On Blue Dogs and the “Via Media”

File:Jürgen Ovens - Justice (or Prudence, Justice, and Peace) - Google Art Project.jpg

Justice, seen here balancing the scales of competing claims, turning “neither left nor right…”



Thursday, April 2, 2015  –  Lady Justice, seen above, personifies the “Middle Way” or Via Media:

Via media is a Latin phrase meaning “the middle road…”   Aristotle [urged] his students to follow the middle road between extremes [and] the via media was the dominant philosophical precept by which Ancient Roman civilisation and society was organised.  The term via media is frequently applied to the Anglican churches [and/or] the Church of England.  The idea of a middle way, between the papalist Catholics and the radical Reformers, goes back to early in the Protestant Reformation

See Via media – Wikipedia.  I bring all this up because moderates and moderation seem to be going out of style.  See We All Need Moderate Republicans, lamenting moderate Republicans becoming “scapegoats at which party extremists directed their primal screams.”  (On that note too, see On scapegoating, re: “an individual, group, or country singled out for unmerited negative treatment or blame.   A whipping boy, ‘fall guy’ or ‘patsy’ is a form of scapegoat…”)

Blue Dog CoalitionSee also Where have the Blue Dogs gone?  That post referred to the coalition formed in 1995 in the House of Representatives to “give more conservative members from the Democratic party a unified voice:”

The term “Blue Dog Democrat” is credited to Texas Democratic Rep. Pete Geren [who] opined that the members had been “choked blue” by extreme Democrats from the Left.  It is related to the political term “Yellow Dog Democrat,” a reference to southern Democrats said to be so loyal they would even vote for a yellow dog if it were labeled Democrat…   An additional explanation for the term … is “when dogs are not let into the house, they stay outside in the cold and turn blue,” a reference to the Blue Dogs’ belief they had been left out of a party that they believed had shifted to the political left.

See also Blue Dog Coalition – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, which noted that the term “strictly applied” refers only to the “House” coalition, and also that membership there “experienced a rapid decline in the 2010s,” to “14 seats in the 114th Congress.”

So whether we lament the passing of moderate Republicans or conservative Democrats, the point is: the Political Middle Has Disappeared.  (Not to mention the disappearing “middle class.”  See Infuriating Facts About Our Disappearing Middle-Class Wealth…)

The result is Political Polarization, and as the Pew Research Center noted:

In each party, the share with a highly negative view of the opposing party has more than doubled since 1994.  Most of these intense partisans believe the opposing party’s policies “are so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being.”

See also Political Polarization Is Here to Stay – NBC News.  But see also Don’t Forget That Politics is Cyclical, which noted that “elections are both seasonal and cyclical in nature:”

If Democrats had a great year and picked up a large number of Republican seats, you know that Democrats are likely to be overexposed and to suffer losses in the coming election cycle. If Republicans had a banner year in the previous election, they are more likely to lose than to gain seats.  It’s all pretty straightforward.

Which may be the best political news “we’ve” heard in a long time…

PsychoCyb-book-cover.gif.jpgThat brings up a guy named Maxwell Maltz, who published a book back in 1969.  (That was when many of us Baby-boomers were coming of age.)  That book was Psycho-Cybernetics (seen at right), and it offers a metaphoric glimpse at how our political system is supposed to work.

Maltz first compared the human mind to a “goal-striving guidance system,” as in a guided missile aimed “at an enemy ship or plane.”  He then said a goal-striving mechanism – like our political system – needs a corrective, so if the missile moves too far to the right, it compensates by moving to the left.  But if it overcompensates – moves too far to the left – the device moves the missile back to the right.  As Maltz put it, “The torpedo accomplishes its goal by going forward, making errors, and continually correcting them.  By a series of zigzags, it literally ‘gropes’ its way to the goal.”  (See also On sin and cybernetics.)

In other words, our political system too seems specifically designed to keep moving back to the middle, even though it’s clumsy at times.  (Maltz said such human “corrections” can best be seen in a baby learning to walk or pick up toys, or – later on – a teenager learning to drive.)

work-in-progressSo if that’s how our political system is supposed to work, we might as well get used to the idea of “groping,” zigzagging first to the right and then to the left, but eventually – the theory goes – “hitting the target.”  (But on that note, see also the definition for work in progress.)

Note also that the Middle Way – by which we “hit the target” – doesn’t necessarily mean “splitting the difference” in every case or dispute.  If that were so, you could just as easily be a true liberal or a true conservative.  (They’re the ones with the “one size fits all” set of answers to all life’s questions.  And aside from not having to think, they get a  lot less flak.  They only get it from one side.  “Middle Wayers” get abuse from both extremes…)

So to me, the Middle Way means having an open mind and being willing to listen to both sides of a dispute.  Note also that for our definitional purposes, being a true liberal or a true conservative means having a closed mind.  If you have an open mind, you’re not really a conservative or liberal.  You’re either a left-leaning moderate or a right-leaning moderate…

And just as an aside, Wikipedia said the Anglican/Episcopal Church has a reputation for this Middle Way, starting with Richard Hooker‘s Law of Ecclesiastical Polity, “the classic depiction of the English via media based upon the sound triumvirate of scripture, reason and tradition.”

Note too the Middle way in Buddhism.  And there’s a Middle Way in Islam, based on Wasat, the “Arabic word for middle, centered, balanced.   In the Islamic context, it refers to the ‘middle way,’ a justly balanced way of life, avoiding extremes and experiencing things in moderation.”

The Middle Way: Finding Happiness in a World of ExtremesBut we’re getting close to the word limit for the average blog reader.  (1,600 words, according to Bloggers: This Is How Long Your Posts Should Be – ViperChill.)  So let me wrap this up by introducing a book published in 2007, The Middle Way: Finding Happiness in a World of Extremes,  by Lou Marinoff.  I’ll be reviewing that book myself in future posts, but for now suffice it to say that it’s gotten both good and bad reviews. 

See for example Miles Derek, who rated it “four stars,” and said as a whole the book “succeeds in being of both sociological and philosophical value.” (See The Middle Way (“Goodreads”).  Then there’s the review by Robert Ellis of the Middle Way Society, who said in part:

This book at least tries to start a discussion on a topic of vital importance – the universal Middle Way…  [However, e]very time an influential writer mistakes the Middle Way for a truth about the universe, the genuinely useful Middle Way – the Middle Way of experience – becomes a little harder to find, because the concept becomes a little more appropriated by metaphysics and its subtle practical form is obscured a little more.

Note also that according to that site, the “Middle Way Society is an international group, first founded in the UK, for the study, promotion and practice of the Middle Way.  For more information about the meaning of the term ‘Middle Way’ as we understand it, please see the Middle Way page.”  In turn, the Middle Way – as defined there – says “progress can be made in addressing conditions by avoiding both positive or negative forms of metaphysics.”

(Which might be an example of “taking the Middle Way to extremes.”)

Be that as it may, I’ll be reviewing the book myself in future posts.  For now it’s enough to say that – by definition – “balancing the scales” seems to mean dealing with a whole lot of negative feedback.  (As Maltz pointed out, with positive feedback you just “stay on course.”)   So who knows, maybe “political polarization” is the new normal.  On the other hand:

Maybe moderation is the true conservatism…




You can’t hit the target without “negative feedback…”


The upper image is courtesy of Wikimedia, File: Jürgen Ovens – Justice (or Prudence, Justice, and Peace, a 1662 painting by Jürgen Ovens, a “portrait painter from North Frisia and, according to Arnold Houbraken, a pupil of Rembrandt.  He is best known for his painting in the city hall of Amsterdam and paintings for the Dukes of Holstein-Gottorp for whom he worked for more than 30 years, also as an art dealer.”  See Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Re:  balancing the scales and turning “neither left nor right…”  See for example Proverbs 4:27 “Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil,”  Deuteronomy 28:14 “Do not turn aside to the right or the left from all the things I am commanding you today, and do not go after other gods to worship them,” and Joshua 23:6  “Do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, that ye turn not aside therefrom to the right hand or to the left.”   All which led to the following blog, 20 Reasons Why the Christian Right & the Christian Left Won’t Adopt Me.  (But we digress!!)

The lower image is courtesy of http://www.releasetheape.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/arrow-target1-890×556.png., and was also used in Sin and cybernetics.

The “work in progress” image is courtesy of iamerinbrown.com/2014/06/why-im-not-a-work-in-progress., and “may be subject to copyright.”




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *