Characters and Caricatures by William Hogarth (1743). Public Domain. Image courtesy of the Welcome Library.

Why I Left the Center

Brooklyn, NY | USA

I have been dedicated to the center since I was a teenager. I read The Economist, the Times (all of them), even identified as a fiscal conservative, social liberal. I campaigned for Obama in 2008 and Romney in 2012. I was fully dedicated to reasonableness, efficiency, and above all else compromise. After all, what is politics if not the process of trying to find the happy middle between two different extremes?

Unfortunately, like many people, I found myself pushed out of the center during my time at college. My university had recently hired a Professor Wiseman McWarCrimes. The students were enraged about this and demanded that his offer of tenure track position be rescinded or given to another scholar. As a sensible centrist, I of course assumed that my fellow students were largely unified against this professor. And they were. As a reasonable centrist looking to compromise, I tried to learn what the professors thought, assuming that I could fall back on a centrist principle of reaching compromise or deferring to the experts.

To my surprise, the professors were unenthusiastic about Professor Wiseman McWarCrimes. They seemed to regard him as a lackluster scholar and not very collegial, and unlikely to stay in his post for longer than it took him to wait out a recent political controversy. If one group didn’t want him, and the other group didn’t really care, then surely the compromise was to let him go, wasn’t it?

As I learned, McWarCrimes was being given his position over the objections of students and faculty at the behest of the administration. This threw me for a loop. As a reasonable centrist, what was the role of the administration if not to broker compromises between the students and faculty? I had hoped myself to become a university administrator, thinking it a noble profession with many opportunities to make compromises and improve efficiencies through paperwork. I felt bereft and disillusioned at looking at who I thought were reasonable, disinterested, centrist bureaucrats pushing a hard political position that not only did not reflect a compromise of two positions, but was instead a far extreme outside the norms.

I talked about this with some veterans of the greatest protest movement of the 2000s, the Rally to Restore Sanity, and they flew off the handle at me over my dangerously naive thought process. Surely, failing to guarantee permanent employment to McWarCrimes was an attack on the very nature of free speech they told me. That I would even question his right to this position in light of his merits and the desires of the community he was entering was, according to some, tantamount to defending Nazi Germany. Of course I wasn’t sure that McWarCrimes would mind that much, defending Nazi Germany was kind of what he was known for.

And so I found myself without a movement. I wanted to be engaged with politics: to push the envelope of compromise, the study how to do things efficiently, to write papers that the finest minds in bureaucratic thinking would pore over and evaluate. But the center no longer provided this. It had lost sight of these principles, instead being married to pushing a specific political agenda even when it was not reasonable.

Fortunately, I was able to find a new home, where my desire to argue semantics, fill out paperwork, and reach compromises was appreciated rather than scorned. And that’s why I left the center and joined the left.

Strange Matters is a cooperative magazine of new and unconventional thinking in economics, politics, and culture.