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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The pluralist path to unknowing

Who doesn’t support pluralism? Who would deny themselves the right to live peaceably in their own way with their own views, without interference or coercion to be other than they are?

Nobody that I can think of. Yet, we live at a time when pluralism is under threat and the pressure to conform to somebody’s view of right thinking is never far away.

Pluralism is an onerous discipline that makes demands of tolerance that are not always recognised by those who insist on its privileges.

Unknowing is necessarily an orientation that embraces pluralism. It is not possible to hold one’s knowing lightly unless one admits – even cultivates – alternative points of view. I’m referring not just to the pluralism that recognises diversity of perspective beyond oneself. Unknowing also implies a commitment to pluralism in one’s own worldview(s) and a recognition of a plurality of selves within one individual.

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