Rethinking “Moderation” in an Age of Extreme Need
In an age of extreme problems and power-obsessed enemies of nature and humanity, we may find extreme measures our only way out. Extreme is not harmful if it is guided by the ethic of achieving a greater good. For example, given the potential for cataclysmic flooding on the lower Mississippi River this spring, the Army Corps of Engineers decided to blow up the levees on the upper Mississippi. There is nothing moderate in releasing a flooding river into surrounding farmland, and no way to moderately flood it. To those whose homes and farms were inundated, it was an extreme measure. However, given the forces of nature and the horrific consequences of loss if this measure were not taken, the decision makers weighed their action with concern for the common good and the requirements of the river’s capacity.
The mainstream concept of “moderation” in the political arena often boils down to trying to negotiate the best deal in a competitive environment. It is still conditioned by special interests and the control of power. It is not true moderation since it is not driven by noble core values. It usually results in inaction or diluted actions that do not really address extreme problems or pressing needs of humans and the environment.
In its most wise application, moderate living is outlined in Buddha’s Noble Middle Path. This is based upon Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, which describe the basis of a life liberated from suffering. The Middle Path is the way of living between the extremes of addiction to desire and pleasure and the addiction to fanatic spirituality and self-denial both extremes being causes of suffering while trying to avoid it.
An example par excellence of the Noble Middle Path in political action was the civil rights movement inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King. Many would call it extreme from both sides of the issue. The need to bring an end to discrimination, segregation and injustice spawned by slavery and hatred was life-threatening and a moral crisis. King’s boycotts and civil disobedience movement challenging the status quo, was extreme to those who wanted to preserve it. The response of violence with non-violence was also perceived as extreme as the civil rights activists willingly faced prison, abuse and death. This movement was an example of the Noble Middle Path because the integrity of the means it used and the ends it sought, demonstrated the integrity of right actions for right results.
To be “moderate” in the movement described above would have demonstrated attachment to historical injustice, and a lack of will to make definitive and necessary changes to end human suffering. Being “moderate” would have been like being only “a little pregnant!” Facing today’s crises of society and the environment we must realize that the Noble Middle Path means to face our condition and give birth to the future! This means we must rehabilitate the core values of the human heart while solving our pressing problems together in a timely manner. We have to end our addictions once and for all in order to manifest our sacred potentials.
The key to this concept of moderation is the word "Noble." Noble is a core of being that is grounded upon spiritual principles of Right Living. “Right” in this context is not a relativistic term where anyone can define what is “right.” Right Living is conformity to basic spiritual laws outlined in the Noble Eightfold Path. These are not religious precepts; rather they are based upon universal psychological responses of people to all their relationships and responsibilities if they wish to live a harmless life socially and in harmony with nature. Right Action is behavior that is ethical honorable, and responsible.
Today we need to rethink how we view the term “moderation” in the context of solving problems or evaluating the leaders who consider themselves “moderate.” For many, being “moderate” is simply a justification for being indecisive. For others, it is a means to rationalize and continue addictive behaviors. It is like raising fuel efficiency standards of cars so they consume in moderation to justify and maintain our addiction to fossil fuels. This moderation is not solving the underlying problem. An addict cannot free him or herself from addiction by continuing even moderate consumption of the abused substance.
Moderation in extreme circumstances is not a virtue and is not necessarily noble or pragmatic. The time is upon us where we must exert ourselves to the utmost in order to create a healthy and sustainable future. Current actions that demonstrate the core values of the Noble Eightfold Path foster cooperation, creative action, and synergistic processes that solve problems with the most joy, skill, innovation, efficiency, and impact upon our lives. This Noble Middle Path is the decisive way of living and relating that can renew human, social and environmental integrity in a balanced way.