2011-11-23

Paul Gregory's Wisdom and More About Creeds

Paul Gregory writes:
Compromise is not possible when there is no middle ground. It seems this truth escapes domestic and world politicians and pundits.
And concludes:
In democracies, we hope that elections will resolve such impasses. In authoritarian states, impasses are resolved by violence, not by diplomacy. 
Every day we pontificate to our friends, families, and colleagues that "compromise" is the only way forward, that "the truth, as always, lies somewhere in the middle," that "moderation in all things" can save the day. Such pontification goes on endlessly.

It is our egalitarian nature, our profound desire to be nice guys to each other, that inspires us to champion compromise and centrism for its own sake. No one wants to be the judgemental a-hole who finds fault in his fellow man. We should all strive to judge not, lest we be judged. Let those who be without sin cast the first stone. In general, judging is bad, while peace, love, and understanding is good.

Gregory notes that there are limits to how far we can take this ideal. If we're talking about one-on-one personal relationships or the victimless decisions of acquaintances, it is incredibly easy to avoid judgement, to recommend moderation, and to cultivate a saintly centrism. But this charade evaporates when life gets serious.

And it is a charade. Evading every call to stand by one's creed, to speak up for right and wrong, all in the name of not hurting someone's feelings, is a charade we undertake to present the image of sympathy where in fact there is none.

For what is sympathy? It is the feeling of compassion or concern for another, the wish to see them better off or happier. Concern implies that the other person could be better off. Better off implies a comparison to their feeling otherwise. Their feeling otherwise implies the existence of a situation that would create that result. And the preference of that situation to this one is, my friends, that terrible awful thing we demonize so much in our society: A value judgement!

Part of the reason I keep this blog is to help promote an idea that I feel we've lost somewhere over the past century or so: Maintaining a strong, personal creed or code of ethics is a vitally important aspect of human happiness and positive human relationships.

Taking a moral stance, even a seemingly harsh one, isn't cruel. Lording one's supposed moral superiority over someone else is cruel, but having a strong ideology and creed is very definitely not cruel. It is the very thing that moves us to sympathy, that enables us to help other people, that allows us to make the world a better place.

And unfortunately for the "moderation police" and the "judgementalism police" out there, there can be no compromise on a person's core ethical identity - their creed - without a corresponding compromise in that person's fundamental happiness.

You don't have to hold the same moral values I have, but I hope for your sake that you never, ever compromise on your own core ethics. There is no nobility in that kind of compromise. There is no truth to be found in that middle ground, and nothing laudable about that kind of centrism.

Ayn Rand once wrote, "In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit." You're not doing anyone any favors by subverting your personal creed in an effort to avoid wounding another person's ego. The best, most inspiring way out of a bad situation is through a moral triumph. It's true that this sometimes requires taking a hard-line, but the long-run payoff for this is worth more than a few uncomfortable moments with someone who hasn't the courage to admit that morality implies judgement a priori