Both Ends Against The Middle

Today at lunch, as is often the case, I spent a great deal of time having to listen to one of my coworkers who missed his true calling as a talk radio host and instead sells health insurance.  Over and over again, nearly every day I find myself in lunch with this unpleasant fellow.  I wonder, often, whether this guy was unpleasant in a vacuum or not.  After all, he is unpleasant politically on the right end of the political spectrum, and the majority of political discourse in this particular area of Cascadia is unpleasant on the left end of the political spectrum.  The rise of political extremism on one side tends to provoke an opposite but not necessarily equal reaction on the opposite side of the political spectrum [1].  The end result is both ends against the middle, opportunistically joining together in opposition to those moderates who are responsible for maintaining social order and civility, and then fighting each other for dominance when the ordinary political world falls apart in the face of revolutionary and reactionary violence.

Currently in my jalopy I am listening to an audiobook about a man who loved books too much.  This is the sort of man I can easily understand, although he is particularly fond of old books.  Meanwhile, this weekend I read an unpublished manuscript by a slight acquaintance who belongs to my religious community in a different part of the Pacific Northwest.  There is a great deal of appeal in books and reading on both ends of the spectrum.  Old books have a certain charm and value about them because they have stood the test of time or are forgotten treasures that deserve to be better known; at any rate, it is easy to be a cheerleader of them and they remain popular for reprints or for those who seek first editions for fun and profit.  New books have a charm about them because they are new, and often anticipated.  If you are fond of a given series you cannot wait until a book becomes available from the author, and one rushes out to read it even before anyone else has, so that one can be the first to read it and give an opinion on it and influence taste.  This too is a pleasure I understand well.  Either way, books are not very well appreciated between the time when they are young and when they are old, at least unless they have been considered an instant classic and thus old when they are still relatively young.  That too is something I understand.

Growing up as a child in a broken family, I was deeply struck by the way my parents would speak to each other.  To be fair, after a considerable amount of time the two of them got along to the point where they were friends, by the time I was in my early 20’s.  Even so, for a substantial period of time I was one of the unfortunate people stuck in the middle between two people who had deeply divergent views of an unsuccessful marriage.  Perhaps understandably, I became a somewhat cynical person about the claims each made to speaking the whole truth and nothing but the truth, not least because both of them had more than their fair share of secrets and a deeply intense sense of personal privacy, and because the only way I could harmonize the stories was to figure that each was honest about how they saw the behavior of the other but was disinclined to admit their own share of the debacle.  When people play both ends against the middle, you can be sure there is some sort of asymmetry between behavior and motive, where people share an agenda or a goal but do not share worldviews and perspectives.  Meanwhile, others are left to figure out what is really going on by inference.

In many areas of life the extremes are more alike than either is to the middle.  The distance between the extremes, of say, Forrest Gump and a Mensa, or Hitler and Stalin, is greater than the distance of either to the middle, but they have something in common with each other that they do not have with the mainstream:  namely being outsiders on the margins.  This is something not to be taken for granted.  The experience of being an outsider is something that tends to leave a mark that never fully goes away.  This is especially true if someone is deeply self-conscious of being an outsider.  It is easy to see why there is an appeal in choosing to be an outsider, but sometimes one does not choose to be on the extremes or in the middle.  Sometimes just being who we are defines us in places based on how others respond to us.  Sometimes we play both ends, sometimes we play the middle, sometimes we play the middle against both ends, and sometimes we play both ends against the middle.  Life is complex.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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2 Responses to Both Ends Against The Middle

  1. Tyler says:

    Do you not find Hitler more close to Stalin than anyone in between the two?

    • That was part of the point of the conclusion–both Hitler and Stalin, however distant their political worldview, were both among the most paranoid and murderous rulers of the cursed 20th century. Often both extremes are closer to each other in being extreme than either are to the middle.

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