March 18, 2021

What Does Middle Of The Road Mean Today?


 When I first raised this subject several years ago, blogging buddy, RJ Walters, suggested that the extremes in our life are the new middle of the road. That was a disturbing, yet probably accurate summation of what was going on a few years before the 2016 election and everything that has followed. 

Even more so than when this thought first crossed my mind our world seems to be one of extremes. Extreme weather, extreme politics, extreme religious positions, extreme Internet hacking, extreme reactions to masks, vaccines, extreme diets, extreme, extreme, extreme. Things seem to have gravitated to the edges of whatever the subject may be.

Maybe it is because of the nonstop intrusion of technology into our lives. In order to break through to be heard or seen, something outrageous has to be said or filmed or posted. Even if based on fact (whatever that means today), a simple, quiet presentation will slip beneath the waves without a trace. The presence of anything on TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, or the medium of the month gives something gravitas and instant credibility.

Actually, let me amend that: especially if something is based on fact it will have a difficult time being heard. There seems to be a requirement for an attention-grabbing presentation, or the ability to generate a visceral, emotional, response to something that need not be grounded in reality. 

All of this forces me to look back to a phrase that was quite common not all that many years ago, a phrase that was usually describing a good thing, a goal for life, media, advertising, politics, almost everything: middle of the road. Today, being branded Middle of The Road is a kiss of irrelevance, of a quaint part of our past.


An online dictionary defines Middle of the Road as
  • not extreme politically 
  • entertainment that is ordinary and acceptable to most people, but is not exciting or special in any way.
  • a lifestyle that doesn't lean either liberal or conservative, but is mainstream.

The definition of middle-of-the-road entertainment sounds a bit judgmental to me. "It is not exciting or special in any way" certainly implies boring, and unimaginative. I disagree. I grew up in a time when "middle of the road" was satisfying and could be exciting. It was safe, but not pablum. Violence and sex were not required to succeed.

There was "middle of the road" music - songs and artists that the whole family could listen to together. Politicians and political parties wanted to be perceived as middle of the road so large blocs of voters would not feel alienated. Movies were often marketed as family-friendly, or one mom and dad could send junior to see without worrying about its content. Though the phrase wasn't used in this context, most restaurants served MOTR food, comfort food, that satisfied the majority.

Time for an important caveat: the MOTR mindset had its serious disadvantages. Those looking for something out of the mainstream had a problem. Those not included in society's definition of being "normal" had a struggle. Racism and sexism flourished while most of society turned a blind eye. Diversity was a foreign concept. Want a different food than burgers and KFC? Not so easy.

So, I am not suggesting a return to the time of Beaver Cleaver. What I am concerned about is why being middle of the road in almost anything is considered wimpy, wrong, almost a dirty word (or phrase). If a choice in politics, religion, entertainment, family structure, or lifestyle isn't closer to the edges than the center it is deemed defective. I think that was the core of RJ's comment.

In our drive to be all-inclusive of everyone and everything, we have actually shut out the middle of anything. Pick a position and fight to the death. Vilify anyone who doesn't agree with you 100% as the devil's child. Question their sanity, loyalty, intellect, and do it loudly and continuously. Deny inconvenient truths.

One of the "rules" I learned during my years consulting radio stations was the if you tell someone something long enough he believes it. If the client radio station said, "We are the #1 Radio Station at Work" often enough, listeners would begin to think of the station that way, regardless of whether it actually was the #1 station people listened to at the office or factory. Perception becomes reality. See Making the Choices We Do for a more in-depth look at this phenomenon. 

I think that applies today in almost all parts of society. The loudest voice, the most extreme position, the largest disconnect from fact, becomes the new truth. The concept of authenticity becomes relative.

Maybe there is no true middle-of-the road anymore. In honesty, I think all of us have certain beliefs or core principles that would best be described as leaning one way or another. Example? While I am strongly liberal in some areas of life, I am conservative in others. Overall, if forced to apply a label. I would average out to be center-leaning left.

Maybe middle-of-the-road is what allowed us to become much more radicalized in certain areas, and certainly more open about airing our disagreements. After all, MOTR didn't welcome anything edgy or disruptive. And, in a socially undergoing so many racial, sexual, economic, and political redefinitions, taking only the center position may seem more like an ostrich with its head in the sand.

I think what has happened is I have changed my view of middle-of-the-road as a good thing, as a notable goal, into a potential denier of our problems. To attempt to remain separated from all that is happening, all the fundamental issues of our day, by taking no real position, is not viable.

Am I wrong? Is Middle-of-the-road no real position at all? Or, am I being swayed by the loud voices on either side that being balanced is bad?

I'd love your thoughts.

 


31 comments:

  1. Thanks for the shoutout Bob, I appreciate it. It's serendipity how we seem to be feeding off each other with our posts lately. Ok, let me make a few contrarian comments and then a little self-advertising.

    You start off the post with by calling technology an intrusion in our lives. As usual, I see it quite differently. Technology has opened up our world exponentially. With just a few keystrokes we can find answers to just about anything we want. Yes, it takes some parsing through the outrageous/sensational/untrue things, but the nuanced stuff is there when we do the filtering to get to it. So, I call the advances in technology anything but an intrusion.

    In reality, nobody is really "middle of the road" anymore if they ever were. To me "middle of the road" means herd mentality, and that is not something I am attuned to. We all have our unique experiences and adversities even if we don't let them shine as often as we should.

    That brings me to my self-advertising. I am in the process of reformatting one of my blogs around this very subject. It is about:
    It is about:

    *Living life on your own terms, and dealing with adversities along the way

    *Choosing your own path instead of following the herd

    *Lessons you might learn from personal stories of success and failures.

    *Thinking for yourself and finding your path

    *Being Unique, Exceptional, Extraordinary, and yes, even Eccentric

    *Celebrating creativity in all its forms

    you can find it at: https://LifeOnTheMargins.net

    I'd appreciate it if you and a few of your followers would check it out and give me some suggestions for improvements.

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    1. Technology is intrusive on the sense that any comment, thought, theory, or fantasy can be communicated instantly around the world. Technology allows me to answer your comment, manage my investments, book a condo on Kauai...all good. But, with so much of the typical person's day spent staring at a smartphone or laptop screen, sometimes I wonder if we are still aware of the world that is not composed of ones and zeros.

      I have dome to the same conclusion: Middle of the Road is nowhere at all. And, society is better for having people more committed to whatever is important to each individual.

      Best of luck with your new blog, RJ.

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  2. Bob, excellent and very thought provoking. I was going to post it to my Facebook page but realized it was much too middle of the road for most people to bother with. Also, much, much too long for the attention span of most people. I'll just save it to read later.

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    1. It does exceed the 280 character limit of Twitter!

      Thanks, Pat.

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  3. Having a blend of liberal and conservative values and views is no crime, provided your views and values are "internally consistent." (Demanding that all doctors who perform abortions be executed, for example, is inconsistent. Demanding that all men go through sexual harassment training while you listen to gangsta rap all day is similarly inconsistent.) The crime begins when you never ask whether your views and values lead to harming others—or when your never ask anything of yourself.

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    1. This is an excellent summary of the importance of understanding why one holds the beliefs they do. Your observation about rap music and sexual harassment is right on point. All parts of your life must fit together in a way that makes each part consistent.

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  4. I sort of equate being middle of the road as apathy. We all have or should have strong feelings about some issues and the rest would be proportionately how much they are in our own lives. But bottom line is, are you a person who believes in the "what’s good for the whole" or what’s good for me mentality?". The former requires a strong stand and the latter is selfishness and can be apathy to the whole. Which works best in the long run? I think the answer is obvious. Apathy can be as dangerous as extremism, which is different than a strong stand.

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    1. Equating MOR (Middle of the Road) to apathy is an excellent observation. I think back to my youth in the 50's and early 60's. We were completely disconnected from the real struggles and inequalities within society, while claiming to be open to everyone.

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  5. Like RJ I believe that technology is not in and of itself intrusive, although social media can be-but it can be controlled. I'm not a big fan of the middle of the road theory. I tend to believe the world is better if most of us have strong feelings about at least a few things. Having strong opinions doesn't mean scorching the earth. As I've aged I've also come to appreciate that too often middle of the road views and inconsistency are the defeating the other parts. I used to say that I was a liberal on social issues and a fiscal conservative. ONLY, I have come to realize that if I want good social programs and safety nets in place, education for all and well delivered health care, then that means an increased budget-at all levels. I do however believe that in some cases we need to move more middle of the road for the greater good, and when it comes to political and human rights views and other things recognize that being too strong and too vocal is at times like the perfect being the enemy of the good.

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    1. I do see important value in MOR thinking in terms of politics. The debate about the filibuster is a good example. Each political party stakes out positions that leave little room for compromise. "Scorched Earth" is more the attitude. Being able to give and take so some of what I want and some of what you want get accomplished is the only for democracy to work. To demand "my way or the highway" is the approach of an autocracy.

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  6. No, you're not wrong. The middle of the road could also be described as achieved by the lost art of compromise...especially in politics. 'Compromise' has become a dirty word to the extremists and we're always going to have unrest if we don't get back to an era where we can travel down the middle of the road on issues and not be berated and harassed to 'pick a side.'

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    1. When did compromise start to mean weakness or lack of commitment? Wikipedia says, " Politics is the set of activities that are associated with making decisions in groups, or other forms of power. Making decisions in groups implies at least two different points of view are heard and blended together.

      Maybe MOR means the end product of several ideas and ideologies compromised into an approach designed to solve problems, not create them.

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  7. Perhaps this is the end point of our boomer rebellion against authority. In popular films from “Rebel Without A Cause” to “Easy Rider”, “Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid” to “Ferris Bueller's Day Off” it's all about the rule breaker being the cool one, the one that everyone wants to be or be with. Popular music has been about being a rebel at least since Elvis and that continues today. It seems that in popular culture you are either the cool one that everyone looks up to or one of the sheep that’s trying to hold everyone back from being their true selves.

    Of course, most of us find out that being cool, rebellious, or righteous all the time is exhausting and often leads to a dead end either literally (James Dean, Elvis Presley, Jim Morrison) or figuratively and we find balance in our lives. A middle of the road if you will. It’s also easy to see that having a mortgage and others depending on you for their well being does focus the mind. Kicking things down and being the cool rebel doesn’t hold the same attraction when you’ve got to get up in the morning to keep your family fed, clothed, housed and healthy.

    Perhaps that is how we end up as part of the despised “herd”, however, we must acknowledge that for all our supposed individuality humans are herd animals. How else could we build great cities, nations and civilizations except by acting together? We are not by nature an animal that is a lone hunter out on the range surviving on instinct alone. Even the other animals that we have domesticated and get along best with – horses, dogs, cows and yes, even sheep – are herd (or pack) animals. This is because as herd or pack animals ourselves we naturally understand them.

    I have also learned over time that my view of the world isn’t the only right one as I surely thought when I was younger. I think we all come to our world view as young adults thinking that we’ve looked at all the evidence, carefully considered impacts and outcomes, and reached our position as the only one that any reasonable person could come to. Almost as if anyone doesn’t come to the same conclusions as us must have missed something. What we often fail to recognize is that we are a product of a specific society, family, financial circumstances, friends, education and so on (our herd?). Others in different situations arrive at different conclusions, which doesn’t make them necessarily wrong but it can sometimes make it hard to understand their point of view. Maybe that’s where all the shouting comes from.

    I have my political opinions and leanings but one thing I have learned is that no one political party or organization has all the answers or is right all the time. All have their biases and blind spots and having one party in power forever is not going to end well. Sooner or later what started out as good political policy becomes a binding doctrine that we’d all be better off discarding and trying something else. Conservatives aren’t right all the time and Liberals aren’t right all the time. Conversely neither of them are wrong all the time either, both have something to offer if we’ll give them the chance. Is that middle of the road?

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    1. Rigidity is the enemy of progress, any form of government, and society as a whole. Is there anyone so blind to the possibility that someone else has a workable idea? Unfortunately, the answer is yes.

      Like you, I grew up with one way of seeing things. It took a few decades of life to grasp how limiting that world view was, and how wrong in so many cases. It is odd that so many of the people in power in Washington have not learned this basic lesson of life.

      Thanks for your excellent overview of the issue, David.

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  8. Whether one is left, right or middle of the road we all end up at the end of the road. Whatever my position is on any issue I do not wish to arrive there without being informed. Frequently you hear opinions that are based solely on emotional thinking. No logic, no knowledge of history and no facts. The worst place in the world to obtain an opinion is by solely listening to a politician, of any party. Currently a politician’s purpose in life is to make their citizens afraid of something and then promise to ride in on a white horse and save them. At a minimum we should all understand how and why we entered any war started during our lifetimes. How other countries govern and make social decisions. RJ is doing a good series on Sweden right now. What are alternative religious beliefs? My opinions will frequently be incorrect. I am in good company. When I do approach the end of the road most likely my ability to accurately discern the truth will be significantly impaired. Until then I hope to stay intelligently informed.

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    1. Isn't it depressing how many of our fellow citizens seem to have such little grasp of how our government is designed to work?

      I don't blame the education system at all. Rather, it is the parents who take a laissez faire attitude toward their children, and certain elements of the media and politicians that exploit this idiocy for their own gain.

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  9. I am of the firm belief that 80% of us are centrists both politically and in other arenas. We simply don't have the loud angry voice that gets the attention in the press so extremists have the airwaves. It's awful :-(

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    1. You are probably correct. I prefer your term "Centrist" to Middle of the Road. That implies making an informed choice among the options in any decision. But, no matter what you call us we are the invisible majority.

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  10. The media has always tried to pull us apart -- If it bleeds it leads, if you want to draw a crowd start an argument -- and so now that the media and social media in particular have taken over our lives, the bravest position of all is the one in middle of the road. A weak person just follows their emotions, and believes what their self-selected media tells them. A strong person has the capacity to see another person's point of view, empathize with a different situation, respect an uncomfortable opinion ... and question their own assumptions and beliefs.

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    1. Yes Janette. Tom has a way with words and he thinks through his statements. Emotion has its place in life, but not as the driving force behind decisions.

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    2. Great comment Tom. Social media has changed the road altogether. I think the road has gotten a lot wider as people are pushing the edges out farther and farther. Back before the internet and social media and everyone being connected, a person would live in a relatively small pond and could have stood out in a smaller crowd. Now, with the pond being a world wide ocean, a person has to do, say and post something outlandish to stand out in the crowd. When you do something crazy or protest something just for the "likes" and "followers" you lose the purpose of your stunt altogether. I think the best place to be is middle of the road and then when you see something wrong or that needs to be changed, veer to the side a little and see what you can do.

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  11. I grew up in Oregon, a place with a reputation of political and social paradox. We have become a largely liberal state, but have a very dark, racist past for which we continue to atone.

    In high school I devoured science, history and civics with a passion. I participated in debate, where I had the valuable experience of having to occasionally advocate for a position I truly did not support. I emerged from my high school experience like most Oregonians at the time—fiscally conservative, socially moderate and liberal on the environment. As such, I found a home in the Republican party, as this is what they largely embraced in their platform.

    Then came Ronald Reagan, Newt and the others. Government was now the enemy, as was anyone who disagreed. In Oregon the party followed the national crowd with a hard right turn. I was left behind, because I could not follow. I eventually changed my registration to “Independent,” where it remains. I became MOTR. Even though I have only made small changes in my positions over the years, my friends on the right think I am a flaming liberal and my friends on the left think I am conservative. They are judging me based on my views relative to their own, not on my stated principles. I often confound both groups by alternately agreeing with both camps on some issues, which makes their heads explode.

    It is hard being MOTR. I do not have the luxury of a firm, tribal ideology that establishes my positions for me. I cannot simply rely on my emotions or the pronouncements of a charismatic leader to formulate my stands on the issues. But it is where I am and hope to always be. Evidence, truth and merits guide me.

    I disagree that MOTR is “herd mentality.” I experience it as the opposite. Herds have largely been replaced by “tribes” and tribal thought. I do see widespread ignorance— of the role and function of government, history and a growing disdain for expertise and intellectual pursuits by the easily influenced and distracted.

    I also agree that technology provides many benefits, but there is no doubt that it is damaging society to some degree, particularly among the developing young. I saw the damage first hand during my career at the university. Although tech provides easy access to information, it also allows people to more easily sort into tribes and information “silos.” I don’t see any short term solutions to this problem. It will have to evolve on its own, hopefully into a more favorable state.

    The “middle way” is THE way for me. I intend to stay.

    Rick in Oregon

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  12. Well expressed, Rick, I can personally identify with much of your journey.

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    1. I agree, DL. Rick always adds a solid perspective on whatever we are discussing. His career in academia is quite helpful in this regard.

      I had always though of Oregon as a liberal stalward, but the last few years have exposed some ugliness that I didn't realized existed there. I guss we must agree that everywhere has its skeletons.

      America has always prided itself on our freedom of thought and expression. But, if that comes without logic and intellectusl curiosity, it causes problems, as we can see clearly at the moment.

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  13. As I've gotten older, I seem to have become more MOTR. Part of that it the greater understanding of complexity that comes with life experience, and part of it is a strong lifelong dislike of conflict. My opinions and policy preferences tend left, but my preferences for style of presentation are for rationality and moderation over knee-jerk emotional responses. When I look at media bias ratings from organizations like allsides.com, it turns out that my usual news sources (NPR, PBS, BBC, Washington Post) are rated as centrist to slightly left-leaning and factually reliable. Recently, I've gotten hooked on Margaret Hoover's relaunched version of the old William F. Buckley show, Firing Line. Hoover is a smart, thoughtful, traditional conservative. Her guests tend to be from the moderate right and moderate left, and the conversation is always thoughtful and thought-provoking. Civil discourse is still out there; we just have to work a little harder to find it among all the cacophony.

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    1. I will certainly check out Ms. Hoover's show. William Buckley's show was an important conservative voice, though at times too extreme for me.

      The image of the angry old senior is that we become more rigid and locked into our beliefs as we age.

      For some that may be true, but I think I have evolved more like you: MOTR is my default setting. Racism, sexism, ageism all upset me to no end. But, my overall temperature heating is moderate.

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  14. I have been a liberal democrat opposed to war since the 60's, I also oppose the C.I.A. and F.B.I almost as long. I believe the issue is people no longer have principles, the go along with the crowd as they do not want to attacked by the crazed online mob themselves. During the Bush years it was the Democratic platform to oppose Black Water, the military industrial complex including the C.I.A. The C.I.A. never became the good guys. I did not like Trump but am disturbed so many main stream media and politicians did not have a problem with the C.I.A. undermining his campaign and his Presidency. I did not support the Patriot Act in 2001 and still don't. I don't like the government spying on it's citizens. I don't like secret courts and secret warrants. It is all too much like Star Chambers. I believe in the right of the accused to face their accuser. I believe people should have the right to say and do stupid things and not have their life destroyed years later. I didn't move to the MOTR but some how my liberal principles have become conservative. I agree with almost everything Greg Greenwald says. I have always felt that MOTR was best because both extremes need to move to the middle in order to build consensus. I pride myself in my Independence.


    "There is a bar all principle which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance, that principle is contempt prior to investigation" Herbert Spencer

    This describes perfectly the problem we face today is people are to locked into their own group think to learn anything new.

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    1. Thank you, Jack for your thoughts. I am not a fan of unfettered government access to our lives. The term "National Security" is used too often as a cover for intrusive behavior.

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  15. I think part of the problem is that we have been conceptualizing points-of-view as linear with binary endpoints: left/right, bad/good, Democrat/Republican, male/female, black/white, urban/rural. Within this model, there are only three possible positions: one extreme endpoint, the other extreme endpoint, or somewhere in the middle. In fact, I think everything is way more complex and nuanced than can be defined by a line. Consider a two-dimensional plane. Already this allows for many more options for describing one’s position, depending the two axes chosen (e.g., fiscal beliefs, social beliefs). Then consider a three-dimensional model which allows for an infinite number of axes (or lines passing through it). Then add in a forth dimension, time, which allows for historical change, and I think we have a more accurate and robust way of describing belief systems.

    Jude

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    1. This comment is fascinating. You have put some real thought in describing why a simple solution is never realistic. Your university background shines through!

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