If We Wash Our Hands Of The Conflict Between The Powerful And The Powerless We Side With The Powerful – We Don’t Remain Neutral by Banksy. Photo: banksy.co.uk

As a personal philosophy, I never drink soft drinks straight from the bottle. I always make sure to snap a few ice cubes into a separate cup before pouring the soda in – that way, the fizz is much less likely to numb your nose. That being said, there are some things that should never be watered down before being served on the dining table. Some blacklisted diluted combinations include: cream-of-anything soup, orange juice, and opinions. When it comes to conviction, I argue, it is much better to be radical than to remain neutral. At the very least, it makes for interesting dinner conversation.

These days, neutrality is the golden standard of cordiality, whether it is used as a tool to negotiate treaties or as tact to hint that maybe that shirt does not go so well with those pants. The refusal to explicitly take sides has its time and place in the international diplomatic sphere as well as daily interaction, where blunt rebuttals are not conducive to peace talks or first impressions. However, the one place it does not belong is in political conversation.

Political neutrality is incorrectly associated with impartiality and thus, stops any conversation before it can even begin. The choice to remain neutral in political discussion is an act that uses the most words to deliver the least substance. I would be hard-pressed to find an argument that can not be met with a placating “well, both sides have their merits” and equally hard-pressed to find a point of saying in in the first place.

The redundant role of “devil’s advocate” remains a personal pet peeve of mine for very similar reasons. The devil does not need a spokesperson; he has a mouth to speak for himself while the auditors have ears and the ability to think critically. On the other hand, whether the advocate has any backbone to defend their own thoughts is unclear.

I often find that the guise of neutrality is used to advocate people’s less socially acceptable convictions while distancing the speaker from the implications, consequences, and backlash that accompany those beliefs. On this philosophical level, neutrality goes hand in hand with a sort of nonchalance that allows one to dodge moral responsibility for the consequences of their thoughts and actions. By claiming non-opinion, one can reap the rewards of the victor without needing to fight the battle and neatly escape the shackles of individual accountability. What’s more, remaining neutral is a luxurious position that only the most privileged in a situation can afford. When the decisions of others don’t affect your life directly, it is easy to shrug because your opinions are not molded by necessity.

Take nuclear warfare, for instance. In the vocabulary of nuclear weapons, the consequences of neutrality appear in the form of the “nuclear umbrella” – a term designate to nuclear neutral countries that fall under the agreed protection of a nuclear-weapons state. These countries covered by the umbrella implicitly encourage the development, usage, and clash of nuclear weapons by nuclear-weapons states while keeping their own hands clean.

On such shaky ground, radical opinions, be it on the far left or the far right, stand firm where neutral ones do not. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, very familiar with the label of ‘radical’, explains her stance on moderateness. “Moderate is not a stance,” she said to The Intercept at SXSW (South by Southwest) 2019 Conference, “it’s just an attitude towards life of ‘meh’. We’ve become so cynical that we view ‘meh’ [and] cynicism as intellectually superior attitude[s] and we view ambition as youthful naivety.”

This is not to dismiss the concept of compromise, but to protest the idea of nonalignment as the basis of opinion. It leaves us with nothing but a dead end and no way forward. In order for debate to reach any effective solutions, we need to know what we are fighting for, what we believe in, and how much we are willing to give up. To do this, we need to understand other positions. But critical open-mindedness and decided neutrality are two wholly different things. It is always possible to say, “sides A and B each have their disadvantages,” but without any sort of value judgement, then nothing meaningful is added to the debate. When we conclude that the benefits of A outweigh its costs or that the few consequences of B are a small price to pay for its many gains, the cost-benefit analysis is a decision in itself. Ultimately, taking sides is necessary, not only to the political process but also in our everyday lives.

Say that you are not yet able to make an informed opinion. Say that you are still thinking about it. Say that you might change your mind. But never say that you are neutral.


Thoughts? Concerns? Pitch your response to our Opinion editor at miko.lepisto@sciencespo.fr


Cover photo by banksy.co.uk

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