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A Manifesto for the Sensible Center

The Mini-Manifesto from Gapingvoid

Manifestos seem to have been co-opted by the unhinged or extremists, but they are merely public statements of policy aims, beliefs or views. As such, a manifesto is a good way to succinctly state what guides you or your group.

In 2006, I wrote a couple of manifestos for my very first blog, Filter & Splice, after reading a challenge from Hugh MacLeod of Gapingvoid to write a manifesto of 500 words or fewer (a mini-manifesto). Since that time, Gapingvoid has transformed from Hugh’s personal blog showcasing his thoughts and funky illustrations into a business offering Culture Design services, but his old blog posts remain.

In conducting a search of “manifesto” on the site’s blog, I discovered that Hugh published lots of manifestos around 2006-07, many of them submitted by readers. Apparently, quite a few of us were up to the 500-word manifesto challenge and you’ll find when you read them that no one sounds unhinged.

My manifestos from this challenge include a Manifesto of Creativity and a Manifesto of Fame. I republished them on my Woo Woo Teacup Journal blog here and here, in case the pink and green of my Filter & Splice blog bothers your eyes. (Ah, the joy & decor of first blogs!)

Tim Penny’s Sensible Center

Recently, my husband and I were talking about the polarization of political thought in the United States and how the loudest people on the extreme right and the extreme left are driving policy and action within the country. These voices are not necessarily speaking for the majority, who sit somewhere in the middle of the spectrum of political thought.

My husband mentioned Tim Penny’s concept of the “sensible center.” Penny was a Minnesota politician who ran for governor of the state as an Independence Party candidate in the early 2000s. Over a decade-and-a-half ago, extreme partisanship was rearing its ugly head, which Penny tried to combat through his “Common Sense Express” (an orange mini-bus he used for campaigning) and his “sensible center” slogan.

As my husband and I talked about this, I thought it might be helpful if we had a manifesto to state what being in the sensible center looks like. How do sensible centrists view the world as opposed to those engaged in extremist thinking? Would laying out these ideas in a manifesto help remind people how to think in ways that might bring us back together as a country?

Manifesto for the Sensible Center

  1. Think. For. Yourself.
  2. Define your terms.  In group discussions, define every term for which people might have different definitions, even (and especially) common terms. Seek out the definitions being used by various groups you are not a part of. Without common definitions, we talk past each other.
  3. Remain skeptical. Question everything. Look for multiple reliable sources to build your thoughts on any given issue.
  4. Accept complexity. Life is not simple.
  5. Avoid dichotomous thinking. There are more than two sides to every issue.
  6. There is no guru or one supreme leader with all the answers. Stop looking for one.
  7. Clarify your personal values. Know these before examining a group’s values or the country’s values. Where do your values align with or diverge from the group or country?
  8. Figure out the end results you want to achieve. Be intellectually honest about your goals. Do they fit the ideals of society? Are they solely for your benefit or will they also benefit the wider community? Are they detrimental to any groups of people? Are the detrimental effects tolerable or harmful? (Define your terms. What do “ideals,” “benefit,” “detrimental,” & etc. mean?)
  9. There is no one philosophy or economic system that works for every situation. Seek to achieve balance between competing philosophies and systems, adopting the best of them and eschewing the worst.
  10. Be respectful of others, particularly if you disagree. Name-calling and trolling are lazy forms of argument.
  11. Be willing to listen to and thoughtfully consider criticism.
  12. Make room for people to live their lives as they see fit so long as they aren’t purposely hurting someone. Understand that this might mean you won’t be comfortable 100% of the time.
  13. Don’t be naïve. There are bad actors, cons, the corrupt, greedy, propagandists and power grabbers who mean to do people harm in the world. Learn to recognize them and limit their effects on society. Hold them to account when they do harm.
  14. Do not underestimate those who appear powerless. Do not accept that you are powerless.
  15. Recognize that there need to be regulations in order to have a successful society but watch how regulations are enacted. Will they bring us closer to the end goal? Be willing to adjust regulations or scrap them if they aren’t working. With regulations come government and government needs to be paid for. Don’t automatically assume all taxes are bad.
  16. Be willing to compromise. No one is going to get everything they want from every policy or regulation.
  17. Stay involved. Be courageous. Develop grit and patience.
  18. Above all, develop an attitude of “it depends.” Solutions to life’s stickiest problems will depend on the context of the situation, the numerous factors involved, and the people and resources that will be affected. You will be a master of the Sensible Center when you avoid pat answers and respond to questions with a thoughtful, “It depends ….”

And, there you have it – a Manifesto for the Sensible Center in 476 words. I met Hugh MacLeod’s mini-manifesto challenge.

I have written this with the mindset of an idealist, so I know people will disagree or argue with parts (or all!) of it. Have at it. (Just remember #10 when leaving comments.) What would you change about this manifesto? What would you add to it? Do you consider yourself to be part of the Sensible Center?