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Pro and Con, or squished?

[ by Charles Cameron — counterpoint: giving all voices a fair hearing. even when conflicting ]

I try to avoid taking political sides in American politics, partly because I’m a guest here and it seems only polite and wise to leave such matters to my hosts, and partly because bridge-building is the therapeutic method of choice in times of division and conflict. Keeping to a middle path may be something of a high-wire act, though, and is seldom popular wit those on either side.


I went looking for a quote that expresses the idea that this kind of middle way can get you killed, and my friends offered me a variety of possible items including Jim Hightower saying:

There’s nothing in the middle of the road but a yellow stripe and dead armadillos.

and Mr Miyagi:



The most cerebral near-miss was this one, from Adam Gopnik writing about and quoting Camus in the New Yorker a while back:

At the Liberation, he wrote (in Arthur Goldhammer’s translation):

Now that we have won the means to express ourselves, our responsibility to ourselves and to the country is paramount. . . . The task for each of us is to think carefully about what he wants to say and gradually to shape the spirit of his paper; it is to write carefully without ever losing sight of the urgent need to restore to the country its authoritative voice. If we see to it that that voice remains one of vigor, rather than hatred, of proud objectivity and not rhetoric, of humanity rather than mediocrity, then much will be saved from ruin.

Responsibility, care, gradualness, humanity—even at a time of jubilation, these are the typical words of Camus, and they were not the usual words of French political rhetoric. The enemy was not this side or that one; it was the abstraction of rhetoric itself. He wrote, “We have witnessed lying, humiliation, killing, deportation, and torture, and in each instance it was impossible to persuade the people who were doing these things not to do them, because they were sure of themselves, and because there is no way of persuading an abstraction.”

and the most scriptural from Scott McW, Revelation 3.14-16:

And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.

Michael Lotus supplied:

There’s even a film (h/t Barbara Hope) titled In Danger and Dire Distress the Middle of the Road Leads to Death — though I haven’t seen it.


John Messer catches the perspective I’m coming from when he comments:

One limitation perhaps is our framing of the challenge as a dichotomy rather than a 360 POV or perhaps a sphere of alternatives. In mediation one always looks for the unifying value that embraces all.

It seems harder and harder to present both sides of en ever-more-violently polarized situation without taking fire from each side — so I’d ask you to read what follows (and my posts on similar topics) as attempts at that unifying balance, rather than as statements of my own preferences.. which do exist, and no doubt can be glimpsed, but are not what I’m trying to propagate with my writings, at least thus far..


Consider these two opinions of Trump aide Sebastian Gorka — each the opinion of a valued friend:


It was F Scott Fitzgerald who said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”

Is there any room for a first-rate intelligence any more?


Or consider this juxtaposition as a DoubleQuote expression of a parallelism between Trump and Hitler:

Is that fair comment or not?

The two phrases are indeed close parallels –n but obviously the Nazi analogy is one that (a) members of the never Trump faction feel a strong urge to explore, and (b) which is liable to close the ears of the pro Trump faction to any logic it might possess.

How do we hear both sides of so fraught an issue?


How do we retain awareness of that superbly humble and nuanced insight of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn?

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
During the life of any heart this line keeps changing place; sometimes it is squeezed one way by exuberant evil and sometimes it shifts to allow enough space for good to flourish. One and the same human being is, at various ages, under various circumstances, a totally different human being. At times he is close to being a devil, at times to sainthood. But his name doesn’t change, and to that name we ascribe the whole lot, good and evil.

That’s the perspective I cherish.

Please see also my follow-up post..

4 Responses to “Pro and Con, or squished?”

  1. Marshall Massey Says:

    I held back, Charles, because I thought you wanted something short & pithy. But this is the quotation I have had in the “About” section of my Facebook page for, lo, these last twelve years —
    “…As for us…, We are not thy Enemies, we seek not thy hurt, nor do we desire Vengeance upon our Enemies, we seek not thy Destruction; but we desire thy Repentance, that thou mayst be healed: we have not the spirit of Mischief and Rebellion in our hearts towards thee, neither are we for one Party or another, nor do we side with one sort against another, neither do we joyn our selves to this sort or the other….
    …And we are utterly out of all Hopes of this Party or the other party, of this Man or that Man, to bring Salvation unto this Nation, from all its Bonds and Oppressions; for we know, whatsoever men profess to do, yet they cannot perform any good Thing, nor Rule for God in our Nation, till that themselves be reformed and ruled by him, and have the Spirit of God poured upon them for such a Work: And this we declare, Till that a man, or men, be ruled of the Lord, they can never rightly rule for him, nor bring Deliverance and Freedom to an oppressed Nation….
    And we are not for Names, nor Men, nor Titles of Government, nor are we for this Party, nor against the other, because of its Name and Pretence; but we are for Justice and Mercy, and Truth and Peace, and true Freedom, that these may be exalted in our Nation; and that Goodness, Righteousness, Meekness, Temperance, Peace and Unity with God, and one with another, that these things may abound, and be brought forth abundantly: such a Government are we seeking and waiting for, wherein Truth and Righteousness, Mercy and Justice, Unity and Love, and all the Fruits of Holiness may abound; and all the contrary be removed, cast out, and limitted….
    — Edward Burrough, *To the Present Distracted and Broken Nation, and to all her Inhabitants: A Presentation and Declaration from the Seed of God, and from the People called Quakers…* (1659)

  2. Charles Cameron Says:

    Further on Sebastian Gorka:



  3. Grurray Says:

    I don’t think of the world so much in terms of the difference between one side of the road or the other side, but in terms of the difference between the road and the road map. Negotiating between the essential and the sensational (in terms of perception) is the real tricky task, IMHO.
    Charles, you might be familiar with the Taoist/Buddhist monk Hui-neng? A friend recently pointed me in the direction of the ‘Sutras of Hui-neng’ translated by Thomas Cleary, who also has done a version of Sun Tzu. The quote(s):
    Good friends, how do we establish freedom from thought as the source? Deluded people who only talk about seeing essential nature have thoughts about objects, then create false views based on these thoughts; all worldly troubles and erroneous ideas come from this.
    In our own essential nature, there is basically not a single thing that can be grasped. If you grasp anything supposedly bad or good, this is a worldly trouble, a false view. Therefore this teaching establishes freedom from thought as the source…
    Good friends, the essential nature of reality as such produces thought. Though the six senses have perception and cognition, the real essential nature is not affected by myriad objects; it is always independent. Therefore scripture speaks of being able to distinguish the characteristics of all things while remaining unmoved in ultimate truth.

  4. Charles Cameron Says:

    Thanks! Yes, Grurray, I’m aware of Hui-Neng — though I’m afraid I don’t match up to his standards!
    And yes, the difference between map and territory is central to my own thinking. Indeed, I suspect that grasping the distinction between word and referent invokes a major cognitive shift — and is, I further suspect, almost synonymous with mystical experience.

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