Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Truth About Compromise

Compromise should be as rare as hen’s teeth. After all, if one is right, in possession of the truth, has the law behind him or her, can back up his or her position with Holy Writ, can show that at least fifty percent of the voters support him or her, why should he or she yield to one who can claim none of those things; or to one whose claim to those same things is invalid in one’s own eyes? Neither should such a person compromise nor should any others, looking on, condemn them for not compromising.

Truth, after all, is the solution to every problem; a true assessment of the problem, a true description of what must be done to solve the problem, and a true process toward getting that done. And whoever possesses those truths is morally obliged to defend them and never, never, never sacrifice them on the heathen altar of compromise. Even if such unyielding rectitude leads to severe conflict and loss of wealth or life, it would be better to lose everything than to “lose one’s own soul” by compromising truth.

That is the way of the true believer. And that is the approach being taken by some in our political establishment at the risk of bringing our government to a halt and our economy to ruins. I believe that to be a flawed understanding of truth and one’s obligation to it.

First it is based on some risky and arrogant assumptions about truth: 1) that one can know with certainty that his or her assessment of a situation is accurate and true in every respect; that it could not be improved by input from those who see things differently,  2) that one possesses a comprehensive and flawless understanding of how a bad situation can be made right, and 3) that one’s solution to make it right is the only possible solution, and will not result in any unforeseen consequences.

But even if one had all truth and wisdom needed to solve the problems facing a society, is one obligated to impose their version of truth upon others, against their will, simply because they are “right”? Three heroes of the Jewish faith, Joseph, Esther, and Daniel are instructive in this regard. All three found themselves in compromised circumstances, living in a pagan land, required to assist in the governing of that land and even, presumably, invest their time, talents, and energy to achieve good for those who were their captors and masters. When forced to compromise their allegiance to Yahweh God, they resisted, even to the point of death, but there is little to indicate any other resistance to the political and cultural demands upon them. They were not willing to bring about the destruction of the society in which they lived, or even to sabotage it, out of any desire to remain true to a particular set of convictions. Die for their convictions? Yes. Kill or destroy for them? No.

What we are seeing in our political zealots – many of whom unfortunately frame their zealotry as religious (Christian) conviction – is a stubborn unwillingness to entertain the notion that they could be wrong. Their attitude and behavior tempts one to believe that they would not compromise even if they saw that they were wrong; that they are motivated, not by conviction, but by simple – and evil – determination to have their “party” win at any cost to the nation. I’m trying hard to resist such a conclusion even in the face of their statements baldly stating such as their purpose.

But assuming the best of motivations, and a firm conviction that they are in the right, it still must be asked if they will be seen (or even see themselves) as moral heroes if their intransigence results in irreparable damage to what they love to call, “The greatest nation on earth.” No doubt their expectation is that they will be the ones called upon to rebuild that “greatest nation” according to the impeccable principles they espouse. Past history gives them no reason to assume such. If they cannot compromise when they are supported by laws and constitutions and established institutions of government, where will they find the will to do so in the midst of economic and political anarchy? They will not. The will attempt, instead, to institutionalize their intransigence with rigid laws and constitutional amendments locking the nation into a path that very likely will not be serve it well in years to come.

Truth is always a matter of faith. Even the firmest scientific fact is subject to reevaluation and revision. Facts believed for centuries have ultimately had to be revised or discarded in light of new truth. And those new truths will need to be adjusted in years to come. So why should anyone insist that the squishy truths of economics be exempt from reasonable compromise?

It is time for reasonable men and women to sit down and look for solutions to our nation’s economic woes rather than insist on strategic concessions to a political strategy. And it is time for unreasonable men and women to leave the table.

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