Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Bodhi Vakya... "Centrism"

Bodhi Vakya means 'words of the enlightened one'. I think everyone has little glimpes of enlightenment at one point or another. Some may call it the "aha!" or "eureka!" moment. Often I come across little gems of sentences that carry profound wisdom (Buddhist panna, Sanskrit pradnya). I would like to think, the person was having a glimpse of enlightenment while writing them. This is a continuation of the previous "Bodhi Vakya" series and somehow it is also a continuation of the theme of the previous post.

The recent election here in USA has led many people to conclude that the country has voted strongly for a "centrist" position, as opposed to the bitter partisan rivalry and polarizing ideological stances. Almost all political parties are driven by some ideology. The ideology serves as the starting point for defining all (or most) of the party's position on social and political issues. More often than not, solutions derived from one or the other ideology are hardly the "optimum" solutions for the problem at hand. However it is often observed that people are keen on adhering to their ideology more than solving the problem in a reasonable amount of time. As a result the optimal solutions are often dumped in the thrash can.

People adhering to extreme positions often paint "centrists" as having "no ideological spine". Centrism is also portrayed as the position in which you go in whichever direction the winds are blowing. My own preferences and opinions lie sligtly to the left of the center if you need to know... but here is a piece from an essay that I recently came across, that tries to define the "centrist" position more formally. So here is the first Bodhi Vakya.. from Jason Scorse of Voices of Reason..
I want to reframe centrism as the political philosophy that takes the best ideas of all political persuasions instead of simply being viewed as either watered down liberalism or conservatism. In addition, centrism should be viewed as a philosophy of governing that is concerned primarily with societal outcomes, and less so with ideological purity. It is a more humble philosophy that allows for unintended consequences, continually updated assumptions, and the sincere desire to take into account opposing viewpoints. (read the full essay)
The second emphasis is added by me. I think it defines the "centrist ideology" if you will. This reminds me of Buddha's "middle way". Buddha was a very practical person and througout his life he refused to answer any questions regarding the metaphysical descriptions of reality. He reiterated that he was more concerned with alleviating the suffering here and now, in this life. There is a fable in which a lay person asked the Buddha to explain to him the "true nature of reality" before he could accept his teaching. The Buddha answered, "You are like a person who has been shot by a poisoned arrow. Before the doctor cures you, you insist on knowing the exact composition of the poison, whether it is slow acting or fast acting, the name of the person who shot the arrow, his family background and other questions of such nature. These things have nothing to do with your suffering here and now. All you need to do is to try the medicine the doctor is about to give. If it works you can find the answers to the rest of the questions yourself". The Buddha's middle way was concerned with "outcomes" rather than abstract concepts. Similarly a centrist position should be concerned with societal outcomes rather than ideological purity. This then is the official definition of the centrist position that I accept hereforth. A bow to Jason for penning it clearly.

It also reminded me of this paragraph from John Kenneth Galbraith's "The Good Society". So here is the second Bodhi Vakya for today...
Anciently and still, the economy has been defined ideologically. There is liberalism, socialism or capitalism; the speaker is a liberal or a socialist or is for free enterprise. He or she favors public ownership or, as in recent times, privatization. These are the controlling rules within which we live.

There is in the present day no greater or more ardently argued error. In the modern economic and political system ideological identification represents an escape from unwelcome thought -- the substitution of broad and banal formula for specific decision in the particular case.
Left - Right, Liberal - Conservative, all of these serve as labels that people have conjured to define and differentiate one ideology from another. The reality as always is somwhere in between. The only label that defines reality well is "gray", neither black, not white. So when it comes to solving problems, it is best to keep the labels in the closet and wear the hard hats.

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1 comment:

Point 5 said...

I think the centrist you mention probably alingns with a left leaning conservative or a right leaning liberal....

I think for the sake of presenting a bi-party and 2 different ideologies things are always perceived left or right. It doesnt matter whether the party is really left...if it is little more liberal than the other it is deemed left. Under this institution you most definitely need a 3rd party if you want to stick the tag of 'centrists'.