Home » We need to stop praising the center – Rebecca Solnit

We need to stop praising the center – Rebecca Solnit

by admin

June 13, 2021 10:11 am

The idea that all partisan views are deviations from an impartial center is itself biased, and prevents experts, journalists, politicians and others from recognizing some of the worst prejudices of our time. This partial idea that the center is never biased, has no programs, no prejudices, no misperceptions, is a preconceived defense of the status quo. Behind it is the belief that things are pretty good all things considered, that you have to trust the authorities because power confers legitimacy, that those who want radical change are too loud or unreasonable, and that we should all just get along without looking at them. skeletons in the closet and dust under the carpet. Above all, it is a prejudice of those who benefit from the system against those who lose out.

I read on Twitter the other day that the US intelligence and police had to be either incompetent or complicit to be found so unprepared for the congressional invasion of Washington on January 6. The author of the tweet seemed not to contemplate a third possibility, namely that the secret services have not been able to see beyond the assumption that middle-aged white male conservatives do not pose a threat to democracy, that elected officials were not feeding. a revolt, that the danger was the others.

People have a hard time recognizing what does not fit into their worldview. For this reason, those in power have not reacted to decades of white terrorism

In 2012, when I went to Japan for the first anniversary of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, I was told that the thirty-meter-high wave of black water was such an inconceivable sight that some had failed to recognize the danger. Others had assumed that the tsunami would not be stronger than previous ones and had not sheltered high enough. Many people had died because they had not been able to face an unexpected thing. People have a hard time recognizing what does not fit into their worldview. For this reason, those in power have not reacted adequately to decades of terrorism by white men: the murders committed by anti-abortionists, racial violence, homophobia and transphobia, the misogynistic violence that hides behind many massacres, attacks on environmentalists and white supremacism among the police and the military. Finally this year, US Justice Minister Merrick Garland called this terrorism by its real name, calling it “the most dangerous threat to our democracy”.

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The prejudice that crimes are committed by “them”, not “us”, has never disappeared. And that is why the protests of the anti-racist movement Black Lives Matter last summer were described by conservatives, and sometimes by the majority, as much more violent than they really were and that the right had an easy time demonizing immigrants. Often the violence committed during the Black Lives Matter protests was the work of the right. For example, the murder of a guard in a federal court in Oakland, California, reportedly at the hands of an Air Force sergeant and supporter of the far-right Boogaloo movement. Or even some of the arson that broke out in Minneapolis shortly after George Floyd was killed.

No one has ever loved the status quo more than the New York Times, which said in a recent editorial that the organizers of Pride were wrong to “reduce the presence of law enforcement by forbidding uniformed officers from marching in groups at least until 2025 “. The newspaper interviewed a black lesbian policewoman who felt “broken” because she could not participate in the march, instead of facing the logic behind that decision. Pride recalls the 1969 riot against police violence and the criminalization of queerness at the Stonewall Inn bar in New York. Police officers are by no means forbidden to participate in civilian clothes, but that is not enough for the New York Times columnists, who also added: “Preventing LGBT agents from marching is a politicized response and not worthy of the important. search for justice for those who have been persecuted by the police ”. The decision to include the cops would be no less political than the decision to exclude them. Besides, who decides what is worthy? The idea that there is a magically apolitical state that everyone should aspire to is the key to this bias.

I have encountered the bias of the status quo multiple times in the form of gender-based violence, particularly in the refusal to acknowledge that a rich man or boy, whether he is a film producer or high school football player, can also be a criminal. . Those who cannot believe the allegations, however credible, often blame the victim (or worse: too often, those who report a rape receive death threats and other forms of harassment and intimidation to make an uncomfortable truth disappear). Society has little imagination when it comes to guessing that these predators secretly treat their victims (often poorer than themselves) very differently from how they treat their fellow men in public, and this lack of imagination negates inequality and perpetual.

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Failure arises from undue respect for the powerful. And here I think of all the idiots ready to seize “the moment when Trump started acting as president” without realizing that his incompetence was as indelible as his corruption and malice, perhaps because their respect for the institution has extended. to the trickster who got into it.

Centrist bias is institutional bias, and all our institutions throughout history have been responsible for inequalities. Recognizing it means delegitimizing them; denying it means wanting to save goats and cabbages, thinking of being on the side of good and at the same time denying that a drastic change is needed. A far-right person can also praise racism, police brutality or the culture of rape and put it into practice; a moderate at most can minimize its impact.

Recognizing the pervasiveness of sexual abuse means having to listen to children and adults; women and men; subordinates and bosses. It means overturning the old hierarchies over who is to be listened to, breaking the silences that protect the status quo. In the 2020 Boy Scout of America sexual abuse lawsuit, more than 95,000 people have filed for compensation. What did it take to silence all those children while hundreds of thousands of abuses took place? An enormous reluctance to listen to and destroy faith in an institution that was part of the status quo.

The loudest voices on the left have almost always spoken important truths, while those on the right have trumpeted lies and taken sides against human rights.

Before the American Civil War the centrists were opposed to the abolition of slavery and before 1920 to granting the vote to women. In its day, the civil rights movement was not as popular as the moderates think that Martin Luther King favored the more polite quotes. As you know, King said: “I have almost reached the bitter conclusion that the great obstacle for black on his path to freedom is not the follower of the White citizen’s council or the Ku klux klan, but the moderate white, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace, that is the absence of tension, to a positive peace, that is, in the presence of justice… ”. As King noted, the status quo changes all the time and centrists often don’t want changes that increase rights and justice, while they are more lenient of the right’s attempts to restrict both.

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A recent study by the scientific journal PNAS reads: “We measured the brain activity of militants who watched political videos. Even though we all showed the same footage, brain responses differed between progressives and conservatives. This polarization of perceptions was then heightened by a personality trait: intolerance to uncertainty ”. The study assumes that people at the ends of the political spectrum have strong beliefs and are intolerant of uncertainty. But who is more intolerant to uncertainty than those who always believe in the authorities?

Another mistake of centrism is to think that left and right are symmetrically extremist. Leftist violence is a failed experiment that ended in the 1970s. Furthermore, in recent years the strongest voices on the left have almost always spoken important truths, while those on the right have trumpeted lies and taken sides against human rights. One example is all the falsehoods about abortion used to justify restrictions on termination of pregnancy. Another is the debate on the climate crisis.


Activists and scientists have long said that we are in a dramatic situation. Yet the call for change is presented as an extreme thesis, rather than a necessary reaction to an extreme crisis. From the right came calls to deny science. On May 18, albeit belatedly, the International Energy Agency signed what environmental groups have been advocating for years: the exploration and extraction of new fossil fuels must be stopped. This is the change needed to preserve the planet.

Was it extremist to be right too soon? Often what is called the “left” is only further on in terms of human rights and environmental justice, while the right denies the existence of the problem. There is no symmetry. Many of what are now considered moderate, centrist positions were seen as radicals not long ago, when the United States advocated segregation, banned mixed marriages and then same-sex marriages, prevented women from holding some positions and queer people others. , and they excluded disabled people from almost everything. The center is biased, and this bias counts.

(Translation by Marina Astrologo)


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