Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Machine Of Compromise

   - We've talked about the myth of the free market, that somehow letting people combine into monopolies and use their hoarded wealth to bribe governments would be good for the average man and woman. About the myth of technology, in which we love to think of ourselves as machines, forgetting all that is best in life has no connection to machines. Let's talk about the myth of compromise.
- What's that?
- A strange combination of both economics and technology, in which the "market forces" of interest groups....
- You mean bribery?
- Yes. In which the market forces of various interest groups compete with each other in their corruption of government officials, and somehow, like the free market is supposed to do us all good, this too is for our political good.
- How can they say that? Who says that?
- A federal court judge who is also a professor of law at the University of Chicago, where of course our president was a professor of law.
- What did he say? And are you saying the president agrees with him?
- He wrote a book in which he argues that people without moral principle reach more efficient compromises than is possible by people who have principles and are resistant to compromise in proportion to the strength of our principles.
- And you think our president agrees? He does talk an awful lot about compromise.
- I think he does. It may not be a pretty world that results, but it is the best of all possible worlds, as opposed to ideal worlds.
- Since you say it is a myth I assume you think it is wrong.
- Yes, and for the same reason the myth of free market economics and the myth of technology is wrong: it leaves out the most important things in life.
- But if it really is more efficient that way?
- Efficient for what?
- Making laws, ruling the country.
- For what?
- For people to go on safely living their lives.
- Is it safe to have our politicians act this way?
- Be more specific.
- Our president then. He writes books, he speaks beautifully about truth, caring, cooperation, etc. And then he proceeds to do everything against these principles. A professor of constitutional law, he re-enacts and strengthens the Patriot Act, which ends the protection of the Bill Of Rights. He not only does not close secret prisons, he establishes new ones. Etc.
- Yes, etc. But you've explained this yourself: they are necessary compromises.
- But was the first compromise necessary?
- What do you mean?
- Sacrificing the intention to act on all those beautiful words, accepting the principle of compromise.
- I don't understand.
- Imagine you are the president. You are a good guy, think we should all love each other. You pride yourself on your ability to make speeches on the subject. Then you get into office, and all you do is compromise. Wouldn't you ask yourself whether it was really true you had to compromise?
- Why? If that is your belief?
- But remember the president's colleague at the University of Chicago Law school.
Our president didn't make speeches presenting himself as an amoral politician begging bribes from all near and far. He presented himself as deeply moral, as a man who, in accord with the theory, should be highly resistant to compromise.
- So his first compromise was of his principles, before he did his practical compromising.
- Yes. Does that seem likely to you?
- Again, you've lost me.
- That a deeply moral man suddenly abandons his principles to adopt an explicitly amoral principle of compromise?
- I'm not sure.
- Do you think the average American believes it is possible its representatives really take no interest in their well being, but are only serving their own interests? That as they look out for themselves, they think the people have to do the same, be equally amoral in their pursuit of self protection? And that that is, as we said, the best of all possible worlds?
- Certainly not. They don't believe that.
- Why don't they?
- Because that is not what our president and representative say they are doing.
- And we believe them.
- You include yourself?
- I have difficulty imagining how they are willing to do what their principle of compromise leads them to do.
- It helps that they are all well paid for it.
- Sure. Still, it's difficult to understand how our leaders say they are good, yet they act bad. Either they had some principles to start with, and they gave up on acting on them....
- Which is what our president would like us to believe.
- Or they never had principles at all. Which do you think is easier for Americans to accept?
- A deeply moral president who had to act immoral for practical reasons.
- For the sake of operating efficiently the machine of compromise. And do the American people believe this?
- They do.
- Yet our politicians don't appear to be tormented souls.
- No.
- Our question was, is it safe to have politicians practising this principle of compromise?
- Whether we are operating a dangerous machine.
- What if operating the machine becomes its own end, and what was being compromised for the sake of is forgotten?
- Our politicians wouldn't be tortured souls.
- Neuroscientists who believe we know more and more how we are only our brains. Free market economists who believe people are made to exchange and accumulate more and more things. Politicians who operate the machine of compromise who believe in endless improvement and benefit to arise from perfection in operating the machine. They all see beauty in the machine itself. The machine gives them a sense of infinite possibilities. They don't think of it as a limitation of human experience.
- So our politicians, if they ever had any principles, forget them in the worship of the infinite expansion the machine is capable of.
- Yes. And people who really no longer have any interest other than in looking out for themselves, making the best compromises: are they safe to have running our country?
- If the principle of compromise is true, why should it make any difference if it was adopted reluctantly or not?
- If adopted with reluctance, it is conceivable a time might arise when our leaders, practical compromisers that they are, see that it just is not working, and so, being practical compromisers, they must get rid of it and try something else.
- But if they never had any principles to compromise, if they are entirely absorbed in the mythological machine of compromise, and see how it works more and more efficiently, is more and more tolerated by the people as time goes by....
- They won't change course.
- We know the government is acting against our interests, probably more than before, but we have faith in the general good of human nature.
- If we knew our love of machines better we'd be afraid.

---

- You know, I like talking to you.
- I hope so.
- I'm tired of my friends ranting and raging about politics. Telling me to face harsh reality, accept the truth about the world.
- Truth should ease people into a state of mind in which they can do something about it.
- That's what I like: my friends want to enrage me, you make me want to laugh.
- Well, they're thinking about revolution, about protest that puts your life at risk. Anger makes you willing.
- But I don't want to get angry.
- Good for you. Anger makes you blind. Anger is giving in to your own demand the world be one way, not the way it is now. It is mechanical. If you are angry about how the world is being destroyed by mechanical thinking, getting angry, adding more mechanical thinking, makes things worse.
- If anger is not the state of mind in which we can do something about the world, what is?
- The opposite of the state of mind of being locked in the mechanism and techniques of doing things for their own sake, is the state of mind that always knows why we are doing things. Follow?
- Yes. The whole list. Love. Happiness. Beauty.
- And don't forget truth. Anger causes you to forget the truth you are fighting for.
- So how do we fight and not forget the truth and not forget what we are fighting for?
- What is the state of mind in which we can do that?
- Yes.
- We have to live in both worlds at once, the world of doing and the world of beauty.
- Is that possible?
- Let's say the people controlling our government are our enemy, we have to fight. If we are to love while we fight, we'll have to imagine the fight over, and ourselves back comfortable and happy with the world.
- We aren't really in two worlds then. We only imagine the future we want.
- The future we are making. The action in progress brings reality to the connection.
- Too theoretical for me.
- I'll tell you a story then. I like to talk about my wife. She gave me a lot of chance to study "the state of mind in which we can do something about the world." One time, having gotten into her head I'd robbed her, she called an ex-boyfriend and had him come over to the house and rob me. He walked right in the door, stepped up to me, punched me in the chest and demanded I give him my wallet.
- No!
- Yes.
- What did you do?
- I said, no problem, handed him my wallet, said I would simply ask the police to get it back for me. He said he knew how to handle the police as I jumped out the window onto the entrance balcony and ran away.
- And you are the guy lecturing me about revolution.
- That's me. I sat at the police station in Budapest. It was pleasantly shadowy. Inside a room off the lobby, behind the closed door, my wife was being interviewed. 20 minutes after the interview began, her "ex boyfriend" walked in the station, looked my way, was told by the receptionist to go to the door of the same room and go in. I waited. A vending machine supplied me cups of coffee for about a quarter each. I sat with my coffee. I took out my fountain pen, filled it with ink. Nervous and trying to be careful ink spilled from the bottle onto my hand. I made notes. An hour passed, and one of the police officers I'd talked to earlier came out of the room, stood before me, stared at my hand.
- What happened?
- It's not blood.
- This is no joke. If you lie to us you are committing a serious crime and you will go to jail. Is everything you've told us the truth?
- Yes.
- You have money in the bank? Do you have any proof?
- I could show you my bank cards if I had my wallet.
- I'll get it.
. . . .
-Is everything there?
- Seems to be. What happened to my bag?
- Your bag is gone.
- Where was my wallet?
- The friend of the girl brought it.
- What happened to my bag?
- She says she put it out on the street corner and someone took it. It's lost. Was there anything important in it?
- A few months of notes. I don't need them. A first edition of William James' "Lectures On Pragmatism". A couple of watches. Other things. You can't get them back?
- If you file charges we will investigate you. We might file charges against you as well.
- Why?
- We have to be impartial. Do you want to file charges?
- No.
- Are you sure?
- Yes.
- Show me the cards.
- You swear these cards are valid and you are telling the truth?
- Why are you questioning me?
- Your story is different from the girl's.
- Wouldn't you expect that?
- Maybe. Are you telling us the truth?
- I'm telling you the truth.
- You can go.
- Awful. This was your wife?
- Not yet. I married her afterwards.
- Why?
- Imagine my wife is one of the corporate executives routinely bribing our representatives in the government. If I'm not to get angry at them, why should I get angry at my wife?
- You aren't married to one of those corporate executives.
- But in a way I am, and you too. You have to live in the world substantially created by their actions.
- But if it was my choice I wouldn't. You deliberately chose to marry this woman who robbed you.
- After I was already in love with her and living with her, already tied up with her.
- It's a lot easier getting another woman than getting another government.
- I didn't want another woman, and don't want another government. 
- You guys got back together.
- After two weeks.
- Back together with the woman who had her ex-boyfriend rob and attack you.
- Yes.
- How did that work out?
- Good.
- Why don't I believe you?
- Good and bad. .
- That's better. 
- A lot of fights.
- Ok. Applying this story to politics: becoming lovers and fighters we'll be able to laugh and revolt.
- Couldn't have said it better myself.