Saturday, December 06, 2014

Lost art of pragmatism

I have little in common with the ends of the political spectrum. One trait they share that really annoys me, however, is their refusal to compromise because of their staunch commitment to ideological purity. The people who get things done ignore them.

For as long as I’ve been politically active, I’ve been aware that I’ll almost never get everything that I want. Even under the best-case scenario, with the party I favour in complete control, there will be opposition to the things I think should be done.

At the times when the options are fewest, I could throw my hands up and walk away in support of ideological purity. Or, there’s also complete surrender to opponents, which is an equally impossible choice, but essentially the same as the first option. The third option is the one I always choose: Get as much as I can now, and then recommit to working to get the rest later.

I’ve always believed that it’s better to achieve ten percent of one’s agenda than to lose 100%. The real world, of course, is seldom so extreme: I might be able to get 40, 60, 70% or more of what I want—why would I flush that away to be ideologically pure? I have no idea why anyone would do that.

The right and the left both do this. Obviously activists on the right will think badly of me whether I compromise or not. But activists on the leftward side of left are no kinder, generally speaking, thinking me a sell-out, a coward, a quisling, or even worse. I think to myself that they can sit and commiserate with their comrades about how awful it is that people like me compromise, but, meanwhile, we’re making a real difference in people’s lives, thank you very much, while the leftward side of left sits and agrees with each other about how important ideological purity is. Perhaps I'm being unkind, but I don't think so.

I’m frustrated. I’m sick of privileged middle class folks declaring for everyone that “it’s 100% or nothing!” even when the result would actually be nothing. I’ll take what I can get right now, thanks, rather than wait for the mythological someday when the skies open and there are toys for everyone.

Unlike the ideological purists, who pontificate and do nothing else, people like me keep working on the ultimate goals—we keep our eyes on the prize, as they used to say. And if we have to put up with small victories and incremental change, I’ll defend that with the obvious retort: It’s better than nothing.

Something is always better than nothing, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and liberation wasn’t achieved by demanding all or nothing.

I choose something. I choose pragmatism.


rogerogreen said...

I suppose one can argue with HOW MUCH one compromises. It always felt, and not just to me, that the single-payer option for Obamacare went off the table WAY too easily. That said, I'll still take the half loaf that is the ACA; better than the previous situation.

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

Well, yes, but to me that particular example highlights the problem of timing rather than how much is comprised away. I say that because single-payer was off the table really before anyone was even brought to the table. If they'd negotiated for weeks and then dropped it, maybe I'd have been okay with it (probably not…), but I certainly thought they caved on that point way too early, at the very least.

I agree with you about there being arguments over how much compromise is acceptable; that's probably inevitable. I have far less problem with that than I do with the "all or nothing" approach of ideological purists. There were some of those kind arguing that without the single-payer option included, the ACA should have been rejected and to me that's a selfish and downright childish attitude.