Unknowing is commitment to moderation

Unknowing is inescapably an exercise in moderation. I’m talking here about political moderation. In other respects, unknowing encourages us towards an immoderate lifestyle. One which embraces mischief and counters convention. In an age of populism and polarisation, though, an inclination to political moderation is unknowing’s contribution.

But moderation is a term that is fraught with ambiguity. What I’m referring to in invoking moderation is a disciplined eschewal of the easy certainties of extremism. What I’m not advocating is a lazy gravitation to the centre of wherever mainstream political debate is located.

As the last decades have demonstrated, the Overton window can be re-situated at the extremes, and positions previously recognised as moderate recast as outside the mainstream or even treacherous. In my lifetime, this has happened to the advocacy of, for example, social democracy, the maintenance of friendly relations with our European neighbours and solidarity with the Jews as an oppressed people. The years of Conservative rule have overseen a dismantling of the social contract behind the welfare state and a return to conditions of employment which evoke the Victorian era or the 1930s. Centrist opinion has colluded in the normalisation of such policies. A disciplined moderation might have named the assault on hard-won rights as an extremist aberration.

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Not knowing is a defining condition of life

A premise of unknowing is that, while not knowing is a defining condition of life, we mostly behave as if we know.

At its most basic level, our not knowing is a truism. While each of us functions from our own individual base of knowledge, an inescapable facet of existence is that we do not know what the future holds. Perhaps not even the next moment. Much of our knowing is nothing more than pattern recognition. We hold a rough model in our heads of what reality is like and this is good enough to enable us to function efficiently most of the time.

But this pattern recognition can blind us to the novelty we navigate every day of our lives. Even when we encounter situations that seem similar to ones we have seen before, we tend to forget that each unfolding of a familiar event is unique in its own right. Our knowing forms amid a broader canvas of not knowing.

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