The M curve

Before we can consider the “M Curve”, we need to know a little about the “normal curve,” also known as the “bell curve” because of its shape.

The best description I’ve heard is from a prof in a statistics class. He said we shouldn’t think completely in terms of numbers. Who wants to deal with math problems if they don’t have to? (My thought, not the prof’s.) He said we should think about the PEOPLE, the people under the curve.

He used the illustration of a marching band at a football game. They’re lined up along the sideline, which is the baseline of the curve, with lots of rows on the 50 yard line and just one row at the goal lines. There are more rows in the middle of the field and fewer rows as you approach the end zones. Think about all the rows of trumpets and saxophones in the middle flanked by trombones and clarinets, then at the extreme ends, a few tubas and piccolos. If you drew a line around the outside edge of the group, you’d get the normal/bell curve.

Perhaps a better way to understand the normal curve is to consider IQ. On the bell curve, a line from top to bottom in the middle, like the 50 yard line in the band metaphor, represents an IQ of 100. Your mental age and your chronological age are the same. You’re 16 and as smart as a 16 year-old should be. At the extremes are the profoundly retarded and geniuses. There has so much research and documentation behind it that we know 68% of people will fall between IQ’s 85 and 115. And 2% will be below 70 and 2% above 145.

So, what’s the M curve? It’s a way to measure where we are politically. It works like the bell curve, but there aren’t any people in the middle. There are two bell-shaped elements representing conservatives and liberals. The diagram looks like a curvy “M”. People can be more or less liberal or more or less conservative, but the middle is a ghost town.

If you think about the M shape, you can see that as you approach the moderate middle position, fewer and fewer people fit under the curve. It’s unfortunate because a lot more could be accomplished if there were more people in the middle.

But the news these days is all about the extremes and these people would be at the far ends of the M shape.

There is this ridiculous idea that people way out on the extremes can be convinced of their “folly” and will move all the way to the other end. In fact, they won’t ever even drift to the middle of their side, let alone the moderate middle of the whole scheme.

So, what are we to do with those anarchists, radicals, violent members way out there? How about we do nothing? There will always be people at those extremes despite the general desire that they’d mellow and move toward the middle of one side or the other.

Those fringe people are similar to the extremely intellectually disabled and geniuses on the IQ scale. They are where they are and they’re going to stay there. In the case of the IQ scale, we are at our best when we accommodate these people. We should appreciate, accommodate, and take care of the people on the low end of the scale and we should appreciate and try to take advantage of the ability and creativity of people on the upper end. But those commitments can have limits if something else works better for all of us between the extremes.

Back to the political M curve…. Suppose one of the fringes is going to have a “demonstration.” Suppose no one from the opposite fringe showed up. Suppose the press didn’t bother to cover it. Suppose the police were there only to insure the safety of the public and its property. What would happen? Speeches? Podium pounding? Rants?

Hey, have at it, I say. If they feel the need to shout their opinions to the rooftops, let them. I’ll choose to spend my time closer to the middle where cool, instructive, and constructive discourse might improve things.

Sometimes, if you can’t beat ’em, ignore ’em.


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