The Middle Ground and the Importance of Discourse

The Middle Ground, perceived to be an intermediate position, the foundations of agreement between two opposing sides. In a highly charged, polarised society with a seeming push to return to tribalism across numerous political and social divides an attempt to chart a middle ground throughout discourse is a taught and challenging attempt to undertake. I hold the belief what made this society a laudable example to behold was the coming together of the opposing sides and establishing common values and principles through discourse, the merits of liberalism and conservatism effectively creating the rule of laws we live by today. I worry today when I see attempts to shatter the foundations of Greek reason that shaped the laws of Western Society, established by consensus and the scientific method verifiable facts and replacing these with personal truths.  Perhaps that is the natural conclusion of societal evolution, its one certainly I don’t comprehend or personally agree. Over the last twelve months, I have attempted to chart a centrist path through these conflicting ideologies in my work and creativity, discarding the fringes of both opposing tribes and finding common consensus and discussion with writers and creators on both sides of the conversation.

On a daily basis, when you use and chart a course through the digital landscape, there is a great deal of toxicity and anger expressed towards each other by, each other dependent on your political and ideological beliefs. The steadfast belief, reinforced, indeed I would postulate encouraged by this deep seated tribalistic nature of our characters that the only way to overcome and triumph for your particular cause and beliefs is to crush and eradicate your opponent. The notion of your personal truth having power over established and verifiable facts and discourse is a welcome and comforting mindset to adopt, it adds weight and merit to your ingrained beliefs without the discomfort of having to adopt or challenge your preconceptions. In the digital realm, we see it as acceptable practise for example to deplatform and silence those we oppose, who threaten our beliefs without the means and ability to find consensus through discourse, exemplified with many university and college campuses on both sides of the Atlantic placing punitive and restrictive measurements on notable individuals such as Jordan Peterson most recently having his invitation to speak at Cambridge University rescinded following a purported backlash from students and faculty.

I have made reference on occasion in my writing to the Overton Window, a hypothesis attributed to Joseph Overton concerning the range and scope of acceptable and tolerable topics of discussion in the pubic environment. Itself an attempt to avoid becoming a tool for the ideological conflict between the left and right and instead, opting instead in a clinical fashion to highlight and show the acceptable opinions to discuss and hold as this window shrinks or expands. At its very centre when the window is at its smallest, we tend to see policy and the popular opinion holding weight, as the window expands we move towards tolerable and radical expressions of thought. A brief look at any online platform would suggest we are at a narrow point in time with the Overton Window, the acceptable topics of public discourse those deemed to be the ‘popular’ view point to hold, to which side or belief that falls is another discussion for another occasion. For me, I hold the opinion and belief of the scientific method, you should have the freedom and means to test using a conversational form of the scientific methodology, a bedrock principle that has shaped our society from as early as the 17th century where principles and policy has been shaped and crafted using observation, testing and formulation.

For lack of a more accurate description, the fandom community, those with a passion and dedication to exploring and celebrating all facets of their various passions have tended to exemplify many of the character traits and attitudes in common with any other communal belief, tribalism to the show or genre of interest a common practise. Given the fictional aspect being a foundation of the community, I would postulate as a gathering there is greater scope to explore and celebrate the deeper conversations and meaning behind and around the human condition and the morality exemplified by these characters and creations. Recognising and drawing strength from the fictionalised morality and ethics expressed by these heroes and champions. Observably, the polarisation that has seeped into a great many facets of society has also enveloped this particular cause, creators and bloggers free to write their personal truths and opinions on a variety of subject matters beyond the base objective, measurable values. I may tend for example to focus on reviewing books and games describing in detail the merits and strengths of pictures and image quality, others opting for the more personal impact these same games have had upon them in a very personal and real sense.

As a personal aside, one of my closest and trusted friend has made on occasion the observation in my general writing I should look to express my opinion and belief to a greater degree, to articulate my stated stance on a given subject matter especially when tackling something contentious in the public arena. On principle I tend to reserve judgement or opinion on most occasions to gather facts, formulate an opinion and approach when they have come to light. Not always possible when the narrative is shaped or crafted at best, when moral gate keepers act in bad faith at worst. Unfortunately, based on observation you are left with the impression those claiming impartiality have a bias whether intentional or not, be they CNN or Fox in America, and as such the only true measurement of impartiality you are left with are your own observations and discourse. One of the joys of undertaking these writing projects and collaborations in the last twelve months has been the connection, the means to view and learn from those around you who share your passion and love for a given subject whilst holding similar or opposing ideological beliefs without resorting to tribalism and partisanship. The reason for sharing that saying from Booker T Washington was the notion as a community you can have some success and progression lifting yourself up at the base level, but to succeed ultimately, everyone needs to move forward and there is a collective success and accomplishment when you all progress and succeed together.

There are solutions even if they are not always tolerable or comfortable to process or act upon, the easiest of which I would argue for is discussion and to engage with those who share a different ideology to your own. Which isn’t to say yours is right, or theirs is wrong, that they are different, and if we come together we can form a consensus of beliefs and values that drive us forward. The Ancient Greeks understood this principle, can 21st century modern society gain but a fraction of their wisdom is the challenge we face today. I have read some amazingly positive articles and opinions in the last year from those, honestly, I may have been reticent to follow or subscribe to previously. Megan and her Geeky Girl page is a breath of fresh air when highlighting the issues of mental health and gaming. Trevor at No Escape I’ve connected to recently and whilst approaching I would guess from a different position to my own, is open to discussion and provides challenging and honest fact based opinions and articles. I subscribed to the No Man’s Land blog a writing group promoting and championing content by women and for women to address this divide but featuring a great many articles and interviews with individuals who work in the industry. I follow American blogger, British bloggers, Christian bloggers and atheist bloggers for the simple reason I do believe as an individual you are a more rounded and educated person when you have a plethora of opinion and facts to observe and form your own consensus from.

The danger for me, and which I do feel is often pushed out of sight to some degree is living within a digital echo chamber of opinion and thought, our own opinions and biases reinforced by those around us without being challenged or questioned. Not as a threat to your existence or to deny you an aspect of who you are, simply to gain an understanding of that approach so we can gain and form some type of middle ground. I’ll readily and openly admit my fallacies and weaknesses in areas of discussions, and try as best as I can to trust those I’m talking to are doing so in good faith with honest and open intentions. If I had to identify a toxic element running through common discourse at present, it’s the attempt to tribalise ideology and to an extent, monopolise opinion and discourse, one acceptable line of thought, all others punishable with the removal of your online presence at best, a detrimental impact to your real world circumstance at worst. If the only opinion we read and listen to are those we already subscribe to, it has the detrimental impact of reinforcing whatever notion you perceive to be the truth without ever having the fortitude or courage to test your convictions, a dangerous state of affairs and one I feel can be avoided to some degree by attempting to follow a centrist ideology and engage in discussion with those on both sides of the divide.

Gaming of which I write, media and general fan culture can act as a means of escapism from our real lives and issues, I’ve read some moving articles and pieces how as a pastime it has transformed for the better people’s circumstances. There is a comfort to treat it as such, an escapism and a place of comfort that you feel safe and secure within however, arguably, I would position there is a detrimental cost to living within that safe space for to long, do we have the strength to use stories and narratives as our ancestors did to shape and guide our moral convictions to act as better individuals. Writing from a centrist perspective, the middle ground approach means feeling neither secure in classical conservative values or embracing the popular opinion and overwhelming support of the liberal movement. It means reading and watching, reflecting and learning on opinions and theories you may feel opposed to then challenging yourself why you felt opposed, was it based on fact or a tribalistic threat to your preconceived notions of morality, of right or wrong. As a community, as a society we will all succeed when we can put aside our own individual well being and comfort and help lift each other up, and as the great Doctor said, sit down and talk.

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5 thoughts on “The Middle Ground and the Importance of Discourse

  1. Personally, I don’t think that the problem is that people go into discussions with strong opinions. “To observe means to change the outcome”, as the saying goes. We, as humans, are all biased about all topics in one form or another. Most of the time, it is therefore impossible to only take facts and evidence into consideration in a discussion. Very often, it’s not even sensible, because there are multiple “outcomes”, all viable and in the end, it’s just a matter of preference.
    You did not really say anything against this, I know, but I wanted to emphasise this. The problem starts when we are no longer able to differentiate between opinions and facts. In a discussion, we need to be aware of our bias, keep an open mind and know that we might simply be wrong and the other person might be right. Of course, both parties have to have this mindset, or the discussion will be rather one-sided.
    Like you, I thoroughly enjoy discussing and talking to people, and the more our opinions differ, the more interesting it gets. Naturally, it often occurs that I think “Damn, what an idiot.”, but it’s important that I keep the respect for my vis-a-vis, still consider his points with the same merit I want him to consider my points and keep in mind, that maybe I’m the idiot in that conversation…

    I want to part with a quote I really like when it comes to discussion: “Listen to learn something, not just to reply.”

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read and reply, I agree entirely with setting aside your own personal hubris and approaching interactions in good faith otherwise it does raise the prospect as with your inclination at the end of approaching conversations to win as opposed to learn. From my own personal perspective, I’m yet to be convinced of the merits of pursuing a more, personal narrative in my writing style as opposed to a factual observation, but equally I can understand and even admit to enjoying learning more about the personalities of authors through their observations in their discourse so can understand how both opinion and fact are necessary. Arguably, as you quite rightly said, its when you need to differentiate between the two otherwise unintentionally they can be conflated into one and the same.

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