Governance By The Golden Mean
Jon: But that's just innuendo, and that can't be the only thing in a news story!
Stephen: Can't it? I ask you: Does Jon Stewart orally pleasure teamsters for pocket change?
Stephen: Well, you are certainly entitled to that opinion. But I bet I can assemble an impressive panel that thinks you do. The truth lies somewhere in between. Let's talk about it for eight weeks and let the public decide. The Daily Show
A recent Facebook thread really hit a raw nerve, and I have spent the last day mulling over my strong emotional reaction. I see a connection between a widely accepted logical fallacy and our community’s failure to effectively resolve a diverse array of long-standing problems. More personally, it explains why concerned and informed citizens in the minority are often ignored.
The Golden Mean Fallacy holds that the truth can be found as a compromise between two opposite positions. The belief in a “middle, moderate position” is pervasive in public discourse. There appear to be two opposite schools of thought for followers of the Golden Mean Fallacy. One school holds that extremes are automatically wrong and that some sort of moderate position must therefore be correct. People who can temper their beliefs are seen as superior thinkers. The other school believes that any two competing viewpoints are equally valid, and thus the “true answer” must lie in between the two. In both cases, the fallacy lies in assuming that the middle ground must be correct.
The Golden Mean Fallacy is compelling and persuasive because it satisfies deep rooted psychological needs. People are uncomfortable with conflict and uncertainty. Compromise eliminates anxiety even when it is not the correct solution. The Golden Mean offers a quick and easy solution to complex challenges. A co-morbid fallacy holds that we can reach a fair compromise if we all work together and find common ground, ignoring the cold reality that some people are unable or unwilling to reason.
Government policies and regulations must be based on facts, objective data and science, not accommodation of competing viewpoints. Richard Dawkins famously said, “When two opposite points of view are expressed with equal intensity, the truth does not necessarily lie exactly half way between. It is possible for one side simply to be wrong.”
While the middle ground can sometimes be the correct solution, I have too frequently witnessed the city and county treating informed and uninformed public comment with equal weight. In particular, I have seen officials give credence to opinion based on “feelings” and financial motive. Golden Mean policy fails to recognize that the public comes to an issue with varying motives, levels of informedness and willingness to reason.
Effective solutions require our government to sift through opinion to reach the kernel of truth, as determined by objective, empirical evidence, without predetermination of where it is to be found.