Governance By The Golden Mean

By Wendy HarrisOn Aug 23, 2012

Jon: But that's just innuendo, and that can't be the only thing in a news story!
Stephen: Can't it? I ask you: Does Jon Stewart orally pleasure teamsters for pocket change?
Jon: ...N-no.
Stephen: Well, you are certainly entitled to that opinion. But I bet I can assemble an impressive panel that thinks you do. The truth lies somewhere in between. Let's talk about it for eight weeks and let the public decide.
The Daily Show

A recent Facebook thread really hit a raw nerve, and I have spent the last day mulling over my strong emotional reaction. I see a connection between a widely accepted logical fallacy and our community’s failure to effectively resolve a diverse array of long-standing problems. More personally, it explains why concerned and informed citizens in the minority are often ignored.

The Golden Mean Fallacy holds that the truth can be found as a compromise between two opposite positions. The belief in a “middle, moderate position” is pervasive in public discourse. There appear to be two opposite schools of thought for followers of the Golden Mean Fallacy. One school holds that extremes are automatically wrong and that some sort of moderate position must therefore be correct. People who can temper their beliefs are seen as superior thinkers. The other school believes that any two competing viewpoints are equally valid, and thus the “true answer” must lie in between the two. In both cases, the fallacy lies in assuming that the middle ground must be correct.

The Golden Mean Fallacy is compelling and persuasive because it satisfies deep rooted psychological needs. People are uncomfortable with conflict and uncertainty. Compromise eliminates anxiety even when it is not the correct solution. The Golden Mean offers a quick and easy solution to complex challenges. A co-morbid fallacy holds that we can reach a fair compromise if we all work together and find common ground, ignoring the cold reality that some people are unable or unwilling to reason.

Government policies and regulations must be based on facts, objective data and science, not accommodation of competing viewpoints. Richard Dawkins famously said, “When two opposite points of view are expressed with equal intensity, the truth does not necessarily lie exactly half way between. It is possible for one side simply to be wrong.”

While the middle ground can sometimes be the correct solution, I have too frequently witnessed the city and county treating informed and uninformed public comment with equal weight. In particular, I have seen officials give credence to opinion based on “feelings” and financial motive. Golden Mean policy fails to recognize that the public comes to an issue with varying motives, levels of informedness and willingness to reason.

Effective solutions require our government to sift through opinion to reach the kernel of truth, as determined by objective, empirical evidence, without predetermination of where it is to be found.

About Wendy Harris

Past Writers • Member since Mar 31, 2008

Comments by Readers

Dick Conoboy

Aug 25, 2012

Ah, yes, Wendy.  Aurea Mediocritas.  Shades of Aristotle, Aquinas and Maritaine in the dim recesses of my mind as a student.  What you are describing is also a corollary of postmodernism’s rejection of objective truth which we all know is utter nonsense. Stick your hand in a fire and tell me you are not burned (G. Gordon Liddy excepted!) We ignore logic and distort facts at our peril. For proof, just look at the letters to the editor any day in Bellingham’s “newspaper”, the Herald. These are missives written at a grade school level with little command of facts and no attention to logic.  What this means at a city and county level is that informed voices such as yours and that of Larry Horowitz, Tip Johnson, Pat McKee, Mike Rostron and John Servais are ignored, ridiculed or downplayed out of ignorance or outright malice. On an national level this scenario is played out by those who ignore science and history and are attempting to relegate both to the dust bin of our educational system. 

Sing Kumbaya and all will be just ducky.


Todd Granger

Aug 25, 2012

Bravo Wendy,

“...a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of the custom…Time makes more converts than reason…Though I would carefully avoid giving unnecessary offense, yet I am inclined to believe, that all those who espouse the doctrine of reconciliation, may be included within the following description;. Interested men, who are not to be trusted; weak men who cannot see; prejudiced men who will not see; and a certain set of moderate men, who think better of the European world than it deserves; and this last class by an ill judged deliberation, will be the cause of more calamities to this continent than all the other three…” Philadelphia, Feb 14, 1776…then came the Missouri Compromise…another “Fire Bell in the Night” as Jefferson predicted in his letter to Holmes.

Grade School Education…what a concept!




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