The Radical Middle

by Doc Searls

Can we talk? Depends on we mean by "we". Usually it's just other people who agree with us. That's apparently the case with subjects about which opinions divide into factions.

At Valdis Krebs' Orgnet site there's a remarkable visualization of opposed factions that barely communicate across an oppositional divide. It's titled "Divided We Stand". In this case it's the blogs of left and right, as of several years ago.

It's not mouch different today. (Andrew Sullivan, Daniel Drezner, Thomas P.M. Barnett, John Robb, and Jeff Jarvis are four exceptions that come to mind, though none of those are on Valdis' graphic.

One barely communicative argument is going on right now in my own emailbox, between good friends on either side of the divide between the free software and open source communities. My optimistic take on that one is, Hey, at least they're talking.

Is talking possible, say, between John Q. Wilson and Leon Winer? That question came to mind when I read this piece by Jeff Jarvis, pionting to two speeches, one by Wilson and one by Winer, that George Bush might give. Jeff laments,

This is why wikitorial was doomed to fail. This is how far apart we are on our interpretations of what is happening in Iraq.

The speech George W. Bush gave today is, of course, closer to Wilson's. It was, I thought, a good speech. What was it really about? The words of Andrew Morton echo in my mind. I spent a lot of time hanging and talking with Andrew on a Geek Cruise in October. He taught me a great deal, not only about the Linux kernel (of which he is the leading maintainer), but about other topics, such as politics. Andrew's the kind of guy who listens patiently and then says something that's so clear and final you hardly know how, or even whether, to respond. Two that stand out were "... that's why the left thinks the right is evil, and the right thinks the left is stupid" and "It will be many years before we know". The latter followed a statement, by another thoughtful and well-informed person at a dinner gathering, that the Bush presidency will go down as the worst in modern history.

Asked how he would describe his own politics, Andrew said "I'm a radical moderate". Sometimes I feel the same way.

All this comes to mind this morning after reading this response by Andrew Leyden of PenguinRadio to my post about Chris Locke's inclusion of a Glock handgun on his Christmas list. Andrew writes,

Judging from the hazmat suits and radiation detector, it seems he might be looking for a Glock as part of a home defense situation. I think he can do much better.

Shotguns are very frequently recommended for home defense over handguns, for a variety of reasons. One is aim, in that you are more than likely to get a hit with a spread of shot than a small 9 mm slug, the other is safety, in that a couple of sheets of drywall and insulation can eliminate collateral damage (i.e. a 9mm slug can pass through a few walls, and possibly bystanders, before stopping). Glocks also have a "light trigger" which might be problematic.

I wrote yesterday, with a degree of felicity about my own minimal experience as a wielder of firearms. What I didn't mention is that my own deeper feelings on the matter of home defense were informed by the death of Christopher Baker, a nine-year-old boy who was playing at the house of a friend whose father kept a handgun for protection in his home. The boys played with the gun, it went off, and the bullet went through Chris's head.

Chris was the only child of a couple that was unable to have more children. He was also a friend of my own son, and a really great kid. His family, which were friends of mine, was devastated. His father, Donald, told me "there's a hole in our lives that nothing will ever fill". A quarter century later, that hole is still there for everybody who knew Chris and his family.

My own youngest son is the same age Chris was when he died. My concern for my boy's safety is still informed by what happened to Chris. Which is why the thought of keeping a gun of any kind around the house, no matter how safely it might be locked up, gives me the creeps.

Yet I know there are plenty of stories of lives saved by guns. I know that, in dangerous places, there are good reasons to carry a weapon. And it's plain that responsible recreational use of firearms can be a lot of fun. (A Geeks With Guns event at a LinuxWorld Expo a few years back, led by Eric S. Raymond, comes to mind.)

I don't have a position to take on the matter. Or on politics. Or even on free software vs. open source. Not now, anyway. I just want to observe that context matters. And that there are larger perspectives. And that perhaps the moderate position is the most radical of all. That is, if you want to get something done that works for everybody.

Like, y'know, Linux.