The Lost Art Of Compromise

“If you want to know what’s shortly due for the guillotine look for the most obvious of all symptoms: extremism. It is an almost infallible sign — a kind of death-rattle — when a human institution is forced by its members into stressing those and only those factors which are identificatory, at the expense of others which it necessarily shares with competing institutions because human beings belong to all of them.” — “Stand On Zanzibar”, John Brunner

Societies don’t just happen. They require maintenance, like any complex process or structure. If they aren’t maintained, they don’t grow; or worse, they break down. Rome didn’t break down because of lead in the pipes or idiots wearing the imperial purple; she broke down because of a million little tasks that didn’t get done, or were done badly, and all those tasks accumulated and dominoed into a collapse just waiting to happen. Then the local barbarians waltzed in and — well, we get Byzantium.

America is, I think we can agree, not in the best of shape. We have not been properly maintained. That is a literal truth — bridges falling in, roads falling apart, schools that have to have bake sales to get textbooks — and a figurative truth as well. We have lost some skills that as a nation that are vital to our survival and growth, and gained some really bad habits. The worst by far is extremism; the lost art its brighter antithesis, compromise.

The number one argument for allowing guns like the AR-15 to be legal without special licensing (other than hunting certain large animals) seems to be “because we like having them”. Well, you know what? Some people like using DDT. Some people like selling heroin. Some people like driving drunk. Some people like having sex with children. We don’t allow those things, because they cause harm. No matter what the reason, no matter than other weapons are more dangerous, this weapon has racked up a body count numbered in the hundreds if not the thousands in this country. It causes harm. Participating in a society involves sometimes suborning your own desires to the greater good; it’s called a social contract. The NRA, in their continued opposition to any attempt to control this weapon, is violating the very concept of society.

Society requires compromise — and even sometimes consensus — in order to function. And the fact that most of the pro-gun population in this country refuses to compromise on anything is, again, a refutation of the very definition of ‘society’. Now, the same thing applies to much of the anti-gun crowd, and the pro-life crowd, and and and. The root dysfunction at the heart of the rot plaguing America is an inability to compromise, cut a deal, or haggle. The ultimate irony is that the man running for President who wrote “The Art Of The Deal” can’t deal for shit. He sees the world in absolutes — bad Mexicans, bad Muslims, bad everything. Build walls. Throw people out. Make big sweeping gestures. Make American great.

The fact is, America’s not great. Americans are great, and they’re great because they know how to get things done. That requires a working knowledge of how to roll up your sleeves and cut a deal where no one gets everything they want but everyone gets something. It’s time we demanded that our leaders stopped seeing the world in absolute and extremist terms, and started demanding they get to work on finding some common ground. Because no empire lasts forever, and the guillotine is always waiting.

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