense dictates but they are undoubtedly true (or at least they are a very good approximation to the truth).

But in politics I think the moderate view is likely to be the most likely to be correct. If you find yourself debating someone with a more extreme view it might mean you are also an extremist but in the opposite sense. But if you find yourself debating with extremists on both sides I think that indicates that your view might have some merit.

As you might have guessed this blog entry is based on a real world example. I have recently spent a bit of time debating religious people on YouTube. A user of that service sent me a link and invited me to comment on an entry he had made about how great his god was based on a video of a hymn he had posted.

Of course I pointed out all the bad things going on (I particularly emphasised child cancer) and asked him how that fitted in with his great and generous god. Then all the Christians came up with their usual lame excuses: God is punishing us for Adam's sins, the bad things are part of a greater plan, we cannot understand God's actions, etc.

It was all totally unconvincing and I invited them to Google pictures of child cancer victims then get back to me on how great their god was. So far none have done so.

But that's not really the point. During the discussion (well debate, or maybe argument would be better) the subject of the Israel-Palestine conflict arose and I debated with an extremist who thought the Israelis are the most evil people on Earth and are responsible for most of the world's problems. It was typical Zionist conspiracy theory stuff.

So I ended up defending Israel and pointing out there was blame on both sides. For example, the Palestinians have killed and maimed innocent Israeli civilians with rocket attacks.

But what I was saying reminded me so much about a similar debate I had about a year ago with an extremist supporter of Israel. I was saying the same sort of things: there is blame on both sides, both groups have some claim to the land, compromise is necessary, etc, back then but I was defending the opposite side!

So it seems my opinion on this subject is fairly moderate but at the time of both discussions my opponents saw me as an extremist on the opposite side to themselves.

I would like to think my opinion on other political and social subjects is similar. For example I don't have much faith in pure capitalism but I realise it can be useful when directed and controlled by a strong government with higher ideals than those of simple capitalism. Again that seems like a moderate opinion but my opponents think I'm an extremist.

I do need to emphasise again though that this moderation doesn't apply in the area of science. I totally reject creationism and accept evolution 100% (or very close to that because there is always a tiny amount of room for doubt). I am an extremist on evolution because it is a fact by any reasonable definition of that word.

There is no room for creationism in a discussion of the origin of the diversity of life (apart from briefly mentioning it as an amusing myth which no sensible person still believes is true). For that (and other similar scientific issues) I make no apology for being an extremist!


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