Compromise is good, right?

If the truth is always somewhere in the middle, then there is no need to actually investigate. Or think. How convenient! Photo: big-chad

INDIANAPOLIS, March 21, 2012—American children are taught that compromise is the proper way to resolve issues. We grow up believing the same thing. We are so brainwashed in fact, that we always look to compromise, rather than investigate anything, and our standards get washed away.

If we believe that compromise is the solution to arguments, then we don’t care if something is right or wrong. Compromise, getting along—that becomes the end we seek, not truth or meaning or reality. “Half a loaf” thinking prevails. We never get a whole loaf —even when we’ve earned it.

We carry that through to believing that, whatever the positions of two talkers, that “the truth is somewhere in the middle.” When both positions are wrong (or when both politicians are lying), it is quite possible that reality lies outside both of their positions. Allowing two liars to define the truth doesn’t guarantee we’ll be anywhere near reality after we’ve heard the full speeches from both liars.

But what if reality just… is? If two second-graders each have different answers to 9x6—one says 54 and the other 56, for instance—is anyone to believe that the correct answer must be 55? Worse: if the whole class thinks the answer is between 20 and 30, would we declare that the answer is close to 25? Of course not. Math is easy to check. Answers are answers. But we don’t think that words have discrete meanings. Yet if they don’t, why have so many words?

More-importantly, if words don’t have defined meanings, then how can we communicate? Think of the Kelo case: if “public use” means “public purpose” means “public good,” then how do we define any of these phrases? If “use” is more-specific than “purpose,” and both are more-specific than “good,” why would we use the sloppiest word, when we are trying to communicate clearly? When a specific word is chosen by the writer (and particularly when that word is written into law), that most-specific word brings with it the most-specific meaning, and gives the most clarity to the written product, and bequeaths the highest level of understanding to the reader.

Mush has its place (in baby food), but not when clarity of thought is required. When the sergeant says, “Go take out that machine-gun nest,” the order (at least the desired result) is clear. The “how” remains undefined, but experienced soldiers, at least, don’t need their hands held for everything.

Let’s get back to recognizing and revering the meanings of our words, so we can define arguments and alternatives. And let’s recognize that two verbal combatants may both be misinformed (or devious), and that the “middle position” may be just plain wrong. Worse, one position may be actually right, and the other far, far away—so compromising is great for the big liar. All the liar has to do is go far enough from reality, where the final (compromised) “solution” is exactly where he wants it.


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Tim Kern

Tim Kern taught economics for fifteen years, and discovered that understanding life is easy; it’s recognizing reality that takes practice. He holds a music degree, and later earned an MBA in finance from Northwestern University. He has lived across the US, and now makes his home in Anderson, Indiana.

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