The Bedrock of Compromise

The following is an edited version of a post extracted from another of my blogs, written just over two years ago. I read the post again to determine whether my position has changed. It hasn’t.

It pays to remind ourselves from time to time that even our most firmly held principles and beliefs tend to be littered with shades of grey.  Or, at the very least, the rationale upon which we base our firmly held beliefs typically is an exercise in compromised “principles” and/or not-so-stable bedrock beliefs.

If we regularly acknowledged we live a life of constant compromise, and acknowledged the value of compromise to the greater good, we would be less likely to draw lines in the sand. Sand, as we know, shifts.

Take, for example, my belief that society has an obligation to provide a social safety net for its members.  The Social Security system is an example of that belief put into practice.  So is Medicare.  But the belief in society’s obligation to its own citizens is not black and white.  There is an every-present dilemma over how much society owes it citizens.  How much is “enough” to ensure a decent quality of life in retirement?  What about someone who did not contribute to Social Security?  What about the very wealthy who contributed, but do not need it…but get it anyway?  People like me, who believe deeply in society’s obligation to look out after its own, tend to believe the state should provide some base-level of support…but even I, who tend rather far to the left on such matters, acknowledge there’s a moving target as to what is practical and reasonable in the context of our economic condition at any given time.

Were I to draw a line in the sand and say, unequivocally, “society must always, without fail, take care of its citizens who cannot take care of themselves,” it would be necessary for me to make some value judgments about the level at which an individual is judged to be unable to “take care of himself.”  Does covering the cost of cable TV come into the equation?  How about life-saving medications?  Rent?  In what kind of home or apartment?  In what city?  Where does one look to find the definitive baseline for support in the case of someone “in need?”

To find some reasonable level of state support, one must examine a host of factors and come to some decision as to what is reasonable, what is practical, and what will be acceptable to sufficient numbers of us in our society so the support can be provided.  And we must be aware of the nature of our society; it’s in constant flux.  We should acknowledge that; and we should be very careful about making “promises” to our citizens about what we will, or can, do.  All of us should understand we cannot take governmental “promises” at face value.  No matter how much we may want those promises to be carved in stone, it pays to remember that stone is etched and eroded over time by the elements.

Looking to the other end of the political spectrum, there are those who believe the United States must have a strong defense. While I may or not agree that significant expenditures are needed to keep our military in competitive condition, there’s compromise brewing on both ends of the argument.  At what point does my pacificism accept the need to protect ourselves from attack?  At what point, conversely, does the damage to our reputation as “leader” done by our aggressive or militaristic stance give way to the practicalities called for if we wish to live in a world in which we are not the perpetual target of the less fortunate?

The vote in New York to legitimize same-sex marriage was a huge success for gays and people who simply believe one’s sexual orientation is no business of the state.  But it was a crushing defeat for those who look at the decision as an open door to illegitimate state expenditures for medical care, etc. for people who are married to others of the same sex.

Compromise, people!  Left is not always right and right is not always wrong!  For Christ’s sake, just be willing to get off your holier-than-thou throne on occasion and THINK instead of simply FEELING!

I am becoming more and more convinced that the people we elect to office should be absolutely apolitical.  That way, their decisions are apt to be based on the facts and logic, as opposed to abusive Catholic priests or hard-drinking atheist mothers.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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