“The truth is somewhere in between” as a way to avoid thinking
Here is a diagnosis of a certain malady in our body politic: the “both sides have a point” reflex. It stems from a desire for fairness and from the recognition that real issues are more complex than their advocates often allow, but leads to a pathological bypass of healthy brain function. Sometimes it also appears as the “the truth is somewhere in between” reflex or the “See? I am balanced” reflex.
“Both sides have a point,” as a habitual thought, often leads people into the illusion that they are above having an opinion on a subject (since people with definite opinions, by the “both sides have a point” logic, fail to recognize the truth in those opinions they disagree with). This leads to an avoidance of the meat of the questions at issue. People with this malady often fail to discover those points of specific difference in matters of fact and philosophy, because they think there is no point in exploring the debate themselves, relying on others to form definite opinions, which to them merely add up to a tableau to look at. They think their role is to “let people make up their own minds,” forgetting that they count, too.
Sometimes it is true and both sides of an argument have a strong basis in reality. Perhaps it is even true most of the time. Recognizing the complexity of an issue results in complex opinions once you think things out. But it is never true à priori that “the truth is somewhere in between”; that is, when it’s true that both sides have a point you can only know it by paying close attention to what both sides are saying and thinking about it. “Let’s hear both sides” – that’s a salutary thought. But a presumption in advance that both sides are equally right, that’s just lazy, and, unfortunately, common.
Part of the cause of this kind of thinking is that journalists have turned to it as a way of avoiding criticism from bellicose right wingers who write letters to advertisers when the newspapers publish analyses that they disagree with, or facts that they want to suppress. Instead of just telling the truth in articles about hot topics, journalists now mostly provide a platform for “both sides,” regardless of how bogus one side’s statements actually are. Many in the public follow suit, thinking that this kind of “balance” equals objectivity. It doesn’t. That’s what’s so cancerous about this habit of thought. Objectivity can draw conclusions. À priori “balance” cannot. In the absence of a public that’s engaged enough to draw conclusions, who leads?