Compromise Compromises

Aug. 2006

One need not look far for evidence that these are divisive times. Charismatic talking heads battle on television, the radio, and the Internet over everything imaginable, including the war, abortion, immigration, health care, Social Security, and the cost of eggs in China.

This wrangling is translated to our personal lives in the form of roommates arguing over whose turn it is to take out the trash or who had dibs on a given parking space at the overcrowded shopping mall. The product of this divisiveness can be as mild as flared tempers that last a few hours, but as we have seen can be as extreme as the most violent of conflicts. What cannot be denied is that our world is a contentious one of constant arguing and controversy that is getting worse if anything.

In such a dangerous world, understandably, there is an increasingly prominent call toward the Center and to live together by way of compromise . Authors register bestsellers by applying the theme to topics ranging from religion to education, and at least one notable presidential candidate has made a campaign out of the need to put an end to the divisiveness. Indeed, the political arena is apt. 'Bi-partisanship' is an increasingly popular mantra for a group struggling to overcome their collective image as childish bickerers and backbiters.

But let us look at the notion of compromise with more discernment and we will see that not only is it incapable of solving the divisiveness plaguing our society, it is actually rather at the core of the problem.

Compromise is the idea that, for any diverse group of people to exist peaceably, the individuals in that group must sacrifice at least some of their personal preferences and meet everyone else on 'common ground'. A familiar concept, compromise is often regarded as essential to the American way. Indeed, in many respected corners, it is considered to be the American way, itself, and certainly it has become the driving force in Western government today. The Republicans agree to sign a tariff into effect if the Democrats agree to bolster a Homeland Security bill. Atheists and Christians accept their differences so that everyone in the country can get a free education. It is assumed that the concessions are trivial and that, in the end, compromise is the only way to make sure everyone gets what he wants.

To begin, the common ground aimed for can never be as 'common' as is advertised. Considering the example of religion in public education, we find that the agreed place of convention is not in between the two sides of the argument as one might suspect, but completely on one side. To educate everyone equally, the schools have to remain 'neutral' and thus open to all types of people and creeds. It would be impractical to give everyone a thorough understanding of every religion, so the only way to be impartial, then, is to eliminate God, theology, and religion from learning altogether. If any of these are included in the curriculum, it is only in a historical and often very negative light (the Inquisition, the persecution of Galileo, anthropological comparisons, etc.). It has gotten to the point where it looks weird to see 'God' printed on school literature or spoken at school functions as if the word meant assumed offense.

What this means is that children in public schools are being taught throughout their formative years an atheistic worldview, one that sees religion and God as superstitions that foil science and oppress the weak. Ultimately, then, we find that the supposed common ground in this instance is clearly on the side of the atheists. With exposure to religion being limited to this partial if factual portrayal, it is no wonder that our culture at large has grown antagonistic toward the concept of religion and God.

"I didn't want a cat and my wife wanted a cat. So we compromised and got a cat."

-from a contemporary sitcom

"Obama castigates divisive partisanship (especially the Republican brand)."

--from promotion material for current politician's book

A case could be made that says even the religious get what they want from the situation because they are not exempt from worshipping outside of school. The argument is deficient because it fails to recognize that our kind of government (and the way our public education system is arranged) limits how much time and resources we have to do whatever we so choose outside of school.

To explain, let us consider the fact that public education is supported by the government, which is in turn supported by the taxpayers. In the end, everyone in the country is paying for the institution, whether he thinks the Big Bang is an adequate explanation of the origin or not. It cannot be determined how much of the typical citizen's wealth is forced into this public education system, but at least some percentage is devoted to it and that percentage of each citizen's life is necessarily non-religious.

Everyone agrees that there should be a separation between church and state. Indeed, those who are very religious are perhaps the most ardent believers that the government should not dictate what and how a person worships. But when that non-religious government occupies any fraction of a person's life, then the person's ability to worship the way he so desires is hindered.

Using both income and sales taxes as a reference (the amount of a person's wealth that goes to the government), it could be said that 40-50% of the average American's life is occupied by the government. Given a non-religious state, that means that 40-50% of the average American's life must be non-religious. We technically have the ability to promote and support the religion of our choice with the remaining 50-60% of our lives, but we do not have freedom in the departments controlled by the government. That means we are being told to be at least some portion non-religious, and ultimately the state is dictating what we should believe.

To counter this forced atheism, many in America have campaigned to install religion into the state in some capacity, in effect, shifting the common ground from atheist to religious territory. These advocates lobby for prayer in school, to keep 'God' in the Pledge, and for the option of teaching Genesis in the classroom. And it goes beyond the school since, of course, government does too. The same contingent argues to keep the Ten Commandments posted at the courthouse entrance and the religious symbol perched atop the public war memorial. They push to direct government funds toward church-based charities and welfare programs, and, through legislation, they promote strong, religion-based 'family values' that expand the campaign to a nearly all-encompassing operation. If they had their way, the 'religious right' would see that lifestyle, sexual orientation, drug use, abortion, guns, smoking, pollution, entertainment, and the price of eggs in China would all fall under the jurisdiction of their religion-based doctrine.

But how can they be blamed in their quest to religify everything? They are simply striving to live life the way they see fit, a way that happens to be centered largely on the Bible. To live the way they see fit, since government takes up so much of their lives, they must first alter government, thence dictating to others what they must believe. They do not intend to force it on others, it just happens as a consequence of our modern condition. Atheists too are guilty of promoting the same inadvertent dictatorship with their demand for a non-religious school, courthouse, and monuments.

Government, in this examination, is the embodiment of the common ground. It is supposed to be representative of everyone just like the common ground of all compromise is said to be, and so it is hailed as the great bastion of compromise. Consequently, as we see, this sanctuary that everyone so ardently strives for is not really a place where everyone convenes in agreement, but rather a battle ground that each side struggles to preserve for their own ends.

Nor can it be said that compromise allows everyone in the equation to be happy in the end. Indeed, it is the case that compromise allows no one in the equation to be happy, even those on whose side the common ground lies. The reason for this has to do with the nature of compromise, itself.

Using the religion in public schools example again, neither atheist, nor agnostic, nor ardent Christian can be happy with the education system as it stands. That is because education itself is imperiled by the compromise that takes place in its name. I say this under the supposition that it takes knowledge of religion or at least some form of theological worldview to get a good education. This is not to say that one must be religious to be educated, but rather that one must at least not ignore religion in his studies as is prescribed in modern public curriculum.

Whether or not the concept of the Trinity can give us guidance into the cause and motive of everything (as parochial schools maintain), it certainly is essential to understanding the history of Western Civilization, for example, (the history of any civilization for that matter), or the English language (or Latin, Spanish, French, or German), or Martin Luther, or Shakespeare, or Dante, or Plato, or Ghandi, or Martin Luther King Jr, or Michelangelo, or Beethoven, or Mozart. All of these elements of a well-rounded education rely on a firm understanding of a theological worldview and fall empty or incongruous without it. I know how valuable the theological worldview is in education because I, having been schooled almost completely on Salinger and Sagan, remained very well uneducated upon graduation.

Even atheistic beliefs, irreligious political theories, and modern Existential philosophy depend on religion, without the foundation on which they could not manufacture their negative assertion. A theological worldview is essential to any open-minded survey of these anyway, and neglecting religion for the sake of atheism is as antithetical to reason as blind faith is said to be.

The education system that completely ignores the theological worldview is lacking and will not provide the students with a proper education. What may have been the good-intentioned compromise, as it turns out, is not a way for everyone to be happy in the end, but rather a way to make sure everyone's endeavor fails. In a word, compromise compromises.

The key to understanding this phenomenon lies in the very nature of the enterprise. Compromise is an act of relinquishing one's own preferences for the sake of the group's. In short, compromise replaces the individual for the whole. When that happens, one's true beliefs and substance must be forfeited and the ultimate goal must go unattained by nature.

Consequently, it is not a coincidence that one hears calls for compromise coming from the Left more than one does coming from the Right. The Left already promotes the collective over the individual, their solutions to our sociopolitical problems already amounting to various forms of compromise. This is why we find liberal journalists glorifying the Center in attempts to remove religion from education and liberal politicians demanding that we all work together to give the needy health care. The irony does not go unnoticed by the open-eyed spectator.

The Right is guilty of employing compromise as well, which is more grievous an affront because it goes against their fundamental beliefs in the individual. In the end, however, and because of their social nature, all major political organizations tend toward compromise until we arrive at something like the modern Welfare State, which is not an intentional mode of government aimed at the betterment and welfare of its citizens, but is itself a compromise between the two great political forces of the 20C, capitalism and socialism.

Whether there are good reasons to swap the individual for the group is matter for another essay. What should be said here is that it is not necessary to give up the individual for the sake of the group. One will rightly wonder how a group can subsist in a world of such vast diversity without the members giving up at least some of their individuality. The solution is simply to form groups based on agreed principles. If the union is created on shared ideals, there can be no argument, there can be no divisiveness, and there is no need to diminish individuality.

The solution sounds rather straightforward and almost obvious, but it is actually quite contrary to the modern way of life, with good reason. Integration in all its manifestations is practically the standard for the day such that it is assumed whether we like it or not. We must live with vastly different people, go to school with them, and work with them, notwithstanding the fact that we may disagree with them on all of the many factors needed to make such connections work. Indeed, we convince ourselves that the differences are helpful in these connections.

To take a domestic example, consider the popular assumption that says opposites attract and that complete agreement in a relationship would be boring. It is assumed that two vastly different people can unite as man and wife to create a lasting relationship and a family, a mentality whose popularity is growing with the divorce rate. Couples delve into relationships that require great compromise and cannot succeed in making themselves happy. The solution would be for couples to reserve marriage until they can agree on everything.

It sounds like a fantasy to indulge the notion that a man and woman can agree on everything, but considering one particular aspect of the family the prospect becomes very clear. That aspect is child rearing. The parents are in charge of educating the child and cannot possibly do this if they disagree. Education does not occur when the source of knowledge is wavering and contradictory. This goes for the big things such as morals, ethics, politics, and religion, it is understood, but it also applies to the relatively small things. How can a child maintain a healthy diet if one parent thinks it is appropriate for him to eat veggies and the other encourages him to eat candy?

The principle is even more compelling in the large scale, despite the fact that it is more complex at the level of the state or country. There are infinitely more variables when considering the likes and tastes of 300 million people as opposed to those of just two. If it is difficult for two people to agree, then it must be nearly impossible for an entire population to do so. But rather than compromise as a solution, we should rather consider simply reducing the number of alliances and groupings we force everyone into. Instead of forcing everyone into common ground, we should rather allow for them to choose where they want to stand on their own and form alliances naturally. Remove government from schools, post service, Internet, agriculture, the arts, health care, long-term financial planning, and employment and you remove the need for compromise and all of these institutions can flourish as they were originally intended.

It is worthwhile to ponder the idea of all alliances being elective. The fact that we assume so many compulsory associations makes the concept rather difficult to fathom. The more restricted we are by involuntary responsibilities, the more we are obliged to rely on others for relief, a tendency that can only result in a self-perpetuating cycle in the direction of bondage.