Productive Questions as Critical Thinking


1. Does moderation in one's beliefs and behavior signify uncommon reflection?

2. Why are young people so frequently immoderate?

3. Are there trigger moments or situations that should suggest lack of moderation?


Robert Samuelson in a recent  Washington Post column argued that Republicans and Progressives were responsible for a devasting mismanagement of government, our public sphere. The mismanagement both were accused of was a failure to recognize the costs of their unfailing loyalty to certain flawed principles.  He acknowledged that Republicans have a visceral reluctance to increase taxes at a time when fiscal responsibility demands that we spend more money on multiple problems best addressed through collective action. 

But the thrust of his argument is a critique of progressives for their treatment of medicare and social security as sacred cows that must not be placed on a diet even when their current eating habits are non-sustainable. His point is that the rigidity of this opposition to cuts in these programs overlooks the power of even small cuts in protecting the long-run viability of the programs that progressives push and protect.

This post is stimulated by the comfort I felt with his argument and my recognition that the ease with which I agreed with Samuelson was created more by my fealty to moderation as a value than it was to the specifics of his argument.

Why were the Greeks and I so attracted to moderation as a principle? I think we recognize that other values when pursued in extreme forms often become nightmares.  Extreme courage becomes foolhardiness; Extreme reasonableness becomes decidophobia because there are other more reasons and data to consider.

A 2nd reason why moderation is so appealing is that we all regualrly witness that those who prefer a point of view almost never sell it fair-mindedly.  In other words, we are asked to consume X, practice Y, and believe Z because of their abundant advantages. We hear this one-sidedness and move to the middle in self-defense.  We know that no choice is free of deficits. So we run to the protective cover of lists of advantages AND disadvantages from which it is very difficult to emerge wholesale dedicated to or against something. 

I think it safe to claim that to be young is to be more likely to shun moderation as a primary value.  We do not expect revolutions to be led, new dance crazes to emerge, or extravagent clothing styles to be championed by older people. Why not?  Maybe as we age we become bruised and reluctant to embrace extreme positions.  A few leaders in whom we place great trust only to see only minor progress can easily make us reluctant to charge forward in support of the next idealistic leader.

Alternatively, aging may enhance the number of beliefs and habits reinforced by confirmation bias. We grow comfortable with our conclusions out of reflective fatigue if for no better reason. Young people are relatively new to construction of beliefs. When they commit to one, they are more likely to do so vigorously, unmitigated by the complexity of alternative beliefs.

Should each of us hesitate at times to think the way Samuelson does in the article to which I linked you?  Sure, blame for complex phenomena has a broad reach.  But isn't it a little too cognitively neat to run to the middle when assessing responsibility for governmenatal mismanagement.  Another way to ask the same thing would be to wonder whether the coefficients in front of each potential cause are equal just because such thought makes analysis crisp.

1. Does not some behavior cry out for immoderate response? When your leader focuses on whether someone celebrates a national symbol as he does rather than on getting power and medical aid to desperate millions of fellow and sister citizens, should we not scream our outrage?

2. Does it not make sense to consider moderation in the face of behavior as a first response, but to be willing to throw ourselves into support or revulsion at times?


AuthorM Neil Browne