Medianism Is Un-Radical and Anti-Utopian

My family took a trip to Washington D.C. this summer because it seems to be an American tradition for 8th-grade kids visit DC and my oldest son has come of age.  One day he came home from school with a Middle School brochure for the $1,000 class trip to DC and he asked if we could do a trip together as a family instead. What parent could say no to a request like that–to spend time with us rather an 8th-grade school trip with his friends?  And it cost considerably less than $1,000 for the entire family to go.

We stayed with a Mennonite-Your-Way family near DC and one of our hosts said that Christians should be radical because Jesus was a radical.  I support her sentiment, but this reminded me of just how un-radical medianism is.  Many ideologies have a utopian bent.  For example, both pacifists and libertarians often have the utopian ideal that society would be much better if we could just eliminate coercion, but their ideal is something that has never existed anywhere on the planet for any large group of people.  Neither pacifists nor libertarians usually have much of a plan to get to their ideal world even hypothetically.  They are usually a bit utopian.

That isn’t to say that utopian ideologies are bad.   They can provide a vision to guide actions, but some utopians are fundamentalists for whom, the perfect is the enemy of good.  They cannot see the possibility of feasible small improvements because small changes won’t put them on the road to the best possible utopian ends and that is what they really seek.  In contrast, I am a pacifist* who seeks to minimize violence, but I see a positive role for the state in monopolizing violence because I agree with Stephen Pinker that this has been one of the main reasons for the dramatic decline in violence over the last ten millennia.  I am not a pure, utopian pacifist because for now I am content to permit the police a monopoly on violence in the society.  When I look at history, I see a strong state monopoly on intra-state violence as being strongly correlated with long-run peace.  (Wars, on the other hand, have very low probability of increasing long-run peace.)  Of course the goal of policing and criminal justice should be to minimize violence and the US could easily improve on this score. That is where pacifist ideology can improve society IF we are willing to dirty our hands in thinking about how criminal justice actually works.  It isn’t something that utopian pacifists are willing to do.

Medianism is not anything like utopian fundamentalist ideologies.  Even if all of Medianism’s goals were completely met, the world would still be a tragically flawed place.  But it would be a somewhat better place and that is why medianism is a useful ideology.  Some pacifists and libertarians do work for incremental improvements, and for them, their ideologies are useful.  But many are fundamentalists who ignore the possibilities of marginal changes and instead hope for a radical vision of a utopian place despite lacking any kind of roadmap to get there.

So Medianism is the opposite of most kinds of ideologies.  It won’t revolutionize society like communism, libertarianism, anarchism, Rawlsianism, utilitarianism, and fascism promise to do.  But all those ideologies have utterly failed to accomplish anything approaching their own goals.  Medianism is a lot more humbly feasible than those more-famous political philosophies.  And the road map to achieving its goals is simpler.

Surprisingly, the economic philosophy that has come to dominate the world has not even been properly named.  I call it mmutilitarianism and it is much more influential than all the ideologies listed above.  Its only advantage over the more famous ideologies is that it is so much more feasible and simple than the utopian ideologies.  It is so non-controversial that it is not considered to be an ideology.  It is just there, like the air we breathe.  Mmutilitarianism had not been named before because it formed spontaneously in the intellectual vacuum when the utopian ideologies all failed and it is only tacitly accepted out of expediency.  Mmutilitarianism is morally flawed and needs to be replaced, but the utopian ideologies are too unwieldy for service.  Only something feasible and un-utopian will work and that is why medianism is useful and important.  Medianism is a mediocre ideology, but it is better than the mmutilitarianism that we currently use, so give mediocrity a chance.

*I am not only a (non-fundamentalist) pacifist, I am also much more libertarian than the median American, but I would never call myself a libertarian because I find the priorities of most self-described libertarians to be very un-medianist. Many libertarians worship wealth and/or are devoted to elitist mmutilitarianism.  Like libertarians, I appreciate the power of markets and the limits of government more keenly than most people, but unlike libertarians, I want both markets and governments to prioritize the bottom half of the income distribution more than the top half.  That is the opposite of the society we have created.

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