Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Compromise is a hoary old bear who messes up rebellion and status quo alike. It is at the heart of democracy. Sometimes if the compromise fails, one side or the other gets its way entirely, but at what cost? It’s better than warfare, but sometimes only barely. (Bearly. Bear market. I always get jokey when I’m worried.) Sometimes the compromise means lose/lose. Sometimes it means win/win.

It seems as though most often it means ambiguity. On the other hand no one really knows what the long-term outcome of our recent political refusals to compromise will be. The immediate moment is survivable so far. Probably. Servetus refused to compromise and they burned him at the stake. Galileo compromised and was simply confined for the rest of his life. De Sade the same, with a little help from his friends and wife. Socrates did not compromise on the larger issue but killed himself rather than be murdered. More than one have chosen to die but on their own terms. So did they win or lose? Ambiguity.

Looking into the unabridged dictionary, I was surprised to see that the original meaning of compromise was to agree to the decision of an arbitrator, an outsider. The second meaning is a mutually negotiated settlement. The third meaning is doing something that endangers someone else or a larger group. “The blabbermouth put the secret spy operation at risk, compromising their plan.”

Looking back over the local controversies as well as national issues, it strikes me that under most intransigence (unresolvable, non-negotiable) is one side operating on principle without regard for consequences and the other side operating in terms of practicality. One group wants “my way or the highway” and the other wants “evolution not revolution.” It’s painfully clear that the more Obama moves towards gradual progress, the more the tea party demands that all compromise be rejected. In terms of NA reservations, those who want sovereignty on principle want flat, inclusive, across-the-board self-determination regardless of funding or loss of service from state and federal agencies. (“Give me liberty or give me death.”) Those who are for practical compromise are willing to figure out which services are best performed by the tribe and which might better be left with outside agencies. (“Let’s make a deal.)

Rarely is such head-butting without history, either that of the larger globe or that which formed the minds and hearts of the individuals involved. Massive cultural transitions -- like the millions of Europeans who flooded America in the 19th century and crowded the Indians off the plains, or like the Internet, or the changes in sexual morality due to medical advances and economic change -- mean that much of daily life will have to be figured out all over again and the infrastructures that coped with the previous circumstances will have to be rebuilt in the most practical and obvious ways. Roads, bridges, schools, jails.

As I write, the water mains of this village are being replaced with great roaring, clanking and inconvenience. We are required to accept water meters for the first time. People are not happy, But they chose NOT to participate in the decisions made, which were largely dependent on funding grants from Big Government which imposed the meters; all made necessary by the march of time which had cracked and threatened the old masonry pipes while lowering the water table of our wells. Many of the small communities across Montana were founded about the same time, so this problem is being experienced by many of them at once, and that’s where the state money goes. The only people happy about it are the engineering businesses who are evaluating and executing the replacements. The greatest danger to the democracy of the village is the vocal desertion of malcontents, who would rather blame than participate but fail to move away. Old story.

It would be better (marginally) if the objectors played the game of “uproar” (overturning the card table when you’re losing at Poker), because then at least they would be in the room. “Funny uproar” is better than violent uproar. Someone just sent me a set of photos of the demonstration against the Pope in England. Pretty clever stuff! And they make some very sharp points, which will be seen and repeated by many, precisely BECAUSE they are funny. I need some good infrastructure jokes.

What strategy can one use if the deadlock is real and seems irresolvable? How can we think about it? One way is to try to find the overarching (or underlying) category that includes the two oppositions. Paul Tillich, a theologian, looked at the contradictory notions of being and non-being and made up a new term: “the ground of being.” Then he could speculate on the nature of “the ground of being.” It’s a lot easier to think about the quality of village life through time -- what makes people live in small rural communities like this and what are the absolute minimum basic needs just for survival: our “ground of being.” At least one person believes it is a well-watered lawn.

Same on a national basis: what is our ground of being? If we say it is democracy, then the basic requirement is that everyone is included and everyone should participate. If that’s not happening, then we have to ask ourselves why. Too busy, too stupid, too lazy, too late?? But the price we pay for freedom is that some of us (us?) have to carry the others.

That’s kind of a blind alley. So let’s think of another strategy, something way off the wall. Maybe this country is just too big to manage, to ever reach a consensus. Let’s break it up into ecosystems: disunite the states. Red on this side, blue on that side, hispanic here, Lutherans there.

That’s not radical enough? Okay, figure out the carrying capacity of each ecosystem, translate that to the number of humans economically viable in it and if there are more people than the carrying capacity, they have ten years to either increase prosperity by inventing new development, or somebody leaves. We could load them into boats back to Europe. Or we could count off by twos and sterilize every other person regardless of gender. Or we could simply stop funding cheap food, medical research, and law enforcement until starvation, disease and crime cut down the population. Attacking all funding seems to be the strategy of choice for Republicans. But there’s also delaying settlement of old debts (like the Native American funds previously embezzled by the government) until everyone in the class action is dead.

Does participatory democracy sound better now? Think we ought to sit down at the table (carefully setting it back on its legs) and see what cards we have?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello Mary, this is about the changing header photos. So far, i like this one best, with the picture of your little house. Of the ones before that, i think the sunflowers were best. [Just in case you are considering readers' opinions about it. You have not, of course, mentioned that you needed anybody's opinion to help you make up your own mind.]
Peggy Merrill